The Tribunal was established to implement the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Declaration, the Instrument of Surrender, and the Moscow Conference. The Potsdam Declaration had called for trials and purges of those who had "deceived and misled" the Japanese people into war. However, there was major disagreement, both among the Allies and within their administrations, about whom to try and how to try them. Despite the lack of consensus, General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, decided to initiate arrests. On September 11, a week after the surrender, he ordered the arrest of 39 suspects—most of them members of General Hideki Tōjō's war cabinet. Tōjō tried to commit suicide, but was resuscitated with the help of U.S. doctors.
On January 19, 1946, MacArthur issued a special proclamation ordering the establishment of an International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE). On the same day, he also approved the Charter of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (CIMTFE), which prescribed how it was to be formed, the crimes that it was to consider, and how the tribunal was to function. The charter generally followed the model set by the Nuremberg Trials. On April 25, in accordance with the provisions of Article 7 of the CIMTFE, the original Rules of Procedure of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East with amendments were promulgated.
MacArthur appointed a panel of 12 judges, nine from the nations that signed the Instrument of Surrender.
The famous legal scholar Roscoe Pound was also apparently favourably disposed to replacing John P. Higgins as a judge but an appointment did not eventuate.
The chief prosecutor, Joseph B. Keenan of the United States, was appointed by President Harry S. Truman.
Twenty-eight defendants were charged, mostly military officers and government officials.Kōki Hirota, prime minister (1936–37), foreign minister (1933–36, 1937–38)
Kiichirō Hiranuma, prime minister (1939), president of the privy council
Naoki Hoshino, chief cabinet secretary
Kōichi Kido, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal
Toshio Shiratori, Ambassador to Italy
Shigenori Tōgō, foreign minister (1941–42, 1945)
Mamoru Shigemitsu, foreign minister (1943–45)
Okinori Kaya, finance minister (1941–44)
Yōsuke Matsuoka, foreign minister (1940–41)
General Hideki Tōjō, prime minister (1941–44), war minister (1940–44), chief of the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff Office (1944)
General Tomoyuki Yamashita, general in the Imperial Japanese Army (1905–45)
General Masaharu Homma, general in the Imperial Japanese Army (1907–43)
General Seishirō Itagaki, war minister (1938–39)
General Sadao Araki, war minister (1931–34)
Field Marshal Shunroku Hata, war minister (1939–40)
Admiral Shigetarō Shimada, navy minister (1941–44), chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy General Staff (1944)
Lieutenant General Kenryō Satō, chief of the Military Affairs Bureau
General Kuniaki Koiso, prime minister (1944–45), governor-general of Korea (1942–44)
Vice Admiral Takazumi Oka, chief of the Bureau of Naval Affairs
Lieutenant General Hiroshi Ōshima, ambassador to Germany
Fleet Admiral Nagano Osami, navy minister (1936–37), chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy General Staff (1941–44)
General Jirō Minami, governor-general of Korea (1936–42)
General Kenji Doihara, chief of the intelligence service in Manchukuo
General Heitarō Kimura, commander of the Burma Area Army
General Iwane Matsui, commander of the Shanghai Expeditionary Force and Central China Area Army
Lieutenant General Akira Mutō, chief of staff of the 14th Area Army
Lieutenant Colonel Kingorō Hashimoto, founder of Sakurakai
General Yoshijirō Umezu, commander of the Kwantung Army, chief of the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff Office (1944–45)
Lieutenant General Teiichi Suzuki, chief of the Cabinet Planning Board
Shūmei Ōkawa, a political philosopher
Following months of preparation, the IMTFE convened on April 29, 1946. The trials were held in the War Ministry office in Tokyo.
On May 3 the prosecution opened its case, charging the defendants with conventional war crimes, crimes against peace, and crimes against humanity. The trial continued for more than two and a half years, hearing testimony from 419 witnesses and admitting 4,336 exhibits of evidence, including depositions and affidavits from 779 other individuals.
Following the model used at the Nuremberg Trials in Germany, the Allies established three broad categories. "Class A" charges, alleging crimes against peace, were to be brought against Japan's top leaders who had planned and directed the war. Class B and C charges, which could be leveled at Japanese of any rank, covered conventional war crimes and crimes against humanity, respectively. Unlike the Nuremberg Trials, the charge of crimes against peace was a prerequisite to prosecution—only those individuals whose crimes included crimes against peace could be prosecuted by the Tribunal.
The indictment accused the defendants of promoting a scheme of conquest that "contemplated and carried out...murdering, maiming and ill-treating prisoners of war (and) civilian internees...forcing them to labor under inhumane conditions...plundering public and private property, wantonly destroying cities, towns and villages beyond any justification of military necessity; (perpetrating) mass murder, rape, pillage, brigandage, torture and other barbaric cruelties upon the helpless civilian population of the over-run countries."
Keenan issued a press statement along with the indictment: "War and treaty-breakers should be stripped of the glamour of national heroes and exposed as what they really are—plain, ordinary murderers".
The prosecution began opening statements on May 3, 1946, and took 192 days to present its case, finishing on January 24, 1947. It submitted its evidence in fifteen phases.
The Charter provided that evidence against the accused could include any document "without proof of its issuance or signature" as well as diaries, letters, press reports, and sworn or unsworn out-of-court statements relating to the charges. Article 13 of the Charter read, in part: "The tribunal shall not be bound by technical rules of evidence...and shall admit any evidence which it deems to have probative value".
Wartime press releases of the Allies were admitted as evidence by the prosecution, while those sought to be entered by the defense were excluded. The recollection of a conversation with a long-dead man was admitted. Letters allegedly written by Japanese citizens were admitted with no proof of authenticity and no opportunity for cross examination by the defense.
The Tribunal embraced the best evidence rule once the Prosecution had rested. The best evidence rule dictates that the "best" or most authentic evidence must be produced (For example, a map instead of a description of the map; an original instead of a copy; and a witness instead of a description of what the witness may have said). Justice Pal, one of two justices to vote for acquittal on all counts, observed, "in a proceeding where we had to allow the prosecution to bring in any amount of hearsay evidence, it was somewhat misplaced caution to introduce this best evidence rule particularly when it operated practically against the defense only".
To prove their case, the prosecution team relied on the doctrine of "command responsibility". This doctrine was that it did not require proof of criminal orders. The prosecution had to prove three things: that war crimes were systematic or widespread; the accused knew that troops were committing atrocities; and the accused had power or authority to stop the crimes.
The prosecution argued that a 1927 document known as the Tanaka Memorial showed that a "common plan or conspiracy" to commit "crimes against peace" bound the accused together. Thus, the prosecution argued that the conspiracy had begun in 1927 and continued through to the end of the war in 1945. The Tanaka Memorial is now considered by most historians to have been a forgery; however, it was not regarded as such at the time.
The defendants were represented by over a hundred attorneys, three-quarters of them Japanese and one-quarter American, plus a support staff. The defense opened its case on January 27, 1947, and finished its presentation 225 days later on September 9, 1947.
The defense argued that the trial could never be free from substantial doubt as to its "legality, fairness and impartiality".
The defense challenged the indictment, arguing that crimes against peace, and more specifically, the undefined concepts of conspiracy and aggressive war, had yet to be established as crimes in international law; in effect, the IMTFE was contradicting accepted legal procedure by trying the defendants retroactively for violating laws which had not existed when the alleged crimes had been committed. The defense insisted that there was no basis in international law for holding individuals responsible for acts of state, as the Tokyo Trial proposed to do. The defense attacked the notion of negative criminality, by which the defendants were to be tried for failing to prevent breaches of law and war crimes by others, as likewise having no basis in international law.
The defense argued that Allied Powers' violations of international law should be examined.
Former Foreign Minister Shigenori Tōgō maintained that Japan had had no choice but to enter the war for self-defense purposes. He asserted that "[because of the Hull Note] we felt at the time that Japan was being driven either to war or suicide".
The IMT spent six months reaching judgment and drafting its 1,781-page opinion. On the day the judgment was read, five of the eleven justices released separate opinions outside the court.
In his concurring opinion Justice William Webb of Australia took issue with Emperor Hirohito's legal status, writing, "The suggestion that the Emperor was bound to act on advice is contrary to the evidence". While refraining from personal indictment of Hirohito, Webb indicated that Hirohito bore responsibility as a constitutional monarch who accepted "ministerial and other advice for war" and that "no ruler can commit the crime of launching aggressive war and then validly claim to be excused for doing so because his life would otherwise have been in danger...It will remain that the men who advised the commission of a crime, if it be one, are in no worse position than the man who directs the crime be committed".
Justice Delfin Jaranilla of the Philippines disagreed with the penalties imposed by the tribunal as being "too lenient, not exemplary and deterrent, and not commensurate with the gravity of the offence or offences committed".
Justice Henri Bernard of France argued that the tribunal's course of action was flawed due to Hirohito's absence and the lack of sufficient deliberation by the judges. He concluded that Japan's declaration of war "had a principal author who escaped all prosecution and of whom in any case the present Defendants could only be considered as accomplices", and that a "verdict reached by a Tribunal after a defective procedure cannot be a valid one".
"It is well-nigh impossible to define the concept of initiating or waging a war of aggression both accurately and comprehensively", wrote Justice Röling of the Netherlands in his dissent. He stated, "I think that not only should there have been neutrals in the court, but there should have been Japanese also." He argued that they would always have been a minority and therefore would not have been able to sway the balance of the trial. However, "they could have convincingly argued issues of government policy which were unfamiliar to the Allied justices". Pointing out the difficulties and limitations in holding individuals responsible for an act of state and making omission of responsibility a crime, Röling called for the acquittal of several defendants, including Hirota.
Justice Radhabinod Pal of India produced a 1,235-page judgment in which he dismissed the legitimacy of the IMTFE as victor's justice: "I would hold that each and every one of the accused must be found not guilty of each and every one of the charges in the indictment and should be acquitted on all those charges". While taking into account the influence of wartime propaganda, exaggerations, and distortions of facts in the evidence, and "over-zealous" and "hostile" witnesses, Pal concluded, "The evidence is still overwhelming that atrocities were perpetrated by the members of the Japanese armed forces against the civilian population of some of the territories occupied by them as also against the prisoners of war".
One defendant, Shūmei Ōkawa, was found mentally unfit for trial and the charges were dropped.
Two defendants, Matsuoka Yosuke and Nagano Osami, died of natural causes during the trial.
Six defendants were sentenced to death by hanging for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes against peace (Class A, Class B and Class C):General Kenji Doihara, chief of the intelligence services in Manchukuo
Kōki Hirota, prime minister (later foreign minister)
General Seishirō Itagaki, war minister
General Heitarō Kimura, commander, Burma Area Army
Lieutenant General Akira Mutō, chief of staff, 14th Area Army
General Hideki Tōjō, commander, Kwantung Army (later prime minister)
One defendant was sentenced to death by hanging for war crimes and crimes against humanity (Class B and Class C):General Iwane Matsui, commander, Shanghai Expeditionary Force and Central China Area Army
They were executed at Sugamo Prison in Ikebukuro on December 23, 1948. MacArthur, afraid of embarrassing and antagonizing the Japanese people, defied the wishes of President Truman and barred photography of any kind, instead bringing in four members of the Allied Council to act as official witnesses.
Sixteen defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment. Three (Koiso, Shiratori, and Umezu) died in prison, while the other thirteen were paroled between 1954 and 1956:General Sadao Araki, war minister
Colonel Kingorō Hashimoto, major instigator of the second Sino-Japanese War
Field Marshal Shunroku Hata, war minister
Baron Kiichirō Hiranuma, prime minister
Naoki Hoshino, Chief Cabinet Secretary
Okinori Kaya, finance minister
Marquis Kōichi Kido, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal
General Kuniaki Koiso, governor of Korea, later prime minister
General Jirō Minami, commander, Kwantung Army
Admiral Takazumi Oka, naval minister
Lieutenant General Hiroshi Ōshima, Ambassador to Germany
General Kenryō Satō, chief of the Military Affairs Bureau
Admiral Shigetarō Shimada, naval minister
Toshio Shiratori, Ambassador to Italy
Lieutenant General Teiichi Suzuki, president of the Cabinet Planning Board
General Yoshijirō Umezu, war minister
Foreign minister Shigenori Tōgō was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and died in prison in 1949. Foreign minister Mamoru Shigemitsu was sentenced to 7 years.
The verdict and sentences of the tribunal were confirmed by MacArthur on November 24, 1948, two days after a perfunctory meeting with members of the Allied Control Commission for Japan, who acted as the local representatives of the nations of the Far Eastern Commission. Six of those representatives made no recommendations for clemency. Australia, Canada, India, and the Netherlands were willing to see the general make some reductions in sentences. He chose not to do so. The issue of clemency was thereafter to disturb Japanese relations with the Allied powers until the late 1950s, when a majority of the Allied powers agreed to release the last of the convicted major war criminals from captivity.
According to Japanese records, 5,700 Japanese individuals were indicted for Class B and Class C war crimes. Of this number, 984 were sentenced to death; 475 received life sentences; 2,944 were given more limited prison terms; 1,018 were acquitted; and 279 were never brought to trial or not sentenced. The number of death sentences by country is as follows: the Netherlands 236, Great Britain 223, Australia 153, China 149, United States 140, France 26, and Philippines 17. The Soviet Union and Chinese Communist forces also held trials for Japanese war criminals 40.
The Khabarovsk War Crime Trials held by the Soviets tried and found guilty some members of Japan's bacteriological and chemical warfare unit, also known as Unit 731. However, those who surrendered to the Americans were never brought to trial. As Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, MacArthur gave immunity to Shiro Ishii and all members of the bacteriological research units in exchange for germ warfare data based on human experimentation. On May 6, 1947, he wrote to Washington that "additional data, possibly some statements from Ishii probably can be obtained by informing Japanese involved that information will be retained in intelligence channels and will not be employed as 'War Crimes' evidence". The deal was concluded in 1948.
In 1981 John W. Powell published an article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists detailing the experiments of Unit 731 and its open-air tests of germ warfare on civilians. It was printed with a statement by Judge Röling, the last surviving member of the Tokyo Tribunal, who wrote, "As one of the judges in the International Military Tribunal, it is a bitter experience for me to be informed now that centrally ordered Japanese war criminality of the most disgusting kind was kept secret from the Court by the U.S. government".
The United States had provided the funds and staff necessary for running the Tribunal and also held the function of Chief Prosecutor. The argument was made that it was difficult, if not impossible, to uphold the requirement of impartiality with which such an organ should be invested. This apparent conflict gave the impression that the tribunal was no more than a means for the dispensation of victor's justice. Solis Horowitz argues that IMTFE had an American bias: unlike the Nuremberg Trials, there was only a single prosecution team, led by an American, although the members of the tribunal represented eleven different Allied countries. The IMTFE had less official support than the Nuremberg Trials. Keenan, a former U.S. assistant attorney general, had a much lower position than Nuremberg's Robert H. Jackson, a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Justice Delfin had been captured by the Japanese and walked the Bataan Death March. The defense sought to remove him from the bench claiming he would be unable to maintain objectivity. The request was rejected but Delfin did excuse himself from presentation of evidence for atrocities in his native country of the Philippines.
Justice Radhabinod Pal argued that the exclusion of Western colonialism and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the list of crimes and the lack of judges from the vanquished nations on the bench signified the "failure of the Tribunal to provide anything other than the opportunity for the victors to retaliate". In this he was not alone among Indian jurists, with one prominent Calcutta barrister writing that the Tribunal was little more than "a sword in a [judge's] wig".
Justice Röling stated, "[o]f course, in Japan we were all aware of the bombings and the burnings of Tokyo and Yokohama and other big cities. It was horrible that we went there for the purpose of vindicating the laws of war, and yet saw every day how the Allies had violated them dreadfully".
However, in respect to Pal and Röling's statement about the conduct of air attacks, there was no positive or specific customary international humanitarian law with respect to aerial warfare before and during World War II. Ben Bruce Blakeney, an American defense consul for Japanese defendants, argued that "[i]f the killing of Admiral Kidd by the bombing of Pearl Harbor is murder, we know the name of the very man who[se] hands loosed the atomic bomb on Hiroshima", even though Pearl Harbor was classified as a war crime under the 1907 Hague Convention, as it happened without a declaration of war and without a just cause for self-defense. Similarly, the indiscriminate bombing of Chinese cities by Japanese Imperial Forces was never raised in the Tokyo Trials in fear of America being accused the same thing for its air attacks on Japanese cities. As a result, Japanese pilots and officers escaped prosecution for their aerial raids on Pearl Harbor and cities in China and other Asian countries.
Pal's dissenting opinion raised substantive objections: he found that the entire prosecution case to be weak regarding the conspiracy to commit an act of aggressive war, which would include the brutalization and subjugation of conquered nations. About the Nanking Massacre—while acknowledging the brutality of the incident—he said that there was nothing to show that it was the "product of government policy" or that Japanese government officials were directly responsible. There is "no evidence, testimonial or circumstantial, concomitant, prospectant, restrospectant, that would in any way lead to the inference that the government in any way permitted the commission of such offenses", he said. In any case, he added, conspiracy to wage aggressive war was not illegal in 1937, or at any point since.
There has been much criticism of the blanket exoneration of Emperor Hirohito and all members of the imperial family, including Prince Asaka, Prince Fushimi Hiroyasu, Prince Higashikuni and Prince Takeda.
As early as November 26, 1945, MacArthur confirmed to Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai that the emperor's abdication would not be necessary. Before the war crimes trials actually convened, SCAP, the IPS, and court officials worked behind the scenes not only to prevent the imperial family from being indicted, but also to slant the testimony of the defendants to ensure that no one implicated the emperor. High officials in court circles and the Japanese government collaborated with Allied GHQ in compiling lists of prospective war criminals. People arrested as Class A suspects and incarcerated in the Sugamo Prison solemnly vowed to protect their sovereign against any possible taint of war responsibility.
According to historian Herbert Bix, Brigadier General Bonner Fellers "immediately on landing in Japan went to work to protect Hirohito from the role he had played during and at the end of the war" and "allowed the major criminal suspects to coordinate their stories so that the emperor would be spared from indictment".
Bix also argues that "MacArthur's truly extraordinary measures to save Hirohito from trial as a war criminal had a lasting and profoundly distorting impact on Japanese understanding of the lost war" and "months before the Tokyo tribunal commenced, MacArthur's highest subordinates were working to attribute ultimate responsibility for Pearl Harbor to Hideki Tōjō". According to a written report by Shūichi Mizota, Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai's interpreter, Fellers met the two men at his office on March 6, 1946, and told Yonai, "it would be most convenient if the Japanese side could prove to us that the emperor is completely blameless. I think the forthcoming trials offer the best opportunity to do that. Tōjō, in particular, should be made to bear all responsibility at this trial".
Historian John W. Dower wrote that the campaign to absolve Emperor Hirohito of responsibility "knew no bounds". He argued that with MacArthur's full approval, the prosecution effectively acted as "a defense team for the emperor", who was presented as "an almost saintly figure" let alone someone culpable of war crimes. He stated, "Even Japanese activists who endorse the ideals of the Nuremberg and Tokyo charters, and who have labored to document and publicize the atrocities of the Shōwa regime, cannot defend the American decision to exonerate the emperor of war responsibility and then, in the chill of the Cold War, release and soon afterwards openly embrace accused right-winged war criminals like the later prime minister Nobusuke Kishi".
Three justices wrote an obiter dictum about the criminal responsibility of Hirohito. Judge-in-Chief Webb declared, "no ruler can commit the crime of launching aggressive war and then validly claim to be excused for doing so because his life would otherwise have been in danger...It will remain that the men who advised the commission of a crime, if it be one, are in no worse position than the man who directs the crime be committed".
Justice Henri Bernard of France concluded that Japan's declaration of war "had a principal author who escaped all prosecution and of whom in any case the present Defendants could only be considered as accomplices".
Justice Röling did not find the emperor's immunity objectionable and further argued that five defendants (Kido, Hata, Hirota, Shigemitsu, and Tōgō) should have been acquitted.
The International Prosecution Section of the SCAP decided to try the seventy Japanese apprehended for "Class A" war crimes in three groups. The first group of 28 were major leaders in the military, political, and diplomatic sphere. The second group (23 people) and the third group (nineteen people) were industrial and financial magnates who had been engaged in weapons manufacturing industries or were accused of trafficking in narcotics, as well as a number of lesser known leaders in military, political, and diplomatic spheres. The most notable among these were:Nobusuke Kishi: In charge of industry and commerce of Manchukuo, 1936–40; Minister of Industry and Commerce under Tojo administration.
Fusanosuke Kuhara: Leader of the pro-Zaibatsu faction of Rikken Seiyukai.
Yoshisuke Ayukawa: Sworn brother of Fusanosuke Kuhara, founder of Japan Industrial Corporation; went to Manchuria after the Mukden Incident (1931), where he founded the Manchurian Heavy Industry Development Company.
Toshizō Nishio: Chief of Staff of the Kwantung Army, Commander-in-Chief of China Expeditionary Army, 1939–41; war-time Minister of Education.
Kisaburo Ando: Garrison Commander of Port Arthur and Minister of Interior in the Tojo cabinet.
Yoshio Kodama: A radical ultranationalist.
Ryoichi Sasakawa: Ultranationalist businessman and philanthropist.
Kazuo Aoki: Administrator of Manchurian affairs; Minister of Treasury in Nobuyoki Abe's cabinet; followed Abe to China as an advisor; Minister of Greater East Asia in the Tojo cabinet.
Masayuki Tani: Ambassador to Manchukuo, Minister of Foreign Affairs and concurrently Director of the Intelligence Bureau; Ambassador to the Reorganized National Government of China.
Eiji Amo: Chief of the Intelligence Section of Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs; Director of Intelligence Bureau in the Tojo cabinet.
Yakichiro Suma: Consul General at Nanking; in 1938, he served as counselor at the Japanese Embassy in Washington; after 1941, Minister Plenipotentiary to Spain.
All remaining people apprehended and accused of Class A war crimes who had not yet come to trial were set free by MacArthur in 1947 and 1948.
Under Article 11 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed on September 8, 1951, Japan accepted the jurisdiction of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Article 11 of the treaty reads:
Japan accepts the judgments of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and of other Allied War Crimes Courts both within and outside Japan, and will carry out the sentences imposed thereby upon Japanese nationals imprisoned in Japan. The power to grant clemency, reduce sentences and parole with respect to such prisoners may not be exercised except on the decision of the government or governments which imposed the sentence in each instance, and on the recommendation of Japan. In the case of persons sentenced by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, such power may not be exercised except on the decision of a majority of the governments represented on the Tribunal, and on the recommendation of Japan.
In 1950, after most Allied war crimes trials had ended, thousands of convicted war criminals sat in prisons across Asia and Europe, detained in the countries where they had been convicted. Some executions had not yet been carried out, as Allied courts agreed to reexamine their verdicts. Sentences were reduced in some cases, and a system of parole was instituted, but without relinquishing control over the fate of the imprisoned (even after Japan and Germany had regained their sovereignty).
The focus changed from the top wartime leaders to "ordinary" war criminals (Class B and C in Japan), and an intense and broadly-supported campaign for amnesty for all imprisoned war criminals ensued. The issue of criminal responsibility was reframed as a humanitarian problem.
On March 7, 1950, MacArthur issued a directive that reduced the sentences by one-third for good behavior and authorized the parole after fifteen years of those who had received life sentences. Several of those who were imprisoned were released earlier on parole due to ill health.
Many Japanese reacted to the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal by demanding parole for the detainees or mitigation of their sentences. Shortly after the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect, a movement demanding the release of B- and C-class war criminals began, emphasizing the "unfairness of the war crimes tribunals" and the "misery and hardship of the families of war criminals". The movement quickly garnered the support of more than ten million Japanese. The government commented that "public sentiment in our country is that the war criminals are not criminals. Rather, they gather great sympathy as victims of the war, and the number of people concerned about the war crimes tribunal system itself is steadily increasing".
The parole for war criminals movement was driven by two groups: people who had "a sense of pity" for the prisoners demanded, "just set them free" (tonikaku shakuho o) regardless of how it is done. The war criminals themselves called for their own release as part of an anti-war peace movement.
On September 4, 1952, President Truman issued Executive Order 10393, establishing a Clemency and Parole Board for War Criminals. Its purpose was to advise the President regarding recommendations by the Government of Japan for clemency, reduction of sentence, or parole of Japanese war criminals sentenced by military tribunals.
On May 26, 1954, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles rejected a proposed amnesty for the imprisoned war criminals but instead agreed to "change the ground rules" by reducing the period required for eligibility for parole from 15 years to 10 years.
By the end of 1958, all Japanese war criminals were released from prison and politically rehabilitated. Hashimoto Kingorô, Hata Shunroku, Minami Jirô, and Oka Takazumi were all released on parole in 1954. Araki Sadao, Hiranuma Kiichirô, Hoshino Naoki, Kaya Okinori, Kido Kôichi, Ôshima Hiroshi, Shimada Shigetarô, and Suzuki Teiichi were released on parole in 1955. Satô Kenryô, whom many—including Judge Röling—regarded as the one least deserving of imprisonment, was not granted parole until March 1956, the last of the Class A Japanese war criminals to be released. With the concurrence of a majority of the powers represented on the tribunal, the Japanese government announced on April 7, 1957, that the last ten major Japanese war criminals who had previously been paroled were granted clemency and were to be regarded henceforth as unconditionally free.
In 1978 the kami of 1,068 convicted war criminals, including 14 convicted Class-A war criminals were secretly enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine. Those enshrined include Hideki Tōjō, Kenji Doihara, Iwane Matsui, Heitarō Kimura, Kōki Hirota, Seishirō Itagaki, Akira Mutō, Yosuke Matsuoka, Osami Nagano, Toshio Shiratori, Kiichirō Hiranuma, Kuniaki Koiso and Yoshijirō Umezu. Since 1985, visits made by Japanese government officials to the Shrine have aroused protests in China and South Korea.
Arnold Brackman, who had covered the trials for United Press International, wrote The Other Nuremberg: The Untold Story of the Tokyo War Crimes Trial, a rebuttal to charges that the trial had been "victors' justice;" this rebuttal was published posthumously in 1987.
In a survey of 3,000 Japanese people conducted by Asahi News as the 60th anniversary approached in 2006, 70% of those questioned were unaware of the details of the trials, a figure that rose to 90% for those in the 20–29 age group. Some 76% of the people polled recognized a degree of aggression on Japan's part during the war, while only 7% believed it was a war strictly for self-defense.
A South Korean government commission cleared 83 of the 148 Koreans convicted by the Allies of war crimes during World War II. The commission ruled that the Koreans, who were categorized as Class B and Class C war criminals, were in fact victims of Japanese imperialism.