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World War II Pacific Theater Case Synopses from Judge Advocate's Reviews Yokohama Class B and C War Crimes Trials

Defendant: Matsumuro, Saburo, 1st Lieutenant, Japanese Army and Camp Commander of Osaka Main Camp.

Docket No./ Date: 144/ May 5-9, 1947, Yokohama, Japan

Charge: Violation of the laws and customs of war: 1. Did willfully and unlawfully mistreat and abuse PWs (spec 1, 2) 2. Did unlawfully disregard and fail to discharge his duties as camp commander to control and restrain the members of his command and persons under his supervision and control, by permitting them to commit brutal acts, atrocities and other offenses against PWs (3a, b, d, e, f, g)

Specifications: beating using among others bamboo club for a period of an hour, sticks, clubs; forcing PWs to sit on their ankles for an hour; command responsibility

Verdict: 22 years CHL

Reviewing Authority's Recommendations: Accused not only participated in the beating and mistreatment of PWs on several occasions but actually ordered the mistreatment of PWs who were guilty of infractions of camp regulations. The accused was thhe camp commander when other incidents of beating and mistreatment occurred; subordinates testified that they had received all orders concerning POWs from accused; accused punished all PWs for infraction of rules of the camp and for "not working hard enough." The accused ordered his subordinates to beat the PWs for their punishment on various occasions. Complaints were made to the accused about PWs being required to work while sick but nothing was done; the medical orderly received his orders from the accused. This medical orderly testified that he was beaten when too many PWs stayed away from work because they were sick. The PWs, during air raids, were locked in a large warehouse, liable to be a bomb target despite complaints to the accused. In one raid, the warehouse received a direct hit and the PWs got out only because some POWs unlatched a skylight and got through it and were able to release the others. At another air raid, 25 POWs received severe burns due to being locked in the warehouse.

Reviewing Authority: Denied participation in mistreatment of PW mentioned in spec 1; denied that he heard of the incident or any incident similar to that. Denied participation or ordering of beatings; stated that he reprimanded a subordinate that beat a PW and had him transferred. Defense presented evidence that at the particular subordinate's trial, he was found guilty of mistreating the particular individual alone; furthermore, affidavits about the incident does not mention the accused. Accused denied involvement or knowledge of spec 2; evidence was presented that named another responsible for the incident and no mention was made about the accused in connection with the incident. The defense, for spec 3, presented evidence and contended that the accused was not camp commander and did not hold the duties tied to camp commander. No one had authority to punish or discipline any PWs at the main camp except Murata; accused had no disciplinary control over the camp personnel working in the labor section nor responsibility over the guards within the camp. Accused denied ever telling the medical officer to send PWs to work who merely had "slight illnesses." Kondo mentions being struck by officers but never mentions the accused. The accused, upon being told that the PWs were taken to a warehouse instead of air raid shelters became "indignant" and ordered them to be built; he believed that the POWs were taken to those air raid shelters subsequently.

Prosecution Arguments: The argument that just because another commission found another Japanese guilty of mistreatment of the said PW in spec 1 "alone," the accused should be not guilty is "not sound. Such an argument must be based on res adjudicata or estoppel and neither doctrine is here applicable." As for spec 2 where the defense contends that the prosecution has not proved the charge "beyond a reasonable doubt, because there are some discrepancies in the statements of the witness, particularly with reference to camp personnel participatng in it, the details of the incident and the dates" is not sound. The reviewer states that "all of these differences are explained...by the fact that there were two or more similar occurrences" in which the same 3 victims were involved. As to specification 3, the reviewer states that "the evidence on the position held, and the duties and authority of the accused at the camp, is conflicting." However, based on the opinions of 18 PWs introduced by the prosecution and based on Col. Murata's testimony, which the reviewer found to be "not necessarily inconsistent," the reviewer found that the accused was "in fact camp commander by whatever name he was called." He believed this to be true because of testimony stating that the accused controlled the guards in the camp and the accused punished PWs for infractions of the rules. The evidence was sufficient to sustain the finding of the Commission that the accused was camp commander and was charged with the affirmative duty to protect the PWs. Included in this duty was one to protect PWs at all times, under which falls the duty to protect PWs from the dangers and hazards incident to air bombing; "during air raids of a particular area, to assemble the POWs together and lock them in a warehouse in the area, unmarked to show the bombers that POWs were in the warehouse, which would itself likely be a target, would be a violation...whether or not the PWs were injured thereby and the extent of such injuries would go to the degree of the punishment." Since it is not claimed that the unlawful mistreatment of the PWs "resulted in any serious or permanent injury" and does not show accused was "wantonly vicious" but the contrary before "induction into the armed service of Japan," it is recommended that his sentence be reduced to 15 years.

Defense Arguments: J. G. Lackey, Reviewer

Judge Advocate's Recommendations: Allan R. Browne, Lt. Col., JAGD, recommends a sentence of 19 years because "proper conviction of the seven specifications other than 3e, justifies a sentence of two years for each specification in line with actions of commissions currently in cases involving similar situations. Specification 3e includes the savage and barbarian water treatment and far exceeds in bestiality the "run of the mine" brutality established in this case. Such actions merit a sentence of 5 years on this specification. Where accused as commander sets the pattern and by his own actions as in this case invited his subordinates to atrocities, his reputation as "mild mannered" among outside Japanese should not shield him from acceptance of the the just consequences of his offenses."

Child Testifying in Court in Manila.
Photo: U.S. Army, courtesy of Bob Harmon

The trial records of Japanese War Criminals Tried at Yokohama, Japan, between 1946 and 1949 is broken into 2 sets:

  1. 59 reels - Records of Trials and Clemency Petitions for Accused Japanese War Criminals Tried at Yokohama, Japan (1946-1948)
  2. 5 reels - Reviews of the Yokohama Class B and C war crimes Trials by the 8th Army judge Advocate (1946-1949)

The following is a summary of the corresponding case found in the latter group (5-reel set of Judge Advocate's Reviews). Analysis Prepared by Stella Lee Researcher, War Crimes Studies Center

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