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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: Muta, Matsukichi, Rank Unknown, Fmr service in Japanese Navy, Civilian Employee, Japanese Army, Fukuoka POW Branch Cammp No. 17, Kyushu, Japan

Docket No./ Date: 130/ Apr. 15 -25, 1947, Yokohama, Japan

Charge: Violation of the laws and customs of war: 1. Did willfully and unlawfully mistreat POWs (spec 1,3,4, 6,11,12,16,17,18,20,24,26,28) 2. Did willfully and unlawfully mistreat and abuse POWs (spec 2,5,7,15,21,22,23,25,27,29) 3. Did willfully and unlawfully mistreat and torture POW (spec 8,19) 4. Did willfully and unlawfully mistreat, torture and abuse (spec 9, 10,13,14,30)

Specifications: beating using among others fists, wooden clog, wooden disc, bamboo broom handle, rifle butt, baseball bat; kicking; forcing POW to kneel for a long period of time (4 to 7 days with small intervals of rest) and at times standing on the kneeling POWs thighs; forcing POW to kneel for a long period of time with a bamboo pole/board behind his knees; forcing POW to kneel for a long period of time exposed to cold weather and by throwing cold water on him; walking on POWs hands and fingers; causing POW to receive shocks by electricity; beating POWs at regular intervals for periods of time between 4 and 7 days, sometimes, while kneeling; alternating beatings and throwing cold water on POWs.

Verdict: Death by hanging

Reviewing Authority's Recommendations: Accused mistreated, abused, and tortured POWs for no reason or at the slightest provocation (imitating a diving American airplane, having long fingernails, not working satisfactorily, allegedly influencing other PWs to slow down their work, collecting information and informing other POWs about the status of the war, complaining about being ill) or for infractions of the camp rules (misplacing a bunk tag, failure to salute, being sent to the guardhouse, failure to report about whereabouts, stealing food, talking to a Korean workman). On three separate occasions, such mistreatment, abuse and torture resulted in the death of three POWs.

Reviewing Authority: Superior Orders: only the camp commander had the authority to place prisoners in the guardhouse, to take away food and drink. Starvation and beatings by the camp commander was responsible for the death of POWs. Some of the victims of the alleged acts in other affidavits, never mentioned the accused as being responsible for the act nor did they even mention the act. In other trials, the name of the accused is not mentioned in conjunction with this incident. The accused stated that he did hit POWs, about seven or eight times, but these beatings were done under the orders of the camp commander. He denied knowing about many of the specifications and stated that he was not in the camp during certain periods and times alleged in the specifications.

Prosecution Arguments: The defense made a motion to strike the words "contributing to his death" from specification 10 and 19 of the Charge which the Commission overruled. The reviewer stated that this motion was properly overruled because previous trials had ruled that "if the specifications inform the acccused of the crime charged; the wording is not material." Furthermore, in regards to whether the wording implies contribution or causation, it does not matter in terms of the legal result. "War crimes concepts are not concerned with such over-legalistic niceties as the defense urges on this point, but only with the fundamental and fair protection that civilized nations demand for those accused of crimes" (Docket No. 46). Reviewer states that the following specifications should be disapproved: 2(failed to show that the alleged act took place when accused was assigned to the camp), 14 (victim did not recall this beating; considering the alleged seriousness, it should have stayed in victim's memory), and 16 (prosecution failed to give any evidence that shows the one affidavit was not wrong about the date, a period when the accused was not on the camp staff). Furthermore, the reviewer found that on numerous other specifications, only part of the specification should be approved: 5 (except kicking); 8(happened but Muta not responsible for the torture or the result of that torture, the loss of toes, according to evidence and to the victim); 10 and 19(proved beatings but did not prove that beatings were directly responsible for the death/accused not responsible for starvation of victim); 30 (except for the word "torture" because no evidence was given of it). Because the policy has been approval of a death sentence "only when it has been proven that the accused has caused the death of a prisoner of war," it is recommended that the sentence be commuted to life imprisonment.

Defense Arguments: W. L. Field, Lt. Col. JAGD

Judge Advocate's Recommendations: Lt. Col., Allan R. Browne, JAGD, stated that he disagreed with the reviewer on all points except the following: For spec 2, "that the occurrence was apparently of such a minor nature that the alleged victim himself did not mention it" does not itself negate proof of its occurrence. What it does show that is was so trivial as to justify only a "very light sentence." For spec 8 and 30, "the mere fact that the accused did not order the man to kneel is not controlling. They participated in the several acts...Muta is charged directly with responsibility in one exhibit. A consideration of the vicious abuses and their direct consequences revealed in paragraph 9 on page 9 of the foregoing review compels a conlusion that the loss of of circulation and gangrene were the direct result of and were proximately caused by the mistreatment in which Muta and TAkeda were participatns, both as actors and accessories, hence, principals. A finding of guilty of tortuure is justified." For spec 10 and 19, in considering responsibility for the death of Knight, it is not necessary to find a conspiracy in order to hold each of the accused. If they were accessories, hence principals, aiding each other in accomplishing the death, each may be held regardless of the presence or absence of a preconceived plan or conspiracy...if at the moment of death, it can be said that both injuries are contributing thereto, the responsibility rests on both actors." This reviewer is interesting for what he says and then for what he goes on to do in the considering the specifications. When he discusses specifications, he seems to be doing exactly that….what am I missing here? Allan R. Browne quotes a letter received from the brother of one accused; it is generally a comment on how the trials are a necessary component of the elimination of Japanese militarism and the establishment of democratic Japan. It would be interesting to do a project going through other writings from the period to see if this was the way that other viewed the trial as well.

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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