War Crimes and Tribunals Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

At the end of World War II, international courts were established in Nuremberg, Germany, and Tokyo, Japan, to prosecute Nazi leaders and high Japanese officials for war crimes committed during the global conflict. The crimes of which the defendants were accused ranged from conventional war crimes (violations of the laws of war, including murder and ill treatment of civilians) to crimes against peace (conducting war in violation of treaties) and crimes against humanity (political, religious, or racial persecution). By agreement among the major prosecuting powers (the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union), the court was permitted to indict even a head of state if the evidence warranted it. In this case, however, Hitler was already dead and Emperor Hirohito was seen to have played only an indirect role in supporting the Japanese military machine. Plus, the Emperor was deemed useful in sustaining the Japanese people during the ensuing US military occupation and therefore was retained.

At the end of World War II, international courts were established in Nuremberg, Germany, and Tokyo, Japan, to prosecute Nazi leaders and high Japanese officials for war crimes committed during the global conflict. The crimes of which the defendants were accused ranged from conventional war crimes (violations of the laws of war, including murder and ill treatment of civilians) to crimes against peace (conducting war in violation of treaties) and crimes against humanity (political, religious, or racial persecution). By agreement among the major prosecuting powers (the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union), the court was permitted to indict even a head of state if the evidence warranted it. In this case, however, Hitler was already dead and Emperor Hirohito was seen to have played only an indirect role in supporting the Japanese military machine. Plus, the Emperor was deemed useful in sustaining the Japanese people during the ensuing US military occupation and therefore was retained.

In Germany, twenty-two defendants were brought before the court; all but three were found guilty and were hanged or sent to prison. The principal judge for the United States at Nuremberg was US Attorney General Francis Biddle, while the chief US prosecutor was Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson. In Japan, twenty-eight military and political leaders were accused of high crimes (and several hundred more were charged with lesser crimes). An assistant US attorney general and two US justices served on the prosecution team and the judicial panel. Twenty-five defendants were found guilty and the remaining three either died during the trial or were found incompetent.

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