Fundamental questions linger in Japan over the international tribunal 61 years after the country surrendered on August 15, 1945.
Two Japanese politicians tried to clear their country's Class-A war criminals of the crimes they committed during World War II.
At a session of the Lower House's Budget Committee on February 14, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso and Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe claimed that Class-A war criminals are not criminals under Japanese law.
Aso said the definition of war crime was the opinion given by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, also known as the Tokyo Tribunal. In jurisdiction of Japanese law, these people were not criminals, he said.
Abe echoed the foreign minister's argument, adding his country did not give verdicts on these people. The government should not judge history.
Aso and Abe disputed the validity of the tribunal, which convicted 25 wartime Japanese leaders. They were convicted of offences that included conspiring to wage a "war of aggression" and committing "crimes against peace."
The tribunal defined three categories of war crimes and criminals. "Class A" charges of "crimes against peace" were brought against Japan's top leaders who had planned and directed the war. The war criminals of this class were tried at the tribunal in Tokyo.
Class B and C charges, which were leveled at Japanese of any rank, covered "conventional war crimes" and "crimes against humanity," respectively. Criminals of the two categories were convicted in the areas where the crimes had been committed.
On November 4, 1948, the Tokyo Tribunal announced that all of the 25 defendants had been found guilty. Seven were sentenced to death, 16 to life terms and two to lesser terms.
They were all Japanese political and military figures of high rank, headed by Hideki Tojo, prime minister of Japan through most the war.
The defendants were accused of conspiring between 1928 and 1941 to wage "aggressive war," in order to gain "domination and control of East Asia." Japan stood by the outcome of the tribunal.
However, some of the criminals had their lost honor restored by becoming cabinet members.
Unlike Germany, which employed intensive de-Nazification procedures to prevent former Nazis entering parliament and the bureaucracy, Japanese war criminals were allowed to enter parliament and find employment in the government bureaucracy.
A striking example of this different approach between Japan and Germany is the case of convicted war criminal Nobusuke Kishi, who was able to rise to the office of prime minister of Japan in 1957.
Shigemitsu Mamoru, who was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment as a Class-A war criminal, became a deputy prime minister and foreign minister under the administration of then prime minister Ichiro Hatoyama in 1954.
Kaya Okinori, who was given a life term as a Class-A war criminal, served as justice minister under the administration of prime minister Ikeda Hayato. A criminal became a guardian of the Japanese law.
Fourteen Class-A war criminals were enshrined in 1978 at Yasukuni Shrine, which Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited every year in his office term.
This is the way Japanese politicians have addressed their country's war atrocities. The open defence from Aso and Abe for the Class-A war criminals is the continuing refusal by the country to acknowledge it.
(China Daily February 20, 2006)