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Japanese War Crimes in the Pacific: Australia's investigations and prosecutions


10 Repatriation, parole and release and release of war criminals

Introduction

War criminals convicted by Australian military courts and sentenced to terms of imprisonment began pleading, both individually and in groups, to be repatriated to Japan to serve out their sentences almost as soon as they were convicted. Their efforts, and those of family members and other advocates on their behalf, increased as other Allied nations gradually repatriated war criminals to Japan to serve out their sentences.

For instance, 'all war criminals' held on Manus Island signed a petition on 10 September 1951 requesting that they be repatriated to Japan to serve their sentences. In doing so, they pointed out that, within the British Commonwealth, they were the only war criminals still imprisoned outside Japan.479 Similarly, 'all' the war criminals signed a petition to the 'Australian Diet' on 28 March 1952.480 Quite a public movement sprang up in Japan desiring the return of war criminals. Relatives of war criminals organised mass petitions on their behalf. Politicians also took up the cause: the Japanese House of Representatives' Committee on Repatriation petitioned the Queen on the occasion of her coronation in June 1953 to allow the war criminals to return to Japan to complete their sentences.481

Despite many such pleas, in the first few years after 1945 only those war criminals who had completed their sentences were repatriated. They often had to wait a considerable period in limbo for a ship to transport them home, as transport by sea to Japan was difficult to obtain and expensive. At Rabaul released war criminals complained that some of them had been 'detained' in the Australian War Criminals Compound for three months after completing their sentences and, to make matters worse, were still 'treated in the same way as war criminals'.482 This was, in fact, Australian policy. When the War Crimes (Imprisonment) Regulations 1951 (Cth) (the Regulations) were finally issued in 1951, the regulations specified that war criminals who had served out their sentence were, pending repatriation, to be detained and treated 'as a war criminal' in respect of discipline.483 The requirement to repatriate them to their country of origin was only 'as soon as practicable'.484

While war criminals sentenced by Australian Military Courts in Singapore and Hong Kong were held in prisons in British custody and were repatriated to Japan by the United Kingdom in 1951, the bulk of war criminals in Australian custody were by then held in the Australian War Criminals Compound on Manus Island, as discussed in Chapter 8.

Transport by sea from Manus Island to Japan was also difficult, as the island was well off the main shipping routes and re-routing of ships was expensive. Those Japanese acquitted at the Manus Island trials in 1950–51, as well as the Japanese legal defence team, found themselves 'stranded' on Manus Island after the trials until a ship called in.485 Protracted negotiations took place in 1952 to organise the Japanese-owned SS Osaka Maru to repatriate war criminals from Manus Island, forcing the Japanese Repatriation Relief Agency later to compensate the Osaka Shōsen Kaisha (Osaka Steamship Company) about £1875 for the inconvenience.486

In addition to those war criminals who had completed their sentences, a handful of war criminals who had not completed their sentences were returned to Japan by ship in order to receive medical treatment. Afterwards, they were not returned to Australian custody but were detained on Australia's behalf in Sugamo Prison in Tokyo. Transport home to Japan was even more difficult to arrange for these medical repatriates, as sometimes ship captains (including the master of the SS Osaka Maru) tried to refuse to carry them if they were also carrying ordinary passengers.

The idea of repatriation of war criminals en massefrom Manus Island to Japan to serve their sentences began to be raised in 1950, even before the Manus Island trials were completed. Humanitarian reasons were cited, as well as the elimination of the costs associated with keeping the war criminals on Manus Island.487 However, arguments in favour of repatriation were usually regarded in the early 1950s as being significantly outweighed by the arguments against repatriation, including the need to respect Australian public opinion – usually negative – on the war criminals. For instance, a draft Cabinet agendum warned:

The Australian public, and in particular ex-servicemen, would be justifiably wrathful, if Australia were to show leniency to Japanese war criminals.488

The key concern triggered by the prospect ofen masse repatriation was whether, if the war criminals were returned to Japan, it could be guaranteed that they would serve out their sentences; that is, that they would not receive indiscriminate reductions of sentence or just be released into the community.

Assurances about respecting sentences of imprisonment were given by General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander, Allied Powers (SCAP), but SCAP's assurances would only last until a peace treaty with Japan came into force, as the war criminals would then become the responsibility of the Japanese Government. To address concerns about Japan's overall intention towards its war criminals, the Treaty of Peace with Japan (often referred to as the San Francisco Peace Treaty) included Article 11, which read:

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, to reduce sentences and to 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.489

Article 11 did not, however, deal with the issue of repatriation, bitterly disappointing the war criminals held on Manus Island. Repatriated in late 1951 after serving out his sentence, Katayama Fumihiko said of their dashed hopes:

And so at last the day of the signing of the treaty arrived; they [the war criminals] glued themselves to the wireless and listened, and all their dreams and hopes were in vain ... In an abyss of disappointment, despair and sadness we stumbled to our beds saying, 'We have been forgotten!' … For the last six years our one dream had been that when peace came we would return to Japan to serve our sentences.490
Image 40: Explanation of Sugamo Prison's 'Conduct Rating System' for inmates.

Image 40: Explanation of Sugamo Prison's 'Conduct Rating System' for inmates.
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After the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into force on 28 April 1952,491 responsibility for war criminals imprisoned in Japan was transferred to the Japanese Government. The Japanese Government passed the 'Law Concerning the Enforcement of the Provisions of Article XI of the Treaty of Peace', Law No. 103, in April 1952. This law provided for a scale of remissions of sentence for war criminals (awarded for good conduct) and for parole eligibility, which was quite similar to that which SCAP had employed. A Prison Rating System was established for Sugamo that same month, which provided for rating war criminals on a scale from 'very excellent' to 'unsatisfactory'.492 At this stage, however, this law and system only applied to war criminals held in Japan. Only a small number sentenced by Australian military courts at Singapore and Hong Kong fell into this category, as they had been repatriated by the United Kingdom. The Prison Rating System did not apply to the war criminals on Manus Island.

Formal recommendations by the National Offenders' Prevention and Rehabilitation Commission (NOPAR) in Japan for the parole of the small group of war criminals held in Sugamo on Australia's behalf soon followed in mid-1952. One of its earliest recommendations to Australia was for the release on parole of Ōtsuki Shigetada, who had been sentenced at Hong Kong in June 1948 to 7 years' imprisonment and had been transferred by the United Kingdom to Sugamo Prison in May 1951.493 Ōtsuki's conduct in Sugamo was rated as 'excellent'. Parolees like Ōtsuki had to abide by a short list of parole conditions, including that they would live at a fixed abode, make an 'honest living', 'not maintain a contact with a derelict or a miscreant' and not leave their abode for more than three days or move more than a specified number of kilometres away from their abode without prior approval from the parole supervisor.494

Notwithstanding Japan's apparent broad acceptance of Allied war crimes judgments and sentences as asserted in article 11 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, some niggling problems remained. Although the Japanese Government held the view that article 11 applied to all war criminals held in Japan, others argued that as the article specifically referred to 'Japanese nationals', it did not apply to war criminals who were actually Korean or Formosan (Taiwanese) and who had lost their Japanese nationality with the end of the war. In July 1952 a case was brought in the Japanese Supreme Court on behalf of 30 Korean and Formosan-born war criminals then held in Sugamo Prison. , It argued that as they were no longer Japanese nationals, there was no authority to imprison them and they should be released. This argument was rejected by Justice Kuriyama Shigeru.495

Australia took a healthy interest in these Japanese legal proceedings, undoubtedly as at this point Australia held 76 Formosan war criminals on Manus Island.496 Australia refused several applications by the Chinese Nationalist Government to separately repatriate the Formosans war criminals to Formosa. One such refusal, sent to the Chinese Embassy in Canberra pointed out:

In the view of the Australian Government the validity of the sentences is in no way affected by any subsequent change in the nationality of the criminals. This is also the view of the Japanese Government.497

Yet, Australia's confidence in the extent to which Japan adhered to its view that the present nationality of the war criminals was irrelevant was shaken in the same month as the Supreme Court's judgment. Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs submitted recommendations to Australia in July 1952 that five Korean war criminals be released from Sugamo Prison on several grounds, including their youth and lack of family in Japan. The recommendations concluded with a suggestive comment that Japan did, in fact, regard Korean war criminals as different from Japanese war criminals, namely:

Now the Peace Treaty has come into force, it is unbearable for Japan to make them serve their sentences as Japanese nationals like other war criminals.498

Repatriation of minor war criminals from Manus Island

After the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, the Australian Government faced increased pressure to repatriate all the war criminals from Manus Island, including formal and informal approaches from the Japanese Government, as well as a deluge of petitions from Japanese local government bodies, organisations and individuals. The Australian Embassy in Japan warned in August 1952, for example, that it was 'becoming an almost full-time job' receiving the petitioners who were requesting the release of war criminals. The embassy suspected that 'some form of concerted campaign is being organised to wear us down by sheer weight of numbers'.499 The First Secretary of the embassy was somewhat surprised by one deputation of petitioners in September 1952, which included relatives of a war criminal then on Manus Island, describing it as 'a quite novel performance as far as this Embassy is concerned'.500

Image 41: Account describing a 'quite novel performance' of Japanese petitioning at the Australian Embassy, September 1952.

Image 41: Account describing a 'quite novel performance' of Japanese petitioning at the Australian Embassy, September 1952.
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The targeting of the petitions was also often careful and deliberate: Mrs Pattie Menzies, the prime minister's wife, was addressed in one such petition, which was handed over in Japan to Mrs Louise Walker, the wife of the Australian ambassador.501

In the course of renewing Japan's official request for repatriation of the war criminals from Manus Island in November 1952, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs advised the Australian Embassy that it, too, was being 'flooded with petitions' from relatives of the war criminals, as well as the 'public in general'.502 The extent of the organisational effort can be seen in a petition headed by Mrs Imamura, the wife of General Imamura Hitoshi, which was handed over by the Japanese Embassy in Canberra to the Prime Minister's Department in March 1953. The petition was supported by the signatures in books of some 889,324 petitioners from various parts of Japan.503

In September 1952, the ministers for the Army and External Affairs jointly prepared a Cabinet agendum on 'Policy Concerning Japanese War Criminals Sentenced by Australian Military Courts'.504 The ministers recommended that Japan's request for unconditional release of the war criminals be rejected.505 The agendum acknowledged, however, that Australia was by then, apart from the USSR and the Philippines, the only country still holding Japanese war criminals outside of Japan.506 However, the agendum was deferred by Cabinet on several occasions before an updated version was considered in July 1953.507 By then, Australia was the only country which had ratified the San Francisco Peace Treaty that clearly intended to continue holding war criminals outside Japan.508 The ministers sponsoring the agendum recommended that Japan's request for unconditional release be rejected but stated that they made no recommendation as to the request for repatriation.509

In a Cabinet meeting on 2 July 1953, Arthur Fadden, the Treasurer, asked how they would explain to the public a decision to repatriate the war criminals to Japan. RG Casey, the Minister for External Affairs, pointed out that 'we aren't releasg [sic] them – just changing the gaol' and that there was 'great political value in sending them back'.510 After consideration, Cabinet decided to agree to Japan's request to transfer all the war criminals from Manus Island to Sugamo Prison.511

This decision turned on a number of factors, including that the rate of war criminals due for repatriation after completing their sentences was increasing and that the usefulness of the war criminals as a labour force overall was rapidly diminishing.512 The decision to repatriate the war criminals was subject to, amongst other things, Japan giving an undertaking to ensure that the sentences imposed by the Australian military courts would be carried out. Other provisos were also communicated to Japan, including that:

  • the costs of transportation would be borne by Japan
  • the arrangements and conditions on board ship would be appropriate to the war criminals still being under sentence
  • the war criminals would be detained in Sugamo promptly, with no opportunity for public attention
  • the repatriation overall would be conducted with a minimum of publicity.513

On 31 July 1953, 147 'transferees' (war criminals being transferred) and 18 'repatriates' (war criminals who had served out their sentences) embarked on the
SS Hakuryū Maru (also owned by the Osaka Shōsen Kaisha) for Japan. The remains of two war criminals who had died and been buried on Manus Island were exhumed and also repatriated. After arrival in Yokohama on 8 August 1953, the 'transferees' were detained in Sugamo Prison. Thereafter, Australia routinely received Sugamo monthly reports and the National Offenders' Prevention and Rehabilitation Commission's Statistical Reports on War Criminals in Sugamo Prison, which give basic headcount statistics, the latter reports being comparative statistics of detainees held on behalf of each of the Allied powers in Sugamo.514

Parole and release of minor war criminals from Sugamo Prison

The repatriation of all war criminals held by Australia to Japan did not stop the flood of petitions to Australian authorities, although now the petitioners turned their focus to issues of parole, clemency and release. The Australian Embassy in Japan observed somewhat dolefully in late 1953, for example, that petitions urging the release of all war criminals 'continue[d] to pour into this Embassy from all parts of Japan'.515

By early 1955, Australia was the only country that had not granted formal parole or any degree of clemency to the war criminals held on its behalf, other than remission of sentence for good conduct, even though the National Offenders' Prevention and Rehabilitation Commission had submitted dozens of recommendations for parole. Short periods of 'provisional parole' had been granted to some war criminals to deal with emergencies, such as critical illnesses and deaths of family members or natural disasters.

Image 42: Comparative (but strictly notional) dates of discharge under Australian and United Kingdom practices.

Image 42: Comparative (but strictly notional) dates of discharge under Australian and United Kingdom practices.
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However, only those war criminals whose sentences had been served out in full or the remaining portion of their sentence had been remitted for good conduct and industry were released. Many war criminals had had their sentences remitted in this manner. General Imamura Hitoshi, for instance, was released from Sugamo on 13 November 1954, having served more than seven years of his ten year sentence handed down at Rabaul in May 1947 and the remaining one-fourth of his sentence having been remitted for good conduct and industry.516 This release date was, in fact, deliberately set two days before Imamura was actually eligible for release, in an attempt to limit the chance for an organised demonstration casting him as a hero.517   

Giving the visibility of Australia standing alone in its refusal to grant parole, the Department of External Affairs prepared in January 1955 a draft Cabinet submission recommending the introduction of a system of parole and release.518 When the Cabinet submission was finally considered in early April 1955, it was co-sponsored by the ministers of External Affairs and the Army.519 Cabinet decided that minor war criminals would become eligible for parole after they had served one-third of their sentence or a maximum of ten years' imprisonment (provided that this was not contrary to the requirements or practices of British Commonwealth countries), and that the Adjutant-General should be empowered to grant such parole.520

Image 43: The Army's opinion on the Japanese recommendation for parole of Yasusaka Masaji.

Image 43: The Army's opinion on the Japanese recommendation for parole of Yasusaka Masaji.
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The new parole system took time to implement and had little impact at first, as only seven minor war criminals were released on parole in 1955.521 It also did not apply to Formosan or Korean war criminals, as the Japanese Government did not recommend parole for them. Instead, the Japanese Government favoured amnesty, release and repatriation to the war criminals' own countries, an action Australia would not have agreed with.

Efforts to 'step up' the parole rate were soon recommended, with the hope that Australia would not at any time replace the United States as the government detaining the most war criminals in Sugamo.522 One suggestion was that minor war criminals should become eligible for parole after serving one-third of their sentence or a maximum of ten years' imprisonment calculated from their date of arrest as a suspect (ie, not the date of sentence). The date from which eligibility for parole was calculated was crucial, as shown by a chart drawn up by the Japanese authorities to show how prospective dates differed if they were calculated under the sentencing and parole practices of Australia versus the United Kingdom.

This chart showed that war criminals administered by Australia were at a 'great disadvantage' compared to those administered by the United Kingdom. The disadvantage was on a sliding scale but, for war criminals sentenced to 'life' imprisonment, the difference in times served could almost be 20 years.523 It was soon pointed out, however, that the Australian military courts took time in custody into consideration when sentencing, so the date of imprisonment had to be calculated from the date of sentence.

Another Cabinet submission in May 1956 recommended revising the parole system to eliminate its disproportionate operation and to extend it to Formosan and Korean war criminals, who would be allowed to return home to serve their parole.524 However, after consideration, Cabinet decided that the war criminals would now be regarded as eligible for remission (not parole) after they had served one-third of their sentence or a maximum of ten years' imprisonment. Cabinet also extended the remission system to Formosan and Korean war criminals.525

The effect of this decision was that the parole system was replaced by a system of remission of sentences, albeit with the same criteria for eligibility. This meant that war criminals already on parole were now eligible for termination of their sentences and for unconditional release. When the decision was publicly announced, therefore, it was described as implementing a 'revised system of remission of sentences'.526  

High level discussions about releasing the remaining war criminals detained on Australia's behalf in Sugamo continued in 1956 and into early 1957. Although the Australian Government remained sensitive to Australian public opinion about the war criminals, and resisted being manipulated on the subject by Japan, political pragmatism about Australia's relations with Japan was also influential. For instance, a memorandum for the Minister of External Affairs pointed out in early 1957 that:

Our continued refusal to release them [the war criminals] … could cause this question to develop into a major irritant in our relations with Japan, damaging to some extent the good relations we have been fostering … It would also be desirable to remove this war criminal problem from our relations with Japan before either yourself [the Minister] or the Prime Minister visits Japan.527

The reality was, by this stage, only Australia and the United States were still holding war criminals in Sugamo Prison and, in respect of Australia, the effect of the remission system meant that the number had been reduced to very few. By April 1957, only 14 war criminals were still detained in Sugamo on Australia's behalf,528 principally those who had been sentenced to life imprisonment. One exception to this general rule was Yasusaka Masaji, who had been sentenced at Rabaul in March and April 1946 respectively to sentences of 15 years' and 20 years' imprisonment. In 1949, however, Yasusaka had been also convicted in a civilian criminal trial of murdering a fellow war criminal in the Manus Island compound, as discussed in Chapter 8. His sentence of 7 years' imprisonment for murder was suspended at the time, pending the expiration of his war crimes sentences. Unsurprisingly, the departments of the Army and of Territories (which was then administering Papua and New Guinea) regarded Yasusaka's conviction for murder carried out in the compound as eliminating him from consideration for remission of his war crimes sentences for reason of good conduct.

Image 44: External Affairs' press release on the decision to release, 12 June 1957.

Image 44: External Affairs' press release on the decision to release, 12 June 1957.
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While Yasusaka had satisfied the requirements for parole or remission eligibility, as he had been imprisoned for more than 10 years, neither department thought that the Japanese recommendation in 1956 that Yasusaka be paroled was justified. Indeed, the Minister for Territories remarked:

I can find no arguments in support of the recommendation [for Yasusaka's parole] except that to adopt the recommendation might save us from bothering about the case any more [sic].529

The acute problem with Yasusaka was that, if the remaining periods of his war crimes sentences were remitted, he would become liable to serve his sentence for murder. There was no extradition treaty between Japan, where Yasusaka was now held, and Papua and New Guinea, where he had been convicted and sentenced for murder. After some discussion back and forth, Japan's Ministry of Justice agreed to take, after Yasusaka's release, 'appropriate steps in the light of the examination of the [murder] case in accordance with relevant Japanese laws'.530

The Australian Government finally agreed to release the few remaining war criminals by the end of June 1957 in a decision that was announced on 12 June 1957.531 Some newspaper reports linked the decision to release the war criminals to trade negotiations between Australia and Japan. Correspondent Gilbert Mant, for instance, had labelled the 'back-door release' of war criminals for 'the sake of a trade treaty' as a 'sneaky sort of thing that should never have happened'.532 While political pragmatism undoubtedly played a part in the decision, the Australian Government strongly resisted any suggestions that the decision was linked to trade with Japan.

Image 45: Letter signed by the First Secretary, Embassy of Japan, acknowledging the authorisation of the immediate release of four final war criminals, 27 June 1957.

Image 45: Letter signed by the First Secretary, Embassy of Japan, acknowledging the authorisation of the immediate release of four final war criminals, 27 June 1957.
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Quite naturally, the decision to release the war criminals – although they were few in number by that time – drew some very strong objections in Australia, including from the Returned Sailors' Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia (RSSAILA), which was renamed the Returned Services League of Australia (RSL) in 1965. Another critic was the combative Mr EJ Ward, the member for East Sydney, who had taken up the causes of returned Australian prisoners of war with some vehemence and who was very concerned that the war criminals appeared to be getting off lightly.

The Japanese Ambassador to the United Kingdom, where Prime Minister Robert Menzies was then visiting, wrote to Menzies that he was delighted to hear of the pending release of the remaining war criminals and commented:

Your Excellency has always shown sympathetic understanding on this difficult problem and by your statesmanship you have now brought about its final solution to the gratification of all my countrymen.533

Yasusaka was one of the last five war criminals to be released, on 4 July 1957.534 On his release, Yasusaka was retried for causing Ogata's death in the Tokyo District Court in July 1957 and was eventually sentenced to 'three years' servitude'; however, this sentence was suspended for three years.535

Release of major war criminals from Sugamo Prison

After the sentences of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East were upheld by General Douglas MacArthur, and the United States Supreme Court declined to interfere with them in late 1948, major war criminals sentenced to terms of imprisonment were detained in Sugamo Prison, where they had been held awaiting and during the trial.

Media reports in Japan and Australia occasionally suggested that the war criminals were now living a 'fantastic life of pampered ease' in Sugamo Prison,536 similar to earlier suggestions about comfortable imprisonment in the Australian compounds. Major war criminal Araki Sadao greatly contributed to the controversy over whether being imprisoned in Sugamo was really punishment in late 1955, when he characterised the prison as 'nothing but an apartment-house in which they [the war criminals] merely sleep' in an article for a Japanese language journal. Araki quickly denied he had written the article and claimed that he had talked only 'in a manner of an idle talk' with the reporter, who had sensationalised the comments.537 Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the report was 'grossly exaggerated and contrary to fact'.538 Despite this, the issue of lenient treatment of war criminals in Sugamo gained quite a bit of publicity, including in Australia.

The issue of parole and clemency for the major war criminals arose seriously from 1952 onwards, when the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect. By then, several of the major war criminals sentenced to imprisonment had died of natural causes, leaving only a dozen in prison. As it did for the minor war criminals, article 11 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty was meant to provide the basis for the procedure to follow in relation to the major war criminals for the granting of clemency, the reduction of sentences or the granting of parole:  

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.539

Debate ensued as to whether the right to exercise the powers under article 11 was held by the eleven nations represented on the tribunal or only those nations represented there which were now parties to and had ratified the San Francisco Peace Treaty – namely Australia, Canada, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan (as a legal successor state to unified India), the Philippines, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The latter interpretation would exclude the USSR, China, India and the Philippines from the decision-making process. India, in particular, protested about being excluded, maintaining that it had a right to be involved, given that it had been represented on the tribunal, and certainly had more right to be involved than Pakistan, who had not been represented on the tribunal. Australia concurred with the decision of other governments, however, to confine the process to signatories of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which India was not.540 India continued to protest the decision to exclude it well into 1954.  

Each of the eligible governments' internal processes leading up to decision-making was up to them. However, various procedural matters did have to be agreed upon among the governments, including:

  • how consultations would take place
  • how decisions would be made and conveyed to Japan
  • whether Japan would be notified only of the 'net effect' of the overall decision-making or would be told of each government's individual decision
  • whether the governments would publicise the decisions or leave publicity to Japan, unless the consequent publicity was inaccurate.541

Once the procedure was agreed and the basics of it communicated to Japan on 9 March 1953, the National Offenders' Prevention and Rehabilitation Commission began submitting individual cases recommending clemency for consideration by the eligible governments. Recommendations for clemency for (or failing that, parole of) Araki Sadao, Minami Jiro and Hata Shunroku were the first to be submitted to Australia in April 1953, with these three allegedly carefully chosen by the commission due to their advanced ages, their health and good conduct in prison. In support of Araki's recommendation, for instance, Australia was told, among other things, that he was now 75 years old with high blood-pressure, he had been an obedient prisoner and that his prison rating was 'very excellent'.542 The early indications were that most of the governments favoured parole on compassionate grounds but not unconditional release. The Department of the Army advised External Affairs, for instance, that:

If clemency is extended adequate safeguards must be imposed to preserve the standing and dignity of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and of any future similar War Crimes Tribunal. Therefore the criminal must, during the period of the sentence awarded by the Tribunal, be prevented from propagating and pursing the ideals and methods which culminated in his present sentence. Conditional parole should provide the necessary safeguards.543
Image 46: The Minister of External Affairs' suggestion that 'Weary' Dunlop should be involved in the advisory panel.

Image 46: The Minister of External Affairs' suggestion that 'Weary' Dunlop should be involved in the advisory panel.
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While engaged in consultations with the other governments, External Affairs simultaneously began to canvass how to form Australia's official views on the applications for clemency. External Affairs suggested that a Parole Committee be established to consider the applications for clemency, which could be advised by a panel of advisors. Prospective panel members were suggested, including Sir George Holland (President of the RSSAILA), Dr AE Coates (who had been attached to the Australian delegation to the San Francisco Peace Conference), and Brigadier AS Blackburn VC and Colonel EE 'Weary' Dunlop (both of whom had been prisoners of war).544

While the Attorney-General agreed with the idea, the Army did not favour such a committee and, if one was established, did not want to be represented on it, as the International Military Tribunal had largely been the province of the departments of External Affairs and the Attorney-General.

The eligible governments were still negotiating with each other on the applications in respect of Araki, Minami and Hata when Japan presented a recommendation in respect of Kaya Okinori in September 1953.545 The deadlock in views was still ongoing at the end of 1953, when the rapidly deteriorating health of Minami meant that his application had to be urgently resolved. Minami was approved for release on special medical parole, with Australia's decision on it being conveyed to Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 3 January 1954,546 as did the Tokyo missions of the other governments involved. The decision to release Minami did not result in any immediate unanimity of views on how to approach applications for clemency – neither did the influx in 1954 of Japanese recommendations for clemency for the remaining major war criminals, nor did the additional materials submitted in support of earlier recommendations.

Image 47: Japanese Ambassador's letter of thanks for granting parole to Hata and Oka, October 1943.

Image 47: Japanese Ambassador's letter of thanks for granting parole to Hata and Oka, October 1943.
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International negotiations continued with little prospect at times of majority agreement on the course of action. In due course, however, the governments did come to grudging agreements to release more of the war criminals on special medical parole. Hara and Oka, for instance, were approved for special medical parole in late 1954 and Shimada and Araki in 1955.

In Australia, Cabinet decided in April 1955 that the Minister for External Affairs should be authorised to approve the release or parole of major war criminals on 'terms to be agreed upon with the majority of other states signatories to the Japanese Peace Treaty provided that this majority included all relevant members of the British Commonwealth'.547 International negotiations continued throughout 1955 on the issue of whether, as the United States proposed, the war criminals should be eligible for parole after 10 years' imprisonment or, as the United Kingdom favoured, they should be granted unconditional release according to a sliding scale. The Department of External Affairs recommended to its minister that Australia should support the United States' proposal on the basis that:

Image 48: Sugamo Monthly Report for December 1955 showing only one major war criminal remaining in Sugamo.

Image 48: Sugamo Monthly Report for December 1955 showing only one major war criminal remaining in Sugamo.
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  • release on parole, not unconditional release, would probably be more acceptable to the Australia public
  • as Australia was planning to parole minor war criminals, it would be 'anomalous' to privilege major war criminals by unconditionally releasing them
  • release on parole would still afford the Japanese Government and the Allied governments some measure of control over the major war criminals
  • the institution of a parole system would mean 'almost immediate release of all major war criminals', which 'should produce valuable goodwill in Japan'.548

The minister approved this approach on 18 July 1955, conditional on all the other British Commonwealth countries also accepting the United States' proposal. Eventually all the governments agreed to adopt the United States' parole scheme with the proviso that parole was to be considered in each case, not just automatically approved.549 The first three war criminals eligible for parole were Hashimoto, Kaya and Suzuki, who were released in September 1955. Hoshino, Ōshima and Kido were released on parole in December 1955, leaving Satō Kenryō as the last remaining major war criminal in Sugamo until he was paroled in March 1956.

Table 8: Outcomes for the convicted major war criminals

Convicted

Sentence in 1948

Outcome

Araki Sadao

Life imprisonment

Paroled in June 1955

Doihara Kenji

Death by hanging

Executed

Hashimoto Kingorō

Life imprisonment

Paroled in September 1955

Hata Shunroku

Life imprisonment

Paroled in October 1954

Hiranuma Kiichirō

Life imprisonment

Died in 1952

Hirota Kōki

Death by hanging

Executed

Hoshino Naoki

Life imprisonment

Paroled December 1955

Itagaki Seishirō

Death by hanging

Executed

Kaya Okinori

Life imprisonment

Paroled in September 1955

Kido Kōichi

Life imprisonment

Paroled December 1955

Kimura Heitarō

Death by hanging

Executed

Koiso Kuniaki

Life imprisonment

Died in 1950

Matsui Iwane

Death by hanging

Executed

Minami Jirō

Life imprisonment

Paroled in January 1954

Mutō Akira

Death by hanging

Executed

Oka Takasumi

Life imprisonment

Paroled in October 1954

Ōshima Hiroshi

Life imprisonment

Paroled December 1955

Satō Kenryō

Life imprisonment

Paroled March 1956

Shigemitsu Mamoru

7 years' imprisonment

Released in November 1950

Shimada Shigetarō

Life imprisonment

Paroled in April 1955

Shiratori Toshio

Life imprisonment

Died in 1949

Suzuki Teiichi

Life imprisonment

Paroled in September 1955

Tōgō Shigenori

20 years' imprisonment

Died in 1950

Tōjō Hideki

Death by hanging

Executed

Umezu Yoshijirō

Life imprisonment

Died in 1949

On 7 April 1958, the 10 surviving parolees – Araki, Hata, Hoshino, Kaya, Kido, Oka, Ōshima, Sato, Shimada and Suzuki – were each unconditionally released, with their sentences reduced to time served.550

Overview of the records

This chapter sorts records into two sections:

  • repatriation, parole and release of minor war criminals
  • parole and release of major war criminals.

Files held at the Australian War Memorial are listed separately at the end.

Notes

479 Petition from All War Criminals in the WCC, Manus Island to the Chief of the Naval Board of Australia,
10 September 1951, National Archives of Australia (NAA): MP375/13, WCC2/27.

480 Japan's Parliament is known in English as the Diet: petition from All the Japanese in WCC, Manus Island to the Members of the Australian Diet, 28 March 1952, NAA: MP375/13, WCC2/27.

481 Memorandum from Mr E Ronald Walker, Ambassador, Australian Embassy, Tokyo to the Secretary, Department of External Affairs, 5 June 1953 and attached petition, NAA: A462, 446/1/13.

482 See the undated, but circa September 1948, copy of this petition for quick repatriation in NAA: MP742/1, 336/1/1973.

483 See regulation 42 of the War Crimes (Imprisonment) Regulations 1951 (Cth), Statutory Rules 1951, no. 11, made under the War Crimes Act 1945 (Cth) on 16 February 1951 and notified in Gazette on 22 February 1951. The regulations 'as made' in 1951 are available in full on the Federal Register of Legislation: www.legislation.gov.au.

484 ibid.

485 'Japanese Defence Team Stranded at Los Negros', The Age, 12 April 1952, news clipping held in A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 2.

486 See the negotiations in NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 3.The cost was reported in a cablegram from the Australian Embassy, Tokyo, to the Minister and Department of External Affairs, 5 May 1953, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 6.

487 See, for example, memorandum for Mr Dexter, 'Convicted Japanese War Criminals', 20 September 1950, p. 2, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 2.

488 Revised draft of proposed Cabinet agendum, 'Policy Concerning Japanese War Criminals Sentenced by Australian Military Courts', September 1952, p. 4, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 4.This quoted sentence was not in the final agreed draft later presented to Cabinet.

489 Italics added for emphasis: Treaty of Peace with Japan, signed at San Francisco, 8 September 1951, https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%20136/volume-136-I-1832-English.pdf. On Article 11, see Masahiro Yamamoto, 'Japan's "Unsettling" Past: Article 11 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty and its Ramifications', Journal of US–China Public Administration, vol. 7, no. 5, May 2010, pp. 1–16.

490 Translation of Katayama Fumihiko, 'Daily Life at War Criminal Manus [sic]', Aino Hikari [Japanese Red Cross Monthly], January 1952, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 2.

491 This is the general date on which the treaty came into force. Australia ratified the treaty on 10 April 1952.

492 Kawakami Isamu, Governor, Sugamo Prison, 'Conduct Rating System', 29 April 1952, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 3.

493 Translation of Note Verbale, Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 24 June 1952, NAA: A432, 1952/1519.

494 See Certificate of Parole and Conditions to be Complied With While On Parole attached to Decision on Recommendation for Parole of Ōtsuki Shigetada, 19 June 1942, NAA: A432, 1952/1519.

495 A translation of the Supreme Court's judgment rejecting the application can be seen in NAA: A432, 1952/1519.

496 Appendix to Cabinet Agendum no. 347, 'Policy Concerning Japanese War Criminals Sentenced by Australian Military Courts', September 1952, p. 1, NAA: A432, 1952/1519.This is the figure given in this draft of the Cabinet agendum but it may be incorrect, given that there was occasionally minor confusion over who was Korean or Formosan.

497Letter to the Chargé d'Affaires, Chinese Embassy, Canberra, 23 September 1952, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 5.

498 Quoted in ibid, p. 2. A copy of the NOPAR recommendation for these five war criminals can be seen in NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 3.

499 Memorandum from HS Currie, Third Secretary, Australian Embassy in Tokyo to the Secretary, Department of External Affairs, 'Petitions for Release of War Criminals', 29 August 1952, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 4.The embassy forwarded regular lists of petitions received, which can be seen in NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 5, PART 6 and PART 8. Copies of some significant petitions can also be seen in various parts of this sub-series.

500 Memorandum from AB Jamieson, First Secretary, Australian Embassy, Japan, to the Secretary, Department of External Affairs, 2 September 1952, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 4.

501 See copy of this petition in NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 6.

502 Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Note Verbale, no. 418/EA3, 24 November 1952, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 5.

503 Reported in memorandum from TW Eckersley to the Secretary, Prime Minister's Department, 24 March 1953, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 6.

504 See Cabinet Agendum no. 347, 'Policy Concerning Japanese War Criminals Sentenced by Australian Military Courts', September 1952, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 4.

505 ibid, p. 4. For further discussion of other Allied countries and their views on repatriation, parole and release, see Sandra Wilson, Robert Cribb, Beatrice Trefalt and Dean Aszkielowicz, Japanese War Criminals: The Politics of Justice After the Second World War, New York: Columbia University Press, 2017.

506 This reasoning obviously excluded the Soviet Union from consideration: ibid, p. 3.

507 Cabinet Agendum no. 466, 'Policy Concerning Japanese War Criminals Sentenced by Australian Military Courts', 30 June 1953, p. 8, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 7.

508 ibid, pp. 3, 8.

509 ibid, p. 8.

510 Cabinet Notebook 1/30, 1953, NAA: A11099, 1/30. A typewritten transcript of this Cabinet Notebook is available on the NAA website: http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/explore/cabinet/notebooks/1953.aspx.

511 Cabinet Decision no. 731, 2 July 1953, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 8. The decision was hurriedly announced on 7 July 1953, as it had already leaked to the Australian press.

512 See some discussion on these points in early January 1953 in NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 5.

513 See, for example, cablegram from the Department of External Affairs to the Australian Embassy, Japan, 15 July 1953, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 8.

514 See monthly reports and NOPAR statistical reports in NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 9 and later parts in that sub-series.

515 Memorandum from RJ Percival, Third Secretary, Australian Embassy in Japan to the Secretary, Department of External Affairs, 18 November 1953, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 10.

516 Minute paper by Colonel Gilchrist, Director of Personal Services to the Adjutant-General, 26 October 1954; and memorandum from P Hill, Third Secretary, Australian Embassy in Japan to the Secretary, Department of External Affairs, 24 November 1954, both in NAA: MT1131/1, A336/1/70.

517 Memorandum from TK Crichley for Assistant Secretary, Department of External Affairs to the Australian Embassy, Tokyo, 2 November 1954, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 ANNEX A PART 12.

518 Draft Cabinet Submission on Japanese War Criminals, January 1955, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 12.

519 Cabinet Submission, 'Japanese War Criminals', no. 316, 1 April 1955, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 12.

520 Cabinet Decision no. 381, 14 April 1955, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 12.

521 Memorandum for the Minister, 'Japanese Minor War Criminals', 4 January 1956, p.2, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 14A.

522 ibid, p. 1.

523 'Japanese War Criminals Transferred to Australian Jurisdiction' and attached 'List of Japanese War Criminals Transferred to Australian Jurisdiction', 31 January 1956, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 14A. Note: the reference in the document titles to transferral of jurisdiction is misleading. The war criminals listed as examples suffering disadvantage were tried and sentenced by Australia in Singapore and Hong Kong but were among the group transferred to Sugamo by the United Kingdom in 1951. After confusion at Sugamo about which country held responsibility for these war criminals, they were notionally 'transferred' from United Kingdom back to Australian jurisdiction in Sugamo's records. No actual transfer of jurisdiction, legally or geographically, took place. But this group provided a persuasive case study, as far as Japan was concerned, of how different ways of calculating dates of eligibility for parole could result in significant (but strictly notional) differences in time served behind bars.

524 Cabinet Submission, 'Japanese War Criminals', no. 158, May 1956, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 14B.

525 Cabinet Decision no. 197, 18 May 1956, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 14B Interestingly, this Cabinet decision also stated that the word 'minor' should not be used in relation to war criminals.

526 Press Release, 'Japanese War Criminals', 3 July 1956, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 14B.

527 Mr J Plimsoll, Assistant Secretary, Memorandum for the Minister, 'Japanese War Criminals', not dated,
pp. 1–2, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 16.

528 Letter from N Takase, First Secretary, Embassy of Japan, 23 April 1957 attaching table entitled 'Number of War Criminals in Sugamo Prison', 10 April 1957, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 16.

529 Quoted in letter from Department of Territories to the Secretary, Department of the Army, 4 September 1956, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 16.

530 Embassy of Japan, Note Verbale no. 31, 5 April 1957, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 16.

531 Department of External Affairs, For the Press, 'Release of Japanese War Criminals', 12 June 1957, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 17.

532 Gilbert Mant, 'The Way I See It', Sun Herald (Sydney), 30 June 1957, news clipping held in NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 17.

533 Letter from Mr H Nishi, Ambassador, Embassy of Japan, United Kingdom, 29 June 1957, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 17.

534 See text of Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affair, Note Verbale, 12 July 1957, quoted in letter from Mr HD Anderson, Head of Chancery, Australian Embassy, Tokyo to the Secretary, Department of External Affairs, 17 July 1957, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 1.

535 See the Japanese explanation for the suspension quoted in letter from Mr HD Anderson, First Secretary, Australian Embassy, Tokyo to the Secretary, Department of External Affairs, 24 March 1958, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 15A.

536 'Jap war criminals have life of ease', Daily Telegraph Magazine (Sydney), 9 February 1954, p. 15, clipping in NAA: MP927/1, A336/1/54.

537 For two different translations of the Bungei Shunju article and subsequent media coverage in Japan, see NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 14A and MP927/1, A336/1/54.

538 Reported in cablegram from the Australian Embassy, Tokyo to the Minister and Department of External Affairs, 17 October 1955, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 14A.

539 Treaty of Peace with Japan, signed at San Francisco, 8 September 1951, https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%20136/volume-136-I-1832-English.pdf.

540 For an Australian legal (not political) analysis of the validity of India's claim, see Legal and Treaty Section, memorandum for the Secretary and Mr Harry, 20 May 1953, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/1 PART 5. For drafts of Australia's response to India, see NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/1 PART 6.

541 See the extensive correspondence and notes of meetings in NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/1 PART 5.

542 NOPAR, A Decision on Recommendation Re Clemency – Araki Sadao, 10 April 1953, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/1 PART 5.

543 Memorandum from FR Sinclair, Secretary, Department of the Army to the Secretary, Department of External Affairs, 22 May 1953, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/1 PART 5.

544 Memorandum for the Minister, 'Japanese War Criminals – Applications for Parole', 7 August 1953, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/1 PART 6.

545 NOPAR, A Decision on Recommendation Re Clemency – Kaya Okinori, 16 July 1953, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/1 PART 6.

546 Australian Ambassador, Note Verbale to Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tokyo, 3 January 1954, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/1 PART 7.

547 Cabinet Decision no. 381, 14 April 1955, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/2 PART 12.

548 Memorandum for the Minister, 'Japanese "A" Class War Criminals, 10 June 1955, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/1 PART 9.

549 Memorandum from the Department of External Affairs to the Australian Embassy, Tokyo, 9 September 1955, NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/1 PART 9.

550 For correspondence on this initiative, see NAA: A1838, 3103/10/13/1 PART 10.


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