As I said in the Manila Supreme Court that I have done with my all capacity, so I don’t ashame in front of the gods for what I have done when I have died. But if you say to me ‘you do not have any ability to command the Japanese Army’ I should say nothing for it, because it is my own nature. Now, our war criminal trial going under your kindness and right. I know that all your American and American military affairs always has tolerant and rightful judgment. When I have been investigated in Manila court I have had a good treatment, kindful attitude from your good natured officers who protected me all the time. I never forget for what they have done for me even if I had died. I don’t blame my executioner. I’ll pray the gods bless them. Please send my thankful word to Col. Clarke and Lt. Col. Feldhaus, Lt. Col. Hendrix, Maj. Guy, Capt. Sandburg, Capt. Reel, at Manila court, and Col. Arnard. I thank you.
Yamashita’ s last statement, through a translator, on the gallows. February 23, 1946
General Tomoyuki Yamashita won early fame in World War II by leading the conquest of Malaya. With inferior forces he decisively defeated the British and earned the popular title of Tiger of Malaya. Troops under his command did engage in massacres and looting, but Yamashita, unlike most Japanese commanders, severely punished the troops involved, up to and including execution of the guilty. His humane attitude towards prisoners placed him at odds with the Japanese government, and he spent much of the war in virtual exile in Manchukuo commanding the First Area Army. Worsening Japanese military fortunes caused him to be placed in command of the Philippines, ten days before MacArthur and his army returned. Yamashita conducted a skillful defense of the Philippines, marred by massive atrocities against civilians in Manila. It must be noted that Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi commanded the forces defending in Manila. Yamashita had ordered the evacuation of Manila which Iwabuchi disobeyed, just as his men disobeyed Yamashita’s standing orders against ill treatment of civilians.
Yamashita was put on trial for war crimes in Manila from October 29, 1945-December 7, 1945 by an American military tribunal. The principal accusation was that he had failed to keep his troops in the Philippines under control and that as a result he was responsible for their crimes. This was a novel theory of criminal responsibility either under American military or civilian jurisprudence as his military defense counsel pointed out time and again. Yamashita was impressed by the dedication and zeal of his defense counsel and stated several times that his respect for the United States had been reaffirmed by their efforts.
Behind the scenes MacArthur expressed impatience at the length of the trial, clearly wanting a quick guilty verdict. When Yamashita was found guilty and sentenced to death, he swiftly affirmed the verdict and sentence when it was appealed to him. Yamashita’s defense team then appealed to the US Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, In re Yamashita, 327 US 1, rejected the petitions for habeas corpus and writ of prohibition ruling:
It thus appears that the order convening the commission was a lawful order, that the commission was lawfully constituted, that petitioner was charged with violation of the law of war, and that the commission had authority to proceed with the trial, and, in doing so, did not violate any military, statutory, or constitutional command. We have considered, but find it unnecessary to discuss, other contentions which we find to be without merit. We therefore conclude that the detention of petitioner for trial and his detention upon his conviction, subject to the prescribed review by the military authorities, were lawful, and that the petition for certiorari, and leave to file in this Court petitions for writs of habeas corpus and prohibition should be, and they are
Justices Murphy and Rutledge wrote memorable dissents: (more…)