FE files, lot 55 D 480

No. 735
Memorandum of Conversation, by Alice L. Dunning of the Office of Northeast Asian Affairs



  • General Amnesty for Japanese War Criminals.


  • Ambassador John Allison, Tokyo
  • Mr. Walter Robertson, Assistant Secretary, FE
  • Mr. James Bonbright, Deputy Assistant Secretary, EUR
  • Mr. Cecil B. Lyon, Director, GER
  • Mr. Herman Phleger, Legal Adviser
  • Mr. John M. Raymond, L/GER
  • Mr. Conrad E. Snow, L/FE
  • Mrs. Alice Dunning, NA
[Page 1602]

Representatives from FE, EUR and L met with Ambassador Allison 1 in Mr. Robertson’s office at 4 o’clock on February 16 in order to discuss the above subject.

Ambassador Allison referred to his telegram 1821 of January 262 in which he reviewed Japanese attitudes with respect to the question of war criminals sentenced by the United States and proposed a reexamination of our present policy with a view to granting general amnesty, or if such procedure was unacceptable, the speeding up of releases by the Clemency and Parole Board. Ambassador Allison indicated that the question of war criminals in Japan was becoming a farce in view of the Japanese Government’s laxity of control over the prisoners who were permitted to attend baseball games and other activities in Tokyo. Ambassador Allison indicated that he was aware of the problems facing EUR with respect to an amnesty for German war criminals and inquired if it would be possible to take some action less than amnesty with respect to the Japanese war criminals.

Mr. Snow indicated that the Board of Clemency and Parole had to date paroled 113 persons, that the majority of the remaining prisoners were sentenced to fairly long terms of life imprisonment and had been guilty of particularly heinous crimes. He pointed out that the Board was operating on the Federal system for the granting of parole—a procedure that had originally been instituted by SCAP. He also pointed out that under this system those persons sentenced to life imprisonment would not be eligible for parole until 1960 or 1961. He noted that in some instances the Board had granted a reduction of sentence so as to make the prisoner eligible for parole. He indicated that this procedure could and would be followed in the future but that a number of cases fell into such a heinous category that the prisoners might never be granted parole or clemency. He noted that it would be possible for the Board to change the “ground rules” so as to make lifers eligible for parole after serving 10 instead of 15 years.

Mr. Raymond 3 indicated that Mr. Phleger felt strongly that a grant of amnesty would undermine the entire legal basis of the war crime trials in that amnesty or pardon had the effect of wiping out the crime. He indicated that the grant of parole or clemency fell into a different category and did not necessarily prejudice the legal basis of the trials. On his arrival Mr. Phleger reiterated this point. Mr. Bonbright stated that while a grant of general amnesty to Japanese war criminals would seriously affect the German question, [Page 1603] a speeding up of the process of the granting of parole and clemency within the framework of the Clemency and Parole Board would meet with no objection from EUR.

In reply to a query from Mr. Robertson as to which groups of Japanese were pressing for the release of Japanese war criminals, Ambassador Allison indicated that the sentiment came from all quarters, that various organized groups frequently called at the Embassy to discuss this question and that it was often raised in personal conversations by Prime Minister Yoshida and Foreign Minister Okazaki. Mrs. Dunning pointed out that the situation in Japan differed in at least one particular aspect from that in Germany in that the Philippine and Chinese Governments had granted amnesty to Japanese war criminals sentenced by their courts. Mr. Snow pointed out, however, that a number of war criminals sentenced by the UK, Australia and the Netherlands were still incarcerated in Sugamo Prison and that these outnumbered those sentenced by US courts. Mr. Robertson queried Mr. Snow if the Clemency and Parole Board in considering the cases of prisoners who had committed acts against Filipinos and Chinese were taking into consideration the action of the Philippine and Chinese Governments. Mr. Snow answered in the affirmative. Mr. Snow also indicated that the Embassy in commenting upon the cases had recommended against parole or clemency in 69 cases. He also added that the Japanese Government had not yet submitted recommendations with respect to all of the prisoners in Sugamo Prison.

Mr. Robertson then suggested that the group consider the recommendations submitted by Ambassador Allison. With respect to the suggestion that the Clemency and Parole Board receive authority to make final decisions, Mr. Snow pointed out that the President had established the Board by Executive Order, had taken a personal interest in the recommendations of the Board and had turned down several of these recommendations.

Mr. Robertson suggested that in the future it might be desirable to meet Japanese pressure by publicizing the crimes for which the various prisoners had been sentenced, emphasizing the reaction in this country to the seriousness of such crimes, and that Ambassador Allison might make this point in meeting pressure from Japanese Government officials. It was generally agreed that this course in addition to a continued expeditious handling of cases by the Clemency and Parole Board was the only feasible action to be taken at this time.

  1. The Ambassador was in Washington for consultations.
  2. Not printed. (694.0026/1–2654)
  3. Assistant Legal Adviser for German Affairs.