Friday, August 31, 2007

The Long Arm of Judge Pal

Today's New York Times has a fascinating article about the legacy of Indian judge Radhabinod Pal. What's interesting is not so much that Pal continues to have admirers long after his death - after all, we lawyers routinely invoke in almost reverent terms names like Marshall, Holmes, and the like. The twist is that the admirers are from Japan. Judge Pal was the only one of the 11 justices of Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal that voted to acquit the 25 Japanese officials charged with Class A war crimes (starting an aggressive war, essentially) in 1945.

That has made him a hero to Japanese nationalists who view World War II as a defensive war of liberation, rather than an act of imperial aggression. Predictably, as nationalists are wont to do, they don't appear to grasp the reasoning set forth in Pal's 1000+ page opinion:

In colonizing parts of Asia, Japan had merely aped the Western powers, he said. He rejected the charges of crimes against peace and humanity as ex post facto laws, and wrote in a long dissent that they were a 'sham employment of legal process for the satisfaction of a thirst for revenge.' While he fully acknowledged Japan’s war atrocities — including the Nanjing massacre — he said they were covered in the Class B and Class C trials.

'I would hold that each and every one of the accused must be found not guilty of each and every one of the charges in the indictment and should be acquitted of all those charges,' Judge Pal wrote of the 25 Japanese defendants, who were convicted by the rest of the justices.
In other words, Judge Pal did not approve of the actions of the Japanese in a normative sense, only that they could not legally be punished for them. Hardly the ringing endorsement the nationalists would like.

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