Khabarovsk War Crime Trials
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The Khabarovsk War Crime Trials were hearings held between 25–31 December 1949, in the Soviet Union’s industrial city of Khabarovsk (Хабáровск), the largest city within the Russian Far East (Дáльний Востóк) adjacent to Japan. There, twelve members of the Japanese Kwantung Army were tried as war criminals for manufacturing and using biological weapons during World War II.
During the trials, the accused, such as Major General Kiyoshi Kawashima, testified that, as early as 1941, some 40 members of Unit 731 air-dropped plague-contaminated fleas on Changde. These operations caused epidemic plague outbreaks.
All twelve accused war criminals were found guilty, and sentenced to terms ranging between two and twenty-five years in a labour camp. In 1956, those who were still serving their sentence were released and repatriated to Japan.
In 1950, the USSR published official materials relating to the trial in English. The book was titled Materials on the Trial of Former Servicemen of the Japanese Army Charged with Manufacturing and Employing Bacteriological Weapons. It included documents from the preliminary investigation (the Indictment, some documentary evidence, and some interrogation records), testimony from both the accused and witnesses, last pleas from the accused, some expert findings, and speeches from the State Prosecutor and Defense Counsel, verbatim.
The book, published by Foreign Languages Publishing House, had long been out of print, but in November 2015 Google Books determined it was now in the public domain and published a facsimile of it online, in addition to offering it for sale as an ebook.
According to one bioethics expert, “Despite its strong ideological tone and many obvious shortcomings such as the lack of international participation, the trial established beyond reasonable doubt that the Japanese army had prepared and deployed bacteriological weapons and that Japanese researchers had conducted cruel experiments on living human beings. However, the trial, together with the evidence presented to the court and its major findings — which have proved remarkably accurate — was dismissed as communist propaganda and totally ignored in the West until the 1980s.”
Historian Sheldon Harris described the trial in his history of Unit 731: "Evidence introduced during the hearings was based on eighteen volumes of interrogations and documentary material gathered in investigations over the previous four years. Some of the volumes included more than four hundred pages of depositions.... Unlike the Moscow Show Trials of the 1930s, the Japanese confessions made in the Khabarovsk trial were based on fact and not the fantasy of their handlers." Harris also noted the controversies unleashed by the trial, which linked Emperor Hirohito to the Japanese biological warfare program, and also the allegations that the Japanese BW experiments had also been conducted on Allied POWs.
One of the experts by Soviet prosecutors during the trial, N. N. Zhukov-Verezhnikov, later served on the panel of scientists, led by Joseph Needham, that investigated Chinese and North Korean allegations of biological warfare in the Korean War, conducted by the United States.
Accused and their sentences
- 25 years' imprisonment
- 20 years' imprisonment
- 18 years' imprisonment
- 15 years' imprisonment
- 12 years' imprisonment
- Maj. Onoue Masao, former chief of a branch of Unit 731
- 10 years' imprisonment
- 3 years' imprisonment
- Kurushima Yuji, former lab orderly of Branch 162 of Unit 731
- 2 years' imprisonment
- Japanese war crimes
- International Military Tribunal for the Far East
- Military history of the Soviet Union
- Daniel Barenblatt, A Plague upon Humanity, HarperCollins, 2004, pp. 220-221.
- 'Materials on the Trial of Former Servicemen of the Japanese Army Charged with Manufacturing and Employing Bacteriological Weapons, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1950
- Jing-Bao Nie, “The West’s Dismissal of the Khabarovsk trial as “Communist Propaganda”: Ideology, evidence and international bioethics,” in Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, April 2004, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 32-42.
- Sheldon H. Harris, "Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932–1945, and the American Cover-up (rev. ed)", Routledge, 2002, p. 318.
- G. Cameron Hurst III, "Biological Weapons: The United States and the Korean War," in "Dark Medicine: Rationalizing Unethical Medical Research" (eds. William R. LaFleur, Susumu Shimazono), Indiana University Press, 2008, pp. 105-120
- Boris G. Yudin, Research on humans at the Khabarovsk War Crimes Trial, in: Japan's Wartime Medical Atrocities: Comparative Inquiries in Science, History, and Ethics (Asia's Transformations), Jing Bao Nie, Nanyan Guo, Mark Selden, Arthur Kleinman (Editors); Routledge, 2010, ISBN 0-415-58377-2
- Materials on the Trial of Former Servicemen of the Japanese Army Charged with Manufacturing and Employing Bacteriological Weapons, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1950, 535 pp. (No ISBN number)