The International Military Tribunal of Nuremberg is a milestone of international law. Set up by the Allies at the end of World War II to judge Nazi criminals, it was presided over by four judges who delivered a largely united ruling in less than a year. It was also the first court to rule that aggression and crimes against humanity were criminal offenses for which civilian and military leaders could be held accountable. Its jurisprudence has stood the test of time.
The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), also known as the Tokyo war crimes trial, did not fare as well. Its chief prosecutor, Joseph Keenan, was an erratic alcoholic whose reasoning was once described as “a mass of verbiage both illiterate and irrelevant.” Equally problematic, its 11 judges, which included representatives from China, India and the Philippines, viscerally disagreed with each other on key legal principles. One of them, Radhabinod Pal, even wrote a blistering dissent that completely exonerated wartime leader Hideki Tojo and the other defendants. When the court disbanded after two and a half years in December 1948, there was a collective sigh of relief.
Judgment at Tokyo, by Gary J. Bass. 912 pages, KNOPF, Nonfiction.