Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Defense Lawyer's View of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal

Brannon's Defense Team at IMTFE
In an earlier post, Karen Tani referred to the Georgetown University Law Center’s posting of some documents from its recent acquisition, the letters John G. Brannon, a defense attorney at the  International Military Tribunal for the Far East, convened in Tokyo in April 1946, wrote to his brother.  The main body of his papers, including legal documents, correspondence, photographs, printed materials, and memorabilia relating to his work in Tokyo, went to the Harry S Truman Library in 2010.  Georgetown’s holding of his letters to his brother, which I recently had occasion to review, are not without their interest.

In a December 17, 1946 letter, for example, Brannon reported that although he seemed “calm and cool” in court, his pulse was “doing acrobatics” and that the chief prosecutor’s whispered instructions to his associate to “get up and object to that” tipped off that the prosecution was “a bit rattled” by his defense.

Further, Brannon’s papers reveal some of the burdens under which the defense team labored.  One member, “an old man,” proved to be “worse than useless to us” and had to be sent home over infractions apparently committed because he was “half screwy over young Japanese girls.”  Brannon complained that he could not access the materials needed to show how the United States’ maneuvers in the Pacific in 1935 threatened the Japanese Navy.  Transportation to and from their quarters also was a problem.  “Sedans have been taken away from us except in the evening,” Brannon reported, because the colonel in charge of his section “hates us and all defense lawyers. . . .  If I have to quit because of him and the tightening of facilities I’ll make it heard from top to bottom.”

Still more valuable are the insights the letters provide into Brannon's calculations of self-interest and perception of national duty, which brought him to a position somewhat short of the ideal of zealous advocacy.  He is pleased with the praise he won in the Japanese press for his defense of a Japanese admiral and exults, “I’m in like Flynn.”  He knows that if he gets his client off with a life sentence “it would be a legal feather in my cap.”  Still, in examining an American admiral, he decided to pull “punch after punch,” rather than reveal him to be “asinine and silly beyond belief,” because he “did not want an American high ranking officer disgraced before this court of British, Russian, Chinese etc. personnel.”  To state the obvious, Brannon’s thoughts about how to proceed with “the scrawny old neck of [Admiral Osami] Nagano . . . resting in my hands” raises issues of professional ethics that are bound to engage any scholar or student who encounters them.

Karen’s original post noted that Georgetown has the papers of another defense lawyer, George Yamaoka.  Georgetown’s other recent acquisitions addressing the rule of law in international affairs include the papers Edward J. Murphy Papers, George Finch Papers; and Quincy Wright.  Murphy handled appeals from the Tokyo and the Nuremberg war crimes tribunals.  Finch, I’m told, was the constant confidant and assistant of the great international law expert James Brown Scott and, in his own right, an important builder of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the American Society of International Law, and the Hague Academy of International Law.  He has a series of correspondence files on the Bricker Amendment.  Wright was a political scientist at the University of Chicago who wrote extensively on international relations.  The Murphy and Finch papers are open to researchers now; the Wright papers are expected to be accessioned next spring.