Yamashita’s Ghost Inspires PBS Special

Allan Ryan had no plans to write a book about Japanese General Yamashita.

“I was planning on writing about the Nuremberg Trials,” Ryan says. “The more I researched the trials, however, the more I realized there was little new to say.”

While on vacation in Vermont, Ryan had an idea.

“I was on a bike ride on a particularly challenging hill and for some reason I thought of General Yamashita” Ryan says. “I did some research and realized that , other than a 1947 book by his lawyer, there had been no thorough analysis of his case. So I started to dig in.”

UPK published Ryan’s Yamashita’s Ghost; War Crimes, MacArthur’s Justice, and Command Accountability in 2014.

In 1946 General Tomoyuki Yamashita, Japan’s most accomplished military commander, was tried, convicted and executed for war crimes.

The atrocities of 1944 and 1945 in the Philippines—rape, murder, torture, beheadings, and starvation, the victims often women and children—were horrific. They were committed by Japanese troops as General Douglas MacArthur’s army tried to recapture the islands. Yamashita commanded Japan’s dispersed and besieged Philippine forces in that final year of the war. But the prosecution conceded that he had neither ordered nor committed these crimes. MacArthur charged him, instead, with the crime—if it was one—of having “failed to control” his troops, and convened a military commission of five American generals, none of them trained in the law. It was the first prosecution in history of a military commander on such a charge.

In a turbulent and disturbing trial marked by disregard of the Army’s own rules, the generals delivered the verdict they knew MacArthur wanted. Yamashita’s lawyers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, whose controversial decision upheld the conviction over the passionate dissents of two justices who invoked, for the first time in U.S. legal history, the concept of international human rights.

“I think the 2 dissenting opinions are fascinating,” Ryan says. “They both address the efforts of Yamashita to control his soldiers while attacks from US forces made it nearly impossible.”

Ryan’s 2014 book, Yamashita’s Ghost, draws from the tribunal’s transcripts and Ryan vividly chronicles this tragic tale and its personalities. His trenchant analysis of the case’s lingering question—should a commander be held accountable for the crimes of his troops, even if he has no knowledge of them—has profound implications for all military commanders.

“I was struck by how atypical Yamashita was,” Ryan says. “He was a poet and he had a very strong understanding of the Laws of War. In fact, he punished soldiers under his command who had committed crimes against civilians or prisoners of war. That was unheard of in the Japanese military.”

Yamashita’s Ghost serves as the basis for the first hour of PBS’s new three-hour special Dead Reckoning: War, Crime, and Justice from WWII to The War on Terror, which premiers March 28. The program follows war crimes investigators and prosecutors as they pursue some of the world’s most notorious war criminals. The principles, legal doctrine and tactics that emerged from those pursuits now inform the effort to expose, prosecute, and punish present day human rights violators.

The film begins with vengeance: U.S. General Douglas MacArthur’s 1945 military trial of Japan’s General Tomoyuki Yamashita for horrific atrocities in the Philippines. Despite the lack of any evidence that Yamashita ordered or even knew about the atrocities, he was condemned to death, raising the question: Are commanders responsible for crimes their troops commit?

“I had worked with Emmy-award winning writer and director Jonathan Silvers previously on a PBS documentary about Nazi war criminals in the post-war years,” says Ryan, who is credited as a co-producer on Dead Reckoning. “When we finished that project he asked ‘What’s next?’ I said “How about General Yamashita?” and that got the ball rolling. Jonathan has a profound commitment to examining war crimes and atrocities and asking, ‘why?’ and ‘how” and ‘who is responsible?”” So it’s  exciting to see the work we put into this finally come to bear. It’s disturbing, but these questions are disturbing. We’ve just tried to bring some clarity to them.”

Allan A. Ryan was Director of the Office of Special Investigations in the Criminal Division of the US Department of Justice, responsible for the investigation and prosecution of Nazi war criminals in the United States. He has also served as an advisor on war crimes prosecutions to the Government of Rwanda, and has taught the law of war and genocide at Boston College Law School since 1990 and at Harvard University since 1997.

His books include Yamashita’s Ghost: War Crimes, MacArthur’s Justice and Command Accountability, (University Press of Kansas 2012); The 9/11 Terror Cases: Constitutional Challenges in the War Against al-Qaeda, (University Press of Kansas 2015) and Quiet Neighbors: Prosecuting Nazi War Criminals in America (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1984)

Russian Hacking Scandal & Investigatory Options

by Katy J. Harriger, author of The Special Prosecutor in American Politics

As calls increase for independent investigation of the Russian hacking allegations, it is worth taking the time to look back at our modern American experience with such investigations. That experience tells us that it is important to think about the trade-offs involved in moving outside of the normal governmental process to gain independent investigation. In this post I’ll explore those trade-offs, based on my study of the use of special prosecutors in the 20th century.

While the use of special prosecutors is not unusual in state and local politics, until the Watergate scandal of the 1970’s they were a little used mechanism in national politics. Special prosecutors are used when there is a need for reassuring the public that allegations of wrongdoing by public officials are being investigated, and if necessary, prosecuted, without political bias. When calls for special prosecutors increase, it suggests a decline in elite and/or public confidence that regularly elected and appointed public officials can be trusted to impartially investigate allegations against high level officials, who may be either their superiors or people with whom they have close political or professional ties.

Before Watergate, special prosecutors had been used in national politics only during the infamous Tea Pot Dome Scandal of the 1920’s and during a less famous Tax Scandal during the Truman administration. After Watergate, however, because Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, there were at least 20 special prosecutor investigations between the time the act was passed and when it was allowed to expire in 1998. Arguably, only two of them were comparable to the Watergate scandal in that they implicated the president himself in the wrongdoing: the Iran-Contra scandal of Ronald Reagan’s second term and the Whitewater/Monica Lewinsky scandal during Bill Clinton’s second term. By the time Congress failed to renew the act both sides of the political aisle felt they had been unfairly harmed by the existence of the independent counsel provisions and decided the arrangement created more problems than it solved. Instead, the Department of Justice under Janet Reno promulgated a set of rules for determining when DOJ leadership should recuse itself from an investigation and under what circumstances they appoint an independent investigator (called special counsel). The one such appointment that we know about was for the investigation and prosecution of then V.P. Cheney’s chief of staff Scooter Libby, for his role in leaking the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

The election of 2016 brought the spotlight back to the special prosecutor. During the election Donald Trump promised that, if elected, he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate all the criminal activity he had accused Clinton of having committed. Indeed, he, his surrogates, and his supporters pre-judged the outcome of that investigation with the campaign chant “Lock her up!” Since Trump’s election, a new special prosecutor demand has arisen, this time from his critics concerned about troubling information about Russia’s attempt to use hacked material to sway the election against Clinton and Trump’s advisors’ meetings with Russian officials during this time.

The arguments for pressing for the appointment of a special prosecutor removed from direct control by politically interested officials are several and not to be easily dismissed:

  • The allegations involve multiple advisors and officials with direct connection to the President
  • The Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is a close associate and seen as a partisan for the President
  • Public opinion polls show that a majority of those polled (made up of a very large majority of Democrats, a slight majority of Independents, and a quarter of Republicans) think some kind of investigation is needed either by Congress or a special prosecutor. This suggests a high level of skepticism about whether regular attorneys in the Department of Justice are sufficiently disinterested in the outcome of such an investigation.

But there are also arguments or questions that encourage caution before concluding that a special prosecutor is necessary in order to get to the bottom of the Russian hacking scandal:

  • Is there sufficient evidence that a crime was committed that justifies a criminal investigation with a prosecutor, a grand jury, and the possibility of a criminal trial? The burden of proof for criminal charges is high – responsible prosecutors always ask whether a jury is likely to convict on evidence that shows that the crime occurred “beyond a reasonable doubt”.   Refusal to prosecute doesn’t mean there is no reason to believe wrongdoing occurred. It just means we can’t meet the high standard to proof required of the prosecutor to gain conviction. The tradeoff involved in having a prosecutor in a situation like this is that inability to convict for violation of a criminal law can be interpreted as lack of evidence of wrongdoing, abuse of the public trust, or unethical conduct. These are not legal equivalents. Just because one is not a “criminal” does not mean one meets the ethical standards we desire for our public officials.
  • What is most important: public understanding of what happened during the election of 2016 or prosecution of the associates of the president who may have been complicit in the foreign attempt to influence the election? This is a judgment call but merits careful consideration. The tradeoff is between the greater public exposure to the evidence of what happened that can be generated through a congressional committee hearing or a special commission and the ability to prosecute specific criminal wrongdoing. It may well be that there is insufficient evidence to successfully prosecute anyone for violation of criminal laws against foreign attempts to influence elections, but that does not mean that there is insufficient evidence that there were inappropriate and unethical collaborations between Trump advisors and the Russians. Congressional committees and independent commissions are more likely to produce this kind of information. Then the burden is on voters to decide in the next election whether or not the evidence merits rejection or return of the incumbent implicated by the evidence.
  • Why not have both? In Watergate there was a special congressional investigation and a special prosecutor. While there was sometimes tensions between the two entities, one could argue that it was the combination of the two that led to both the president’s resignation and the prosecution of key actors in the break-in and cover-up.   But there is a counter example that must also be remembered. In the Iran-Contra scandal the decision by Congress to grant immunity in exchange for testimony to key actors in the affair made it extremely difficult for the special prosecutor to pursue his case. In the end, the convictions he gained in the Oliver North and John Poindexter cases were overturned on appeal because he was unable to prove that the prosecution had been untainted by the immunized testimony. Other special prosecutors who have been brought into a case after congressional investigations have begun, even when testimony has not been immunized, have reported that their investigation was made more difficult by the public airing of witness testimony.

All of these considerations suggest that simultaneous congressional hearings/investigations and special prosecutor investigations are difficult to accomplish without undermining the actual ability to prosecute should crimes be revealed. Watergate suggests it may be the best way to go, but Iran-Contra suggests that it should not be done unless Congress is willing to forgo use of its authority to immunize witnesses who could be key to prosecutions. But choosing one path over the other should be done only with a full consideration of the tradeoffs. One route maximizes the democratic process, using the normal checks and balances of the system, with the payoff usually being maximum information for the citizen about what happened. It works best when members of Congress find the will to cooperate in a bipartisan way.  If one party calls all the shots and it’s the party of the president, there is little likelihood that some significant swath of the public will accept the outcome. The other route tends to maximize independence (also interpreted as non-partisanship) and requires the norms of the criminal justice process be followed. Those being investigated have the protections of due process and the high standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” to protect them. If a prosecution happens, the public will get a full airing of the issues that relate to the criminal charges brought, but many aspects of the affair will be irrelevant in a criminal trial. If a special prosecutor decides not to indict, the public will have very little information on what happened and why because it is not the practice of prosecutors to provide detailed explanations for decisions not to prosecute.

Congress has begun its investigation and it will no doubt be watched closely by those suspicious of whether the party in power will follow the evidence that is harmful to the president and his associates. The Attorney General has recused himself and it remains to be seen how the Associate Attorney General will assess the situation and exercise his power to request a special counsel for a criminal investigation. Whether the public can be fully informed of the Russian interference with the election and there can be successful prosecution of those (if any) who broke criminal laws remains to be seen.

Stay tuned.

Katy J. Harriger is a Professor and Department Chair in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest University


How the War Over Obamacare Can Erode American Democracy

by: Daniel Béland, Philip Rocco, and Alex Waddan, authors of Obamacare Wars

“I can’t answer that question.” That was House Speaker Paul Ryan’s response when asked how many people would lose insurance if his plan, the American Health Care Act, became law. Ryan’s reticence reflects the political reality Republicans presently face. After six years of promising to repeal and replace Obamacare, Republicans now control Congress, the White House, and a majority of state governments and so they need to deliver on their rhetoric.

Yet, as initially laid out, Ryan’s plan seems to invite rather than deflect political pain. The proposal for flat tax credits would likely increase premiums for many lower and middle income Americans, while providing tax relief for higher earners. The plan would make major cuts to Medicaid, which covers millions of low-income Americans while paying for roughly half of all live births and the vast majority of nursing home stays. Unsurprisingly, healthcare industry stakeholders from consumer groups to the American Medical Association oppose the plan.

So, why has Ryan led his party into supporting a plan that will only exacerbate the most unpopular aspects of health care provision? As our book Obamacare Wars suggests, the answer lies with how partisanship has trumped constructive efforts at bipartisan policy making. In March 2010, every Republican representative voted against passage of the ACA. After that, rather than helping fix problems with the law as it was rolled out, most Republicans, at both the federal and state level, aimed at undermining effective implementation of the reform.

For example, in Congress Republicans gutted the risk corridor program, designed to stabilize the individual market as insurers developed experience with covering new and costly populations of consumers. When premiums increased as a result, Republicans simply blamed Obamacare itself. As we detail in our book, in the states, many Republican Governors and state legislatures did not join with the Medicaid expansion and refused to establish their own state level insurance exchange.

Importantly, not all efforts at obstruction were successful. The Obama administration was quickly able to implement regulatory reforms, such as banning insurers from discriminating against consumers with pre-existing conditions and requiring insurers to cover dependent children up to the age of 26. The Ryan plan spares these especially popular provisions from the chopping block.

But just as partisanship largely shaped the ACA’s implementation, it now shapes the fight over repeal. In drafting their plan, House Republicans shut out policy expertise, even from conservative wonks like Avik Roy and James Capretta. Instead, they relied on party insiders, convinced that the only “problem” is the fact of the ACA’s initial passage, but there is irony in the Republican resolve. The ACA was modeled on ideas previously endorsed by conservatives and implemented in Massachusetts under Mitt Romney. This has left Republican leaders with few options they can brand as a distinctive “conservative” alternative. How do you privatize a law that already relies on private markets? How do you “devolve” a law that already relies heavily on action by state governments? The answer that Ryan proposes amounts mostly to spending cuts and upward redistribution that will hurt the Republicans’ own electoral base.

If politicians still fear electoral backlash for decisions that harm voters, the AHCA is unlikely to survive in its current form. Yet, the efforts to keep policy under wraps and to push through key decisions without extensive deliberation suggests that Ryan thinks policy effects could be decoupled from electoral punishment. Perhaps, when Republican voters experience sticker shock at the physician, Obamacare will still be blamed. This seems to be the outcome Ryan is gambling on. His willingness to throw the dice illustrates the intensely partisan context in which Obamacare developed. Republicans simply heaped all political blame for bad outcomes on Democrats. If they can continue to do so while running government at all levels, it will have ramifications beyond the ACA. Rather, it will mean that partisanship is capable of eroding the foundations of electoral democracy itself.

Daniel Béland, Philip Rocco, and Alex Waddan are the authors of Obamacare Wars: Federalism, State Politics, and the Affordable Care Act (University Press of Kansas, 2016).

A President and Predators

by Frank Van Nuys, author of Varmints and Victims; Predator Control in the American West

9780700621316From the distraught and possibly jaundiced perspective of folks on the left wing of the political spectrum, “emboldened” has become a go-to word to describe opponents on the right. Conservatives. White nationalists. Anti-Semites. Racists. Xenophobes. Misogynists. All have been emboldened by the triumph of Donald Trump, not to mention liberated by the presumptive death of “political correctness.” For environmentalists, the new administration’s determination to steamroll “job-killing” regulations and Congress’s moves to eliminate nettlesome rules, deconstruct the Environmental Protection Agency, and gut the Endangered Species Act signify other alarming ramifications of that which the emboldened are capable.

Apparently, opponents of decades-long programs to reintroduce and facilitate the recovery of predators are feeling emboldened as well. The introduction of legislation in January to remove federal protection for wolves in four states – Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Wyoming – underscored a potentially significant shift in the perpetual conflict over management of predators. Occurring just days before Trump’s inauguration, the bill may have reflected a sense of confidence on the part of farmers, ranchers, trappers, hunters, and others critical of wolf recovery that a Republican administration held considerable promise for transferring the bulk of wolf management decision-making from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to the affected states. In broader terms, elements intent on rolling back the government’s oversight in wildlife management and environmental regulation should feel a sense of giddy anticipation at the arrival of a new era of relaxed federal controls and states’ rights.

gray-wolf_01_ngsversion_1484679603276_adapt_676_1The Gray Wolf State Management Act of 2017 (H.R. 424 and S. 164) orders the Secretary of the Interior to reissue final rules issued in December 2011 for the Western Great Lakes, and in September 2012 for Wyoming, that had removed wolves from Endangered Species Act protection when not on federal properties subject to more focused protection regimes (such as national parks). Court challenges by wolf advocates had led to suspension of the delisting directives for those regions. Those advocates fear, and anti-wolf forces hope, that the administrative and legal stalemate can be broken and predator protections weakened, at least. By barring judicial review, the proposed legislation removes one of the key tactics utilized by wolf supporters since the first attempt to delist wolves in the Northern Rockies in 2002. That is nothing new, it turns out. Congress’s unilateral removal of protection for wolves in Idaho and Montana in April 2011, signed into law by President Barack Obama as part of a hard-fought compromise on enacting a budget and debt-relief package, also blocked judicial review.

Opponents of delisting claim wholesale destruction of wolf populations in the four states will certainly occur should the suspended rules be enacted, and they deplore the wolf hunting seasons that have taken place in Idaho and Montana, and, briefly, Wyoming, over the last several years. State game agencies maintain that it is in their interest to carefully monitor harvest levels to avoid relisting, and, frankly, population estimates in Idaho and Montana seem to bear that out. Idaho’s estimate of 786 wolves in 2015 represents an increase of close to 100 wolves over the 2012 estimate that I noted in Varmints and Victims. [https://idfg.idaho.gov/sites/default/files/idaho-wolf-monitoring-progress-report-2015.pdf ,p. 70] Montana’s estimated wolf population is still in the hundreds while roughly 4,000 range across the western Great Lakes region. Wolf backers may be suspicious of game agencies’ statistics, but there is no serious reason to doubt their general accuracy. Wolf management plans agreed to by federal and state officials require the states in the Northern Rockies to maintain a population of at least 150 wolves and at least 15 breeding pairs, and both Idaho and Montana exceed those minimums by significant amounts. To this point, natural increase and migration appear to have prevented crashing wolf populations despite hundreds lost to hunters and trappers each year. Unless Congress or the Trump administration decide to target those benchmarks, wolves are in no immediate danger of being annihilated when placed under state management.

Not surprisingly, when stories about the harm being done or contemplated by either emboldened “wolf haters” or defensive “wolf lovers” come across our social media feeds or appear in newspapers, we react according to our political and environmental predilections. I am as guilty of that as anyone. Yet, as someone who has been cheered by the slow and steady recovery of mountain lions, grizzly bears, and wolves in parts of the West, I remain cautious about jumping to conclusions about what impacts the proposed legislation will actually have. Judging from the relatively stable populations in the Northern Rockies since wolf hunting began a few years ago, even the most emboldened among the animal’s detractors in Wyoming and the Great Lakes states should not look forward to revival of a wolf-free environment. On the other side, friends of wolves can be skeptical but not necessarily panicked by the current drift of policy. It’s a long game, this tussle over predators. Stay vigilant, certainly, but it is unlikely, at least in this corner of the constant adjusting to life in the Alice-in-Wonderland fog of Trump’s America, that the apocalypse is nigh.

The Gray Wolf State Management Act of 2017 has recently been subjected to some informational hearing activity, and agricultural interests are pressing for expedited passage to provide additional protection to livestock entering calving season. Once the bill emerges from committee and becomes the subject of additional debate, amendment, and eventual passage, emboldened combatants on both sides will be ready to rumble. At least a constitutional legislative process still exists and wolves cannot be simply outlawed and their extermination decreed from on high sans some semblance of public input. Although a dubious proposition to the most jaded among the nation’s beleaguered citizenry, the United States still operates under the rule of law. The most enduring challenge for opponents of delisting and wolf hunting is indeed embedded in the intent of the Endangered Species Act itself, a fact all sides in the predator debates need to acknowledge. The goal of achieving recovery for a listed population, then delisting and allowing states to manage that population was designed to achieve measurable outcomes that would satisfy most, if not all, stakeholders. This is, according to media accounts, what the Fish and Wildlife Service would like to see happen. As much as it must pain millions of Americans who love wolves and hate the idea of losing even one to trapping or hunting, this proposed legislation does not represent a particularly radical departure from the always contentious process of making policy for predator management.


Frank Van Nuys is professor of history at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and author of Americanizing the West: Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship, 1890–1930.