From: Sapa-AP - February 5 2001
Tokyo - Japanese military leaders tried to cover up germ warfare attacks on China during World War II, knowing that the attacks were in violation of international law, Japanese historians testified on Monday.
The historians were testifying before the Tokyo District Court as witnesses for a group of Chinese demanding an apology and reparations for the deaths of relatives who they claim were the victims of the germ warfare.
Citing newly-obtained letters and documents, Takao Matsunaga, a history professor at Tokyo's prestigious Keio University, said Japanese leaders were "desperate" to keep the germ warfare secret, because they were afraid that then Emperor Hirohito would be held responsible.
"Japanese leaders rushed to cover up the germ warfare because they knew it violated international law," he said.
Hirohito died in 1989 and was succeeded by his son, the current Emperor Akihito.
US Deal With Japanese
Matsunaga also testified that the full extent of the attacks remained unknown partly because the United States made a deal with the Japanese after the surrender to dismiss those involved in exchange for the scientific data.
He said the United States was concerned that the information might fall into the hands of Russia, and therefore had reason to want it to remain secret.
"The US decision to dismiss the crimes of Unit 731 was the biggest factor that kept Japan's germ warfare from surfacing long after the war," he said.
Matsunaga was called as a witness for the group of 180 Chinese plaintiffs who claim their relatives were killed in biological experiments, vivisections and other acts of brutality carried out by Japan's notorious Unit 731.
Another witness, Shoji Kondo, an author, said Japan's military headquarters ordered the unit to destroy evidence as early as August 9, when the United States dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki.
Many documents and labs in Harbin, northern China, did get destroyed. But the most crucial portion survived and was hand-carried to homes of unit leaders, including Shiro Ishii, Kondo told the court, quoting Ishii's former driver.
'Take Secrets to Their Graves'
Unit leaders later landed top jobs at universities and pharmaceutical companies, keeping their identities secret. Other members were also told not to contact each other and "take the secrets to their graves".
The lawsuit, which was filed in 1997, claims at least 2 100 people were killed in germ-bombings and other biological experiments by the unit and its affiliates.
Although some Japanese veterans have come forward in recent years and confessed to war crimes, the Japanese government has shied away from making apologies to China. Japan acknowledged several years ago that Unit 731 existed, but has refused to confirm its activities.
The trial in Tokyo District Court was expected to continue for several months. The next session was scheduled for February 28.