The Abominable Dr. Ishii
Editors’ note: Under the overall codename Project Paperclip US intelligence agencies made similarly diligent efforts to acquire the research records of Nazi doctors working in the death camps. They also brought over several of the Nazi medical experimenters and set them to work in US military research centers such as Ft. Detrick. The Nazi research was quickly put into play in the field. In 1950, the CIA’s Office of Security, headed at the time by Sheffield Edwards, opened a project called Bluebird whose object was to get an individual "to do our bidding against his will and even against such fundamental laws of nature as self-preservation." The first Bluebird operations were conducted in Japan in October 1950 and were reportedly witnessed by Richard Helms, who would later run the Agency. Twenty-five North Korean POWs were given alternating doses of depressants and stimulants. The POWs were shot up with barbitutes, putting them to sleep, then abruptly awoken with injections of amphetamines, put under hypnosis, then interrogated. The operation was, of course, in total contravention of international protocols. The Bluebird interrogations continued through the duration of the Korean War. This history is laid out in detail in our book Whiteout: the CIA, Drugs and the Press, Verso, available from our office. AC/JSC.
Everyone has heard of Auschwitz, but what about Pingfan? This Japanese germ warfare headquarters and laboratory in Manchuria, northern China, did not hold as many victims, but atrocities committed there were physically worse than in the Nazi concentration camp, and lasted much longer.
Many people know of Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazi SS "Angel of Death" and a physician (though not chief medical officer) at Auschwitz from 1943-45. There, he deliberately infected prisoners with deadly diseases and conducted fatal surgeries, often without anesthetic. He escaped and lived in South America undiscovered until after his death at 68 in 1979 in Brazil.
But who has heard of Dr. Shiro Ishii? He was the chief of Japan’s well financed, scientifically coordinated and government approved biological warfare program from 1932-45. Ishii rose to general and supervised deliberate infection of thousands of captives with deadly diseases. He also conducted grotesque surgeries, but the unique medical specialty of Ishii and his surgical team were dissections, without anesthetic, on an estimated 3,000 live, conscious humans. In 1959, Ishii, a wealthy man, died peacefully at home in Japan at the age of 67.
Why the discrepancy of knowledge about these two monsters ? After so long, why does it still matter? The answer to both questions lies in policies of secrecy and complicity that continue today. They should concern Japanese, of course, but also Americans.
It is because of U.S. connivance in Japanese secrecy that Tokyo’s biological war has yet to be fully disclosed. Its estimated 400,000 disease deaths, almost all Chinese, remain uncompensated. Japan, unlike Germany with its commendable atonement and billions of dollars in reparations, has yet even to apologize specifically for biological war victims, let alone pay compensation for suffering from its nationally driven medical torture program.
On my desk are two documents previously marked Top Secret and dated July 1947. They show not only full U.S. participation in allowing the Japanese medical torturers who escaped to Tokyo to go free in exchange for information, but that the Pentagon actually paid them. As General Charles Willoughby, chief of U.S. Military Intelligence (known as G-2) gleefully noted to his headquarters, these pay-offs were "a mere pittance… netting the U.S. the fruit of 20 years’ laboratory tests and research" in this "critically serious form of warfare."
Meanwhile, as Ishii and his cohorts pocketed U.S. taxpayers’ money, the Soviet Union was preparing a criminal court hearing for 12 Japanese bug scientists they caught at Pingfan, just after its demolition by Ishii’s men.
The trial in Khabarovsk resulted in all 12 being sentenced from 2-25 years, but three years earlier, in 1946, the Soviet prosecutor had given his U.S. equivalent in Tokyo the main evidence. Nothing happened. After the Khabarovsk verdict, the Soviet newspaper Izvestia demanded Ishii’s arrest and trial. General Douglas MacArthur, Japan’s occupation supremo, denounced Izvestia and the trial as "false communist propaganda". Obedient Western media ignored the Soviet charges. Silence then reigned for decades .
Then in 1981 American journalist John Powell, who had obtained the Khabarovsk transcript, published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists details of open-air germ tests on captured Chinese and Russian men, women and children. Some were bound to stakes in a large field and bombarded with anthrax. Others were subjected to germs of bubonic plague, cholera, smallpox, typhus and typhoid, and women to syphilis.
And, in an excruciating irony, he told how Chinese captives had been killed by their livers being exposed to X-rays. Persistent rumors of Japanese eating livers of bio-victims have never been proved. But, the world’s first use of radiation against a wartime enemy was carried out by… Japan. Its biological warfare (BW) was also illegal, since all such experiments were banned by the 1925 Geneva Convention, which Japan signed.
The media headlined what they called Unit 731. This was the name of the commanding Pingfan imperial army group, and the one that became best known, but at least nine units functioned with apparently random numbers, dotted over China and Japanese-occupied Asia. All came under Pingfan, which had been specially constructed near the town of Harbin. It occupied 65 square kilometers, contained 150 buildings with cinema, a swimming pool, Shinto temple, lounge, bar. and laboratories, operating theaters, and prison cells. It was serviced by its own rail branch line and had fleets of vehicles and airplanes.
During the 1981 burst of publicity, Justice B.V.A Roling, a Dutchman and the only surviving judge from the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo, Asia’s Nuremberg, complained that no word about biological warfare had been offered in evidence. He wrote: "It is a bitter experience for me to be informed now that centrally ordered Japanese war criminality of the most disgusting kind was kept secret from the court by the U.S. government."
General Willoughby and officials of MacArthur’s Supreme Command for the Allied Powers in Tokyo had succeeded in suppressing evidence from Ishii and colleagues, but separate inquiries were made by the International Prosecution Section (IPS). Its lawyers gathered evidence including detailed statements from defecting Japanese bio-scientists from Pingfan. The latter testified to human live vivisection, the dumping of lethal germs in Chinese water supplies and food stores, as well as aerial spraying. Yet all was silenced even though the information went to the top.
IPS documents stamped "to be read by the Commander-in-Chief U.S. forces" were sent to President Harry Truman in 1947. No word has ever emerged on what Truman thought or said about this evidence. It is one of many still unknown facts about the Japanese-American conspiracy to conceal the complete account of the Japanese bio-warfare horror.
At Fort Detrick, Maryland, the main U.S. installation for BW, records remain on file of the thousands of tissue slides, preserved organs (some labeled "American") removed from living bodies, with medical schedules and reports on perverse surgical procedures on screaming and writhing human specimens.
General Willoughby listed the five most important items providing "the greatest value in future development of the United States BW program." These included the Japanese scientists’ "complete report" of "BW against man" that Willoughby described as "the only information available in world"; "field trials against Chinese" such as Powell described; using animals as deadly bacteria conveyors" ("U.S. has done little work in this field"); and a "summary of the human experiments." The G-2 heard it all.
The general’s conclusion: "Data on human experiments may prove invaluable… and Japanese may now reveal research in chemical warfare [and] death rays." Did they? We do not know.
Next came the self-praise and grumbles in which military men like to indulge. The results, said G-2, "were only obtainable through skillful psychological approach to top-flight pathologists bound by mutual oath not to incriminate each other in these disclosures. They were assisted by direct payments, payments in-kind (food, miscellaneous gift items, entertainment), hotel bills, board (in areas of search for buried evidence, etc.) All of these actions did not amount to more that 150/200,000 Yen." This amounted to only $2,000 in today’s money, not allowing for inflation
Then came the grumbles. The "pittance" in funds came from the military intelligence department’s budget, but this was now restricted. Willoughby wrote to his boss in Washington D.C., General S.J. Chamberlin: "We shall find it successively more difficult to induce these people to disclose information" without more money. He mentioned "unanimous protests" from the spooks against "the absurdity of these restrictions."
Today those crimes live on. It becomes clearer as time passes that the U.S.A. did indeed use the "fruits" of its Japanese information in germ attacks during the Korean War (1950-53) still officially denied.Meanwhile, Japan continues to conceal other details of its wartime research. Masses of documents may have been destroyed. In 2002 in Japan, 180 Chinese victims and relatives from Hunan and Zhejiang provinces brought a court case. The Japanese judge agreed they had been infected by plague-carrying fleas dropped by Unit 731 planes, but rejected their compensation claim on legal grounds. The case continues on appeal.
Chinese anger against this and other unresolved Japanese war crimes increases as a new generation reviews the past. The issue will gain momentum while Japan continues to shunt aside its wrongs against Asian neighbors. The world should take notice . Why should Pingfan, Unit 731, and Dr. Shiro Ishii remain obscure names known mainly to historians?
CHRISTOPHER REED is a journalist, living outside Tokyo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org