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HOME  > Past issues  > 2008 April 2 - 8  > Police question U.S. sailor 11 days after he was taken into custody
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2008 April 2 - 8 [US FORCES]

Police question U.S. sailor 11 days after he was taken into custody

April 3, 2008
Japanese Police on April 2 questioned a 22-year-old U.S. sailor at the U.S. Yokosuka Naval Base in relation to the murder of a taxi driver in Yokosuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture. It was 11 days after he was taken into U.S. Naval custody.

The sailor admitted to stabbing Takahashi Masaaki, a 61-year-old taxi driver, who was found dead on the night of March 19 in his cab in Yokosuka City.

The Kanagawa Prefectural Police plan to seek an arrest warrant for him and request the U.S. forces to hand him over to the Japanese authorities.

The U.S. sailor is a Nigerian national and crewmember of the U.S. 7th Fleet’s cruiser Cowpens.

The sailor deserted from the Yokosuka Base on March 8 and was taken into the custody of the military after being found in Tokyo’s Gotanda area on March 22.

Japan-U.S. mutual assistance required by law

While explaining that although he is not held on suspicion of a murderer, he may have some information about the murder of the taxi driver, the U.S. Navy in Japan on March 22 said it will cooperate fully with the Japanese authorities in the investigation of the murder case.

Article 17, Paragraph 6 (a), of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) states, “The military authorities of the United States and the authorities of Japan shall assist each other in the carrying out of all necessary investigations into offenses, and in the collection and production of evidence, including the seizure and, in proper cases, the handing over of objects connected with an offense.”

On April 2, Japanese police finally, for the first time, entered the U.S. Yokosuka Naval Base to question the sailor.

The U.S. side did not take any action to cooperate with the Japanese authorities in conducting the interrogation.

Earlier transfer of suspect needed

Article 17, paragraph 5 (c), of the SOFA says, “The custody of an accused member of the United States armed forces or the civilian component over whom Japan is to exercise jurisdiction shall, if he is in the hands of the United States, remain with the United States until he is charged by Japan.”

When a 12-year-old girl was gang raped by three U.S. Marines in Okinawa in September 1995, the public was enraged by the U.S. refusal to hand the suspects over to Japan. After this incident, Japan and the United States discussed “operational improvement” of the SOFA, and agreed that the U.S. side will give “favorable consideration” to Japanese requests for handover of suspects before indictment in cases of serious crimes, such as murder and rape.

The agreement, however, is problematic in that the implementation of the agreement depends on “favorable consideration” by the U.S. side.

If Japanese police questioned the U.S. serviceman earlier in the recent murder case, he could have been handed over to the Japanese authorities much earlier.
- Akahata, April 3, 2008
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