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HOME  > Past issues  > 2009 December 23 - 2010 January 5  > Accidents and crimes by U.S. soldiers become ever more serious
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2009 December 23 - 2010 January 5 [OKINAWA]

Accidents and crimes by U.S. soldiers become ever more serious

January 5, 2010
The U.S. bases in Okinawa impose heavy burdens on Okinawan people. Under the pretext of reducing the burdens associated with the bases, the Japanese government intends to carry out a plan to realign the U.S. forces in Japan. But, the plan includes the new U.S. base construction in Okinawa. Under this situation, accidents and crimes committed by U.S. soldiers in Okinawa are becoming even more serious.

Why did the Japanese judicial authority drop the case involving a bullet of U.S. forces that hit a resident’s house?

“Under the planned realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, U.S. base capabilities are being strengthened, and the Okinawan people are seriously affected by accidents and crimes committed by U.S. servicemen,” said Sakihama Hideyuki, vice chair of the special committee on the U.S. base issue of the Kin Town Assembly of Kin Town where the U.S Marine Corps Camp Hansen is located.

On December 10, 2008, a bullet from live-fire ranges at Camp Hansen hit a civilian car in a parking garage of a private residence in the Igei District of Kin Town. The Okinawan police identified the bullet as one fired from a rifle of the U.S. forces and reported this to prosecutors without identifying suspects. However, the prosecutors on January 8, 2009 decided to drop the case.

U.S. forces twist information

In order to obstruct and hinder the local police investigation, the U.S military provided false information that a live-fire drill was not conducted on the day when the incident occurred and refused an on-the-spot investigation for one year. The investigation ran into many difficulties. The Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) requires that the Japanese police ask U.S. forces for permission before conducting an investigation within U.S. military facilities. The truth about the incident was hushed up under the SOFA.

At the time when the incident occurred, a woman of the house involved was watering plants near the garage where the car was hit by the bullet. The woman angrily said, “If the car had not been there, I could have been hit by the bullet.” After the incident, she worried so much about a recurrence of similar incidents. In addition, due to the U.S force’s false statement about the date of the incident, local people made disparaging remarks, saying, “Her testimony is groundless.” Finally, she got ill and died in June 2009.

In contrast, the base functions of Camp Hansen were further strengthened. In July 2009, a new facility for anti-urban warfare exercises was constructed near Range 16. In September, three new firing ranges were established and in October, a new helipad was built at Blue Beach, at the U.S. training area.

Police still unable to arrest suspect in hit and run incident

On the evening of November 7, 2009, the day before a prefectural people’s rally against the new U.S. base construction at the Henoko district of Nago City and the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station operations within Okinawa, a man was walking for exercise along a road in Yomitan Village in Okinawa, when an ambulance passed him with sirens blaring.

After reaching his home, the man saw TV report that stated that a man, later identified as Hokama Masakazu, 66, had been killed in a hit-and-run accident in the Sobe district of Yomitan Village. It was exactly the same stretch of road he had been walking on earlier in the day.

The hit-and-run driver was a sergeant assigned to the U.S. Army Torii Station in Yomitan Village. Trying to conceal any evidence of his involvement in the accident, the sergeant took the car he was riding in to an auto repair shop under contract with the Torii Station.

The sergeant has refused to be questioned by police on the grounds that the questioning would be conducted only with his consent.

Throwing doubt on the case, Ganeko Naemi, the owner of a coffee shop near the U.S. communication facility, said, “I cannot understand why the sergeant has been allowed to stay on the U.S. military base without being arrested. Doesn’t this mean the U.S. forces have extraterritorial rights?”

“I’ve gone to the annual base festivals since I was a child. However, now I must think about this. The victim was almost the same age as my father. I really feel sorry for the family members of Hokama, who lost him so suddenly,” she added.

Suspect is protected by Japan-U.S. SOFA

Explaining why the suspect has not been handed over to the Japanese side before indictment, lawyer Arakaki Tsutomu, who has dealt with crimes and incidents caused by U.S. military personnel and civilian employees at U.S. bases in Okinawa and who is familiar with the Japan-U.S. SOFA issue, said:

“The Japanese government has been attempting to realize the before-the-indictment handover of the suspect simply by means of ‘effective implementation’ of the SOFA, while refraining from calling for the SOFA to be revised to this effect.”

According to Article XVII of the SOFA, “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.”

This is indeed a privilege that seriously infringes on Japan’s sovereignty, specifically the right to investigate crimes.

Even two months after the latest hit-and-run case, the hit-and-run sergeant has not been indicted thanks to the privilege that allows the U.S. military to reject Japan’s request to hand over the man. How humiliating for our nation!

Arakaki stressed, “The SOFA must be revised drastically so that the U.S. military can no longer refuse to hand over criminals to Japanese authorities.”

* * *

Police sent papers on the U.S. soldier to prosecutors on January 4 over his alleged involvement in a fatal hit-and-run accident.
- Akahata, December 30, 2009 & January 5, 2010
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