SOFA: From Japan to Iraq

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The article below was first published in Akahata (24 October 2008).  Read in combination with “Jane’s Story: Crime without Punishment in Japan” (The Economist, 10 December 2008), it should clarify what is in store for the people — especially women — of Iraq under the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement. — Ed.

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Declassified Minutes of Discussion Reveal that Japan Gave Up Primary Right of Jurisdiction over Crimes Committed by U.S. Servicemen

A declassified U.S. document clearly states that in a closed-door meeting Japan agreed to renounce its primary right of jurisdiction in crimes committed by U.S. military personnel unless they are “of material importance to Japan.”

The document was discovered in September at the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Maryland, by Niihara Shoji, an international affairs researcher.  This is the first official document to directly confirm the existence of such a secret agreement, although there have so far been various declassified documents that suggest the existence of such a document.

On October 23, Niihara revealed the document at a news conference in the Diet.

“The purpose of the secret arrangement was to forgo indicting U.S. military personnel as much as possible, and it is still in force,” said Niihara.

The agreement was signed on October 28, 1953 by Justice Ministry bureaucrat Tsuda Minoru and Lt. Col. Alan Todd.

It said, “[T]he Japanese authorities do not normally intend to exercise the primary right of jurisdiction over members of the United States Armed Forces, the civilian component, or their dependents subject to the military law of the United Sates, other than in cases considered to be of material importance to Japan.”

Yamazaki Masanori, who accompanied Niihara at the news conference, is fighting the Japanese government and U.S. forces in court over the murder of his wife by a U.S. serviceman in Yokosuka in 2006.

He said that the secret agreement explains the unreasonable attitude and defiance of representatives of the Japanese government and U.S. forces in court.

The revelation of the agreement “will be very useful in my court struggle.  We can no longer endure crimes committed by U.S. servicemen in silence,” said Yamazaki.

Naito Isao, a lawyer speaking on behalf of the Japan Peace Committee, pointed out that the renunciation of jurisdiction is related to a major responsibility of the government of a sovereign nation, which is to protect the people.  The secret agreement “raises the question whether we can allow the unequal Japan-U.S. relations to legally continue,” he said.

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Paul Jay, “Iraqis Suspicious of Pullout Deal,” Interview with Leila Fadel, Baghdad Bureau Chief for McClatchy Newspapers, The Real News, 10 December 2008