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Old 1953 records reveal Japanese thoughts on SOFA enforcement

Date Posted: 2011-10-07

Controversy over Japanese rights to take jurisdiction over Americans involved in crimes appears to have been an issue decades ago, according to recently declassified documents.

As far back as 1953, Japanese officials had taken the stance they’d not interfere or seek jurisdiction except in crimes that were thought to be of “material importance”. The position isn’t exactly new; U.S. archives released five years ago said much the same thing, but Tokyo hadn’t weighed in on the documents, which were included in an Administrative Agreement inked in 1952 as part of the former Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

At a meeting in Tokyo, Japan now says it has always maintained prosecution and jurisdiction rights since 1953, and that the documents now being shown really aren’t that important. Despite Minoru Tsuda, chairman of a criminal panel in place then saying “I can state that as a matter of policy, the 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 States, other than in cases considered to be of material importance to Japan,” authorities today say that was only one person’s opinion.

Decisions on whether to seek indictments against American suspects always has been within Japan’s purview, officials are now saying, and emphasize they’ve taken actions through the years to take responsibility.

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