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High Court tosses out suit against U.S. Marine colonel

Date Posted: 2005-09-29

“The accusers’ claim is dismissed.”

With a simple statement from the Fukuoka High Court, Richard Leuking breathed a sigh of relief. Leuking, now retired, was Futenma Marine Corps Air Station commander until several months ago.

He was sued by 400 residents of Ginowan City, which surrounds the airbase, charged with being responsible for creating and allowing nighttime air flights and causing noise pollution to their community. They had asked the court to make Leuking pay ¥630,000,000 for their enduring the noise.

Presiding Judge Masahiko Kubota, representing the court’s Naha office, acknowledged that Leuking had responsibility, but that the Japanese Government was actually the accountable party since the Marine commander was acting in his role as a military leader, and not as an individual. “He was just one of many commanders in the American military whose official duties and responsibilities, and his actions as a civil servant don’t render him responsible for compensation. That’s the law,” said the judge.

Angry Ginowan residents protested “the judgment is wrong.” They say the law protecting foreigners is contrary to Japanese law, and insist the Japan-U.S. agreements do allow individuals to be held accountable. The residents say they’ll take their fight to higher courts seeking redress.

This was the first time a military officer was named as an individual defendant in a court case. The court concurred that the Status of Forces Agreement protected Leuking from being sued personally, noting that when damage is caused, it is the Japanese government responsible for compensation.

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