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Japan wants a SOFA change; right to keep criminal suspects

Date Posted: 2009-10-29

Japan and the United States may be gearing up for another bruising battle involving changes to the Status of Forces Agreement, as the new Prime Minister thinks his government should have the right to arbitrarily demand U.S. military personnel suspected of committing crimes in local communities be handed over to Japanese police.

The new demands being discussed by Japanese government sources goes well beyond current rules, which permit a U.S. service member to be turned over to Japan before formal indictment only in cases of murder and other very serious crimes. U.S. officials have been refusing to listen or comply with Japan’s new call for provisions being sought, blaming Japan for its delay in implementing full visual and audio recording of interrogations of service members by Japanese police and prosecutors.

Sources in Tokyo say Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s government is to become more aggressive in trying to meet the standards the U.S. is asking, even as it demands the U.S. work out changes, too. “The United States views the Japanese way of questioning as disregarding human rights, so there is a need for Japan to make efforts to ensure transparent questioning through full audio and visual recordings,” a source said, “and the Hatoyama government is working in that direction.”

Hatoyama is expected to convey his proposal on SOFA changes to American President Barack Obama during his November visit to Tokyo, but other sources say Hatoyama may decide to hold off for fear of stirring up further additional problems in the U.S.-Japan relationship that’s already feeling stress because of the Futenma air field issue in Okinawa.

As sources now explain it, the Japanese government would like to change the SOFA to have the U.S. give Japan jurisdiction over any crimes committed by U.S. military and civilian personnel, even on duty while off military installations. The Hatoyama administration is also expected to tack on another change, one calling for changes to rules on environmental pollution or destruction on U.S. installations.

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