There has always been an odd loophole in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) regarding the handling of cases of traffic accidents caused by members of U.S. forces or Defense Department civilian employees. As long as the perpetrators -- for these are cases where who caused the accident is undeniably a U.S. national working for U.S. Forces Japan -- could argue that he or she was on official duty, then he or she would be handed over to the U.S. for prosecution. This was true even when the perpetrators were found to be drunk at the time of the accident.
This morning, Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro promised that he would meet with his U.S. counterparts on revising the SOFA so that in these cases or similar crimes committed by a chemically impaired U.S. Forces member or DOD civilian employee the perpetrators would lose the right to argue they were acting while on official duty, i.e. would lose their immunity from Japanese law. He also promised to visit Okinawa, where this has been a big issue, to meet with officials and explain the Japanese government's concern about this issue (J).
Now if only someone could figure out how to close the loophole on the American side -- where civilian employees cannot be tried in military tribunals, meaning that if one commits a crime while on duty in an area under Japanese juridiction, he or she gets off scott-free...
The words that changed the world
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