On Tuesday, I stated that there has always been a loophole in the implementation of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), one that the government was in serious negotiations with U.S. officials to close. Under current procedures, when an member of the armed services or a U.S. defense department employee commits a crime or causes an accident while on duty, no matter if the person involved in the incident was chemically impaired (i.e., stoned or drunk) the arresting Japanese authorities had to turn over the suspect to the U.S side upon request.
The issue was especially fraught in the case of non-military personnel, the U.S. Supreme Court having ruled long ago that U.S. civilians cannot be tried in military tribunals. Whether the defendant will be turned over to a U.S. court for trial and whether, in the absence most of the time of the victims from the U.S. courtroon, the sentence will be commensurate with the crime has become a hot issue particularly in Okinawa. In the period 2006 to 2010 the U.S. Forces Japan exercised its jurisdiction over non-military personnel held by Japanese police 62 times. In 27 of the incidents, proceedings against the individuals transferred to U.S. custody ended with no charges being filed (J).
Anyway, I was wrong on the issue of "always." The problems with the implementation of the SOFA only began in 2006, when the U.S Forces Japan began issuing special "get out of jail free" documents for U.S. DOD civilian employees under the 2000 Military Extraterritoriality Jurisdiction Act (MEJA). Prior to that time, the USFJ left civilians to be tried by Japanese courts, while taking into custody U.S. military personnel. In recent years, the final jurisdiction of the U.S. military member perpetrator has been negotiated on a case-by-case basis -- the bias being toward trial in a U.S. military tribunal, as the punishments there are almost always more severe than those meted out by Japanese courts.
The Asahi Shimbun, by the way, seems to have gotten ahead of itself on this story, claiming that the two governments have already pretty much sealed the deal and that the new procedures will cover drunk driving incidents by military personnel on duty as well as the civilian employees (J). Nobody else is reporting that the deal is done or that the USFJ is giving up its right to demand the transfer of U.S. military personnel to U.S. custody.
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