Newspaper article International New York Times

U.S. Budges on Legal Protections in Japan ; Civilian Military Workers May Lose Privileged Status amid Outrage over Crimes

Newspaper article International New York Times

U.S. Budges on Legal Protections in Japan ; Civilian Military Workers May Lose Privileged Status amid Outrage over Crimes

Article excerpt

The preliminary deal follows a bout of public outrage over several crimes linked to personnel and contractors employed by the American armed forces.

Japan and the United States agreed on Tuesday to review a contentious aspect of their military alliance that grants special legal protections to American civilians employed by the United States armed forces in the country.

The preliminary deal, announced by the American ambassador, Caroline Kennedy, and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, follows a bout of public outrage over several crimes linked to American military personnel and contractors. It appeared intended to quell rising anger especially on the island of Okinawa, where about half the roughly 50,000 United States military personnel in Japan are based along with thousands of civilian workers.

In May, a United States Marine veteran who was working as a civilian contractor on the island was arrested in connection with the killing of a 20-year-old Okinawan woman, leading to the largest protests against the American presence in two decades. Last week, prosecutors in Okinawa formally charged the contractor, Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, with the woman's rape and murder.

Some Okinawans have complained for decades about what they see as unfairly generous legal protections enjoyed by Americans. Under an agreement governing the treatment of United States military personnel in Japan signed in 1960, American soldiers, sailors and civilian contractors suspected of committing crimes in Japan can sometimes be tried by American military courts.

If a crime was committed while the service member or employee was on duty -- even in a Japanese civilian area -- the United States can require the local police or prosecutors to turn suspects over to American jurisdiction. Critics say some Americans who have committed crimes have gotten off lightly as a result.

Okinawa's governor, Takeshi Onaga, an advocate of reducing the United States' military footprint, complained on Tuesday that the new agreement would not go far enough in curbing American privileges. …

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