US, Japan to reduce number of base workers with immunity

US, Japan to reduce number of base workers with immunity
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The United States and Japan have agreed to reduce the number of civilians working on U.S. military bases who are immune from Japanese prosecution, officials from both countries announced Tuesday.

The agreement, which relates to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that governs rights and privileges of U.S. citizens stationed in Japan, is aimed at quelling Japanese citizens' outrage after a civilian contractor at a U.S. air base was arrested and charged with the murder and rape of a Japanese woman.

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“The SOFA is very clear — people who commit crimes in Japan are subject to arrest by Japanese police and prosecution by Japanese authorities,” Lt. Gen. John Dolan, commander of U.S. Forces Japan, said in a statement.

Tuesday’s agreement was announced at a press conference in Tokyo with Dolan, U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani.

In May, Kenneth Franklin Gadson, a 32-year-old civilian contractor at Kadena Air Base who is also a Marine veteran, was arrested in the murder and rape of 20-year-old Rina Shimabukuro.

The arrest set off mass protests by Japanese citizens who want U.S. forces to leave their country. It was also a point of contention when President Obama visited the country.

In addition to Gadson’s arrest, drunken driving incidents further strained relations and caused the U.S. Navy to tamp down on sailors’ drinking.

The SOFA, which was signed in 1960, gives U.S. authorities primary jurisdiction for investigating and prosecuting crimes committed by troops or civilians covered under the agreement. In recent cases of serious crimes, though, the United States has deferred to Japanese authorities.

The agreement announced Tuesday does not formally change the SOFA. Rather, it clarifies who is covered by the agreement by limiting those covered to people who fall under four specific categories. For example, civilians who don’t have essential technical skills or who have residency in Japan for a reason unrelated to their contract work will not be covered.

In announcing the agreement, Kennedy said it will “strengthen and modernize” the alliance between the United States and Japan.

“We constantly work to improve our ability to protect and defend Japan in fulfillment of our treaty obligations,” she said. “And we strive to be worthy of the trust and friendship of the communities around our bases, and the entire Japanese nation.”

Dolan also announced a number of changes for those covered by the SOFA. For example, all contractors and civilians who fall under SOFA will have to have the same training on the agreement that troops do.

In addition, bases will now judge blood-alcohol content based on Japanese law, and anyone who falls under SOFA who is convicted of a DUI will lose their license for at least a year.

“All U.S. military commanders in Japan are committed to redoubling our efforts to educate the force and ensure our service members, family members, and civilian contract employees understand that the standard we expect is unwavering professionalism and zero tolerance for criminal behavior,” Dolan said.

“The overwhelming majority of our U.S. forces — service members and family members and civilians — uphold the highest standards of conduct, and I am justly proud of them,” he continued. “I am confident that both our nations are fully committed to sustaining, strengthening and further developing our alliance through our bilateral efforts.”