Japan and the United States yesterday held a meeting of their intergovernmental joint committee to discuss the lack of information about a U.S. military deserter in connection with a taxicab driver slain in the city of Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.
In the meeting, the Japanese and U.S. governments agreed to quicken procedures to acknowledge desertion. Based on the agreement, the United States will immediately inform Japan about deserters or US military personnel that are absent without leave (AWOL) and ask Japanese police authorities to arrest them. The U.S. side will provide as much information as possible, including the name, birth date, nationality, rank and photo of the personnel concerned, the Foreign Ministry said.
Senior Vice Foreign Minister Itsunori Onodera revealed the agreement in a press conference yesterday. The U.S. military used to take up to about 30 days to acknowledge a deserter. From now on, the U.S. military is expected to acknowledge a deserter within a day or two after that deserter’s whereabouts became unknown.
It should be noted that under military code of law, a service member would be automatically considered a deserter 30 days after going missing, and in cases less than 30 days, the U.S. authorities would determine whether s/he deserted or went missing. So after thirty days of being AWOL, a service member is dropped from the rolls and classified as a deserter—administratively, not legally, for that takes a court-martial. At that point, a federal warrant is issued for his arrest. Once a deserter is apprehended or turns himself in, s/he can be returned to his unit, or court-martialed and given jail time, or given nonjudicial punishment and an other-than-honorable discharge.
Okay, back to the main story. The U.S. agreed to this new condition, based on a special Japanese criminal law related to the bilateral Status of Forces Agreement, in the wake of a recent spate of serious crimes allegedly committed by servicemen. It seems that the Japanese and U.S. governments are making an attempt to improve the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement‘s implementation. Presently, the Japan-U.S. Status-of-Forces Agreement does not require the U.S. side to inform Japan of any deserters or missing troops, but Onodera said Thursday’s agreement was made as part of improved implementation of the accord, which governs the operations of U.S. Forces Japan.
Since 2005, nine U.S. service members have deserted U.S. bases or units in Japan, four of whom were arrested by Japanese police and another two by the U.S. military. Two voluntarily returned to their units and one still remains missing, according to the Foreign Ministry.
Finally, the Japanese and U.S. governments have also agreed on new arrangements for the U.S. forces to reveal information on personnel and families living off base, in light of an alleged rape case in Okinawa in February.