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Injuries to Okinawa anti-base protesters ‘laughable,’ says U.S. military spokesman

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As the Japanese government intensifies its crackdown against demonstrators blocking construction of a new Pentagon base in the Henoko district of Nago city, Okinawa, a senior U.S. Marine Corps spokesman has weighed into the fray by accusing peaceful protesters there of faking their injuries.

On Jan. 22, Capt. Caleb D. Eames, deputy public affairs officer for the Marine Corps Installations Pacific, likened demonstrators to play-acting professional soccer players: “The attempt to appear injured is laughable when you see it in person,” he said.

Eames singled out for criticism demonstrators “lying on the road, holding onto a moving vehicle, and being dragged by their own choice, then claiming that they were scraped while in a peace protest.”

Eames made the comments in an emailed response to a Jan. 5 Japan Times article titled “Think tank gives Japan-U.S. diplomacy an Okinawan voice.”

Since the Japanese government restarted its survey work last year on the long-stalled project to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawan demonstrators have been attempting to block the work from both the sea and the land. According to Nago city’s U.S. Base Affairs Section, between last November and Feb. 4, 12 demonstrators were injured by the police and Japan Coast Guard — five of whom were taken to hospital by ambulance. Injuries verified by Nago include a man whose rib was broken when he was shoved in the chest by a member of the Coast Guard on Jan. 16 and a 49-year-old man injured by the riot police on Jan. 23 who was left with injuries to his hand that he will take a month to recover from.

Given this long list of injuries, the Marine Corps’ accusations of fakery have infuriated many protesters.

“Almost every day, demonstrators are being injured on land and sea. Bloodied heads and broken bones. These are not the kind of injuries people can fake,” Fumiko Shimabukuro, 85, told The Japan Times.

On Nov. 20 last year, Shimabukuro — a survivor of the Battle of Okinawa — was knocked unconscious while attempting to block a construction truck entering the new base site. According to Shimabukuro and others on the scene, as she was holding the side mirror of the stationary vehicle, three riot police officers tightly encircled her, unpeeled her fingers and then, in a tactic that demonstrators say is common, they simultaneously stepped back, causing Shimabukuro to fall to the ground.

Knocked out, Shimabukuro was rushed to a local hospital, and she says the injury has left her unable to sleep or stand without pain.

Now Shimabukuro has thrown down the gauntlet to the U.S. Marine Corps.

“Before you say we Okinawans are pretending to be injured, come to Henoko and see conditions with your own eyes,” she said. “If you want to call me a liar then please come here and say it to my face.”

In his Jan. 22 email, Eames also accused anti-base demonstrators of “jabbing American employees with sticks” and “yelling English profanity and curse words” at his children.

On Feb. 8, The Japan Times contacted Eames to offer him an opportunity to clarify his Jan. 22 accusations against Okinawan demonstrators.

On Feb. 9, Eames replied that he had intended his comments to refer to demonstrators outside the Futenma air base in Ginowan, not Henoko; however, he failed to elaborate on the faked injuries or attacks on Americans that he alleges took place. Nor did he retract his comment that the injuries to demonstrators were “laughable.”

Eames claimed that his original comments were “simply sharing personal observations about situations I have experienced and viewed around Futenma, not Henoko.” He added, that they were not “an official statement representing official views of the Marine Corps or any other organization.”

Contacted for comment on Eames’ accusations, Lt. Col. Ken Hoffman, the director of public affairs, U.S. Forces Japan, said: “We were not aware of these alleged incidents, so we are not in a position to respond to this question.” In regards to violence against demonstrators, he replied, “It would be inappropriate to comment on domestic law enforcement matters.”

The alleged brutality against demonstrators is seen by many on the island as part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bid to project a more aggressive image to opponents both abroad and domestically. In 2004 and 2005, peace campaigners successfully blocked government surveys on the new Henoko base site, forcing Tokyo to abandon the work. However, now, under Abe, the government appears determined to push through with the controversial project — even if it means resorting to violence against peaceful demonstrators.

In Henoko Bay, the government has established a temporary exclusion zone marked with orange buoys and enforced by dozens of Coast Guard speedboats. Members of the Coast Guard immediately board any vessels entering the zone and, in the case of canoes, they forcibly drag their occupants onto government boats.

During one such incident caught on video last September (viewable above), a member of the Coast Guard is seen grabbing a canoeist by his throat and screaming incomprehensibly into his face. The assault left the demonstrator with injuries to his neck that required two weeks to heal.

“The Japanese Constitution allows us the right to peaceful protest. But (the coast guard) grabbed the young man and started screaming in his face. We worried he was going to kill him,” Chie Miyagi, the Okinawa resident who took the video, told The Japan Times.

Increasingly, the Coast Guard is targeting members of the media attempting to film its confrontations with demonstrators. Last month, the Coast Guard dragged a boat carrying journalists from the area. Then, on Jan. 20, a Coast Guard member caught documentary filmmaker Asako Kageyama in a leg lock and apparently tried to seize her camera. Although the incident was caught on film by local media, the Coast Guard issued a statement in which it claimed its member was merely attempting to pass Kageyama on his way to the back of the boat.

On Feb. 2, the Coast Guard introduced a new — and potentially lethal — tactic. According to reports verified by Nago city, after detaining eight canoeists in shallow coastal waters, the Coast Guard took them more than 4 km from land where it released them — forcing them to paddle back to the shore. It repeated the tactic on Feb. 3, capturing 19 canoeists then releasing them into rough seas 4 km from shore.

“The Coast Guard treatment is abnormal,” said Nago City Assembly member Takuma Higashionna. “It’s the job of the Coast Guard and the police to protect people, not harm them. Such behavior is truly unforgivable.”

Higashionna believes that the Japanese and U.S. governments are ignoring the democratic will of the Okinawan people. In November, Gov. Takeshi Onaga was elected by a landslide on a platform to block the new base, and in December all of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party incumbents in Okinawa were defeated by anti-base candidates in Lower House polls.

Since winning his gubernatorial election, Onaga has been repeatedly denied meetings with Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

Last month, the central government also cut the prefecture’s budget in a move widely seen as collective punishment for residents’ election of candidates opposed to the new base.

“The only reason Tokyo is pushing ahead with the base project is discrimination. If this were America, such a project would never be allowed. Nor would it be allowed on mainland Japan,” says Higashionna.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa, in which more than a quarter of the island’s civilian population were killed in the crossfire between U.S. and Japanese forces. Today, many Okinawan survivors of World War II are involved in the new battle to stop construction at Henoko — among them 85-year-old Shimabukuro.

Badly burned in the war while sheltering in a cave in southern Okinawa, Shimabukuro was treated kindly by U.S. troops who fed her and tended to her injuries. However, along with many other Okinawans, that sense of gratitude has been eroded by decades of land seizures, crimes and accidents.

For many, the plan to build the new Henoko base is the final straw.

“In Okinawa, we believe in ‘Nuchi du takara‘ — life is precious,” said Shimabukuro. “If this new base is built, it will be used to kill people. So I owe it to all those who died in Battle of Okinawa to stop construction. Even if I’m injured again, I will never stop protesting.”

Comments: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • Katherine Muzik

    Captain Eames’ remarks are appalling. They are distressingly typical of the arrogance and ignorance displayed by the US Military Empire all around the world, and especially in Okinawa.

    In fact, the protesters at Henoko have been ardently but peaceably
    protesting US-Japanese plans to destroy the last coral reef ecosystem in Japan! It is a place of great beauty, as well as ecological and cultural importance. As coral reefs are perishing
    elsewhere, from the Caribbean to the Great Barrier Reef, this glorious Oura Bay ecosystem at Henoko has become especially valuable.

    I suggest that Captain Eames visit Oura Bay to see for
    himself the thousands of species of fish, the hundreds of species of corals, shellfish, seagrasses, marine algae, etc., that construction of the Marine Base will tragically destroy! New species, undescribed species, endangered species, “useful” species, all will be irreversibly lost if the destruction is allowed to proceed. Perhaps he will retract his shameful remarks upon seeing its beauty and importance, and be able to sympathise with the protestors, who are so justifiably angered by the destructive activities of the military-industrial complex in Okinawa, now and during many previous
    decades. Katherine Muzik, Marine Biologist, Kaua’i

    • Ernest Schaal

      I don’t know if Captain Eames was telling the truth or not, but even if he was, his comments probably did his cause more damage than good. It shows an attitude of indifference to the local nationals that has made the Marines so unwelcome in Okinawa.

    • たいがあ@英語で世界に発信

      What should be noted here is nobody are not sure what has been going on. Even the journalists are not welcome there. How can we know the truth?

    • bob

      Be lucky my generation wasn’t in power as we would have made Okinawa conquered spoils of war and turned it into real US property forever as a spite against Japan just like what the great leaders did to the Native Americans at the Black Hills to this very day.

      What this agitators need is a real old fashioned beat downed to take them back to the beat downs in the 50’s. Augh those were the days. Instead of crying about spilled milk they should be complaining at Kume island where the real mining and damages you mentioned will soon commence.

    • kyushuphil

      Thank you, Katherine.

      I share your shame and embarrassment at the cynical vulgarity of official Americans.

      It’s not just the military that breeds ignorant contempt for the cultures America imposes itself on. Look at the entire ten-year period of lies 50 years ago to convince the Japanese that nukes would be totally safe, always cheap.

      Look at TPP coming down the pike now.

    • masagata

      US is against Japan’s whaling and dolphin hunting. Dugongs are marine mammals, aren’t they? Why push for such environmentally very harmful project in the country you’re accusing of?

    • We’reAlmostCyprus

      Maybe you should actually go grab a tank and go dive the site – I have. It looks absolutely NOTHING like you describe, but hey, don’t let the facts get in the way of your anti-base rhetoric!!

      By the way, what is the Okinawa Prefectural Government doing to halt the massive red soil runoff that occurs after each and ever rainfall, smothering whatever is left of the corals around Okinawa, or to control the massive “land reclamation” projects (also know as indiscriminately filling in the shallow coastal region with soil to encourage more land development) occurring all around the island?

      Let’s start with a discussion of the land reclamation project that filled in the Awase tidal flats in Nakagasuku, a project for which the Okinawa Prefectural Government ADVOCATED. The wetlands adjacent to Awase on the Awase Communication Station is all that’s of valuable tidally-influenced habitat in that area, and that is being protected from further development by the U.S. Navy.
      Oops… it doesn’t support the rhetoric, so by definition, it must not be true.

  • Testerty

    Okinawans are conquered people, first by the Japanese, then by the Americans. Conquered people should know their place in the food chain.

  • timefox

    They are same as a terrorist.

  • warforbankers

    The angloUS empire needs to dismantle its colonial military bases around the world. I actually read they are planning to withdraw soldiers from Germany.

  • Lincolnman

    Well, more anti-US/anti-GOJ propaganda and fabrication – please, take this article with a grain of salt – it’s intent is to inflame and inspire support for the author’s well known anti-US agenda.
    This article belongs on Pravda, not the Japan Times.

  • http://zi.n.gy/ Kirt Seth Cathey

    Blah, blah, blah…. Japanese are so good at over-reaction that I agree with the Marine. They probably are faking a large part of their strife. Visit northern Guam where the military has done an excellent job of preserving the environment. And many other places around the world, such as Diego Garcia, where the environment is pristine thanks to military borders. WE kill the environment, not the military. WE vote morons into office, not the military.

  • Robert Eldridge

    Please do not delete my comments and videos, that support the accusations in the story.

  • Robert Eldridge

    Bases are also used to protect people and respond to natural disasters and humanitarian crises, the majority of the Marine Corps’ work in the Asia-Pacific theater nowadays.Curious this is not mentioned in the connection to MCAS Futenma (or the FRF). See related flyer. http://www.okinawa.marines.mil/Portals/190/Docs/HADR.pdf

  • ron

    That right there is true showing of these people and their protest. I’ve experienced it for the last three years. Looks real peaceful eh… Get real.

    I love living here, and I am an extremely respectful guest, but these protesters try to get in your car, damage it, harm you, etc…

  • JHK

    I was born in Canada, and it is my Right to be there. But if I went to Iran and one person said they didnt want me there, it is their Right upon me so I leave.

    That is the Principle of Sovereignity, it is written in both American and Japanese Law, it is Universal Law, which both abe and obama have sworn to uphold, consequently before God(swt).

  • Raansu

    Just as there are protestors there are just as many people who don’t mind the bases being there and fully understand the economic value of them being there. Sadly the media only concentrates on the negative things in life.

    My time in Okinawa was amazing and I personally have nothing but positive things to say about the locals. Great people, great culture.

  • たいがあ@英語で世界に発信

    One thing that cannot be denied is concrete blocks weighing 20 ton are damaging coral reef of Oura bay and endangering few remaining dugongs. The opinion of environmentalist and marine biologists are not being weighed there.

  • たいがあ@英語で世界に発信

    I am one of the Japanese who are concerned about this issue. But this article is poorly written. I would not authorize this article if I had been the editor. Stick to guidelines. Tell us the facts and figures no tearjerkers. It reminds me of Fukushima disaster, Ontake eruption last September. In such extreme situations it is hard to grasp what is going on. Tell us the circumstances facing journalists and photo journalists in Okinawa. I am so sad few media are covering this incident. It could be much worse than fragmentary reports just as I have seen in aforementioned incidents. Win full media access at Henoko so that we can get closer to the truth.

  • http://english.ryukyushimpo.jp/ Tomokazu Takamine

    Caleb D. Eames’ remarks could help increase tension between US military and Okinawan people.
    This goes against the mission of joint public affairs (PA) of the United States Forces. In the Joint Publication 3-61 Public Affairs, William E. Gortney, VADM, USN Director, Joint Staff, stressed that The First Amendment Guarantees the Freedom of the Press. He writes, “The US military has an obligation to communicate with the American public, and it is in the national interest to communicate with the international public.” This publication also says propaganda has no place in DOD PA programs.

  • bob

    Never trust these sneaky slanted eyes is what my WWII great granddaddy said, they will stab you in the back…guess he knew them best..

  • bob

    Time to open up the can o whoop ass and make them remember Pearl Harbor.

  • Eric Gray

    Sadly, Japan Times is not reporting this on a balanced basis. I lived in Okinawa for over 15 years prior to moving to the U.S. last year and I must say that Capt Eames is accurate in his comments. I have also had profanities screamed at my family and I by ‘peaceful’ protestors around both Camp Schwab and Futenma. I have witnessed – both in person video and on video – those same ‘peaceful’ protesters reaching in open windows, attempting to grab Americans, and jumping on private vehicles.

    Frankly, if one was to observe these protesters with a clear eye, one would realize that they are engaging in classic confrontational tactics while over reacting to the inevitable demand by law enforcement to follow Japanese laws.

    I see comments about how the bases would be used to ‘kill people’ but the author ignores the clear fact that US bases in Japan have been used to support humanitarian missions throughout Asia – to include in Japan after 3-11 – and have saved countless lives.

    I do wish that the Japan Times would do a better job at reporting the facts in this case rather than engage in an obvious attempt to sway public opinion.

  • Tap Hue

    Quit Japan!

  • Tap Hue

    You’d say that too were foreign military bases being built in America.

  • Merchant Mmo

    Something is wrong in the head with some of those aggressive people… They are no different than the actions of the group they are protesting against

  • bob

    The Japanese shadow bosses nor the media can handle the real sentiment of the American majority public and how many Americans feel should have happened on the days following the WWII due to the atrocities by Japan. Simply put as spoils of war, Japan should have become US “real property” and another state. Thanks to McArthur’s selfish ambitions that didnt’ happen and today the Emperor system is still alive. The Japanese people remain ignorant despite all the education as they lack common sense a major fault of the school system. I do not despise the Japanese people but empathize with them. Historically what happens in war especially when dealing with Eastern nations spoils of war is very common and will continue to be common. I am offended by the media not allowing posters to express their individual freedom of expression as the moderators of the JT will not allow the Japanese people or anyone who wishes to use that right to do so unless it favors what JT and its shadow bosses want posted and that would be something along the lines, “no more US presence in Okinawa or Japan, get out”. that is what they want and allow anything less is removed.

  • A W Koyama

    I concur with Mr. Caleb D. Eames’ statements and I know over 100 other Americans and Okinawans that can support his claim. I used “Mr.” and not “Capt.”, because Mr. Eames was giving his personal opinion and sharing his experiences that he & his family encountered with protesters in Okinawa, and he was not official speaking for the US. Government at the time.

    I have worked on Okinawa for over 20 years now, and it makes me very depressed that a respectable newspaper like the “Japan Times” did not verify Mr. Jon Mitchell’s sources. In Okinawa, we see this type of baseless propaganda reporting from the Okinawa Times & Ryukyu Shimpo newspapers. We would not expect this from a mainland-based newspaper which should be able to see the situation for what it really is.

    Some problems with the story can be found with the video introduced at the top of it with the altercation between a protester and the Japanese Coast Guard.

    Some key facts about this video/incident include:

    1. The video was taken last August, not recently.

    2. The JCG’s primary mission is water safety for everybody. The protester was in an area he could not be in, and was adequately warned against trespassing prior to entering. He did not have on a life preserver vest; therefore, he was not only risking his life but the lives of others. Furthermore, August is very hot in Okinawa, and the protester apparently was not only not caring for about their own safety and were risking the life of the JCG who could be injured and drowned in any altercation with a trespasser or by becoming dehydrated from the sun, heat, or related stress of being on call out at sea. Quite often, the protesters are pulled by boats with engines and have caused a chaotic situation in the waters even before the boring surveys were getting started. I respect the JCG for the hardship they are going thru to keep the peace on the open ocean because the open waters are not forgiving. I don’t recall your having done a story about the protester who died last year when he was not wearing a preserver vest, or about the former prime minister Hatoyama riding in an overloaded boat, or about the recent incident when unlicensed school children were allowed to drive a protester’s boat (against motor boat regulations), or the incident a couple of years ago when a local child was caught in the ropes of an illegally docked protesters boat and drowned.

    3. The JCG’s second primary mission is security for the workers conducting the survey and other related work out in the open seas. We are very lucky the JCG is doing a professional job in security with very little support from the local police, because there is a very high risk somebody could drown or a protester could attack the workers, as they did in 2004, stopping the original surveys.

    The JCG needs to focus on protecting the coastal integrity of Japan, including its territories, preventing or disrupting illegal fishing and poaching of red coral, and the loss of other natural resource than worry about the same 10-20 Japanese getting paid to protest in the open waters for media attention. I will blame the media if one more person dies because they are encouraging this type of illegally activity action.

    Today a prestigious newspaper lost credibility with one of its readers, and I will spread the problems in your reporting until I see it corrected. Stories don’t make a newspaper. Integrity does. When your reporters, free lance or otherwise, write out of a desire for attention or due to an agenda, they erode that integrity

  • masagata

    That depends on the situation before and after. I do not think he really meant to say “i will kill you.” Didn’t they insult protestors someway? The bottom line is you are very unwelcomed people on the island. I myself feel distrustful to US military. We know you no longer functions as defense nor deterrence. You are behind enemy lines in an allied nation. Try not behave like an oppressor, be humble.

  • masagata

    These protestors you mention might be radical, but that doesn’t deny the fact that majority of the islanders dissaprove Futennma relocation project. Think about it. Your behavior is so arrogant and we are sick of that. That makes us disrespect your country. Are you treating Japan like an enemy state? If so, just tell the public, then we will find out your country is no longer friend to us. No base is needed. I became very reluctant to buy US products including Disney recently. This relocation project and your behavior are very irrational in that sense.

  • We’reAlmostCyprus

    Based on the article above, I think the distrust of which you speak might just run BOTH ways!

  • forsetiboston

    Couldn’t have put it better myself sir. I’d say we just return Okinawa to Okinawa and Senkaku to China. I’m tired of tax dollars going to support the Okinawans anyway. That statement could come from an American or a Japanese – pretty interesting.

  • masagata

    The protestors there are like Rosa Parks in your country or sometimes radical as Malcolm X (but not Black Panthers). On the other hand you act like KKK or Alabama politicians.

  • Skalla

    Yankee Go Home ! Have the Americans forgotten that Okinawa is Japanese, not American, and that Japan is a democracy ?…

  • Skalla

    Warning : Evil moderators on this site ! Maybe I was wrong … Maybe Japan is not a democracy, as there is no freedom of expression ?…

  • masagata

    See the film, Avator.
    That is exactly what is happening in the sea. Some plants in the filem are modeled after real ones exist in the sea.
    Marines vs. Native people. Real Hollywood drama is happening.

    They are like Native Americans or Indian in your homeland. You should support them if you respect your native people who settled down in the continent tens of thousands years before Europeans.
    Or still invading? Then they shall have rights to fight against you for freedom. Freedom, Freedom, Isn’t that your people’s favourite right? You are always proud of fighting for freedom when it is challenged by someone else. That is exactly what they do.

  • masagata

    What do you want to prove by showing the video or showing up yourself in Sakura Channnel (weird comical cable programs)? Such radicals might be problem. Have you ever thought of what is behind? What is the root of the problem?
    You can never be a bridge between your country and Japan. Your attitude is very offensive.
    By the way, if you have a chance to talk with Sakura channnel people, ask how they feel about supporting the foreign military that executed A class criminals enshrined in Yasukuni shrine on current Emperor’s birthday?
    They say Tokyo tribunal was unfair and unlawful biased towards Japan side. They claim Rape of Nanjing never happened, it was made up by Communist Chinese.
    Do you agree with them? Does that represent your govn’t’s opinion? I will ask US embassy about that.

  • Yuki Hashimoto

    I wish Masagata (Straight Form? Narrow-minded? how can I render his name into English?) and others who hide with internet names to show their real names, like Katerine Muzik, Ernest Schaal, Robert Eldrige do and a few ohters do. Your statements matter only when you put one’sname and reputation to it. Those that did do so knowing they are taking a stand. Those that don’t, like Masagata, are in the words of the people (Americans) he seems to hate, “cranks.”

  • Eric Gray

    “Sounds double standard.”

    Double standard. I would agree on that but not in the way that you might think. I wonder why is is acceptable to do land fill in Naha, Awase, Nago, Chatan, and many other towns in cities in Okinawa but not in Henoko. That is certainly a double standard.

  • Eric Gray

    “Sir, the bottom line is your presence no longer functions as defense nor deterrence.”

    Really? Have you taken a look of late at Chinese aggression in the Senkaku islands, North Korean threats to both South Korea and Japan, or Russian military aircraft flights near Japanese territory?

    “We know the only reason your military stays in Japan is save cost because Japan pays sympathy budget.”

    Source of this “knowledge” please?

    “A lot of young marines come from poor family and end up joining marines.”

    Partially true. The US military does serve as an excellent way for young people from poor economic background to get an education, learn about the world, and gain critical experience in the world. This element of your statement, though partially true, is non sequitur to your argument.