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U.S. Marines official dismissed over Okinawa protest video leak

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The Pentagon has reportedly dismissed a senior U.S. Marine Corps official in Okinawa following the leak of on-base surveillance video to a Japanese neo-nationalist group.

According to Japanese media, Robert Eldridge, deputy assistant chief of staff of government and external affairs, lost his job over the unauthorized release of footage from a security camera located within the marines’ Camp Schwab base in Nago city, northeastern Okinawa. The leaked film, which showed the arrest of Okinawan peace campaigner Hiroji Yamashiro last month, was uploaded to YouTube on March 9.

In response to inquiries from journalists in Okinawa, a U.S. Marine Corps spokesman initially denied the footage had been leaked. However, on March 14 the military admitted the video had been released without authorization and pledged to punish the party involved.

Referring to Pentagon policy, U.S. officials refrained from confirming that Eldridge had been held responsible. Requests by The Japan Times for comment from Eldridge and the U.S. military in Okinawa have so far gone unanswered.

Eldridge, a former academic, began working for the marines in 2009.

Yamashiro, chairman of the Okinawa Peace Movement Center, was arrested by base security guards at Camp Schwab for crossing its boundary line during a demonstration on Feb. 22. Following his detention, he was handed over to Japanese police, who released him the next day while they conduct further inquiries.

The arrest by security guards caused uproar on the island, since it was the first time that the Marine Corps has taken direct action against Okinawans protesting plans to build a new U.S. facility in Nago to replace the troubled Futenma air base in Ginowan city in central Okinawa.

The surveillance video — which shows Yamashiro stepping over the installation’s yellow demarcation line — was apparently leaked to justify the arrest.

The footage was uploaded to YouTube by a user called “Tedokon Bogii,” who is believed to be a presenter for the far-right Internet TV network Channel Sakura. Dubbing itself a Japanese culture channel, Sakura’s programs regularly glorify Japan’s role in World War II; they also claim anti-base protests on Okinawa are the work of Chinese, Korean and communist agitators.

Last month The Japan Times revealed that Eldridge had appeared on Channel Sakura twice — including one appearance in January where he branded Okinawa protests “hate speech.” In comments on The Japan Times website, Eldridge also referred to Okinawan demonstrations as “mob rule” and claimed there had been “many physical attacks on Americans” by protesters.

In December, Eldridge and a Channel Sakura host were invited to talk on the Pentagon’s local military radio network, AFN Okinawa. United States Forces Japan did not reply to requests from The Japan Times to clarify who had authorized the joint appearance; the issue is currently the subject of U.S. Freedom of Information Act proceedings.

Revelations of collaboration between the U.S. military and Japanese neo-nationalists come at a critical time for Tokyo-Washington relations. Next month, newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is expected to make his first visit to Japan to discuss, among other matters, the long-stalled Okinawa base relocation plan. The Japanese government insists it is committed to the project despite overwhelming opposition in Okinawa.

On Saturday, 3,900 demonstrators converged on Nago in one of the largest shows of Okinawan anger to date.

Comments: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • Neil

    Let’s keep this in perspective. There are ~1.5 million souls on Okinawa. An estimated 3,900 protesters does not constitute “overwhelming opposition”. That’s the number of people that go to lunch at the McDonalds up there on 58.

  • timefox

    It isn’t the left wing, and a terrorist reserve corps.

  • Shawn Harding

    It will be interesting to see what happens next now that Dr.
    Eldridge has the freedom to pursue his academic work unhindered by the
    constraints that go along with official service in the employment of the U.S.
    Government. But as for now I’m only speaking for myself when I say that Okinawans and Americans both share similar values of democracy and freedom with a rational awareness that both can only be realized by ensuring the security for their enjoyment. By finding common ground in these shared
    values I think there is definitely a better solution other than the two hardline alternatives as no bases on Okinawa at one extreme and maintaining a basing strategy of exclusive U.S. use of Okinawa bases with the Henoko Plan being
    the only viable option to replace Futenma. The U.S. does not pursue this same basing strategy on mainland Japan and that is the key to its sustained viability.
    The crux of the problem is the political inertia that has built up over the past two decades. The toxic political environment in which these negotiations occurred has made it very difficult for either side to develop a more viable solution. The results, as we have seen, have resulted in distributive outcomes that do not increase value for all parties. A win-win solution would be one that requires
    foresight and an acknowledgement that a paradigm shift in Okinawa basing
    strategy is needed. This can be done without reducing deterrent and force projection capability, while at the same time reducing negative environmental impacts and making the bases a benefit rather than a burden to the local community. But I honestly don’t see this happening anytime soon. The inertia of a troubled course once set is difficult to overcome, and the longer it runs its course the worse it gets.

  • Liars N. Fools

    It would be sad if Robert Eldridge has become a minion of the right wing affiliated Channel Sakura and really did accuse Okinawan protestors as being engaged in hate speech. I ran into Eldridge when he was at Osaka University, and he should have stayed there instead of being sucked into the world of USKJ as a propagandist.

    Okinawa has a way of reinforcing extreme views that distort objectivity. There was the ex-Consul General who called Okinawans “master manipulator and lazy” inclined to extortion. Now someone whose job is to reach out to the community calls some Okinawans perpetrators of hate speech.

    Are these American officials professionals?

  • Liars N. Fools

    Here is an account from Okinawa-friendly sources of this sorry action by the once promising Dr. Eldridge:

    According to the Ryukyu Shimpo and Okinawa Times, Eldridge was punished for leaking surveillance video footage of the arrest of Yamashiro Hiroji, leader of the protest movement at Camp Schwab.[7] Evidence of the leak surfaces in a very curious location. Readers may wonder how Tedokon Yasunori, a regular panelist on Channel Sakura and rightwing leader of the Heart Clean Project (HCP), came to receive the official footage as it is presently featured, in part, on his own person Youtube channel.[8]

    Personal YouTube channels as well as Channel Sakura disseminate the mythology now being constructed around the protests against the proposed relocation of MCAS Futenma. Jon Mitchell points out, for example, that Channel Sakura “… is widely known for its glorification of Japan’s role in World War II and for airing shows that deny the Japanese military forced Korean women into sexual slavery.”[9] Worth noting is the channel’s propensity to trade on conspiracy theories so as to incite public fear and deepen the nationalistic enthusiasm presently gaining ground in public discourse.

    For his part in the mythmaking, Tedokon has appeared, reciprocally, in an Armed Forces Network (AFN) Okinawa morning radio show.[10] Concerning the wider protest movement, he suggested on December 22, 2014, through his interpreter (Eldridge), that “most of the protestors come from the mainland,” (i.e. communists that should be ignored), and suggested to the young generation in Okinawa that they should join the community where military members and local people have built good relationships so that they can enjoy and respect both cultures, and Americans and Okinawans can then express their mutual gratitude for each other’s presence.

    One could argue that the spread of this media mythology is really just a reflection of the ethical debilities in the Washington-Tokyo plan for Henoko. Distractions, mis-directions, and fabrications are part and parcel of the folklore needed periodically to underpin the plans of the powerful, especially when those plans clash with the public will expressed in political elections. Douglas Lummis puts it thus: “That the Okinawan voters had set their will against the new base was absolutely clear.”[11]

  • Neil

    No info on where they phoned to complete the survey indicated by the link. “Residents” is pretty vague. It certainly wasn’t residents of Henoko. The fact remains that the village of Henoko voted FOR the plan.

    Okinawa is one prefecture in Japan. One prefecture is not responsible for the security of the nation.

    I don’t get memos. I read what’s available. Your snarky comment is juvenile behavior.