High court: ASDF mission to Iraq illegal

Airlifts will continue; no redress for plaintiffs

Compiled From Kyodo, Staff Reports

NAGOYA — The Air Self-Defense Force’s airlifting of multinational combat troops into the war zone of Baghdad is unconstitutional because it is an act integral to other countries’ use of force, the Nagoya High Court ruled in a suit Thursday.

Government officials said the ruling will not halt the ASDF deployment to Kuwait for the airlift mission because Tokyo considers that where the troops are being flown — Baghdad airport — is outside the combat zone.

The lawsuit was brought by some 1,100 citizens who wanted the dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq to be suspended and the government to pay damages. But their demands were rejected, and the plaintiffs do not plan to appeal.

The ruling is technically a victory for the government because the court struck down the plaintiffs’ demands and the mission will continue. The state is thus not expected appeal the decision, which was the first to find an SDF dispatch unconstitutional, so the ruling will become final.

“The ASDF airlift activities (to and from Iraq) run counter to Article 9 of the Constitution” and the special law established in 2003 to allow the Self-Defense Forces to provide humanitarian support for Iraqi reconstruction efforts, presiding Judge Kunio Aoyama said. Article 9 renounces the use of force to resolve international disputes.

“The ASDF mission to airlift armed troops from multinational forces to Baghdad plays a part in the use of force by other countries,” thus it can be construed that Japan itself is using force, which is banned by the Constitution, the judge said. In modern warfare, the transport of personnel and supplies constitutes a key part of combat, the judge said.

The special law of 2003 states that the SDF will only operate in areas where no combat activity is taking place.

ASDF C-130 transports in Kuwait continued airlifting personnel and supplies to and from Iraq after Ground Self-Defense Force troops wrapped up their humanitarian support mission in Samawah, Iraq, in July 2006.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said the decision will not affect the ASDF mission because the government considers the airport in Baghdad the ASDF lands at to be a noncombat zone, making the mission constitutional.

“I cannot accept such a court ruling when the Japanese government has determined that (Baghdad airport) is a noncombat zone,” Machimura told a news conference.

The airport is a noncombat zone because many commercial aircraft also fly to and from the facility, he said.

“If (the airport) was a combat zone and truly dangerous, there is no way commercial planes could fly there,” he stressed.

The top SDF officer, Adm. Takashi Saito, chief of staff of the SDF Joint Staff Office, said the ASDF mission does not play an integral part in the use of force. He declined further comment.

Civic groups and individuals have filed several lawsuits to halt the SDF missions in Iraq on constitutional grounds.

All have failed.

The high court ruling is the result of an appeal that citizens filed after the Nagoya District Court rejected their lawsuit in April 2006.

The plaintiffs argued that the SDF activities in Iraq violate Article 9 of the Constitution and that their right to live peacefully was infringed upon by the deployment.

The district court did not make a judgment on the constitutionality of the GSDF deployment and rejected the plaintiffs’ demand to be paid ¥10,000 each in compensation for psychological pain caused by the deployment.

On Thursday, Judge Aoyama sided with the plaintiffs’ claim that the Constitution guarantees their right to live peacefully, but rejected their demand for damages, saying their rights were not infringed upon by the deployment.

Former Japanese Ambassador to Lebanon Naoto Amaki, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, declared a win after the ruling. “This is effectively a complete victory for us” he said, calling the decision “historic.”