The Justice Ministry told the United States in October 1953 that legal authorities would not exercise jurisdiction in criminal cases in which U.S. service members are suspected of crimes unless the cases are “of material importance to Japan,” a recently discovered memorandum shows.
The memo, written by a ministry official apparently to a U.S. military officer, was found by researcher Shoji Niihara, an expert on U.S.-Japanese relations.
The memo was one of several recently discovered documents found at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., Niihara said at a news conference Thursday in Tokyo.
The discovery backs up another finding Niihara made in May that shows the Justice Ministry ordered prosecutors to act only on major crimes committed by U.S. military personnel.
The document found in May was compiled by the Criminal Affairs Bureau and the National Police Agency’s Criminal Investigation Bureau from 1954 to 1972.
The English version of the 1953 memorandum, dated Oct. 28, was written by justice bureaucrat Minoru Tsuda, who chaired the Japanese Sub-Committee on Jurisdiction.
Although the memo did not show who it was addressed to, it is believed to have been addressed to Lt. Col. Alan Todd, chairman of the U.S. Sub-Committee on Criminal Jurisdiction, Niihara said.
Niihara said he believed the identity of the addressee is correct because another memorandum signed by both Tsuda and Todd, dated Oct. 22, 1953, was found regarding the same agreement.
Niihara also said other memorandums in the recently discovered documents suggest the U.S. wanted to make the agreement public but Japan wanted to keep it verbal and unpublished.
The two countries compromised by turning it into a written secret, he added.
Yoshihito Shinohara, an attorney who represents victims of crimes perpetrated by U.S. service members in Japan, said Japan is not a sovereign state because the documents suggest Tokyo abandoned the right to try U.S. service members suspected of committing crimes in Japan.
He also criticized the secrecy involved in the agreement.
“Classifying the agreement to keep it away from us is against the current trend, in which we demand as much information as possible be disclosed,” he said.
The U.S. military resorted to “preventive methods” every time crimes by U.S. service members were reported, but the methods were never effective, said Shinsuke Nakamura, another lawyer.
Masanori Yamazaki, whose wife was robbed and murdered by a U.S. sailor in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, in January 2006, also attended the news conference.
He said he hopes the revelation of the secret agreement will pressure Japan and the U.S. forces to try harder to reduce crimes committed by U.S. service members. The sailor who killed his wife was sentenced to life in prison by a Japanese court, and is serving time at a prison in Kanagawa.
The agreement could still be in effect, because many minor cases, including traffic accidents involving U.S. military personnel, have not resulted in indictments.
In late May, the Justice Ministry asked the National Diet Library to delete its records of a document that proves the ministry ordered prosecutors to shield U.S. military personnel from Japanese justice regarding nonserious crimes.