Japan and the United States agreed Friday to allow U.S. officials to be present during police questioning of U.S. service members suspected of committing heinous crimes in Japan, the Foreign Ministry said.

Under the agreement, a U.S. command representative will be permitted to sit in on interrogations “to enable U.S. military authorities to swiftly carry out their investigation.”

Yasumasa Nagamine, deputy director general of the ministry’s North American Affairs Bureau, and Brig. Gen. Timothy Larsen, deputy commander of U.S. Forces in Japan, reached the agreement during a meeting of the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee in Tokyo.

The committee specifically deals with the bilateral Status of Forces Agreement, which governs the management and operation of U.S. troops in Japan.

Washington wants its officials to be present during questioning to protect the rights of U.S. suspects, ministry officials said. The U.S. judicial system allows lawyers to be present during interrogations.

Japan would only agree to the presence of a U.S. investigator during police questioning, and not a lawyer as initially requested by the U.S, they said.

Japan’s judicial system does not allow such privileges for other criminal suspects, and judicial experts say the agreement is unfair to Japanese and foreigners because the privilege is only extended to U.S. military suspects.

At issue was whether U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan who are suspected of committing crimes outside military bases should be exposed to the legal system of the host nation or granted the rights guaranteed by American laws. Both sides compromised by allowing the U.S. presence only in cases of serious crimes, such as murder and rape.

Under the SOFA, the U.S. military is not required to hand over personnel suspected of crimes to Japanese authorities until they are indicted.

But following the rape of a 12-year-old girl by three servicemen in Okinawa in 1995, Washington agreed to give “sympathetic consideration” to the handover of suspects in heinous crimes before they are charged.

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