Family members of accused U.S. Army deserter Charles Jenkins said they were barred from seeing him in a Tokyo hospital because U.S. and Japanese officials want to settle the matter of the former sergeant quickly, possibly through a plea bargain.
The claims by Jenkins’ nephew, James Hyman, and his wife, Shirlee, came Saturday amid media reports that the Japanese government is urging Jenkins to make a plea bargain with Washington.
Jenkins, who is being treated at a Tokyo hospital, is wanted by the United States for allegedly abandoning his South Korean post in 1965 and defecting to North Korea. Under a bilateral agreement with Japan, U.S. authorities can take custody of Jenkins here.
The Hymans denied the charges against Jenkins and said they were blocked from seeing him to prevent them from showing him a letter from the U.S. Army indicating that evidence used to back his desertion case did not exist.
“The Japanese government and the American government are keeping everyone away from him so that we won’t be able to tell him, ‘this is what we know, this is what we got,’ ” Shirlee said.
James, who said he shared a close relationship with Jenkins in his childhood, said he did not believe Japanese officials when they told him Friday that Jenkins did not want to see him and refused to let him call him.
Referring to Jenkins by his middle name, James said, “We were very excited for Robert to come to Japan so he could be free at last, but now I wonder if he really is, when he can’t see his own family due to political concerns.”
Jenkins was brought here by the Japanese government because of strong public sympathy for his wife, Hitomi Soga, who was kidnapped by the North years ago but returned to Japan.
Tokyo wants Jenkins to be able to settle in Japan with Soga and their two North Korean-born daughters. Washington has said it plans to pursue its case against Jenkins, who could face life in prison if convicted of desertion.
Media reports Saturday indicated the government is eager to convince Jenkins to enter a plea bargain instead of fighting the charges as the best way to keep the family united.
James said he believed Jenkins would be convinced to accept such an arrangement to be “able to live out the rest of his life in happiness with Aunt Hitomi and my two cousins.”
Shirlee added: “He is a 64-year-old man. It is much easier to plea-bargain your way out than to fight your way out at that age.
“We have to remember he is fighting the government and that could be a never-ending battle,” she said. “He does not have that time.”
Jenkins and his daughters were separated from Soga in October 2002, when she left North Korea alone for Japan.
Japan arranged a family reunion in Indonesia earlier this month — which does not have an extradition treaty with the United States — and said Jenkins needed urgent medical care after prostate surgery in North Korea.
Tokyo flew him here and hospitalized him a week ago, bringing him within U.S. authorities’ reach for the first time in 39 years.
Washington has delayed seeking custody, citing concerns about his health.
But Japanese doctors treating Jenkins said Friday he was in relatively sound health and wouldn’t require urgent care.
U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker expressed impatience after hearing the doctors’ announcement, saying he hoped Jenkins “will face up to the reality that there has to be an effort to deal with the situation. It cannot go on indefinitely.”
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