Alkonis supporters make G-7 push to get Navy officer released from Japanese prison
Stars and Stripes May 18, 2023
A U.S. senator and a former national security adviser, ahead of President Joe Biden’s arrival Thursday in Hiroshima for the G-7 summit, called for the return of a U.S. Navy officer imprisoned in Japan.
Robert O’Brien, formerly the national security adviser in the Trump administration, in a Wednesday tweet, asked Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to release Lt. Ridge Alkonis as a “humanitarian gesture.”
Formerly a weapons officer assigned to the destroyer USS Benfold, Alkonis is 10 months into a three-year prison sentence for negligent driving that caused the deaths of two Japanese citizens and injured a third in May 2021.
“Reuniting him with his family will be seen as an act of friendship & magnanimity by the American people,” O’Brien tweeted after meeting with the sailor’s wife, Brittany Alkonis, in Tokyo.
The following day, as Biden was en route to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, called on Biden to return with Alkonis aboard Air Force One at the conclusion of the trip.
“This has gone on long enough,” Lee said in a video tweeted Thursday by Fox News Radio reporter Ryan Schmelz. “This is a man who has faithfully served his country and its time for him to come home.”
Lee has remained an outspoken supporter of Alkonis and critic of the way the Japanese handled Alkonis’ case. Lee on March 1 accused Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi of backtracking on a deal to release the officer to U.S. custody.
The following day, Lee issued a 24-hour ultimatum to Kishida that threatened to reconsider a U.S.-Japan weapons deal if Alkonis wasn’t returned to U.S. Navy custody.
He also sponsored an amendment to the Defense Department’s 2023 budget that extended pay and benefits for Alkonis, which ultimately passed.
Alkonis’ imprisonment has attracted the attention of numerous U.S. officials, including Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, since he first reported to prison in July 2022.
Harris, during a visit to Tokyo in September, discussed Alkonis’ case with Kishida, a White House official told Stars and Stripes at the time.
In February, Brittany Alkonis spoke briefly with Biden about the situation after his State of the Union address. Biden, at the time, told her “we’re not giving up and we’re going to get him home,” according to a tweet from Real Clear News reporter Philip Wegmann.
Other Alkonis supporters include Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., who, along with 30 other members of Congress, sent Biden a letter in October urging him to “use all tools available to ensure Lt. Alkonis be returned to the United States.”