Subscribe

NAHA, Okinawa — Marines on Okinawa are pressing for a change in how U.S. servicemembers appear in Japanese courts.

They want handcuffs and restraining cords removed from U.S. servicemembers prior to being brought into the courtroom for trial, a Marine Corps official said. They also want prisoners to wear shoes instead of prison-issued plastic slippers.

Japanese officials say they are studying the request.

If granted, it means special treatment for Americans brought in from the detention center for hearings.

Under the Japanese Code of Criminal Procedure, defendants are not to be restrained in the courtroom. Prosecutors and detention officers have taken that to mean the handcuffs and restraining ropes stay on until after they enter the court.

The request was made Aug. 1 to the Naha Detention Center and the Naha District Court’s chief prosecutor, said 2nd Lt. Tryiokasus W. Brown, assistant media relations officer for Marine bases on Okinawa.

Marines asked that the Japanese authorities adhere to an agreement made in 1953.

That agreement “requires the Government of Japan to pay due consideration to the differences between Japan and the United States in regards to detained persons,” Brown said in an e-mail response to a query Wednesday.

The document, titled “Agreed Rule 23,” states that “the use of restraining devices will be limited to instances where force is required to prevent a detained person from causing bodily harm to himself or others, or reasonably prevent escape.”

“Every effort will be made to prevent public display of restraint of such persons,” the agreement states.

American servicemembers on trial in Okinawa are routinely escorted into the courtroom by two uniformed guards. One of the guards holds a rope tether tied around the defendant’s waist.

Once inside the courtroom, the handcuffs and tether are removed.

However, the defendants must wear the plastic sandals instead of street shoes. During the hearings the defendants sit on a bench in front of the defense table, flanked by the guards.

In the past 10 years, only one American being held in the detention center, Marine Maj. Michael Brown, was allowed to wear regular shoes and be unrestrained prior to entering the courtroom.

That first occurred at his second hearing in Naha District Court last April on the order of Chief Judge Nobuyuki Yokota. The major, charged with attempted rape, has pleaded not guilty. His trial resumes Friday.

In several other cases since then, the restraints were removed inside the courtroom prior to the beginning of the hearing. And the slippers were back on.

“We have requested that Japanese authorities adhere to Agreed Rule 23 by allowing detained U.S. service members to wear Western-style footwear to court hearings and by removing restraining devices while detainees are in the courtroom subject to public view,” said Brown, the media relations officer.

He said the request was not made concerning a specific case.

Minoru Uechi, a longtime Japanese attorney for servicemembers on Okinawa, said he would welcome the change.

“From the perspective of human rights of a defendant, handcuffs and other restraining devices should be removed before he enters the courtroom,” he said. “However, the rule should be applied to everybody, not just SOFA members. Otherwise, it will go against the principal of equality under the law.”

Uechi added that court officials must be careful in assessing the potential for violence or escape attempts.

“There was a recent case in which a defendant fled from a courtroom in Okinawa City,” he said. The case did not involve an American. “Therefore, it should be a case-by-case basis, depending on the personality of the defendant and surrounding circumstances.”

Uechi said the change should be made universally throughout Japan and “applied to all the defendants, regardless of nationality.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now