Rule of Law Under Fire in Japan

(Initially published in the Japan Times, May 3, 2008)

The government’s reactions to the Nagoya High Court’s April 17 decision that Japanese operations in Iraq are unconstitutional, raise profoundly disturbing questions about the rule of law and the democratic separation of powers in Japan.

Representatives of the government, and of the military, have made public statements contradicting the findings of the court, rejecting its conclusions, and dismissing the relevance and significance of its constitutional interpretation. The prime minister has stated that the judgment will have absolutely no impact on the government’s continued use of the military in Iraq.

This response by the executive branch of government to a judicial decision in a constitutional democracy is difficult to comprehend. It raises questions about the extent to which the rule of law is respected. It provokes concerns about the continued normative power of the Constitution. It creates serious doubts about the proper distribution of power among the three branches of government within the democratic structure of the state. … Read more…

U.S. Interference in Japanese Constitutional Case

There was a remarkable discovery announced just this week, that documents uncovered in American archives reveal that the U.S. ambassador to Japan in 1959 actively interfered in the judicial process regarding the determination of a fundamental constitutional issue. While the discovery has been widely reported in Japan, the context and significance of the issue deserve to explored in more depth.

The case in question, commonly known as the Sunakawa case, remains a highly important judgment of the Supreme Court, and the discovery that the U.S. government interfered in the process is important, and may have political repercussions in the ongoing constitutional revision debate.

The Telegram

The discovery itself was made by a Japanese historian on U.S. Japanese relations named Niihara Shoji. While doing research at the U.S. National Archives he uncovered a telegram from ambassador Douglas MacArthur II, nephew to the more famous general who was Senior Commander Allied Powers during the occupation of Japan. In the telegram, sent to Washington in April, 1959, ambassador MacArthur recounted his discussions with both foreign minister Fujiyama Aiichiro, and with Supreme Court Chief Justice Tanaka Kotaro, regarding the ruling by the Tokyo District Court in March, 1959, that the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty was unconstitutional, and that the maintenance of U.S. armed forces in Japan was a violation of Article 9 of the Constitution.

The telegram explains that ambassador MacArthur had initially pressed foreign minister Fujiyama to ensure that the government would appeal the decision directly to the Supreme Court, by-passing the more normal procedure of appealing to the Tokyo High Court. According to the telegram, he “stressed importance of GOJ [government of Japan] taking speedy action to rectify ruling by Tokyo District Court”.

It also recounts how he then had private discussions with Chief Justice Tanaka, after the Supreme Court was seized of the case, in which he sought to determine when the Supreme Court would likely hand down its decision. While the telegram is apparently silent on the issue, it is difficult to believe that the ambassador would not have similarly conveyed to the Chief Justice the American view that it was essential to “rectify” the ruling of the court below. … Read more…

Japanese MP Questions the Causes of 9/11

I only recently submbled upon this video of a segment of the debate in the Japanese Diet in January, in which Fujita Yukihisa, a member of the official opposition, interrogated the government on the validity of American claims that Al Qaeda was the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

To put this in context, there was intense debate in the Japanese Diet in January, 2008, over the renewal of the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law (ATSML), which was the authority for the Japanese Self-Defence Forces (SDF) to provide logistical and humanitarian support for ISAF operations in Afghanistan. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) was opposed to a renewal of the law, in part because there was evidence that the SDF had provided support to U.S. forces involved in operations in Iraq. Ozawa Ichiro, leader of the DPJ, has also taken the position that operations in Afghanistan constitute collective self-defence operations not authorized by the U.N., and thus Japanese participation or support of such operations are a violation of Article 9 of the Constitution (Ozawa’s legal interpretation in this regard is flawed on a number of levels. My view on this can be found here).

It was in the context of those debates that Fujita mounted a focused interrogation on the legitimacy of the government’s characterization of 9/11. The English sub-titled video can be accessed below:

There are 8 episodes of this debate, and the other 7 can be found at here. While the questioning begins with some reasonable lines regarding the distinction between treating 9/11 as a criminal act or an act of war, and the sources of the government’s information regarding the Japanese fatalities in the attacks, by the third episode in the recordings here, Fujita begins presenting “evidence” from conspiracy theory sources to suggest that the damage to the Pentagon could not have been caused by a commercial airliner. It develops into a full-blown questioning of whether Al Qaeda was in fact the perpetrators of the attacks.

The DPJ had a range of very legitimate grounds upon which to object to the extension of the ATSML. It is hard to understand such recourse to conspiracy theories, which can only have undermined the credibility of their entire position on the law. The fundamental issue at stake was the constitutionality of Japan’s participation in collective self-defence and collective secuity operations in general, and the operations in Afghanistan in particular. Fringe theories about the causes of 9/11 are entirely beside the point and counter-productive.

Establish Limits on Japanese Naval Support

(Initially published in the Japan Times, January 10, 2008)

As the debate continues in Japan’s Diet this month over a new Antiterrorism Special Measures Law (ASM Law) authorizing Japanese naval force activities in the Indian Ocean, serious attention must be paid to the issues of exactly how such activity is to be limited, and how the Diet can meaningfully monitor compliance with such limitations.

These are not simply political or operational issues, but constitutional issues.

The current draft of the ASM Law purports to authorize the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) to supply fuel to coalition forces engaged in maritime interdiction operations related to Afghanistan. The law would restrict, among other things, the MSDF’s area of operations, its involvement in any use of force, and the purpose for which the fuel it provides may be used. These limitations have been explained as being necessary to ensure that Article 9 of the Constitution is not violated. … Read more…