Victims of a Safe Society – Child Abduction is State Policy, Part 1


Below is an article which appeared some time ago  in the LA Times. Reasonable people might assume that once this injustice had been made public, it should have been subject to reform. However, that is not the case. Human rights reports continue to decry the state of police practice and lack of fundamental protection of civil liberties in Japan. Now, this might seem like a bit of hypocrisy, emanating from a country with as extraordinarily bad a prison record as this one. The USA has a fifth of the world’s population, and nearly 25% of the world’s prisoners. This is not a defense of that record.

I find this very, very relevant. The threat of violent denial of civil rights and imprisonment is a deterrent which in addition to lowering crime statistics, prevents the Japanese public from demanding obviously desirable  forms of justice, not the least of which is the protection of the right of children and parents to be together. And this threat, this deterrent effect, spreads as quietly but inevitably as pestilence, plague, or radiation. It hums  background noise that renders such subversive notions unthinkable for many.

And it is also a very personal concern. We have friends and allies whose civil rights have been abused in precisely the manner described here;  and if you look just a little ahead, there are currently horrific stories of this abuse occurring right now to which the world currently turns a convenient blind eye. It is easy to imagine the chilling effect of this on all of us whose children have been abducted and hidden, and that is the effect desired by the Japanese  and their  counterparts here in the United States who do not wish to discuss this inconvenient issue with them. When we begin to count the monumental scale of the  incidence of state sponsored child abduction in Japan, the deterrent  power of police interference and threat of abuse takes on an ever more ominous meaning.

The general condition of criminal justice and prisons described here in this article is essential background.  But don’t miss this: there is an enormously painful irony in the  manner of presentation of this issue. In an obscene  absurdity that reveals the depth to which the link between these two issues extends – Japanese state-endorsed, state-sanctioned international child abduction and the use of police power to intimidate the population – the lawyer who is quoted in the text of this LA Times article and who here states that the treatment of prisoners in Japanese jails is comparable to the nightmare of torture depicted in the famous political horror thriller Midnight Express, is none other than Kensuke Ohnuki, ringleader of the international child abduction network in Japan. Ohnuki has been interviewed numerous times by the international, Japanese and American press, which state that he handles 200 cases a year  defending Japanese child abductors, and yet here he plays whistle-blower, revealer of the hidden truth of the police force. It now becomes possible to begin to see the manner in which the split stream of his activities is mutually supportive, not exclusive.

Ohnuki unironically moved on. He has been quoted very recently by Al Jazeera and in Time Magazine where he stated for the record and without any apparent sense of irony or humor that 90% of foreign  (non-Japanese) husbands in divorce cases are child and spouse abusers. This is, he says, why their  spouses usually seek divorce and possession of the children, denying thousands upon thousands of children of the parent with whom they have bonded since birth. Ohnuki’s underlying message is clear: “Either we will smear you, or we will jail you! Take your pick. But Japan decides if it wants to abduct.” And that is precisely what it does.

 Ohnuki, the same Ohnuki, is Machico’s legal representative. And that means he is Rui’s abductor, and an abuser of children.


Here is what the LA Times published:

Behind Japan’s low crime rate and civilized streets is a criminal justice system criticized as the most backward in the industrialized world.

When they began beating and choking him, Donald Wilson thought he could tough it out. The 28-year-old entertainer, a Los Angeles native, was in Japanese police custody, suspected of drug possession, and as he tells it, he was brutally beaten by the policemen.

Later, he shrugged off his pains, figuring they would disappear in a matter of days. They didn’t.

First came the splitting headaches and nausea, then double vision and numbness on his right side. He collapsed in court; doctors said he had epilepsy, a condition he had never suffered. Finally, medical reports confirmed his worst fears: a damaged vertebra, irregular brain waves and the likelihood that he would never dance or act again.

U.S. officials in Tokyo call it the worst case of apparent police brutality against an American. Yet, according to international human rights attorneys, what Wilson says he experienced one May morning in 1990 is a dark and dirty fact of life in the Japanese criminal justice system. Behind Japan’s low crime rate and safe streets, the genteel civility of its populace, is a criminal justice system condemned as the most backward in the industrialized world.

Human rights attorneys don’t mince words. Hellish interrogation sessions lasting hours on end, physical beatings and psychological abuse are not uncommon, they say. Many of the extracted confessions are forced and later proven false. Japanese prosecutors rely far more heavily on confessions than do their American counterparts, and according to the Japanese bar association, the practice leads to a “hotbed of wrong verdicts.”

The right to bail, used by other nations to minimize the potential for abuse, is heavily restricted in Japan. Strip searches have been used for offenses as minor as traffic violations.

And all this treatment, the lawyers say, occurs behind closed doors in police stations because access to an attorney is also restricted–and, during interrogations, banned altogether. In the United States, suspects are protected against abuse and self-incrimination through the right to counsel from the moment of arrest, including during interrogations.

“Many foreign people think Japan is a highly developed, advanced, democratic country, and it is,” said Hideyuki Kayanuma, Wilson’s attorney. “But especially in the field of criminal justice, it’s a Third World country. There are no human rights.”

“It’s almost like ‘Midnight Express,’ ” said civil-rights attorney Kensuke Onuki, referring to a 1978 film about the primitive conditions inside Turkish prisons.

For their part, Japanese police say the charges are wildly exaggerated. Despite continuing calls for reform by Amnesty International and other human rights groups, the National Police Agency and Ministry of Justice say they have solved their problems through internal structural changes launched a decade ago.

They also say very few police have ever been convicted of wrongdoing. In the last 40 years, about 12,615 complaints of torture and other abuse have been filed.

But the courts have accepted only 15 cases, and only half of them have resulted in punishment for police officers, according to the Japan Federation of Bar Assns. Critics, however, say the low rate of discipline indicates that no one is policing the police.

“It proves the machinery is not working at all,” said Etsuo Totsuka, a human rights attorney based in London.

Japanese police also defend their system as exceedingly effective at fighting crime. They point to data showing that Japanese proportionally commit one-fourth the number of crimes as do Americans, while the arrest rate is twice as high and the conviction rate more than 98%.

“The United States can adopt the Japanese system, because ours really finds the truth,” said Masato Ushijima, the National Police Agency’s deputy chief of the general affairs division. “The United States depends on objective findings, but you can’t find the truth only from that. You also have to use confessions.”

Yet attorneys question the human cost of those high conviction rates.

In an unprecedented series of acquittals, three Japanese men sentenced to death were found innocent after a series of retrials in 1983 and 1984. A fourth inmate on Death Row was also acquitted in 1989. The courts found that all four men had been coerced into false confessions through relentless interrogation, denial of sleep and physical abuse. They spent an average 31 years each in prison.

The Japanese bar associations have compiled massive documentation of other cases of abuse, most recently in a 150-page report published last November. A typical example involved a 55-year-old day laborer who was released last April after 16 years in prison for the murder and rape of an 18-year-old bank employee. Attorneys say the man was coerced into a false confession during six months of detention in three different police stations outside Tokyo.

During that time, the man says, officers beat him on the head with fists, trampled on his thighs, yelled in his ears and ordered him to “apologize” to a photo of the dead woman as they burned incense for her spirit in the interrogation room.

They interrogated him for a total of 172 days as much as 13 hours a day. The Tokyo High Court eventually found him not guilty, in part because of the likelihood of a coerced confession.

In addition to physical abuse, suspects are routinely subjected to psychological abuse by interrogators, human rights attorneys say. This includes being told that their families will suffer if they don’t confess or that the interrogation won’t end without a confession. Suspects are also shouted at, insulted, made to bow with their heads to the ground and surrounded by officers banging rulers on the table.

There are no clear statistics on the number of coerced confessions, but the figure may be as high as 50%, according to separate estimates by Hitotsubashi University law professor Toshikuni Murai and Karen Parker, a San Francisco-based human rights attorney. The number of convictions overturned because of coerced confessions totaled seven in 1988, 11 in 1990 and six as of May, 1991, according to a 1991 study in a Japanese law journal.

The Fuji newspaper reported seven cases of acquittal based on coerced confessions in one month alone, March, 1991.

At the heart of the problem is the Japanese system of detention known as daiyo kangoku, or substitute prisons. Under this system, suspects may be held in police custody for up to 23 days, compared to usually not more than two days in the United States and other industrialized nations.

Such an extended period of police custody in Japan places the suspect at the total mercy of his interrogators, critics say.

Because the same police agency aiming to extract a confession also controls the suspect’s entire life inside jail–eating, sleeping, exercising, bathing–the situation is said to be ripe for exploitation. Numerous suspects have said their meals or sleeping hours were withheld until they “cooperated” with a confession, then were rewarded with extra food or other privileges.

“The system leads naturally to abuse, torture, coerced confessions, undue influence and self-incrimination,” said Parker, who co-authored a 1989 critique of the system on behalf of the San Francisco-based Assn. of Humanitarian Lawyers and the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights.

The report, which judged Japan’s system against prevailing international law, found “systematic and gross violations” of human rights. It has been submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Committee for review, but Japanese authorities say the report is riddled with inaccuracies.

Parker said police detention in other industrialized nations is deliberately kept to two days or so to minimize the possibility of improper police conduct. In the United States, for instance, the suspect is taken from police custody and held under control of court authorities after being arraigned or asked to give a plea to formal charges.

But in Japan, after the suspect is first brought before a court for arraignment within three days of arrest, he is in most cases returned to the police cell until indictment. No bail is granted before indictment, and after indictment releases on bail are restricted. The reason for continued incarceration in police cells is a 1908 law that authorized their use as temporary housing until the Ministry of Justice could build enough of its own alternative detention centers. The needed centers were never built, however, so what began as an exception gradually became standard practice.

Indeed, the Ministry of Justice and National Police Agency say that high land prices and tight public budgets make impractical any proposal to eliminate the daiyo kangoku system. Despite the criticism, they are pushing legislation to give them permanent authority to use the police cells.

“Ideally speaking, all suspects should be put in detention centers instead of police cells, but there are only 116 detention centers compared to 1,200 police cells,” said Satoru Ohashi, an official with the Ministry of Justice’s corrections bureau. “We would like to gradually change, but we can’t do it rapidly because of reality.”

Both Ohashi and Ushijima said a 1980 reform separating police interrogators from police guards provided sufficient safeguards against abuse. But Totsuka and others scoff at the change as superficial, because the same police agency remains in total control of the suspect.

Police also oppose a reform that would guard against coerced confessions and other abuse: the right to an attorney during interrogations.

“If the attorney is in the same room as the interrogator, the interrogator feels the suspect won’t tell the truth,” said the National Police Agency’s Ushijima, in what he called his personal opinion. “The attorney’s responsibility is not to find the truth, it’s to defend the suspect. So the lawyer may also be telling a lie.”

To human rights attorneys, such attitudes ensure that tainted confessions will continue.

“In my opinion, every confession in Japan in daiyo kangoku taken without a lawyer is coerced. Every single conviction based on confession in daiyo kangoku is arbitrary, with no legal basis. It cannot be proven otherwise,” Parker said.

Even the right to an attorney outside the interrogation room is often curtailed through a vague provision in the law allowing restrictions “in case it is necessary for the investigation.”

The Parker report estimated that 20% of suspects were “severely curtailed” in meeting with attorneys at all.

In the case of Wilson, the Los Angeles man, police allegedly went one step further by preventing him for several days from even seeing a U.S. Embassy representative who would have brought him a list of attorneys soon after his arrest. According to embassy documents and testimony by Wilson, the police lied and told both sides that the other party did not want to meet.

The embassy has lodged a formal protest with the Ministry of Justice. In a highly unusual step, it is also sending a representative to monitor each Wilson court hearing. “We’ve seen nothing this severe,” a U.S. official explained.

And Wilson has filed a civil suit over his treatment by the police.

In a recent court hearing, however, police denied all charges of wrongdoing.

Critics also say the Japanese overreliance on confessions leads to “sloppy” police work in gathering–or ignoring–objective evidence, such as fingerprints. Ushijima vehemently disagreed and defended police work in Japan. Still, there are numerous cases in which the suspect who confessed could not possibly have committed the crime.

In 1985, for instance, a 13-year-old Tokyo boy was held for breaking into the home of a female student. Footprints, fingerprints and blood left at the scene of the crime did not match the boy’s, but attorneys say the police ignored the evidence in a “single-minded determination to make (the boy) confess by interrogating him.”

Police also disregarded a witness’ statement that the boy was not the perpetrator. The teen-ager was held for five days and repeatedly struck on the head with an atlas, attorneys say, until he finally confessed. However, the real burglar was eventually found, and the boy was cleared of all charges after two years.

In one of the overturned death penalty cases, the prosecution had entered as evidence a bloodstain from the suspect’s blanket that supposedly matched the blood of the murder victim. However, only during retrial 20 years later did the prosecution disclose previously hidden evidence: An expert report taken directly after the murder found no samples of blood on the blanket.

Other problems cited include wanton strip-searches, lack of adequate medical care in detention and a highly limited right to release on bail.

In 1988, for instance, a woman in Nagano prefecture was arrested on suspicion of driving without a license. She was detained for 39 hours in a police station and was ordered to give a urine sample.

Against her protests, a strip-search was also conducted on her by a female officer, who reported the presence of every mole and scar on her body to male officers outside the room. The woman has sued for violation of human rights, and the case is pending.

According to attorney Kayanuma, Wilson’s requests for medical treatment were initially denied in August, 1990. As his condition worsened to nausea, numbness, migraine headaches and double vision, he was finally examined nine months later. Although the examining doctor told Wilson he had suffered vertebra damage, the official detention center report labeled the problem a “headache.”

Outraged, Kayanuma requested a second report, which this time acknowledged a damaged vertebra. Subsequent reports have found irregular brain waves and “epilepsy.” But the detention center has so far rejected Kayanuma’s requests for the name of the examining doctor and for Wilson to be independently examined by an outside physician.

(Police spokesman Ushijima said Wilson initiated the violence by throwing his slippers at the cell door. When a guard entered to pick them up, Wilson took a “fighting pose,” causing other guards to enter and restrain him. It was “possible,” Ushijima added, that Wilson could have been injured in the course of restraint.)

“The whole criminal justice system is very shaky,” Parker said. “There is no reasonable guarantee that the people charged and convicted are the ones who actually committed the crime.”

Despite the clamor by the legal associations and international human rights groups, however, the issue has not stirred the Japanese public. Japanese legal experts say the relative indifference to human rights, among both police and the public in Japan, is a product of centuries of social conditioning.

On the part of police, a strong sense of responsibility to one’s job is a primary reason that they hammer suspects for confessions, said Hitotsubashi University law professor Murai. To turn the suspect over to prosecutors without a confession in hand means troubling an outside agency and signals failure of their own duty–both anathema in Japan, he said.

Overall, an “underdeveloped individual awareness” in Japan lies behind the public apathy, Murai said. Shun Hashiba, executive director of the Japan Civil Liberties Union, cited the national tendency to obey authorities, often blindly.

“You almost have to do what the system or group tells you to do and neglect your own personal feelings,” Murai said.

Hashiba added that most Japanese feel no bond with the criminal suspect and virtually no allegiance to the abstract principle of “innocent until proven guilty” or other civil liberties. His group, for instance, has only 600 members, compared to 280,000 in the American Civil Liberties Union.

Rather, most Japanese place a high degree of confidence and trust in police and assume that suspects under arrest probably committed the crime, he said.

That high public standing, while laudable, also results in a kind of status-quo smugness among police, Hashiba said. As a result, police have no intention of changing a system heavily weighted in their favor for the sake of some concept of “human rights,” he said.

“Japan is a very safe society, so Japanese police and prosecutors have a lot of confidence that their system is right,” Hashiba said.

Chiaki Kitada, a researcher in The Times’ Tokyo bureau, contributed to this article.

A Justice System Under Fire

Behind Japan’s low crime rate is a criminal justice system condemned by human rights advocates as the most backward in the industrialized world. Japanese police say the claims are exaggerated and defend their system as exceedingly effective at fighting crime.

Violations of Criminal Law (1989, per 100,000 population) Britain: 7,355 West Germany: 7,031 France: 5,831 U.S.: 5,741 Japan: 1,358 South Korea: 912

Arrest Rates (1989, per 100 crimes) South Korea: 78.8% West Germany: 47.2% Japan: 46.2% France: 38.8% Britain: 33.6% U.S.: 21.1%

Human Rights Groups Cite:

* Long, brutal interrogation sessions.

* Physical beatings and psychological abuse.

* Forced confessions that are later proven false.

Police Rebuttal:

* Problems have been solved through internal structural changes launched a decade ago.

* Very few police have ever been convicted of wrongdoing.

Key Issue: Detention System

The Japanese system of detention known as daiyo kangoku, or substitute prisons, is at the heart of the problem. Suspects may be held in police custody for up to 23 days, compared to usually not more than two days in the United States and other industrialized nations.

Sources: Ministry of Justice, Japan Federation of Bar Assns.

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