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Just ‘An Island in the Pacific’: How Washington Demeans Its Colonial Conquests

From Hawaii to Okinawa, Pacific islands seem relegated to serve as neverland vacation getaways — as well as outposts for US military empire.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently earned a news cycle’s worth of negative press after an interview in which he seemed to dismiss the entire state of Hawaii, where a federal judge earlier this year blocked the Trump administration’s ban on refugees and on travelers from six Muslim-majority countries.

“I really am amazed,” Sessions complained, “that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power.”

Sessions’ comments were widely seen as ignorant and arrogant, dismissing U.S. federal district judge Derrick Watson and the “island in the Pacific” on which he sits. Hawaii’s Senators Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz were quick to fire back on Twitter, with Schatz reminding Sessions that that island is called Oahu, and it happens to be part of a U.S. state.

The dustup came one day after South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham made comments which received far less attention. Speaking in a Today Show interview, Graham said that a war on the Korean peninsula would be “bad for China, bad for Japan, bad for South Korea, it’d be the end of North Korea,” but quickly added, “what it would not do is hit America.”

It was as if Graham was saying: Relax! We’re only talking about destruction on a peninsula in the Pacific.

Sessions and Graham’s remarks might have been more shocking if they weren’t preceded by the U.S. president’s own steady stream of outrageous comments — including his latest ally-enraging (and inaccurate) suggestion  that Korea was once part of China, and appearing not to know the difference between three generations of North Korea’s Kim dynasty. In Washington, the intellectual and moral bar has been set so low, it’s now in danger of being run over by rats and lemmings.

Truth be told, Sessions, Graham, and Trump hardly hold a monopoly on disrespect and disconnect to the Asia-Pacific. Even those who were quick to blast Sessions’ remarks operate on their own ingrained assumptions about the region.

By their nature, Pacific islands are geographically smaller and distant from continents and have long been seen through the lens of conceit. (Henry Kissinger was famously quoted saying of the Marshall Islands, where the U.S. conducted nuclear testing from 1946 to 1958, “There are only 90,000 people out there. Who gives a damn?”)

It’s why, in part, places like Hawaii, Guam, the Marshall Islands, and Okinawa have been relegated to serve as neverland vacation getaways as well as outposts for our military empire — places to store, stage, test, and train for tomorrow’s wars.

Sessions’ dismissive island in the Pacific comment and Graham’s cavalier admission that a new Korean war would be a disaster for “them” but not “us” (sucks to be you!) cut to the heart of questions of sovereignty and servitude — and why there is so little recognition of the degree to which islands in the Pacific are commodified and militarized.

And while Jeff Sessions surely knows that Hawaii has been a U.S. state since 1959, he and others would do well to remember that the formerly independent Kingdom of Hawaii was, in fact, illegally overthrown by the United States in 1893 — and that Hawaiian legal scholars and others still dispute the validity of the U.S. annexation of Hawaii. The subsequent road to statehood and attendant impacts to Hawaiian culture and society, land rights, and the environment stand out as a glaring example of what can happen to an island in the Pacificwhen it catches the eye of a great power.

On the other side of the date line, the U.S. territory of Guam is highly valued by the U.S. military as its “unsinkable aircraft carrier” in the Western Pacific, anchored strategically near East Asia. But most Americans would struggle to find it on a map. Guam has one of the highest military enlistment rates in the U.S. but remains divided over its political status.

There’s an effort underway to hold a plebiscite that would address the island’s political status as an “unincorporated territory.” A vote on whether Guam should pursue statehood (like Hawaii), forge a free association with the U.S. (like Micronesia’s three COFA nations), or seek full independence would be a significant step toward ending its colonial status and move toward self-governance.

Like Guam and Hawaii, the Republic of the Marshall Islands knows all too well what it means to be an island in the Pacific. The impact of the 67 nuclear weapons tests conducted by the U.S. in the northern atolls (most famously on Bikini) is measured not just in contaminated islands and devastating cancer rates, but in the profound changes to Marshallese culture and society. Entire communities were moved around like furniture to accommodate U.S. weapons tests.

Often overlooked is the Marshall Islands’ Kwajalein atoll, home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, which is so valued by the U.S. that it has negotiated a lease that runs through 2066 (with an option to extend to 2086). Much of the base’s unskilled labor force is made up of Marshallese who live in impoverished, crowded conditions, often lacking the most basic services and utilities, on a tiny sliver of sand called Ebeye island a short boat ride away from America’s sophisticated Death Star in the Pacific.

The widely accepted premise that islands in the Pacific make great military bases extends to southern Japan’s Okinawa prefecture, once the independent Ryukyu Kingdom until it was absorbed by Japan in the 1880s. After the horrific battle of Okinawa at the end of World War II, the U.S. claimed Okinawa as its own — the spoils of war — and occupied it outright until its reversion to Japan in 1972.

Today Okinawa is fractured as its people continue to protest around the clock against the lopsided U.S. military presence there. At least 70 percent of all U.S. bases and half of U.S. troops in Japan are crowded on Okinawa into less than 1 percent of Japanese territory, with new U.S. installations being forcibly built under the heavy fists of Tokyo and Washington.

This denial of how the U.S. disrespects islands extends beyond the Pacific. It’s why Diego Garcia, where the U.S. and British expelled an entire indigenous population to build a U.S. military base, is just an island in the Indian Ocean. It’s why Puerto Rico and Cuba are just islands in the Caribbean.

When geographically and politically dominant nation-states invade, conquer, annex, or otherwise absorb smaller, distant islands, entire populations are displaced, cultures are appropriated or extinguished, and colonization and militarization are normalized.

When Jeff Sessions made his smug comment about an island in the Pacific, he was lambasted for disrespecting Hawaii. But a more subtle, far more pervasive kind of disrespect forms the basis of a narrative so widespread it transcends political boundaries, linking those on the right with those on the left in a way that never seems to make the news.

Woman Arrested Near US Base in Okinawa for Biting Police Officer

On Thursday, Japanese authorities arrested a woman and charged her with causing bodily injury and obstructing a police officer after biting an officer outside of US Marine Corps Base Camp Schwab in Okinawa.

The woman was arrested around 9:25 a.m. local time, and was one of three arrests made near US military bases in Okinawa that day, Stars and Stripes reports.

A Nago prefectural police spokesman said the officer was attempting to stop the woman from running to the highway near one of the base’s gates when she bit the officer on the arm, leaving bite marks.

Authorities have not released information on the woman, and it is not yet clear whether she belongs to protests groups that often demonstrate against the US military’s presence on Okinawa. Two people who ignored police warnings and crossed property lines at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and at Schwab were also arrested that day.

The Act on Special Measures Concerning Criminal Cases, a provision under a bilateral security treaty, prohibits anyone entering US military installations without permission.

According to police, the cases went to the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Naha District on Friday.

Okinawa houses about 50,000 Defense Department employees, troops and families, and sees nearly daily protests against the American presence on the island, which holds strategic value for Washington due to its close proximity to North Korea and China.

ometimes these demonstrations grow quite large, with one June 2016 rally growing to an estimated 65.000 people. The protesters held placards that read,  “Marines, get out,” and “Our rage beyond the bounds.”

In February it was announced that the Japanese government was going to pay $265.9 million to Okinawa residents living near the Kadena Air Base in an aircraft noise settlement.

To lighten the island’s load, bases have recently been consolidated and Marines have been shipped to Guam and a number of other US bases.

U.S. murder suspect didn’t fear rape charge in Japan

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Kenneth Franklin Shinzato is transferred to the Naha District Public Prosecutors Office from a police station in Uruma, Okinawa Prefecture in May.

An American charged with raping and murdering an Okinawa woman blamed the victim and thought he would get away with the attack because of Japan’s culture of shame, according to a report.

The suspect, Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, “didn’t fear being caught because of Japan’s low rate of reporting sexual assaults … due to cultural and social stigma,” according to a Stars and Stripes article published on Feb. 14.

The U.S. military newspaper quoted lawyers for Shinzato, 33, a former U.S. Marine who was a civilian worker at the U.S. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture.

Okinawa prefectural police initially arrested Shinzato in May last year on suspicion of abandoning the body of the 20-year-old woman who resided in Uruma in the prefecture. He was later arrested and indicted on charges of rape and murder.

“I intended to hit her with the stick and make her lose consciousness, then put her in the suitcase, take her to a hotel and then rape her,” the defense team quoted Shinzato as saying in the article.

Police suspect he ambushed the woman while she was walking for exercise in Uruma on the night of April 28. They believe Shinzato and the woman had never met before.

One of the lawyers told Stars and Stripes that the suspect believes “it was her fault for having been there at the time.”

The lawyer told The Asahi Shimbun on Feb. 15, “My client is not expressing any remorse over the incident.”

The defense team plans to have the suspect undergo a psychiatric assessment before his trial starts around June.

According to the lawyer, a transcript of the defense team’s interview with Shinzato was released to Stars and Stripes because he wanted to tell his story only to fellow Americans.

Okinawa governor hopes Trump will change U.S. policy on Futenma

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga expressed hope Thursday that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump will adopt a new policy toward U.S. military bases in Japan’s southernmost prefecture.

Referring to drastic changes Trump has made since taking office on Jan. 20, Onaga said in a speech in Washington he hopes the new president will take U.S. policy on bases, including the controversial relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, in “a better direction.”

The bilateral policy concerning Okinawa has remained constant under previous Japanese and U.S. governments, leaving the island prefecture “full of bases,” Onaga told the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at George Washington University.

“I don’t think it will get any worse than today,” he said.

“In that sense, I am forecasting some changes with President Trump.

“I hope he will lead us into a different direction.”

Onaga said he held talks with Republican and Democratic members of Congress about local opposition to the Japan-U.S. plan to move Futenma from a crowded residential area of Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago.

“It’s not ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ We don’t want (a new U.S. base) anymore,” the governor said, citing the fact Okinawa accounts for a mere 0.6 percent of the land of Japan but is home to more than 70 percent of all U.S. military facilities in the country.

Onaga said he briefly met and spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when they happened to be at the same breakfast meeting Thursday at a Washington hotel.

They did not discuss the Futenma issue, however.

Onaga has demanded the Futenma base be relocated outside Okinawa. During the five-day visit to Washington through Saturday, he aims to tell the Trump administration that many residents of Okinawa are opposed to the relocation plan as they want to reduce the burden on the prefecture from hosting the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan.

The relocation is a key part of a broader bilateral agreement to reorganize the U.S. military presence in Japan.

The Japanese government maintains that relocating Futenma to Henoko is the “only solution” for removing the dangers posed by the air station without undermining the deterrence of the Japan-U.S. alliance amid regional tensions fueled by China’s assertive territorial claims at sea and North Korea’s weapons program.

In 2004, a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter crashed at Okinawa International University, which is adjacent to the base.

Okinawa base worker to admit rape, but not intentional murder

A former U.S. base worker will admit to a charge of rape leading to the death of a Japanese woman last year, a new development in the case that rocked the tiny island prefecture and led to a surge in anti-American sentiment.

Kenneth Franklin Gadson, a former Marine who worked as a civilian at a Kadena Air Base cable and internet company, said through his attorneys that he killed Rina Shimabukuro, 20, while attempting to rape her, according to Naha District Court documents filed Friday.

“We do not dispute the charge of rape resulting in death,” the documents said, adding that Gadson admits to striking Shimabukuro on the head from behind while attempting to rape her. “As a result, the victim died … The defendant had no murderous intent, therefore we dispute the charge of murder.”

Gadson’s first pretrial conference is scheduled for March 10. The trial is expected to begin sometime around June.

The admission’s timing surprised some legal scholars, since prosecutors haven’t yet presented evidence in court. It was most likely an attempt at a lesser sentence by showing remorse, which is considered very important in the Japanese justice system.

“Generally speaking, if you do not admit anything while there is obvious evidence, the attitude is seen as atrocious, with no remorse; thereby, the sentence tends to be longer,” said Tetsumi Takara, a law professor at the University of the Ryukyus.

Takara said the death penalty cannot be discounted in this case, though it is rarely handed down in cases involving a single death.

“There is a possibility that he chose this route for a lesser sentence by giving a good impression to [the civilian] judges (similar to an American jury),” Takara said. “Having said that, it is still strange to admit the charge before trial.”

Gadson was charged with murder and rape resulting in death by Japanese prosecutors two months after Shimabukuro disappeared on April 28. He was also charged with the illegal disposal of a body.

Following interrogation, he took police to the wooded area where her remains were found. He confessed to the crime, police said, but his lawyers argued he was questioned while under the influence of sleeping pills after a suicide attempt.

The Rowdy American Military Base Causing Friction With Japanese Locals (2010)

Futemma military base in Okinawa was once dubbed an “accident waiting to happen”, and the Japanese believe that they have waited long enough.

US military base employee held for drunk-driving in Okinawa

Okinawa police say the 24-year-old woman was detained after she failed to stop at an intersection. She collided with a car whose driver is said to be unhurt. Local police say the American worker’s alcohol level was four times the legal limit. The US military has prohibited its service members from drinking alcohol off base and outside their homes. The ban comes amid rising anger in Okinawa over crimes committed by the US military personnel. Last week, Okinawa demonstrators held another protest against the presence of the U-S military on their island. The protest was triggered by the rape and murder of a Japanese girl by an employee of the US base.

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