Friday, March 27, 2009

Weekend Digression on an Oppressed Minority—the Gaijin

I should be telling you how the Public Prosecutors Office has been going after Toshihiro Nikai, the METI Minister, and how his case looks at least as bad as Ozawa’s and what I think that means and how that ties into the pox-on-both-houses public opinions polls that we’ve been seeing recently. I should then be comparing them to Elliot Spitzer and Thomas Dewey and other crusading, elected prosecutorial officials in the United Sates and what that means to governance. In short, adding to the greater debate. Alas, I do not have the time. And I am already drunk. So instead, I’m going to post an email response of mine, edited partly to protect the guilty, mostly...oh, enjoy.

But first, for those who are not permanent residents of Japan and do not follow the Japanese gaijin scene with slavish devotion, Arudo Debito is a naturalized citizen of Japan born in the United States who has devoted much of his public life to exposing and lobbying against what the gross mistreatment of foreigners in Japan. He achieved public reknown when he exposed heinous Hokkaido bathhouses who imposed a blanket ban on gaijin in an ostensive attempt to keep out Russian sailors who repeatedly failed to observe house rules (such as washing yourself before you plop into the communal tub). Okay, there’s more to this story. But you get the idea.

Now, fast forward to 27 March 2009. I receive an email from a cross-dressing, heterosexual, lambada dancer NTTIAWWT that carries a report alleged to be the work of said Mr. Debito entitled: Punishing foreigners, exonerating Japanese. The essence of the report:
“So let's summarize: If you're a foreigner facing Japan's criminal justice system, you can be questioned without probable cause on the street by police, apprehended for ‘voluntary questioning’ in a foreign language, incarcerated perpetually while in litigation, and treated differently in jurisprudence than a Japanese.

Statistics bear this out. According to [Professor David T.] Johnson, 10 percent of all trials in Japan had foreign defendants in 2000. Considering that non-Japanese residents back then were 1.3 percent of the Japanese population, and foreign crime (depending on how you calculate it) ranged between 1 and 4 percent of the total, you have a disproportionate number of foreigners behind bars in Japan.”
Maybe, maybe not. But the facts and claims that the report attributes to Mr. Debito appear to be open to some question. And this is where my email, somewhat edited, comes in:

The report claims that in “the case of Lindsay Ann Hawker, who was allegedly murdered by Tatsuya Ichihashi in 2007[, Ichihashi] is just accused of “abandonment of a corpse”. Yet in the, Ichihashi is being sought by the Chiba Police for, you wouldn’t guess, murder (and abandoning a corpse).

Mr. Debito also refers to other
“other crimes against non-Japanese women, like those of convicted serial rapist Joji Obara. His connection with the Lucie Blackman murder has been well-reported, particularly the botched police investigation despite ample material evidence—even videotapes of his rapes. Regardless, in 2007 Obara was acquitted of Blackman's murder due to ‘lack of evidence.’

“Obara did get life imprisonment (not death), since he was only charged with ‘rape leading to death’ of nine other women (one of them foreign). But only after strenuous appeals from Blackman's family was the acquittal overturned in 2008. Obara became guilty of ‘dismembering and abandoning’ her corpse. Again, guilty of crimes to their dead bodies, not of making them dead.”
Leaving aside the magic by which one corpse—one too many, I hasten to add—becomes “dead bodies”, the report neglects to add that there was compelling evidence to cast at least a reasonable doubt that Obara had no intent of causing physical injury to at least one of his two dead victims—the other six (not seven?) survived—and fails to make any claims regarding such intent towards Ms. Blackman. In fact, the facts of the Obara case as asserted by the report itself suggest that his punishment, a life sentence, was about as far as it could possibly have gone, since it is next to impossible for a Japanese court to impose the death penalty in a homicide case without a finding—again beyond a reasonable doubt—of such intent (unless you want to claim that Obara actually got a disproportionately heavy sentence—after all, the courts found only one death attributable beyond a reasonable doubt—only because he was a naturalized citizen, an ethnic Korean, who everyone knows has the hardest time of it). And the following doesn’t even make the faintest of sense:
Generally, in these situations the survivor goes down for "too much self-defense" (kajo boei), regardless of intent. That precedent was set in the 1980s by Steve Bellamy, a British martial artist who intervened in a drunken altercation and killed someone. Bellamy was acquitted of wrongdoing, then convicted on appeal, then acquitted again.
I have nothing to say about the other specific cases because I don’t seen anything hese except allegations and assertions. The gaijin may or may not have been wronged. But it does them little benefit to have their cases lumped together with the other allegations.

As for the statistics cited in the opening quote, gross prosecution numbers are greatly distorted by the large number of immigration law infractions, which are naturally mostly committed in Japanese jurisdiction by non-Japanese. Subtract them, and you can actually argue that Japanese courts go easy on gaijin, who are significantly more likely to get suspended sentences than Japanese citizens for regular crimes. But I won’t, because you have to look closely at the data and as variety of circumstances and conditions before coming to conclusions either way with any degree of confidence. A careful examination of the data available here may tell us whether there is or is not a meaningful bias one way or the other.

I’d be happy to do a more thorough investigation of this matter, and I suspect that it will turn out to be a total takedown of the report. Actually, there is nothing that I’d like to do more, since, as all my acquaintances know, I am naturally mean and enjoy nothing more than... life, however, is so short; so many flowers to pluck, so many nuns to kick. In the meantime, though, will someone please tell whoever wrote that report that I do heavy-duty fact-checking for $200/hr.


LB said...

Thanks for this, Okumura-san. But remind me never to get you mad at me (especially after you've had a few). ;-)

It was kind of you to offer to fact check for the Dennis the Peasant of Hokkaido, however he'd never pay you nor would he ever use whatever you found out. There were several of us checking his "facts" for him before he ultimately wrote that column, and pointing out to him where he was going wrong on his own blog. He chose to ignore all the information we gave him, so I doubt he'd pay any attention to anything you dug up for him.

But then again, if he did pay you you'd be $200/hr. richer. ;-) You might want to make sure he doesn't use your name, though. He'll misrepresent you. ;-)

Ulysses Gramophone said...

You did a good job at casting aspersions on Debito's article, but you should know that an aspersion is the farthest thing from a refutation, which of course would have helped clarify the issue. Also, your snarky remark about the cost of "heavy-duty fact-checking" might be construed as offensive by some, given that the original article deals with the murders of young foreign women in Japan. Looking forward to more of your insightful posts.

Jun Okumura said...

LB, I am deathly afraid of liars, especially the righteous kind—I think I’ve earned the right to say so, I’ve paid a huge price to lie as little as possible myself. There’s truth to the saying, The road to hell is paved with the best of intentions. Remember what Obama said about Hitler? I have no doubt that Benjamin Fulford is willing to stand behind every one of his claim. So does that mean you’ll stand by him as well? If not, why associate with Arudo?

I am sorry if I offended you, Ulysses Gramophone. (You may have seen that locution elsewhere.) I’m also sorry that you consequently will never be able to enjoy the dark humor of comedians like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who make jokes about 9.11, or the likes of George Carlin (who comes with the fillip of being dead himself) and Bill Hicks (who comes with the added fillip of dying young), who routine make light (or in their cases did make light) of the direst human conditions. Having said that, I did not cast aspersions at all; instead, I exposed his lies and offered to explore the statistical evidence for a price to see if his fundamental allegations about the Japanese justice system actually did make sense—to see if the broken clock could actually be right. It’s hard to be more generous than this, isn’t it?

BTW, it has come to my attention that AD's message has also been printed in the pages of the Japan Times as an op-ed. So I guess my question is: Are they nuts? Do they know what they call a deposit of mammalian excrement? And I’m saying this as someone who was generally sympathetic when Tokyo Confidential got dragged into the WaiWai incident.

Janne Morén said...

Ulysses, how exactly is that offensive? What does the connection to a murder case have to do with the quality of an article bringing it up? Is fact checking, questioning people's motives and verifying theyr statements somehow off limits when it's about a personal tragedy? If anything, we should demand a higher level of vigilance when it deals with matters that so greatly affects people's lives.

Jun, I believe I've written before what I think of the Japan Times editorial side. Anything appearing in that space is probably best left unread.

LB said...

Okumura-san, I wouldn't say I "associate" with Arudo. We mutually despise each other. That said, I do post to his blog (when he lets me, or rather when he lets my alter ego through - if he knew it was me nothing I said would see what passes for the light of day in his snakepit of a blog) in an attempt to counter his lies. I have no illusions about ever changing his mind on anything, but there are people out there who rely way too much on the lies he disseminates for their image of our home, and if I can reach them and expose Arudo for the liar he is, well then it is worth soiling my hands.

As to the article at hand, I and others did all we could to show how wrong he was, and we hoped (vainly, as it turns out) that the backlash he generated on his blog when he floated the idea for the article would be enough to make him at least write a little more responsibly. But as you pointed out, JT seems happy with the piece. They really are going the way of the Weekly World News, what with giving Arudo his own monthly column, plus regular space in their "Zeitgeist" columns, and they even have their own "Ed Anger" in the person of Gregory Clark. Apparently anything to sell a copy, and to hell with fact-checkers. Or perhaps they think that since it is an "opinion piece" fact-checking is not needed. Who knows.

By the way, speaking of aliases, I can't help but notice that the writing style of this new guy "Ulysses" bears a more-than-passing resemblance to that of the very person being debunked. Wouldn't surprise me at all if the Man himself didn't drop by, he is known to comb the net religiously for references to himself.

Jun Okumura said...

My bad, LB. I misunderstood you. I thought you had been in personal contact with him. I’ve heard complaints about how Debito manages his blog, so I never bother to go there.

More broadly on this issue, the immigration law infractions explain much but by no means all of the difference between foreigners and Japanese with regard to the apprehension-indictment ratio. Then there’s the matter of the suspended-sentence discrepancy. This is actually a subject worth studying for criminologists. Offhand, I can think of two factors that could be reasons for the first point. First, prosecutors may use their discretion not to prosecute in a case where no serious harm has been done and the victim decides not to press charges as part of a settlement. Financial compensation often comes from the family of the criminal, a means which is likely to be less available to non-residents, particularly when they come from poorer countries. Second, prosecutors may be using criminal prosecution as a prelude to deportation. For what it’s worth, they are both law enforcement issues under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, though the legal and actual linkages between the two are a matter that I am not competent to address. This second factor is closely tied to my guess regarding the second point. I believe that, other things being the same, the courts will be more likely to suspend a sentence for a foreigner because they can deport him and make him somebody else’s problem, rather than overload the prison system with prisoners who may have different dietary needs and other cultural, often religious, requirements, not to mention a poor command of the Japanese language. Maybe Japanese prisons force feed pork to their Jewish and Islamic prisoners for example, but I suspect that they go at least half-way in meeting their human rights requirements. These are really open questions.

It’s a funny coincidence (or maybe not) that LB mentions Gregory Clark in this connection, because I think the same person (or another person in the small circle of friends who exchange this kind of information) who forwarded the Debito email also brought to my attention Clark’s diametrically opposed but equally god-awful JT op-ed on the subject of gaijin discrimination.

Thanks, Janne, for looking in.

Janne and I often have differences of opinion, but we share the conviction that, whatever values we hold, the facts still matter. As a corollary of that, I think we are bothered by false arguments, whichever side they come from.