The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus Newsletter
Newsletter No. 26. 2011  
June 27, 2011  
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In This Issue


This week we, though not the Japanese people, take a brief respite from the earthquake-tsunami-meltdown that has dominated these pages to address issues pertaining to Japan's criminal justice system in David Johnson's "War in a Season of Slow Revolution," and the interface of poetry and politics in Peter Dale Scott's meditation on "Coming to Jakarta and Deep Politics."

The Journal has now published more than sixty articles on the catastrophe that has shaken Eastern Japan since 3.11. Many of our most import articles on 3.11  appear in What's hot and they bring a diversity of sources and reports from Ground Zero in Tohoku and Tokyo. "What's hot" present breaking stories and provides information beyond the headlines, to cast them in broader perspective. What's hot is regularly updated, at times on a daily basis, and we invite you to consult it and contribute to it.

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David T. Johnson,War in a Season of Slow Revolution: Defense Lawyers and Lay Judges in Japanese Criminal Justice



The future looked grim for Abdy Ismail when his criminal trial started in Osaka District Court on January 17, 2011. Prosecutors believed Ismail was the drug lord who had masterminded the smuggling of 4 kilograms of methamphetamines-with a street value of 350 million yen ($4.2 million)-from Istanbul to the Kansai airport on July 18, 2009, and they wanted to imprison the 42-year-old Iranian for the next 18 years of his life.

Four other defendants in the case (all Japanese) had already been convicted in separate trials, and all would be called as witnesses against Ismail. One was 37-year-old Yamaguchi Tetsuo, who had been sentenced to 13 years imprisonment for his role in this drug smuggling ring. Yamaguchi would testify that he went to the airport with Ismail to pick up the suitcase in which the drugs were hidden, and that Ismail had been trafficking drugs long before his arrest. Prosecutors also had records of hundreds of phone calls that Ismail had made to (they claimed) drug traffickers in Japan and Iran.

Ismail did not confess, but the evidence against him seemed as solid as it usually is when Japanese prosecutors charge a case. When they charge, the result is almost always conviction. Before lay judge trials started in 2009, only about one trial in 800 resulted in acquittal, and even in an unusually "good" year for defendants the proportion was one in 250. The conviction rate was a little lower in cases where defendants did not confess, but even then Japan's rate of 97 percent was much higher than the rates of 75 to 80 percent that prevail in criminal trials in the United States and United Kingdom.

Around the world, jury and lay judge systems tend to have lower conviction rates than trial systems monopolized by professional judges. But Japan's conviction rate has not declined under the lay judge system. At the time of Ismail's trial, nearly 1700 defendants had been adjudicated by lay judge panels, and all but two had been convicted, giving the new system a conviction rate of 99.9 percent. Many analysts believe prosecutors have adopted a more cautious charging policy in order to maintain their high conviction rate under the new (and more unpredictable) adjudication system.


David T. Johnson, Professor of Sociology, University of Hawaii; He is co-author (with Franklin E. Zimring) of The Next Frontier: National Development, Political Change, and the Death Penalty in Asia (Oxford University Press, 2009). This is a revised and expanded version of an article that first appeared in Japanese in the monthly magazine Sekai (No. 819, July 2011).

Recommended citation: David T. Johnson, War in a Season of Slow Revolution: Defense Lawyers and Lay Judges in Japanese Criminal Justice, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 26 No 2, June 27, 2011.

Read more . . .  
Peter Dale Scott, Coming to Jakarta and Deep Politics: How Writing a Poem Enabled Me to Write American War Machine

For most of my life I have felt split between two conflicting approaches to reality: 1) as a researcher trying rigorously and methodically to understand violence in the world, and 2) as a poet, responding to intuitive impulses to say what moved me, whether rational or not. But recently I have come to realize that the two sides of my life have become synergistic, each side not just facilitating the other but indeed enabling it. Because each can be characterized as an attempt, using radically different methods but towards the same goal, of becoming more aware of forces in our life that are not easily understandable by normal rational investigation. So that each is an exploration, if you like, on the same frontier between the known and the unknowable.

In particular I have had to acknowledge to myself that I could not possibly have depicted the scene in the opening pages of American War Machine if I had not first, with some pain, written Coming to Jakarta. This poem is often presented (even by myself) as my response in 1980 to the anguish of knowing facts I was unable to share, about U.S. involvement in the 1965 massacre by the Indonesian army of over half a million Indonesian men, women, and children. But it was also a confrontation with the disturbing reality that there is a gap between the world as we think we know it, and darker, more inscrutable forces at work both in the world and in ourselves. As I wrote in 2000,
Soon ... I was looking at the same process of denial in myself: I had once discounted my own university's support of elements working with the army. In this way Jakarta took the form of an argument, at first with the external world, but increasingly with myself.

Peter Dale Scott, a former Canadian diplomat and English Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of Drugs Oil and War, The Road to 9/11, and The War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11, and the Deep Politics of War. His most recent book is American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection and the Road to Afghanistan.
Recommended citation: Peter Dale Scott, Coming to Jakarta and Deep Politics: How Writing a Poem Enabled Me to Write American War Machine (An Essay on Liberation), The Asia-Pacific Journal, Volume 9, Issue 26, No 1, June 27, 2011.
 Read more . . .