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Editorial: Without ex-Defense Minister Inada, SDF log scandal will remain unresolved

Out-of-session committee meetings were held in both houses of the Diet over the cover-up of activity logs kept by Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) troops on a U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.

Why were the logs concealed? Was then Defense Minister Tomomi Inada involved in the decision to conceal the logs' existence even after they were confirmed within the ministry and SDF?

The out-of-session committee meetings were meant to shed light on such gnawing questions, but despite a day's worth of questions and "answers," nothing new was revealed.

Newly appointed Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera stated he would "clear everything up for the public." And yet, he turned down opposition demands that a new probe be launched over the allegations.

Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry's administrative vice chief of staff, Masayoshi Tatsumi, repeated his position that he would refrain from saying anything on the matter beyond the contents of the report released by the Defense Ministry's Inspector General's Office of Legal Compliance.

How are we to learn the truth under such circumstances?

The principal focus has been on whether Inada had received reports from subordinates on the existence of log data within the GSDF -- which had initially been said to have been discarded -- during two intra-ministry meetings in mid-February.

"People's testimonies (to the Inspector General's Office of Legal Compliance) were split. Those who said Inada did not receive any reports were consistent in their testimony. Meanwhile, those who said Inada did receive reports changed their testimony repeatedly, and were vague," Onodera explained. However, a senior official with the ministry's Inspector General's Office of Legal Compliance did not reveal the ratio of this split, or the details of what was said.

The Defense Ministry claims that testimony and materials gathered in the compliance office's probe are considered "non-disclosure information" under the Act on Access to Information Held by Administrative Organs.

However, the Aug. 10 out-of-session committee meetings were held to seek out the truth. It doesn't seem right to give Diet testimony and information disclosure rules equal weight in such a situation. The Defense Ministry should actively, and to the best of its ability, reveal the information it has in its possession.

Tatsumi, who was present at the two meetings in February along with Inada, did not reveal anything new. This refusal to divulge more facts only serves to exacerbate the public's distrust toward those involved.

Why were the activity logs covered up in the first place? Was it because the ministry thought that if logs saying there had been "combat" in Juba in July 2016, where the GSDF peacekeepers had been stationed, were to be released, it would affect the ministry's ability to order the SDF to carry out "rush and rescue" missions made newly possible by the security-related laws passed in 2015? It wouldn't be surprising if that were the case.

The cover-up of GSDF data was initiated by senior Defense Ministry officials, but if they had reported the concealment to Inada, it would mean she was going along with it. And if she had not received any reports about it, then there needs to be an investigation into why civilian control failed.

The only person who can answer such questions about the logs is Tomomi Inada.

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