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Defense Ministry punishes 17 over Iraq logs, raises issue of civilian control

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera speaks to reporters in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on May 23, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The Ministry of Defense on May 23 announced punitive measures against 17 ministry and Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) officials in connection with the cover-up of daily logs from troops deployed to Iraq, which the ministry had earlier told the Diet did not exist but were subsequently discovered.

The ministry concluded that its officials and the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) did not systematically cover up the logs, but Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the matter was problematic from the perspective of civilian control.

"The Defense Ministry and the SDF failed to follow instructions from the defense minister, and the matter raised serious problems that could be associated with civilian control," Onodera said.

The 17 ministry and GSDF officials subjected to punishment include Administrative Vice Defense Minister Katashi Toyota and Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of staff at the Joint Staff.

On May 23, the ministry released an investigative report on the case. The logs were found at the GSDF's then Ground Research and Development Command (GRD) in March last year even though the ministry had denied their existence, but the discovery was not reported to the GSDF or the ministry.

On Feb. 20, 2017, then Defense Minister Tomomi Inada told a House of Representatives Budget Committee session that the ministry "confirmed that the logs don't exist."

Two days later, she asked a senior official of the Joint Staff whether the documents really did not exist. The GRD division responsible for gathering and analyzing information from SDF troops dispatched overseas replied that the documents did not exist after searching for them at the instruction of the Ground Staff Office.

However, the logs were subsequently found at the GRD division in March last year. At the time, the ministry was conducting a special inspection in connection with the daily logs from troops deployed to South Sudan to participate in U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Officials in charge at the division deemed that they did not need to report the existence of logs other than those on the South Sudan mission and failed to report the discovery to the Ground Staff Office.

Three days after the discovery, the GRD division received an inquiry from the Ground Staff Office regarding a freedom-of-information request that the Iraq logs be disclosed. However, an official of the division replied that the division did not possess the documents, without confirming with their superiors.

The Joint Staff learned of the existence of the logs on Feb. 27 this year, but it took about a month before the discovery was reported to Defense Minister Onodera.

Among those punished over the matter, a then official at the GRD division had his wages cut by one-thirtieth for one month for failing to report the discovery of the Iraq logs when the documents turned up in March last year. Toyota, the top bureaucrat in the ministry, was verbally reprimanded, while Kawano, the top uniformed officer in the SDF, was also warned over the case.

Two other senior officials of the Joint Staff and a Defense Ministry official were also warned for taking about a month to report the discovery of the Iraq logs to the defense minister after the Joint Staff and senior ministry officials confirmed the existence of the documents.

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Maetani, City News Department, and Shinichi Akiyama, Political News Department)

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