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Q&A: "Punishment Has to Be Top Priority in U.S. Military"

Catherine Makino interviews ANN WRIGHT, retired U.S. army colonel

TOKYO, Aug 12 2009 (IPS) - Ann Wright is a former U.S. diplomat who served in the military for 29 years.

Ann Wright: "People seldom hear a former U.S. government official criticise U.S. policies" Credit:

Ann Wright: "People seldom hear a former U.S. government official criticise U.S. policies" Credit:

She was a deputy ambassador in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Mongolia and Micronesia. She is one of three U.S. diplomats who publicly resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war.

She is currently in Japan speaking around the country about eradicating military violence against civilians, including sexual assault and rape by the military. Before she arrived in Japan she went to the Pacific island of Guam with a delegation.

Wright spoke to IPS on U.S. plans to build a military base in Guam, sexual assault by U.S. soldiers on Japanese women and girls and how groups in Japan work with their counterparts in the U.S. to stop this violence.

IPS: A U.S. military base in Guam could result in the redeployment of more than 35,000 people there. What did you say in Guam? ANN WRIGHT: That our delegation is here in solidarity with the people of Guam in terms of the movement of 8,000 U.S. marines from Okinawa to Guam.

That the people of Japan, particularly the people on Okinawa, have been working very hard to remove some of the extensive military forces. Now, the U.S. military seem to be coming to this lovely island.

The Okinawans certainly understand that whenever the U.S. military lands somewhere, it leaves a very large footprint. They all know it very well, because much of their land is already occupied by the U.S. military.

In Guam they have been seeing their own lands being taken from them.

IPS: What has the response been to you in Japan? AW: The responses have been very heart-warming at the Mothers’ Congress in Kyoto, Jul. 25-26 (9,000 attended the plenary and 550 attended the 4 hour workshop on international issues), the Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs in Hiroshima, Aug 6 (3,000 attended the plenary, and 300 the 2-day conference), and 10 groups of the Japanese New Women’s Association in Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Hiroshima, Kushiro and Sapporo.

The audiences are very interested in these topics and ask a lot of questions. They seldom hear a former U.S. government official criticise U.S. policies.

IPS: Some critics say Japan is losing its importance to the U.S. AW: I believe Japan is very important to the United States. I think the U.S. considers Japan a friend and ally while seeing China as an economic and military competitor.

IPS: What message would you like to give about the situation in Japan for women? AW: Women living near U.S. military bases in Japan should be very cautious as rape, sexual assault and domestic violence is very high.

I would also encourage Japanese women to claim their rights and challenge the government and society to make every Japanese citizen equal.

IPS: What about the issue of U.S. military violence against Japanese women and girls, including sexual assault and rape? AW: Yes, every incident of sexual assault and rape is one too many – these are crimes that must be prosecuted and seldom are. The U.S. military says the statistics on rape by U.S. military is no greater than rape in the civilian sectors, but that is not the point. The military prides itself on order and discipline and must be able to instill in their members a fear of committing this criminal act – punishment has to be a top priority and it is not in the U.S. military.

IPS: You also travel with CODE PINK. Who are they? AW: They are Women for Peace. It is a peace group formed in 2002 against the war in Iraq. It is a vibrant, colourful, fast-moving group that challenges U.S. Presidents and Congress on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza.

IPS: How are groups in Japan working with U.S. groups to stop violence against women? AW: Groups in Japan participate in international conferences on ending the harmful effects of U.S. bases abroad, including violence against women. Japanese groups have talked with Congress members and with congressional committees as well as with staff of the State Department.

IPS: Is it true that a class action suit against the U.S. military is to be filed? AW: Burke O’Neill, a private law firm in Washington, DC is gathering evidence of sexual assault and rape primarily of women in the military to determine whether they will file a class action law suit on military sexual trauma (MST).

The proposal currently does not cover rape of civilians, but we have raised the issue with them and they are considering it, but the main focus, at this point, is on rape of military women.

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