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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Waddle retirement could anger Japanese

 •  A Tribute to the Missing
 •  Previous stories

By Tanya Bricking
Advertiser Staff Writer

The possibility that former USS Greeneville skipper Scott Waddle could retire and collect his pension instead of facing criminal charges for a deadly collision is rekindling anger among families of the victims in Japan.

In the harbor town of Uwajima, it still stings that he has not visited to apologize to a high school devastated by the Feb. 9 sinking of its training ship, the Ehime Maru, and the loss of four students, two teachers and three crewmen.

"I'll be very angry if I learn officially that the court-martial will not take place," said Kazuo Nakata, father of teacher Jun Nakata, who died in the collision off the coast of O'ahu.

A court-martial, the military form of a criminal trial, could lead to a punishment of up to three years in prison for each count of negligent homicide. It also could mean being discharged from the Navy, losing pay or receiving letters of reprimand.

Victims' families expected that Waddle would at least face the possibility of prison, said Toshio Kamado, whose son, Atsushi, survived the shipwreck.

What appears more likely is something far less severe known as an "admiral's mast," said Charles Gittins, Waddle's attorney.

A nonjudicial administrative hearing with no possibility of prison, an admiral's mast could result in Waddle being confined to his office, having his pay docked or being given a letter of reprimand.

It still would be a black mark even though it is not as harsh as a court-martial, Waddle's attorney said.

"It would be the end of his career," Gittins said. "It basically questions his judgment and imposes a punishment for that."

Court-martial preferred

As far as the families are concerned, that would be little more than a slap on the wrist.

"The U.S. Navy acknowledged its responsibility for the accident at the court of inquiry and apologized," said Takahiro Hosokawa, whose son, Hirotaka, 17, survived the accident. "It should definitely convene a court-martial and further clarify the cause of the accident and who was responsible for it. This process can also prevent accidents in the future. This is what we, the victims, and most Japanese want."

Everything hinges on what the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet wants.

The three Navy admirals who acted as an administrative fact-finding panel at last month's court of inquiry at Pearl Harbor turned over recommendations Friday in a 2,000-page report to Adm. Thomas Fargo, the fleet's commander, who has the final say on whether Waddle and two other Greeneville officers should be punished.

The report, composed mostly of transcripts from the court of inquiry, has not been made public. It is expected to chastise Waddle for allowing unqualified personnel at the Greeneville's sonar station; for going out to sea with broken sonar equipment; and for performing an inadequate periscope sweep before running into the Ehime Maru.

Admiral to decide

Fargo must decide whether a court-martial is an appropriate punishment for a peacetime accident and what his decision will do to the political relationship with Japan and the morale of his troops. He has 30 days to review the panel's report and announce his findings.

Gittins said Waddle has accepted responsibility and that victims' families will be compensated by the United States through the claims process.

But Japanese military experts are among those skeptical about Waddle receiving adequate punishment.

"Deliberations of the court of inquiry alone are not enough," said Matake Kamiya, an assistant professor at the National Defense Academy, who specializes in international politics and security. "If they do not convene a court-martial, and the former captain is punished solely under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, will that really satisfy the Japanese public?

"Considering the nature of the accident, it would be very difficult for us to understand if the punishment is too light."

Want report made public

Officials in southwestern Japan are asking the Navy to open its decision-making process to the public. Ehime Gov. Moriyuki Kato wants the Navy to release details of the panel's report, just as the court of inquiry was public.

In a culture where making apologies and accepting responsibility contrasts American ways of doing things, the idea that the officers involved can remain in the Navy is puzzling for Japanese families.

"If they had been in (Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force), I assume they would have been fired immediately after the accident," said Teruo Terata, whose nephew, Yusuke, 18, was killed in the collision. "The Japanese government should demand a report from the United States explaining why the court-martial will not be held."

The Yomiuri Shimbun and the Japan Times contributed to this story.