U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in Japan to lend support to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for keeping troops in Iraq despite threats to execute three Japanese hostages. We go to Tokyo to speak with the international coordinator of Peace Boat, a Japan-based NGO focusing on peace education and advocacy. [Includes rush transcript]
As Vice President Dick Cheney visits Japan, thousands take to the streets in Tokyo to protest the country’s participation in the Iraq occupation.
Vice President Dick Cheney was in Japan today where he told Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that he was doing the right thing by resisting mounting political pressure and keeping Japanese troops in Iraq despite shock over the kidnapping of three Japanese civilians.
In Japan, the news of the hostages has been the country’s top story for much of the past week. Being held are an 18-year-old who had traveled to Iraq to study the effects of depleted uranium, a 32-year-old freelance journalist and a 34-year-old aid worker. On Saturday, Al Jazeera recevied a faxed statement that said the three hostages would be released within 24 hours but they are still being held leading to increased calls for Japan to pull its troops from Iraq. There have been large demonstrations in Japan, protesting the country’s participation in the Iraq occupation.
- Ryo Ijichi, international coordinator of Peace Boat, a Japan based NGO focusing on peace education and advocacy. It was started by Japanese university students some 20 years ago.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, the war and peace report. I’m Amy Goodman. Vice President Dick Cheney was in Japan today where he told the Japanese Prime Minister that he was doing the right thing by resisting mounting political pressure and keeping Japanese troops in Iraq despite shock over the kidnapping of three Japanese civilians. In Japan, the news of the hostages has been the country’s top story for much of the past week. Being held are an 18-year-old who traveled to Iraq to study the effects of depleted uranium, a 32-year-old freelance journalist and 34-year-old aid worker. On Saturday, Al-Jazeera received a faxed statement that said that the three hostages would be released within 24 hours. But they are still being held, leading to increased calls for the Japanese to pull the troops from Iraq. There have been large demonstrations in Japan protesting the country’s participation in the Iraq occupation. We go now to Tokyo. Ryo Ijichi is an international coordinator of Peace Boat, a Japan-based NGO focusing on peace education and advocacy started by Japanese university students some 20 years ago. Welcome to Democracy Now!.
RYO IJICHI: Hello
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.
RYO IJICHI: thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about who is being held in Iraq and the reaction in Japan?
RYO IJICHI: Basically the three hostages, Mr. Imai, Mr. Takato, and Mr. Koriama have been three citizens that were well known in Japan for their continuous work against the Japanese government regarding the Iraqi issue for them not to send any troops to Iraq as well as they have been constantly active reporting the current situation of what Iraq is and the impact of depleted uranium as well as the activity with the orphans in Iraq. And it was a very big shock for to us hear that these three people were taken as hostage since they were the people that have been working on humanitarian aid on civil societies’ movement. It was a very big shock for us.
AMY GOODMAN: One of the three, as you said, the 18-year-old — he’s 18 years old and he went to Iraq to study depleted uranium. In this country, not a lot of people know about depleted uranium. My co-host, Juan Gonzalez, did an explosive expose on the D.U. contaminated soldiers returning home. But can you tell us about his story?
RYO IJICHI: He is 18 years old. He just graduated from high school and he was active in students’ movement regarding depleted uranium in a city called Sapporo, it is one of the major city in northern Japan, and he started his own organization regarding depleted uranium, and he went to investigate the impact in the current Iraqi people and he was planning to try to make a book for children, easy to read book, on discussing about depleted uranium and trying to convince the Japanese to be more emphasized on being an anti-nuclear state in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the connection between the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the first atomic bombs ever dropped and this debate that went on even as the decision was being made to send soldiers — Japan sending troops for the first time since World War II to Iraq?
RYO IJICHI: Well, depleted uranium itself is a very sensitive issue in Japan because of experience in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s sort of our symbol of what we have to fight against to achieve peace and we have been working for a very long time in the past decades as Japanese. But now because of the threats starting from around Kosovo and also in Iraq, you see the United States using usable mini nukes and depleted uranium. It’s sort of like for young Japanese as well as elder Japanese that are sensitive to the nuclear bombing issue, it’s sort of like it is more like for us to — this is something that we cannot ignore and at the same time for Japanese to remain an anti-nuclear nation, we have to fight very strongly against the nuclear issue, especially with the depleted uranium and he was a very active youth in that region.
AMY GOODMAN: Ryo Ijichi is international coordinator of Peace Boat. What exactly is the reaction right now in Japan and how has it shifted? I think things are explosive. I remember seeing months ago and the whole debate over whether to send troops to Iraq, an actual battle on the floor of the Japanese parliament?
RYO IJICHI: Yes. Initially when the Japanese started the consideration of trying to send the SDF, self-defense forces, there was a large reaction to that, and many of the — the majority of the Japanese opposed it. At the moment, due to the hostage issue, now, the agencies — news agencies in Japan are telling that the people are more against having the SDF remaining inside Iraq, and there has been the — the — like asking people’s questions inside the city and more and more citizens are become more negative on having the self-defense forces remaining in Iraq, regardless of the hostage issue. They have a negative impression now.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the visit of Vice President Dick Cheney, how is that being received both by the government of Japan and the people?
RYO IJICHI: It was initially known — we knew, like around one month ago that Dick Cheney was coming. Now that he is here, we were expecting from the civil movement as well to discuss regarding the Iraqi issue, but now, as he is here it’s sort of like new become a campaign for him to justify the dispatch of troops from the U.S. and Japan to Iraq, and it was sort of like a governmental campaign based on the United States and Japan for the citizens from both. It’s obvious that we also do not agree on having the united states being — sending troops to Iraq as well.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what is the latest news you have of the three Japanese hostages?
RYO IJICHI: After they declared that they will release the hostages in 24 hour it was — it’s still already now nearly ten hours half past, and we still haven’t heard any news that they have been released. We have one staff at Al-Jazeera right now in the headquarters, and he is continuously trying to get new information and still we have the not received any information that the actual release is happening right now.
AMY GOODMAN: And Peace Boat, what are its plans?
RYO IJICHI: Sorry?
AMY GOODMAN: Peace Boat, your organization, what are your plans right now?
RYO IJICHI: At the moment, as soon as the incident happened, the Japanese civil society movements including Peace Boat and as well as many journalists have visited Iraq got together and they have collected a lot of information regarding the three, including a lot of video footage and also family images. And one of our staff has now been in Al-Jazeera and he is trying — he has been repeatedly holding all of this information regarding the three hostage on-air in Al-Jazeera and we hope that this information that is being spread by Al-Jazeera would give some impact on the people that have been taking the hostages, the — hostages and also to the society inside Iraq to gain the opinion that the three hostages should be released.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that there’s any chance the Prime Minister will pull the Japanese troops from Iraq?
RYO IJICHI: At the moment, no. It is getting — it seems like the government is becoming more and more stubborn as if saying that sending back the troops now from Iraq is being defeated by the terrorists, which is something that our nation should absolutely not do. And that is the campaign they have been holding for the last two days trying to justify that the necessity of the troops is there and that they cannot lose against these terrorists right now.
AMY GOODMAN: I want it thank you very much for being with us. Ryo Ijichi, international coordinator of Peace Boat, the Japan based NGO focused on peace education and advocacy. This is Democracy Now!.