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2014年4月27日 (日)

(社説)防衛省の隠蔽 良心はどこへいった

April 26, 2014
EDITORIAL: Bullying cover-up casts doubts on the Defense Ministry’s moral integrity
(社説)防衛省の隠蔽 良心はどこへいった

A cover-up scandal concerning the 2004 suicide of a Maritime Self-Defense Force seaman has brought to the fore the Defense Ministry’s willingness to go to any length to keep embarrassing facts in the dark.
The ministry appears determined to sweep any inconvenient documents under the carpet through organization-wide efforts and relentlessly attack any whistle-blowers.

On April 23, the Tokyo High Court acknowledged the deliberate concealment of internal documents that showed the seaman of the MSDF destroyer Tachikaze was bullied by a senior officer.

The existence of the documents came to light only after a lieutenant commander exposed the cover-up by submitting a statement to the high court, saying the MSDF was hiding the documents.

If the lieutenant commander had not acted, the organization’s failure to stop the bullying would have never become known to the public.

Despite being an organization whose mission is to protect the lives of people, the ministry made every effort to obscure the truth in order to protect itself, without reflecting on the seriousness of the loss of a life.

The ministry clearly needs to do some soul-searching. It should carry out an immediate and exhaustive investigation into the case to find out who ordered the concealment of the documents and who knew the facts, and then publish the findings.

The concealed documents were the results of a survey covering all 190 crew members of the Tachikaze to see whether bullying was a factor in the seaman’s suicide. They also included records of comments made by crew members who knew what happened and were interviewed as part of the ministry’s in-house inquiry.

The victim’s family filed a freedom-of-information request for the survey results, but the MSDF denied their existence.

There is no way to have specific information held by an organization disclosed if the organization claims there is no such information.

The controversial state secrets protection law will come into force by the end of this year amid serious concerns about the disclosure situation in this country.

The law will make it even more likely that information inconvenient to the government will remain undisclosed to the public. This prospect is really distressing.

The only ray of hope in the whole depressing episode is the conscientious act of the lieutenant commander who prevented the scandal from being hushed up.

Revealing the existence of the evidence before the court of appeal was a courageous deed that jeopardized his position within the organization.

The government, however, criticized his remarks as untrustworthy during hearings of the high court.

There must be a considerable number of people within the MSDF who were actually privy to the cover-up. But no one but the lieutenant commander came forward to tell the truth.

The Defense Ministry even considered punishing the officer. That’s simply an outrageous response to his honorable act.

It is not the whistle-blower, but the people who tried to conceal the information who should be punished.

The ministry should promise not to treat the lieutenant commander unfairly.

Ten years have already passed since the seaman committed suicide. If the survey had been disclosed earlier, the trial would not have taken so long, and the lessons from the incident might have been used for the efforts to root out bullying within the SDF.

There is a winner and a loser for every trial. When the government is the defendant, however, it should not focus simply on winning the case.

The government, which exists to serve the public interest, is responsible for offering all evidence that can help clarify the truth during the trial.

For any public entity, the cause of social justice should be of more value than its own organization. The Defense Ministry needs to take this obvious principle to heart.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 26


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