Sen. Mike Lee Torches Key World Ally On Senate Floor For ‘Unjustly’ Imprisoning Navy Lieutenant 

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Mary Lou Masters Contributor
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  • Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah demanded Japan return the imprisoned U.S. soldier to American soil by Feb. 28, or Lee would address security relations with Japan on the Senate floor.
  • Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida ignored the senator’s request, so Lee publicly addressed the chamber Wednesday evening.
  • “Ridge Alkonis is not only not back in U.S. custody, he’s not only not on U.S. soil, but he’s still languishing in the Japanese prison,” Lee said.

Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah criticized Japan Wednesday evening on the Senate floor for failing to comply with his demands to release an imprisoned U.S. Navy soldier.

Lt. Ridge Alkonis was involved in a fatal car accident in Japan on May 29, 2021 while serving at the Japanese naval base, and is currently serving a three-year sentence, according to The New York Times. Lee gave Fumio Kishida the ultimatum on Feb. 2, threatening that if Alkonis was not given back to the U.S., he would publicly renegotiate Japan’s Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) on the Senate floor, which he did Wednesday evening. (RELATED: Utah Sen. Mike Lee’s Twitter Account Suspended, Says He Doesn’t Know Why)

“I don’t think they’d [the American people] be okay, knowing we spend billions of dollars to defend a country when our Status of Forces Agreement with that country is so unfavorable to our troops. I don’t think they’d be okay sending 55,000 of their sons and daughters to support an allied country where they won’t have the most basic legal rights,” said Lee. “And yet, they can’t keep their promise to facilitate a routine prisoner transfer. I can’t cannot and will not accept that, not now, not ever.”

Lee is not asking for a limited punishment for Alkonis, but simply that he be transferred back to the U.S. to carry out the rest of his sentence, which is not an unusual request, said Lee. He said it is hard to believe that a U.S. ally has treated an American soldier so “poorly.”

“If I were in trouble, and I knew Sen. Lee was charging to the rescue, I would breathe easy. If anyone can find the right solution to Lt. Alkonis’ regrettable situation, it’s Sen. Lee,” Jared Whitley, Utah political operative, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The senator noted that Alkonis did not undergo typical Japanese police protocol, and was instead subjected to 26 days of solitary confinement, and was not taken to a hospital after the crash. He said Congress must act to ensure this treatment doesn’t happen to another member of the military, and that the SOFA with Japan must be changed.

“What must be remembered is that the accident, while tragic, was an accident — not an act of malice. At this tenuous time, with the Chinese Tiger threatening freedom and safety on both sides of the Pacific, neither the U.S. nor Japan has the luxury of distrust. Now is the time to close ranks, not pull apart,” said Whitley.

Alkonis was falling asleep at the wheel and ran into three Japanese pedestrians, two of which died, the NYT reported. He was convicted July 13, 2022 of negligent driving because he failed to pull over when “drowsy,” and sentenced to three years in Japanese prison, of which he has served eight months.

Many believe Japan’s sentence is too harsh, as Alkonis gave $1.6 million to the victims’ family, has a wife and three children and no substances were abused in the accident, according to the NYT.

“Is it too much to ask of any country, let alone one on which we spend billions of dollars, billions of dollars a year to defend our Council of Europe transfer is not an extraordinary request. On the contrary, these kinds of requests are routine,” said Lee.

“Ridge Alkonis is not only not back in U.S. custody, he’s not only not on U.S. soil, but he’s still languishing in the Japanese prison,” Lee said. “The Japanese government has unjustly incarcerated Lieutenant Alkonis for too long.”

“The Navy has provided, and will continue to provide, the Alkonis family with all support consistent with U.S. law and regulations,” Commander Katie Cerezo, Naval Forces Japan, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Neither the Embassy of Japan nor the senator immediately responded to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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