TOKYO – U.S. Army officials in South Korea plan to send a military lawyer to meet with accused U.S. Army deserter Charles Robert Jenkins (search) shortly in Japan, an official said Tuesday.
The U.S. military has refrained from formally requesting custody of Jenkins since he arrived at a Tokyo hospital last month. But Washington says it intends to bring him to justice, as soon as he is physically able, for allegedly abandoning his South Korean post in 1965 and defecting to North Korea.
On Tuesday, Jenkins' doctors at a Tokyo hospital where he is staying announced that tests show he won't need emergency surgery. But he needs more rest to recover physically and psychologically, according to hospital spokeswoman Reiko Chiba. Chiba declined to say how much longer Jenkins would be hospitalized.
The U.S. Army in South Korea had received a request from Jenkins for counsel and was planning to send a lawyer as soon as scheduling permitted, a U.S. official familiar with the case said on condition of anonymity.
South Korea is the closest place with a U.S. military defense counsel qualified to consult with Jenkins on the charges against him, the official said.
The lawyer would be required to discuss with Jenkins what his options are, which include facing a court-martial or seeking a plea-bargain, he said.
NHK public broadcasting reported that the meeting between the lawyer and Jenkins could happen as early as this week.
Jenkins faces several possible charges. Along with desertion, which carries a maximum life penalty, he could also be prosecuted for charges ranging from aiding the enemy to encouraging other soldiers to desert their posts.
Jenkins, 64, has never been formally discharged from the Army and remains a sergeant. Last week, to prepare for his pending court martial, U.S. authorities transferred his official duty station to Japan, so that he will be subject to the Status of Forces Agreement (search ), which defines the rights and responsibilities of U.S. troops based here.
Jenkins, a North Carolina native, is married to Japanese citizen Hitomi Soga (search ). The two met after Soga was kidnapped by North Korean agents in 1978 and taken to the communist country.
Soga was released by North Korea in 2002, but Jenkins and their two daughters stayed behind. Soga and Japanese officials, however, convinced Jenkins last month to risk prosecution by coming to Japan.