TOKYO – A former U.S. soldier accused of defecting to North Korea (search) nearly 40 years ago rested in a Tokyo hospital Monday, while many Japanese hoped Washington would be lenient in its desertion case against him so he may resettle here with his Japanese wife.
Charles Jenkins (search), 64, was to undergo testing Tuesday to determine how he should be treated, a hospital official said on condition of anonymity. The Japanese government says Jenkins suffers from after-affects of abdominal surgery he received in North Korea and needs urgent care.
Jenkins, who disappeared near the Demilitarized Zone (search) separating North and South Korea in 1965, arrived in Japan on Sunday with his Japanese wife and their North Korea-born daughters.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had lobbied hard for him to come to Japan amid an outpouring of public sympathy for his wife and her plight as a former victim of kidnapping by the North Korean state.
His wife, Hitomi Soga, was abducted from her hometown on the small island of Sado in the Sea of Japan in 1978 and taken to the North to teach Japanese to communist spies. She lived for 24 years in the North, where she met and married Jenkins. Pyongyang allowed her to return to Japan two years ago, but she had to leave Jenkins and the two daughters behind.
Soga, 45, and the Japanese government hope Jenkins will settle here permanently so his family can live together on Sado.
Jenkins had initially been reluctant to join his wife in Japan for fear he would be extradited to the United States to face charges of desertion. But after being reunited last week with his wife in Indonesia, which doesn't have an extradition treaty with the United States, Jenkins said he wanted to go to Japan for the sake of his family and was willing to risk being handed over to U.S. custody.
Koizumi was prepared to ask Washington to give "special consideration" to Jenkins' plight in light of his health problems, Kyodo News agency reported Monday, without elaboration.
Washington says Jenkins is still wanted on four counts, but U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard Baker indicated the United States would not immediately seek custody of Jenkins while he was being treated.
According to Army records obtained by The Associated Press, the desertion case seems to hinge on four notes he left behind on Jan. 5, 1965, when he disappeared while on patrol.
"I am going to North Korea," he wrote in one of the notes, to his mother.
Another document is an intelligence message to the Army's top general, saying Jenkins "apparently defected." This message was shared with the CIA three days after his disappearance.
It also says a search of Army counterintelligence records yielded no evidence that Jenkins might be a communist agent.
The same document says Jenkins left behind four notes "indicating that he did not intend to return."
The Army concluded within weeks of his disappearance that Jenkins was a deserter and in violation of Article 85 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. If convicted of desertion, Jenkins could face life in prison. Desertion is punishable by death only in time of war, and the last soldier put to death for desertion was Pvt. Eddie Slovik in 1945.
Jenkins looked weakened and haggard when got off his flight from Indonesia on Sunday, leaning heavily on a cane and his wife as he walked across the airport tarmac to a waiting bus.
Jenkins' sister in North Carolina, Pat Harrell, told the News & Observer of Raleigh that she hoped to visit her brother in Tokyo, but would wait until his condition improved. She said she spoke to him over the telephone when he was in Indonesia.
Even though she hasn't seen her brother for nearly 40 years, Harrell said she's looked at enough recent pictures of Jenkins so that it won't feel too weird to finally stand next to him again.
"It's true, he is 39 years older," she said. "But so am I."
Despite the seriousness of the charges facing Jenkins, who was apparently never processed out of the military, many Japanese hope the United States will go easy on him because of his wife and their daughters, Mika, 21 and Belinda, 18.
"I sympathize," said Teiko Chiba, a 60-year-old hospital employee. "Soga and Jenkins appear to have gone to the North under different circumstances. But they have gotten married and they have kids. There must be some other way other than going to trial."