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Pentagon Opposes Pardon for Deserter

November 1, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld firmly opposes pardoning an Army soldier who deserted his post in South Korea and is now living in communist North Korea, officials said Friday.

The status of Charles Robert Jenkins has become a politically sensitive issue because the Japanese government wants him to be able to come to Japan without risking arrest by U.S. officials on desertion charges.

Jenkins’ wife, Hitomi Soga, is one of a number of Japanese citizens whom the North Korean government recently admitted having kidnapped in the 1970s. She is now in Japan for a homecoming visit.

Tokyo wants to bring all the families of the abductees to Japan for good _ including Jenkins, who remains in the North. Japan has asked the Bush administration to grant Jenkins a pardon, but two administration officials who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity said Pentagon leaders are opposed.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said he could not discuss the matter except to say, ``The United States and Japan continue to discuss this case in detail, and a final decision is pending.″

The issue is expected to come up when Doug Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, visits Tokyo next week.

Jenkins is one of four Army soldiers living in North Korea who are listed as deserters from their units in South Korea. The Army says Jenkins, a sergeant, slipped across the Demilitarized Zone on Jan. 5, 1965, less than two months after he arrived in South Korea as a member of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 8th Cavalry Regiment.

According to Army records, he joined the Army in 1955 and had served a previous tour of duty in South Korea in 1960-61. He then served three years in Europe before arriving back in South Korea in November 1964. The Army says that when he disappeared while on patrol along the DMZ he left behind a note to his mother, Patti Casper, that read, in part, ``I am going to North Korea. Tell family I love them very much.″

He and Soga were married in 1980 and have two daughters.

Jenkins is still subject to military laws because he was never discharged from the Army and the clock does not begin running on a statute of limitations for desertion while a soldier is listed as absent without authorization.

Under Article 85 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the maximum penalty for desertion is loss of all pay, dishonorable discharge and confinement for five years, unless the Pentagon were to determine that he deserted in war time. In that case the maximum penalty if found guilty by court martial is death. The United States was not engaged in combat with North Korea at the time of Jenkins’ defection, but technically it was _ and remains _ in a state of war because the Korean War ended in 1953 without a peace treaty.

Maj. Steve Stover, an Army spokesman, said that if Jenkins came to Japan, Army intelligence officers would want to ask him about his experiences in the North. After that, they would decide whether to bring charges against him.

Although the North Korean government publicly announced the Jenkins defection and other defections in the 1960s, the Pentagon said nothing more about their status until 1996 when it confirmed news reports that four were still living in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. It made the announcement after studying a 1980s propaganda film titled ``Nameless Heroes,″ that featured Jenkins and at least two other Americans.

The other three soldiers believed to be living in North Korea are Pvt. Larry Allen Abshier of Normal, Ill.; Pfc. James Joseph Dresnok of Glen Allen, Va., and Cpl. Jerry Wayne Parrish of Henderson, Ky.

Since 1996, U.S. officials have repeatedly asked the North Korean government for permission to speak with the four Americans. The North has refused, saying they are now North Korean citizens and have no desire to meet with U.S. officials.

A 1996 internal Pentagon report on accounting for Americans in North Korea said a North Korean defector reported having met Jenkins in a coffee shop in Pyongyang. The defector reportedly said Jenkins expressed a desire to return to the United States.

In December 2000 the North Korean government agreed to appoint a representative in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to address the issue of Americans in North Korea, although the appointment has not yet been made and no substantive discussions with Pentagon officials on this topic have been held. The Pentagon also wants to talk to the North about intelligence reports that American servicemen missing from the Korean War may be alive in North Korea.


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