Jenkins gets 30 days in jail, dishonorable
Compiled from AP, Kyodo
Nov. 4, 2004
CAMP ZAMA, Kanagawa Pref. -- Sgt. Charles Jenkins was given a 30-day
jail sentence and a dishonorable discharge Wednesday after pleading
guilty before a court-martial at Camp Zama for deserting his U.S. Army
unit and fleeing to North Korea in 1965.
The judge recommended the jail term be suspended, and the military is
expected to rule on this soon.
Jenkins told the court-martial he deserted to avoid dangerous duty on
the Korean Peninsula and in Vietnam.
The plea -- part of a bargain to win a lenient sentence -- was a major
step in unraveling a Cold War mystery that began when Jenkins
disappeared while on patrol and defected to North Korea four decades
The prosecution had called the crimes "selfish and despicable" and had
requested a brief jail term and a dishonorable discharge for the ailing
64-year-old. He could have faced life in prison.
"Ma'am, I am in fact guilty," Jenkins told the judge, Col. Denise Vowell,
in his sometimes tearful testimony.
He also pleaded guilty to aiding the enemy by teaching English to North
Korean military cadets being trained as spies in the 1980s.
Jenkins, however, denied that he advocated the overthrow of the United
States in propaganda broadcasts, and pleaded innocent to charges of
making disloyal statements. Vowell dropped those accusations against
The American turned himself in to the U.S. military on Sept. 11, two
months after he left Pyongyang and came to Japan for medical treatment.
Tokyo called for leniency in his case so he could live in Japan with his
wife, repatriated Pyongyang abductee Hitomi Soga, whom he married in
1980, and their two daughters.
In full uniform for the court-martial, Jenkins wept as he described his
depression, fears of death and heavy drinking in the days leading up to
his Jan. 5, 1965, disappearance from his unit.
He said he was afraid of being transferred to dangerous daytime patrols
in the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas, or worse -- to
"I started to fear something for myself, but I started to fear even more
that I might cause other soldiers to be killed. I started drinking
alcohol," he said, breaking down in tears. "I never drank so much
After 10 days of planning, he headed for North Korea with a white
T-shirt tied to his rifle as a surrender flag.
Jenkins told the court of his plan to ask the North Koreans to send him
to the Soviet Union, where he would turn himself in to the U.S. Embassy
in Moscow and return to the United States.
Instead, Jenkins said he was harshly mistreated in North Korea and
forced to teach English to military cadets from 1981 until 1985, adding
that refusing to do so would have brought "hardship to me and my family
that would never end."
Soga, who married Jenkins -- nearly 20 years her senior -- after she was
kidnapped from Japan by North Korean agents in 1978, also pleaded with
the court for leniency, saying Jenkins had provided for his family
despite grueling conditions in North Korea.
"My husband and I did not like North Korea," Soga told the court. "Now I
only wish we our family's small happiness becomes bigger and bigger."
The couple's two daughters -- Mika, 21, and Brinda, 19 -- were also
Vowell had recommended a suspended six-month jail term, but
court-martial rules required her to abide by the pretrial agreement
setting the sentence at 30 days. She then also recommended that it be
Jenkins was also demoted to the lowest military rank, E-1, was forced to
forfeit all pay and was stripped of his military benefits. He was later
taken to the U.S. Yokosuka Naval Base in Kanagawa Prefecture, where he
will be confined unless the sentence is suspended.
The court-martial was the climax to one of the U.S. Army's longest
desertion sagas. Although army deserters from the 1940s are still listed
as wanted, no deserter or desertion suspect has surrendered after as
long an absence as Jenkins.
Raised in poverty, the Rich Square, N.C., native joined the army as a
teenager, received a Good Conduct Award after his first tour of duty in
South Korea in 1961 and rose to the rank of sergeant.
But after deserting his unit, he participated in North Korean propaganda
broadcasts, played an American villain in at least one anti-U.S. movie,
and taught English at a university for military cadets.
He vanished from view until the Pentagon confirmed in the mid-1980s that
he and three other suspected American deserters were living in
Jenkins became the focus of intense negotiations in 2002, when North
Korean leader Kim Jong Il admitted in a summit with Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi that Pyongyang had abducted Soga and other Japanese.
Soga and four other Japanese abductees were allowed to return to Japan
that year, but Jenkins and their daughters had to stay behind, as did
the North Korean-born children of the four other abductees.
Koizumi traveled to the North again last May and successfully brought
the children of the four abductees to Japan. But Jenkins, fearing
prosecution by the U.S. military, refused to travel with Koizumi.
Later, Jenkins agreed to a family reunion in Indonesia in July and then
went to Tokyo, where he was hospitalized for an abdominal disorder.
Legal issues over
Staff report The Japanese government believes all legal issues
surrounding Charles Jenkins have been cleared with Wednesday's
court-martial, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said.
Speaking to reporters after the proceedings ended at the U.S. Army's
Camp Zama, Hosoda said the day's events were a "de facto end" to the
Jenkins is the husband of Hitomi Soga, a Japanese national who was
abducted to North Korea in 1978 and repatriated in 2002.
"The government will continue to provide the necessary support (for
Jenkins) so he can live with his family in Japan," Hosoda said.
Hosoda also expressed gratitude toward the United States for its
"understanding and consideration" in the Jenkins affair. U.S. Ambassador
to Japan Howard Baker said in a statement issued Wednesday that he
believes "we have done our best to live up to that promise" of giving
"due consideration to the humanitarian aspect of this case."
The Japan Times: Nov. 4, 2004