Apr 13 2014, 11:57am CDT | by Forbes
Would any self-respecting U.S. law firm represent a client who suggested the Jews deserved the Holocaust? Probably not. As a matter of honor, most law firms would run a mile, and even the least honorable would conclude that the damage to their reputation wasn’t worth it.
Where imperial Japan’s atrocities are concerned, however, at least one top U.S. law firm hasn’t been so choosy. In what is surely one of the most controversial civil suits ever filed in the United States, the Los Angeles office of Mayer Brown is trying to prove that the so-called comfort women – the sex slaves used by the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II – were no more than common prostitutes.
The suit has been filed on behalf of two Japanese-Americans, Michiko Shiota Gingery and Koichi Mera, plus a corporation called GAHT-US (a bizarre entity whose involvement must be a particular embarrassment to any decent person at Mayer Brown – more about this in a moment). At the center of the controversy is a memorial to the comfort women which was recently established in a park in Glendale, California. The suit suggests that the above named Japanese-Americans will suffer “irreparable injury” from “feelings of exclusion, discomfort, and anger” if the memorial is not removed.
This characterization is, of course, the functional equivalent of a suggestion that German-Americans suffer “irreparable injury” from memorials to the Jewish Holocaust. Basically it is preposterous.
Although the suit has so far been largely overlooked by the mainstream press, it has provoked outrage among legal bloggers. Here, for instance, is a comment from Ken White, a prominent Los Angeles-based criminal attorney: “I cannot remember a lawsuit that so immediately repulsed and enraged…..This lawsuit is thoroughly contemptible. It should fail, and everyone involved should face severe social consequences.”
Strong words but White’s assessment is hard to fault. The indisputable historical record, after all, shows that countless women who served in the Imperial Army’s brothels were innocents seized at gunpoint in the empire’s erstwhile colonies and forced into sexual servitude.
Even the Japanese government has admitted as much. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono issued a widely publicized statement in 1993 acknowledging that there were “many cases” of agents acting on behalf of the Imperial Army “intimidating these women to be recruited against their will.”
The statement went on tacitly to acknowledge the comfort women’s enslaved status: “In the war areas, these women were forced to move with the military under constant military control and that they were deprived of their freedom and had to endure misery.”
The Kono statement was treated as front-page news by the American press at the time, but was hardly new news. To be sure it had been preceded by a long series of denials in Tokyo, a record taken at face value by an ever naïve American press; but the main allegations had been proved in a Dutch court under rigorous Western rules of evidence as far back as 1948. That court, which had been convened in what was then the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), had considered allegations that the Japanese army officers had forced many Dutch women seized in the Dutch East Indies into sexual slavery. One Japanese military official was executed and several others were sentenced to jail terms. The Dutch went on in 1956 successfully to press the Japanese government to pay compensation to the women, an almost unheard-of achievement in Western diplomacy (the Japanese establishment has otherwise proved highly successful in stonewalling countless compensation claims from other victims of war atrocities). In 1985 details of the comfort women story of were published in an official Dutch government history of the war.
As for GAHT-US, its full name is the Global Alliance for Historical Truth-US. If that sounds impressive, its genesis is less so. It was incorporated as recently as February 6 and uses a UPS office as its official address. The really controversial part is that its name has evidently been chosen so it would be confused with a very different entity, the Global Alliance for Preserving the History of WWII in Asia. This latter is a long-established, entirely respectable scholarly group founded by Chinese-American professors that is on the other side of the comfort women argument. The first two responses to a Google search today for “Global Alliance for Historical Truth” brought up the Chinese-American entity, thus suggesting that respectable Chinese-American opinion endorses the effort to brand the comfort women as prostitutes.
For the record I emailed the four Mayer Brown attorneys involved in this case – Neil Soltman, Matthew Marmolejo, Ruth Zadikany, and Rebecca Johns – for a comment. I also emailed the firm’s chief executive Paul Theiss. I received no responses. Reached by phone, Soltman referred me to the firm’s public relations officer Bob Harris but Harris also failed to respond.
Should Mayer Brown have taken on this suit? Here is the opinion of the prominent First Amendment attorney Marc Randazza: “Every law firm gets confronted (on a pretty regular basis) with the question: ‘should I put my name on this?’ That soul searching comes into play when you wonder, ‘is this honorable?’ You know when it is, and when it isn’t. I’m not talking about representing a client that you know is guilty — they deserve a defense. I’m not talking about representing a really evil client — because there might be an important legal issue in play. I’m talking about when you do something truly disgusting.”
Why therefore would Mayer Brown, which ranks among America’s top 20 corporate law firms, take on such a case? Beats me but one answer suggested by a commenter at Ken White’s website is probably worth passing on: “Mayer Brown has a heavy practice in Asia…. They are probably either doing this as a favor to a large client, or trying to expand their Asia presence to Japan.”
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