There was a flurry of news coverage last year—and again over the summer—when the Japanese tossed United States Navy Lt. Ridge Alkonis behind bars for his role in a car crash that left two dead.
Alkonis and his family had been hiking Mt. Fuji when, on the drive home, the sailor blacked out behind the wheel, plowing into parked cars and a pair of pedestrians. A Japanese court rejected a neurologist’s diagnosis of altitude sickness, which can cause blackouts, and over the summer another Japanese judge upheld a conviction of three years in prison for negligent driving.
Just 4 percent of those similarly charged in Japan ended up serving any prison time at all, according to the Washington Post, so it’s a mystery why a stalwart American ally is treating one of our service members this way—and why, in turn, President Joe Biden and his administration aren’t rattling the cages to get Alkonis back.
Traipsing across Capitol Hill a couple of weeks back, our colleague met Brittany Alkonis, Ridge’s wife, and their three children. Their ordeal continues, and they were there calling attention to the case in the hope that Biden might step in as he has done for Brittney Griner, held in Russia, and most recently for a cadre of Citgo executives held unlawfully in Venezuela. In fact, Mrs. Alkonis has heard not one word from the administration since her husband was first detained—not a phone call, not a note, nothing other than a perfunctory conversation with the U.S. ambassador to Japan Rahm Emmanuel at the start of this ordeal.
Administration officials tell us that Vice President Kamala Harris raised the issue privately with Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo last month—but that fact has for some reason not been conveyed to the Alkonis family. Nor was it conveyed to the traveling press pool, who, per the transcripts from Harris’s trip, asked not a single question about Alkonis’s detention. A patriot and family man who stands at attention for the national anthem, Alkonis won’t elicit the kind of sympathy and concern from the press corps that Griner did.
The Japanese are apparently bristling at what little public attention the case has generated, which is why Harris and others are engaged in behind-the-scenes conversations. Maybe that is the right tack, though there is no evidence to suggest so thus far. At the very least, the president should give Brittany Alkonis an audience, which would telegraph to the Japanese that the administration takes the matter seriously. For her part, Mrs. Alkonis says she will not leave Washington until the administration speaks with her.
The Japanese are an important American ally in a critical region and at a time of growing threats. But so long as they hold Alkonis hostage, there should be no business as usual. Every effort must be made to bring this American home to his family.