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USFK pissing off people with ‘investigations’ of Korean business owners

YTN’s program YTN 8585 is claiming that USFK is forcibly investigating Korean merchants operating near US bases in Korea. Even though USFK lacks the legal basis to launch these investigations, merchants have no choice to agree lest they suffer disadvantages as a result (like being declared off-limits).

The YTN reporters talked to a Mr. Choe, who runs a club in front of the US base in Osan. Choe apparently got a call from the base telling him to come to the base because they had something to investigate. He went on base, and was subject to a one-on-one questioning in a small, windowless interrogation room with a door you couldn’t open without asking through an interphone. Very frightening stuff.

Without any evidence whatsoever, the USFK investigator pressed Choe about whether his club had provided prostitution services to US servicemen.

Choe was not the only one subject to this questioning; other business owners were as well.

A business owner by the name of Mr. Jang complained to YTN that this was Korea, and he was surprised by how far his rights and Korea’s sovereignty could be ignored.

According to SOFA, USFK has no independent investigative authority over Korean civilians. What this means, suggests YTN, is that USFK has overstepped its authority. And they found some guy from Minbyun to say as much.

What is forcing these business owners to agree to USFK’s random investigations is the threat of being placed “off-limits.” By banning US servicemen from entering certain businesses, USFK is placing what amounts to a business suspensions on bars ad clubs that depend on GIs for business.

Another business owner, a Mr. Seo, complained that somebody at USFK who thinks he can place whoever he likes off-limits with the stroke of a pen, and that Korean employees who have heard this were creeped out.

USFK, meanwhile, initially said there were no illegal one-on-one investigations, but later changed its story to there was no compulsion involved.

They got a USFK official on record saying found it difficult to believe there were one-on-one investigations going on in interrogation rooms, but a day later saying USFK had asked for info from local Koreans to investigation US servicemen.

The YTN program concludes by reminding us that a USFK commander had apologized after US MPs put Korean civilians in handcuffs, but USFK’s highhanded behavior continues with baseless investigations of Korean civilians at US bases.

Marmot’s Note: Look, as far as I can tell, there is no compulsion—the business owners are free to tell USFK to fuck off, and USFK is free to ban its own men from visiting certain clubs.

Having said that, I have to be honest—doesn’t USFK have better things to do than making sure its personnel aren’t paying for sex? I personally find Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto’s views about the comfort women objectionable, but I think he probably had a point when he advised US Marines in Okinawa to make better use of local adult entertainers. Why should the State Department and Secret Service have all the fun? Granted, prostitution in technically illegal in Korea (stop laughing, damn it!), but shouldn’t the people doing the enforcing be the KNP, not USFK?

About the author: Just the administrator of this humble blog.

  • http://www.expathell.com thankswww

    Sometimes I forget that paying for sex is not normal in other countries like the USA. Why don’t they just chill out and let the US soldiers do as the locals do? Most of those base hookers are so old and blown out that they can’t snag Korean Johns anymore, so patronizing them is more of a humanitarian effort than anything.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    “…but shouldn’t the people doing the enforcing be the KNP, not USFK?

    Patronizing prostitutes is prohibited under the UCMJ (Article 138, “The Catch-All”, I think). The military, much like Korean law with Koreans, extends its jurisdiction of military personnel outside its borders. So, the US military does have an interest.

    That said, I could not give a rat’s ass, at least in theory. My real world concern is when the transaction is not strictly voluntary, which is often the case in poor countries or with poor women. Article 138 also covers Pandering or Enticing, which is easy to trip up by offering money for prostitution. I can see pandering or enticing easily happening in poor countries or with poor women.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    Sorry. Article 134 is the catch-all. I think it even covers breathing.

  • http://pawikoreapics.blogspot.com/ pawikirogii 石鵝

    ‘Sometimes I forget that paying for sex is not normal in other countries like the USA.’ wwwg or whatever his name is

    perhaps but i think it’s clear that americans don’t have any problem with abnormal. just look at em in korea, they have no problem doing ‘what the locals do’. just like you, no?

    why do you come here when you have your own blog? don’t you have koreans to antagonize over there?

  • seouldout

    For years USFK and the clubs played a shell game. A club would be declared “off-limits”, the owner would change its name, and the “new” club would resume operations with USFK personnel as customers. Then in 2002 or 2003 Newsweek did a cover page exposé of prostitution and human trafficking (Filipinas and Russians) at Korean-owned off-base clubs. Ka-boom! Huge uproar. Generals called in to testify before Congress. USFK may consider Korean views, but at the end of the day it complies with the US government’s dictates. Soon after clubs declared “off-limits” remained so. Permanently. Not only does the off-limits list name the clubs, it also maps the location of each. A name may change, but the location doesn’t, and that’s what is restricted.

    Personally I have no problem with what consenting adults do. Human trafficking, of which I hear little from my Korean chums unless done by the Japs 70-odd years ago, needs to be eradicated. US military personal, who don’t enjoy the same freedoms as US civilians, know that the military will “intrude” in their private lives. Dem da breaks.

    Of course the real solution to this and many other woes will be for the US to withdraw its military from Korea and let it handle its own defence. Solely.

  • http://geoju.kr fanwarrior

    GIKorea steal your login information?
    No compulsion?
    You’ve set up a business in an area and targeted it at US forces… your target group is telling you to either do what they say or they’ll blackball you. Sure, they didn’t put a gun to their head, but they might as well have.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    I’m with the USFK here. Here’s why.

    1. These Koreans want their cake and eat it, too. There was no coercion here. The Koreans can tell the USFK to piss off, but then they would lose the business. They really want to tell them to piss off AND keep the business. Well, that ain’t gonna happen.

    2. I’m all for adults being free to exchange when both sides are under no coercion to do so. Unlike what Joe says, I do adjust my views to the real world. That said, no one is drafted into the US Army; everyone going in does so voluntarily and with full knowledge of the policies that this organization has vis a vis prostitution. When you enter the army you agree to follow its policies and it tough cookies for you if you want to go to a hooker.

    #6,

    they set up a business that offers a service that the USFK has deemed off-limits. Sell t-shirts, fine; sell prostitution services however, and you’re doing it in full knowledge that the USFK will deem you off-limits. There is no such thing as a right to the USFK business. Are you claiming the USFK is under obligation to allow its soldiers to patronize a business that offers illicit services? Why should the USFK break both its own policies and local laws to allow some fucking pimps to keep doing business?

  • http://geoju.kr fanwarrior

    #7 who knows if that is what is really going on. As we know, the USFK has already lied once about it. Seems like they’ve got something to hide.

    They might want to declare a business off-limits certainly within their rights, but trying to compel a civilian of your host nation into on-base interrogations? No. Doesn’t pass the smell test. Who knows what they were really using these interrogations for. Maybe someone got crappy service, and they just wanted to hassle the owner. Maybe someone was upset they didn’t get their favorite juicy girl last time around, or maybe someone thinks he should get a free drink next time he comes round.

    If they had real evidence this was occurring there would be no need to try and compel these owners to go on to the base for an interrogation. They’re abusing the power they have over the businesses, and lying about it. That just doesn’t add up in my book.

  • bumfromkorea

    @ fanwarrior
    Judging by the drive-by potshot taken by seouldout against Comfort Womens, and SMS’s usual These Fucking Koreans mantra, I’d say you’re wasting your bandwidth and time writing cogent arguments addressing them.

    Notice that you’re not even in the same starting point as them; they already assume the bar owners fully engage and revel in human trafficking because, well, These Fucking Koreans just *love* trafficking humans I guess (I know I do). – you don’t because, and I’m just guessing here, there are no evidence presented at this time that would indicate that they are indeed participating in human trafficking. This is a “discussion” that will not turn out well.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    #8 fanwarrior: “If they had real evidence this was occurring there would be no need to try and compel these owners to go on to the base for an interrogation.”

    By your logic, then businesses with real evidence against them have already been declared off-limits. These businesses don’t have real evidence, perhaps only suspicion, against them; hence the interrogation. BTW, I used your term interrogation rather than interview because I didn’t like it either.

    The fact of the matter is that USFK in effect has a sort of monopsony power. These establishments want to do business with USFK, and USFK can set these terms without stepping on Korean or international law. In no way am I implying a gotcha or tit-for-tat ha-ha with Korea’s E2 AIDS testing, but USFK has the higher ground both legally and morally.

    ******

    “Maybe someone got crappy service, and they just wanted to hassle the owner. Maybe someone was upset they didn’t get their favorite juicy girl last time around, or maybe someone thinks he should get a free drink next time he comes round.”

    진자??? Does a free drink the next time he comes around seem even remotely possible? All this for a juicy girl? Crappy service??? As a good Navy man would say, “any port in a storm, eh?”

  • DUguymontreal55

    seouldout, umiru bolno..

  • http://geoju.kr fanwarrior

    #10 I’m just throwing out possibilities. I Know there is prostitution in many places in Korea, whether or not it is all run by the bar owners is another question, but yes if they had concrete proof, they would declare it off limits, if that was their intention. So we’re left with a couple possibilities:

    1- They have no concrete proof and they’re fishing and trying to intimidate Koreans on the base
    2- they have concrete proof, and they’re trying to shake down the owners.
    3- There is some other reason for these meetings, like I mentioned above

    Humans will do all kinds of things in all kinds of situations. US service members aren’t immune from a little corruption. Who knows if someone low-level isn’t trying to make himself king of the strip. Maybe he’s fishing for kick-backs. A box of apples, as it were.

  • seouldout

    @12

    Re #3, the other reason. USFK routinely sends undercover agents to bars to determine whether prostitution and other illegal services, e.g. drugs and black marketing, exist. Could very well be a situation where the agent reported to his superiors notable findings and USFK was giving the owner a chance to explain himself.

    An easy-to-implement solution to this will be to invite the owner and a Korean gov’t official to any future on-base discussions.

  • will.i.aint

    Anonymous_Joe wrote:

    진자???

    I think you meant “찐자.” “진자” is the word for “pendulum.”

  • sylv

    진짜’s more like it. 찐자 doesn’t mean anything.

  • http://geoju.kr fanwarrior

    #13 very unlikely. The USFK has no authority there, so asking some owner to “explain themselves” seems completely out of their purview. And if this were the case, I can’t see why the USFK would care. They either ban it or not, I can’t see them legitimately wanting to negotiate with a Korean business. The only reason negotiations would be happening would be if it was for a reason that was not quite above board, and given their immediate inclination to lie, I’d say it’s a safe bet.

    An easy to implement solution would be to not try to compel Korean nationals under any circumstances onto the base for interrogation.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Of course the USFK has no LEGAL authority over the business owners. But the USFK does have authority over its soldiers and if those owners want the business then it seems the USFK does have some economic authority over the Koreans, after all. It seems that its in their best interests to co-operate. Korea is still, as far as I can tell a sort of a free market where all actors have some freedom to choose whom to do business with, is it not? Would you take this freedom from the USFK? The Koreans put all their proverbial eggs into one basket when they decided to rely for the majority (or all) of their business on the USFK. They knew that the USFK could deem them off limits if they sell illicit services/goods to USFK personnel. They should be the last ones to cry foul when whet they should have expected has come to pass. Who gave the USFK such market power? Stop bitching about it now.

    Again, NO ONE IS COMPELLED onto the base for “interrogations.” And I would like to stress, these are not interrogations; you obviously have never been interrogated. They are interviews.

  • seouldout

    They either ban it or not…

    Yeah, you’re right. Just easier to place the bars on the off-limits list.

  • http://landinglunkers.com Nomad

    And even easier to place the entire area outside the main gate off limits:

    http://www.stripes.com/news/pacific/entertainment-district-outside-osan-ab-declared-off-limits-1.225653

  • Anonymous_Joe

    I think you meant “찐자.” “진자” is the word for “pendulum.”

    No. I meant “pendulum”.

    I appreciate your kindness, though obviously mistaken.

    ******************
    (Ol’ Doc Hodges might show me some syntactic lovin’.)

  • http://geoju.kr fanwarrior

    #17 Their choice is either do what the military wants, or lose their business. That is being compelled. There is no gun, just the threat of their livelihood. If someone says “Either come with me to the base or I’m blacklisting you” that is compelling someone.

    “He went on base, and was subject to a one-on-one questioning in a small, windowless interrogation room with a door you couldn’t open without asking through an interphone.” If it quacks like a duck.. doesn’t sound like somewhere you have a friendly chat with someone. The only reason to bring them on base is to flex their power over them. If they just wanted to ask them a few questions they could have done so in their place of business, at a coffee shop, heck they could have even wandered over to a local police station if they wanted some real privacy.

    If the USFK has proof they are offering services or selling things they don’t want their service members to have access to, then ban them, but their actions are totally inconsistent with that, and all the spin control in the world isn’t going to make that any less true or go away.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    #21,

    no, not really. They are under the threat to lose a particular customer. They are fully free to market to others.

    Look, they do not have the right to anyone’s money. Consumers are allowed to boycott businesses. This is really no different than consumers mass-boycotting Namyang, for example. Are consumers not allowed to make a choice to frequent a business? In this case the consumer is the USFK which has a certain policy that it feels is being violated. It is fully within its right to tell its personnel to avoid such and such businesses.

  • Icedog

    There’s a bit more to this story. Six clubs in Songtan were recently added to the “off-limits” list for prostitution. Granted, the evidence used is normally not straight ‘cash for sex’ incidents, but is normally tied to the more vague ‘bar fining’ in which sex may be expected, but may not be promised. Some bar owners have even tried to get cute…”no bar fining allowed”, but if you buy this special $200-$300 juice, the girl can have the night off.

    In the recent past, the large majority of off-limits clubs in Songtan have been smaller clubs and owners with little clout or power. However, in this case, two major clubs were added to the list – including a club with an owner who is also president of the local club association (the “Godfather”). These owners were invited to the base hearing board to make their case (unrelated to this story), but decided not to show.

    Instead, they hung banners all over Songtan and decided to protest from 1700-2000 everyday for 30 days. The commander reacted by placing the entire SED (Songtan Entertainment District) off-limits for all GIs from 1100-0500 (for “safety”).

    If you notice, other than a couple small stories online, the Korean media is not covering what should be a substantial story. The owners and the Korean press realized a “Korean club owners pissed-off because they were put off-limits to USFK members due to prostitution” story paints the Koreans as the bad guys. So, this new story was drummed up and the attempts to shift the focus to a, “USFK interrogating innocent Koreans”….now the Americans can be the bad guys.

    One major problem…the dozens of banners the banned club owners have displayed all around Songtan are protesting their club bans and don’t fit their new narrative.

  • Cloud

    http://koreajoongangdaily.joinsmsn.com/news/article/article.aspx?aid=2973470&cloc=joongangdaily|home|newslist1

    “We found that some of the bars abused their hostesses, who are mostly from the Philippines,” said Park. “We heard that the owners have taken the hostesses’ passports and don’t pay wages on time. We can’t say whether it is true or not, but we just limited the access to those places because we didn’t want our soldiers to step into places that look like they have problems.”

    The Korean police should really investigate these allegations. If the allegations are true and/if they are running brothels illegally, the bar owners have some nerve protesting the USFK ban.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    #23 Icedog, great analysis. I don’t remember seeing you around here before. For you to just drop in, write such an insightful and spot-on post, and write it so cogently makes me think that you are invested in and physically much closer to the situation. I’m not complaining; I want to hear more.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    #24 Cloud: “If the allegations are true and/if they are running brothels illegally, the bar owners have some nerve protesting the USFK ban.”

    Not in Korea, they don’t.

  • Icedog

    Joe, thank you for the kind words.

    Update: The off-limits hours for the SED has been changed to 1700-0100 (I believe to ease the pain on shop owners and lunchtime restaurants – just my opinion). Normal curfew rules are still in effect from 0100-0500.

    …however, I’m hearing rumors of “egg throwing” incidents yesterday, so these hours may change at any moment.

    What would Korea be without the drama!

  • Icedog

    Interesting developments….

    “At the request of the Korean National Police” the SED’s revised off-limit hours are now 1400-0100.

    Also, there were no eggs thrown. However, one of the protestors was carrying a couple cartons of eggs to the protest, but was intercepted by KNP.