U.S. COMMISSION TO CONSIDER GUAM WAR CLAIMS

By Derrick DePledge

WASHINGTON (Pacific Daily News, Sept. 13) - Interior Secretary Gale Norton yesterday appointed members of a new commission that will consider whether people on Guam deserve reparations for their treatment by Japanese invaders during World War II.

The Guam War Claims Review Commission will have nine months to examine records before preparing a report for the Department of the Interior and Congress. Any war claims would have to be approved by Congress and signed into law by the president.

The Japanese invaded Guam in 1941 and occupied the island for nearly three years. Guam residents have accused Japanese soldiers of atrocities that include torture, internment, executions and forced labor.

''When you wait for something for 60 years, you almost give up,'' said Delegate Madeleine Bordallo, who joined Guam Gov. Felix Camacho and Interior Department officials in announcing the commission appointments. ''It's important that we were able to finally bring it forth.''

The commissioners are former Guam Speaker Tony Unpingco, former Guam Supreme Court Justice Benjamin J. Cruz, former California congressman Robert Lagomarsino, former Interior Department official Ruth Van Cleve, and Mauricio Tamargo, chairman of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission.

The war claims commission will look specifically at whether the United States treated Guam residents on par with U.S. citizens and nationals who were in Japanese-occupied territory during the war. At the time, the Navy administered Guam as an unincorporated territory, and the island's 22,000 residents were U.S. nationals, but not citizens.

After the war, Congress approved the Guam Meritorious Claims Act, which provided war reparations but required that all claims be filed within a year. According to a congressional report on the bill that created the commission, a subsequent war claims act awarded reparations to American citizens on Guam but excluded Guam residents, who did not become citizens until 1950.

Bordallo said ‘‘there is no doubt in my mind'' that Guam residents are owed reparations. ''It's just unfortunate because so many people have died and so many families have waited so long.''

The Congressional Budget Office has projected that war reparations for Guam could cost $100 million, although Guam officials have estimated the amount would be between $30 million and $50 million.

War reparations have been a goal of every Guam delegate to Congress since 1972. Congress approved the commission and President Bush signed that legislation into law last year after work by former Delegate Robert Underwood.

The U.S. government has paid reparations to Japanese-Americans whose property was taken away and who were held in internment camps in the United States during World War II.

American soldiers held prisoner by Japan during the war have unsuccessfully sought reparations from Japanese companies that may have benefited from their forced labor. The U.S. government has held that a 1951 peace treaty with Japan prevents such claims.

September 15, 2003

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