An amendment sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee requiring the Secretary of State to review the protections in place for U.S. service members who are stationed overseas was attached to the defense spending bill that cleared the Senate Thursday.

Lee has been outspoken in his frustration with the continued incarceration of Lt. Ridge Alkonis, a member of the U.S. Navy, in a Japanese prison.

As reported in the Deseret News, Alkonis was convicted by a Japanese court of negligent driving in the May 2021 deaths of an 85-year-old Japanese woman and her 54-year-old son-in-law. Alknois and U.S. Navy Investigators said he passed out after suffering from acute mountain sickness, but the judge said he fell asleep at the wheel.

His parents, Derek and Suzi Alkonis, and his wife Brittany Alkonis have asked U.S. officials — including President Joe Biden after the State of the Union address — to intervene so Ridge Alkonis can serve out his sentence in the U.S., but Japanese officials have so far been quiet on the matter.

Lee has also been critical of the Status of Forces Agreement between the U.S. and Japan, which he says doesn’t provide enough protections for U.S. service members stationed there.

The presumed civil rights of those accused of crimes in Japan differ from those in the U.S. When an American service member is arrested for an alleged crime committed off base, he or she is subject to the Japanese criminal justice system under the terms of the bilateral agreement, which does not include the right to have an attorney present during questioning, per The New York Times.

Under the amendment approved Thursday, which was attached to the National Defense Authorization Act, the Secretary of State, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, would be required “to review the 10 countries with the largest U.S. armed forces presence and provide an assessment of the protections our servicemembers receive under the bilateral Status of Forces Agreements we hold with each country,” Lee said.

“Lt. Ridge Alkonis’s tragic experience highlights the potential hardships and heartache that can arise due to the lack of clarity on legal rights and processes under foreign law,” a press release from Lee’s office said.

“We have an obligation to ensure our brave men and women in uniform are afforded basic legal protections,” Lee said. “This amendment is our commitment to guaranteeing that their legal treatment is fair and just, consistent with the rights they would have under U.S. law. Congress should not allow anything less.”

While Lee supported the amendment, he did not support the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act, to which it was attached.

“Each year, the Senate exercises its constitutional prerogative by debating the priorities and strategy for our national defense. While I am encouraged that the Senate adopted my amendment aimed at protecting the legal rights of our service members abroad, I remain concerned that the bill fails to prioritize U.S. interests,” Lee said in a statement to the Deseret News.

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