Tribunal Holds Preliminary Hearing Okamoto, Reluctantly, Accepts Defense Lawyer

Kozo Okamoto today made his first appearance before the military tribunal that will try him for his part in the May 30 Lydda Airport massacre and reluctantly accepted the defense counsel selected for him by the Israel Bar Association. The occasion was a preliminary hearing by the tribunal of testimony from Jose Abner Muno Vega, a Puerto Rican school teacher who headed the group of Puerto Rican pilgrims that sustained the greatest casualties in the airport shooting. The tribunal convened at the request of Vega who is leaving Israel tomorrow.

The slightly built Okamoto, dressed in striped shirt and denim trousers with a five-day growth of beard was brought handcuffed into the hearing room improvised at the Lydda police station. He was accompanied by Tadayuki Harada, a 24-year-old Japanese student from the Hebrew University who acted as interpreter. No charges were read to Okamoto and he was not asked to plead today. But he was asked if he accepted his defense lawyer, Max Kritzman, a Tel Aviv lawyer.

After some hesitation, Okamoto spoke clearly into the microphone. “I don’t think I asked for a defense counsel and I don’t know where they brought him from but if this trial cannot take place without a lawyer, I accept,” he said. The formality over, Kritzman and his assistant, Levi Roth, were officially appointed lawyers for the defense by the three-man tribunal.

Vega testified in Spanish with the assistance of an Israeli interpreter. He described the shooting at the airport terminal in which 16 of his countrymen were slain. He said there were no single shots but prolonged machinegun bursts. He estimated that the attack lasted three minutes.

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