Last Saturday when Sen. Mazie Hirono held a rare town hall meeting on Kauai, I joined some 100 concerned voters to hear what she had to say and ask questions. When I took the microphone, I asked the senator to clarify her position on supporting the expansion of U.S. military bases in East Asia.

“Even as the United States maintains 82,500 troops in South Korea, Okinawa and Japan, we are expanding our own military footprint in what will be America’s largest military base … in South Korea while at the same time forcing the construction of a new U.S. Marine air base in Okinawa despite years of 24/7 protests and overwhelming local opposition,” I began.

I wanted to know if Sen. Hirono thought the U.S. had a responsibility to our allies Japan and South Korea as they suffer human rights violations and environmental destruction while we forcibly deploy the THAAD anti-missile defense system against the wishes of many Koreans and push Japan to build helipads that have resulted in destroying tropical forest while also dumping 2 million cubic meters of sand, dirt and rock onto coral reefs and seagrass beds for a new U.S. Marine air base in northern Okinawa.

Sen. Mazie Hirono talks to reporters at a town hall in Honolulu on Saturday. At an event earlier that day on Kauai, she address overseas military basis. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Considering the U.S. already has over 150 bases and facilities in the region, did Sen. Hirono think building more by force was consistent with U.S. stated values of protecting human rights and the environment?

Hirono responded, “I serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee and national security issues loom large.” She pointed to conflict hotspots from Africa to the Middle East and North Korea and said, “We can’t go it alone and this is why other countries, especially in the Asia-Pacific area — they have come forward and you know, it’s not as though we are forcing bases in these places. We are generally asked to come, one hopes that we are entering into a mutually beneficial agreement.”

The senator went on to emphasize her preference for diplomacy over military action, but she had already proven that she either 1) doesn’t actually understand the situation on the ground or 2) understands but chooses to use her position as a senator to glaze over the well-documented and overwhelming evidence that her statement “it’s not as though we are forcing bases in these places” is simply not true.

The senator noted that she had visited Okinawa though it is unlikely she has been to the protest encampments that have been manned day and night for years where citizens are facing intimidation, threats, arrest and prolonged detainment by Japanese and Okinawan riot police and security guards.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration has been repeatedly accused of employing heavy-handed tactics to subdue Okinawans and Japanese peacefully protesting the new U.S. military facilities that threaten land, air and sea.

Hirono should well know that U.S. bases are indeed being built using police violence and physical force against protesters. Like Sen. Brian Schatz and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Hirono has met with Okinawa’s staunchly anti-base expansion Gov. Takeshi Onaga. To brazenly claim the U.S. is not forcing bases is demonstrably false. Perhaps the senator thinks that her audience will simply take her word at face value because she is, after all, on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Her Senate colleague, and the chairman of that committee, Sen. John McCain made a similar statement in 2008 when speaking on “Face the Nation.” He said, “How long are we going to stay in South Korea, how long are we going to stay in Japan, how long are we going to stay in Germany? All of those 50, 60 year periods — no one complains.”

This sort of denial isn’t limited to the Senate and has been exhibited by Congresswoman Gabbard who, speaking on the House floor last December in defense of Native Americans protesting the Dakota Access pipeline, said, “Protecting our water is not a partisan political issue. It is an issue that is important to all people and all living beings everywhere. Water is life.. Freedom is not a buzzword. The freedom of our founding fathers was not the freedom to bulldoze wherever you like.”

Yet that is exactly what is happening in Okinawa — the destruction of tropical forests, coral reefs, seagrass beds and a sense of peace and calm for the people of Okinawa and now, increasingly, South Korea where THAAD is being protested from the capital Seoul to rural Seongju where it was hurriedly deployed by force before South Korea’s snap election Tuesday will likely usher in progressive candidate Moon Jae-in, who has promised to revisit THAAD.

When members of Congress claim U.S military expansion is not happening by force or that “no one complains” or deny any responsibility, they not only demean their own position, they also insult and diminish the respect and trust of the people we call allies and friends. And even if they don’t see it or acknowledge this fact themselves, it hurts America’s standing at home and overseas.

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