The alleged rape by two U.S. Navy seamen of a woman in Okinawa has fueled calls there for Washington and Tokyo to revise the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), and has reinvigorated debate about the freedom of U.S. military personnel to interact with locals.
On Oct. 17, Okinawan officials reacted with outrage at news of a rape allegedly perpetrated a day earlier by two 23-year-old sailors after they had been drinking off base.
"This is just insane," Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima told Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto in Tokyo. "I demand that you produce results."
Nakaima asked Morimoto to press the U.S. military forces in Japan to cooperate in the investigation, and to strengthen discipline within the ranks. A SOFA provides the legal framework under which U.S. military personnel operate in the host country.
"Although I have asked repeatedly for a reduction in crimes and accidents perpetrated by U.S. military personnel, it has happened again," Nakaima said. "Problems will always arise as long as the SOFA remains unchanged."
Morimoto said: "This is an extremely egregious and vile incident. It goes way beyond the limits of what is tolerable. I feel that there must have been a failure in how the U.S. military trained its personnel."
Separately, Nakaima visited the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on Oct. 17 and lodged a protest with Ambassador John Roos. Nakaima warned that the U.S. military will lose the trust of Okinawa residents.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda expressed his anger at the incident, as did Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba.
"This cannot be resolved simply by calling for increased discipline and measures to prevent a recurrence," Genba told reporters during a visit to France. "We will have to respond with comprehensive measures."
Early on Oct. 17, Senior Vice Foreign Minister Shuji Kira summoned the U.S. ambassador to the Foreign Ministry building to lodge a protest.
Roos later told reporters he understood the anger of the Okinawa people and that the U.S. side would give its full cooperation to the investigation.
Meanwhile, Okinawa prefectural police were preparing Oct. 17 to file a case of suspected rape causing bodily harm with prosecutors. The alleged perpetrators have been identified as Seaman Christopher Browning and Petty Officer 3rd Class Skyler Dozierwalker, both of the naval air station in Fort Worth, Texas.
Sources said Dozierwalker admitted guilt during questioning by police, but Browning has denied involvement.
Okinawa prefectural police reported that the two raped a woman as she walked home from work between about 3:35 a.m. and 4:20 a.m. on Oct. 16. The attack took place on the main Okinawa island, and left the woman suffering from additional injuries to her neck.
Sources close to the investigation said the two had been drinking since the previous evening. They spoke to the woman in a nearby residential area. She ignored them, and the pair then chased her and carried out the attack, the sources said.
The two men arrived at Naval Air Facility Atsugi on Oct. 3. They moved to Okinawa on Oct. 14 and were staying in a local hotel and were scheduled to fly to Guam on Oct. 16.
Okinawan officials expressed fury at the report.
"I feel such strong anger that my body is shaking," said the mayor of Kin, Tsuyoshi Gibu, upon learning of the attack. U.S. military bases account for about 60 percent of the land area of Kin.
Gibu was in Tokyo when word first came of the alleged attack. He was among a group of local government officials lobbying the central government on the issue of U.S. military bases.
Ironically, one measure the group was pressing for was new measures to prevent crimes by personnel working for the U.S. military. That request was prompted by a sexual assault case in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, in August.
Upper House member Keiko Itokazu was attending an anti-Osprey aircraft rally in the northern part of the main Okinawa island when she heard the report.
"The people of Okinawa have strengthened their opposition to the Ospreys. And now for this to happen, ...." she said. "The U.S. military simply does not understand the circumstances."
Teruko Kuwae belongs to a women's group opposed to U.S. bases in Okinawa.
"If the bases are truly needed for Japan's national security, I hope they will spread the bases equally throughout Japan," Kuwae said.
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