Anger over rape case spreads through Okinawa

Assemblies and women's groups quick to demand justice, redress

Compiled From Kyodo, AP, Staff Reports

NAHA, Okinawa Pref. — As anger spreads throughout Okinawa over the alleged weekend rape by a U.S. Marine of a 14-year-old girl, two municipal assemblies in the prefecture adopted a joint resolution Wednesday calling for preventive steps, an apology and compensation for the victim.

Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima meanwhile called for a fundamental review of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement.

The Okinawa Municipal Assembly denounced the alleged rape as “absolutely impermissible,” while the Chatan Municipal Assembly charged that the disciplinary and other measures taken following past incidents involving U.S. service members have had no effect and the public is “exposed to fear.”

The rape allegedly occurred in the town of Chatan on Sunday night, while the city of Okinawa was where the marine reportedly met the girl.

In a prefectural assembly session, Nakaima said, “In order to resolve various issues pertaining to U.S. bases, mere improved operations of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, under which discretion is entrusted to the U.S. side, are insufficient and a drastic review is necessary.”

Staff Sgt. Tyrone Hadnott, 38, was arrested Monday in connection with the suspected rape of a local junior high school girl. He was sent to prosecutors Tuesday.

He denies committing rape but has admitted touching her in his car, police said. He was also quoted as saying he did not know the girl was a minor.

Civic groups have also joined the protests. Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, an influential civic group that played a key role in a massive rally in 1995, sent a letter of protest to U.S. President George W. Bush calling for an apology and compensation. The group also stressed the need to provide mental care to children who have been victims of violence by U.S. military personnel or who have been traumatized by such incidents.

The group also called in the letter for strict punishment of the suspect and for overseeing U.S. military personnel living off base.

The case rekindled memories of the 1995 gang rape of a 12-year-old Okinawa girl by three U.S. servicemen, an incident that triggered mass resentment against the U.S. military presence in Okinawa.

The women’s group and two other organizations of women successively held protest rallies that eventually coalesced into a single massive demonstration.

The protest moves led Japan and the United States to agree the following year to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and to vacate other U.S. military facilities in Okinawa.

Meanwhile, the Japanese and U.S. governments tried to quell rising anger in Okinawa, which hosts a majority of the 50,000 U.S. service members based in Japan.

Okinawa is considered a linchpin in the American military presence in Asia, and U.S. officials have been eager to avoid a damaging rise in anti-U.S. military sentiment. Okinawans have long complained of crimes committed by U.S. soldiers.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer visited Okinawa and met with Nakaima Wednesday afternoon. In the meeting, Schieffer expressed U.S. concern over the case and asked the governor to deliver a letter expressing his sympathy to the girl and her family, Okinawa officials said.

Schieffer returned to Tokyo later in the day to meet with Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura, who demanded that the U.S. review its preventive measures and educational programs for military personnel.

“Various educational programs and preventive steps have been in place within the U.S. bases in Japan, but I want to ask you to examine the effectiveness of those measures again,” Komura told Schieffer.

The ambassador responded that the U.S. government is taking steps to review and reinforce the policies that the American military has against sexual harassment and sexual assault.

“(We) outlined the programs to the foreign minister to ensure that not only the programs that deal with the marines but the programs that deal with (U.S. servicemen) that are serving in every capacity here in Japan will be reviewed, and we just have no sympathy and no tolerance for these kind of actions,” Schieffer told reporters after meeting with Komura.

Asked whether this incident would affect the reorganization of U.S. military bases in Okinawa, Schieffer said: “I hope that’s not the case. But I think really, what our focus should be on the next few days is this investigation (into the alleged rape) to ensure that we get all the facts.”

Meanwhile, Senior Vice Foreign Minister Itsunori Onodera met with Marine Lt. Gen. Richard Zilmer, who heads the U.S. military in Okinawa, at the Foreign Ministry’s office in the prefecture to call for disciplinary and preventive measures.