The Rape of a 14 year old girl in Okinawa by a US Marine has set off a political firestorm. (photo: Reuters)
One would hope that behavior that requires the "regrets" of the president of the United States and the secretary of state and the stand-down of United States military forces for "reflection" and retraining in ethics and leadership would be punished severely enough to send a clear signal that the behavior will not be tolerated.
Yet the history of sexual assault and rape of women around US military bases, particularly in Okinawa, reveals a military institutional acceptance of this criminal behavior and a lack of enforcement of military regulations against such behavior by senior military officers.
Many in Okinawa and in the United States are watching the US military's response to the latest rapes and sexual assaults to see if this pattern will change.
Since 1945, when the US military stormed onto the island of Okinawa to dislodge the Japanese military in World War II, Okinawan women and girls have been sexually assaulted and raped by US military personnel. Okinawans know the history of every assault. Thirty women were raped in 1945; 40 in 1946, 37 in 1947 and the count goes on year after year. The first conviction of a US military soldier for rape was in 1948.
During my recent trip to Japan, I met with members of the organization Okinawan Women Act Against Military Violence. According to reports compiled from police records and other sources by that organization, hundreds of Okinawan and Japanese women have been sexually assaulted and raped by US military personnel since 1945.
In the latest series of incidents, in April 2008, the US military in Japan charged a Marine with rape and other violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in the alleged sexual assault of a 14-year old girl in Okinawa. US Marine Staff Sgt. Tyrone Hadnott, 38, who had been in the Marines 18 years, was charged with the February 10, 2008, rape of a child under 16, abusive sexual contact with a child, making a false official statement, adultery and kidnapping. In February, Japanese authorities had released Hadnott after the girl dropped the allegations against him, but the Marine Corps conducted its own investigation to see if Hadnott had violated codes of military justice.
The rape accusation against Hadnott stirred memories of a brutal rape more than a decade ago and triggered outrage across Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said that Hadnott's actions were "unforgivable."
The February 11, 2008, arrest of Hadnott by Okinawan police on suspicion of raping a 14-year-old girl he picked up on a motorcycle outside an ice cream parlor in Okinawa City on February 10 triggered an international incident. The same day, February 11, Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima and Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura lodged protests with the United States government.
On February 12, Okinawa police recommended a charge of rape to the Naha District Public Prosecutors Office and hundreds of Okinawans staged protests at the headquarters gate to Camp Foster, Japan.
Japanese Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba expressed concern the alleged rape could affect the planned realignment of US troops in Japan.
On February 13, Lt. Gen. Bruce A. Wright, commander of all US military forces in Japan, US Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer and Lt. Gen. Richard Zilmer, commander of US Marines in Japan, met with Okinawa Governor Nakaima to express their concern. They promised steps would be taken to prevent future incidents.
On February 28, on an official visit to Japan, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also expressed her regrets to Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and Foreign Minister Mashiko Komura. "I earlier had had a chance to express the regret to the prime minister on behalf of President (George W.) Bush, on behalf of myself and the people of the United States for the terrible incident that happened in Okinawa," Rice said at a joint news conference held after she spoke with Komura. "We are concerned for the well-being of the young girl and her family."
In a press conference with Komura, Rice said the United States will try to prevent such incidents from recurring and said the US Forces in Japan and the US Embassy would be reinforcing military discipline. Rice also said that Okinawa is "extremely important" for the security of the Asia-Pacific region and it is important for the US and Japan to go ahead with the US forces reorganization. Rice did not mention publicly the Bush administration's push for Japanese participation in the Iraq war by providing more refueling ships and logistics aircraft, which has sparked outrage in the Japanese public as it violates renunciation of war Article 9 of their constitution.
Zilmer ordered a two-day stand-down for all Marines in Japan for "ethics and leadership" training. The incident also led to tight restrictions, for a time, for American troops and their families at the US base on Okinawa. The US military in Japan also formed a sexual assault prevention task force after the incident.
On May 15, 2008, a US military court-martial sentenced Hadnott to four years in prison, with one year suspended, after convicting him of abusive sexual conduct with a Japanese teenager in Okinawa. Four other charges, including rape of a child under 16, making a false official statement, adultery and "kidnapping through inveigling," or trickery, were dropped in a plea bargain. When asked specifically by a Japanese news reporter, a US Marines public affairs officer stated that Hadnott's name has been placed on the US National Sex Offenders list, yet the Stars and Stripes military newspaper reports that Hadnott will have to place himself on the sex offenders registry after he completes his 36-month jail sentence.
On May 16, 2008, charges were dropped against a soldier accused of raping a 21-year-old Filipino woman on February 18, 2008. The Naha, Okinawa, district public prosecutor said his office did not have sufficient evidence to indict Sgt. Ronald Edward Hopstock Jr., 25, of the 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment, a US Army Patriot missile battery on the US Air Force's Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.
According to police, after the incident, the woman was hospitalized for more than a week and received outpatient treatment for two weeks. At the time of the incident, the woman had been in Japan only three days, police reports said. Hopstock remains restricted to Kadena Air Base and is closely supervised by officials.
However, like the US Marines in the Hadnott case, the US Army said it will conduct its own investigation, according to Maj. James Crawford, a US Army spokesman at Camp Zama, Japan.
On May 9, 2008, US Marine Lance Cpl. Larry Dean, 20, was convicted of "wrongful sexual contact and indecent acts" in the gang rape of a 19-year-old woman in Hiroshima, Japan, in October 2007, and sentenced to no more than one year in jail and a dishonorable discharge. He was also convicted of "fraternization and violating military orders about liberty and alcohol," but was cleared of rape and kidnapping charges. Three other Marines will be court-martialed this month on charges of gang-raping the young woman. In another incident, early this month, another 14-year-old Japanese girl reportedly was assaulted by a US military service member. The case is under investigation by both Japanese and US military police.
In the 1995 case that is referenced by virtually every Okinawan one speaks with, three American servicemen kidnapped and gang-raped a 12-year-old Okinawan schoolgirl. In August 2006, one of the perpetrators of the 1995 rape strangled and raped a 22-year-old female college student in Georgia, after which he killed himself.
In 2002, Marine Maj. Michael Brown was charged with attempting to rape a Filipina bartender at a club on a US military base. Following a 19-month trial, on July 8, 2004, Brown was convicted by the Japanese District Court of "attempting an indecent act" and "destruction of property" but was acquitted of the rape charge. The court gave Brown a one-year prison sentence, suspended for three years, and fined him $1,400. The Japanese judge said Brown was given a light sentence because the 21-year Marine veteran had no prior criminal record. Brown appealed the verdict to Japan's Supreme Court, which dismissed the appeal in July 2004. Brown was transferred by the US military to the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, Virginia, in August 2004.
In October 2005, Brown was arrested and charged with kidnapping an 18-year-old girl from a flea market in Milton, West Virginia. Brown was indicted in January 2006 on felony kidnapping and grand larceny charges and, as of this month, awaits trial scheduled in Huntington, West Virginia. The US Marine Corps demoted Brown to captain and allowed him to retire at that rank on February 1, 2006.
In 2006, a US civilian employed by the US military was jailed for nine years for raping two women on Okinawa.
While the vast majority of US military personnel do not commit criminal acts while in Japan, the continued presence after 60 years of such a large number of US military, and the horrific crimes committed by a small minority of US military, mean that America's military presence in Japan and Okinawa is deeply resented and many Japanese call for the removal of US bases there.
Sexual assault and rape of women in countries where US military forces are stationed must be stopped, as must the rape of one in three women in the US military by their fellow military service members.