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Marines, U.S. Embassy in damage control mode after rape incident

Date Posted: 2008-02-15

The Marines’ top general on Okinawa ordered special training for all Marines, the American Ambassador to Japan personally visited Okinawa, and a local U.S. Consulate official seemingly defended the suspect as officials scramble to counter mounting anti-base, anti-military and anti-American sentiments in the Prefecture.
In the aftermath of Sunday night’s incident, in which a U.S. Marine staff sergeant was arrested on suspicion of sexual misconduct and rape on a 14-year-old junior high school girl, authorities moved into damage control mode with promises of tighter control on U.S. forces in Okinawa. The U.S. Ambassador led the moves, traveling to Okinawa for a face-to-face apology session with Governor Hirokazu Nakaima.
Ambassador Thomas Schieffer told the governor “It is truly regrettable that an incident like this could have happened.” The governor was calm, telling Schieffer he appreciated the visit, but reaffirmed “the outrage of Okinawan people has yet to be eased.” Schieffer assured Nakaima “we want the little girl and her family to know we are thinking of her, and hoping she will soon recover from the traumatic experience.”
A State Department official at the U.S. Consulate in Okinawa, the Okinawa Times reports, has even commented on the incident to a Japanese political leader. The Deputy at the Naha Consulate was quoted as defending the suspect, Tyrone Hadnott, explaining “someone who previously committed crimes would not be promoted in the Marine Corps.”
The commanding general of the Marines’ III Marine Expeditionary Force wasted no time issuing orders for every marine to report for “ethics and leadership training” both here and also in mainland Japan. Lt. Gen. Richard Zilmer directed the stand-down, a military term for a mandatory freeze in liberty status until the directed training has been received. Zilmer did not, however, issue any curfew restrictions to his 14,000 troops.
“We are cooperating fully with Okinawan authorities in their investigation,” Zilmer says, “and will continue to cooperate as this proceeds through the Japanese criminal justice system.” The three-star Marine has already personally met with his senior staff officers and command sergeants major to remind them of his policies.
Few details of the alleged rape have surfaced since the initially flurry of leaked police statements in the 48 hours following Sunday night’s incident that began at the Koza Music Town in Okinawa City. The 38-year-old Marine, Tyrone Hadnott, picked up the young schoolgirl to give her a ride on his motorcycle, then took her to his Kitanakagusuku home where he has admitted forcing her down and kissing her. He then took her in his car to a Chatan Town park, where she told authorities he raped her. Hadnott has denied the charges, but is being held by Japanese authorities in Naha City as the investigation unfolds.
Even as the Naha District Prosecutor’s Office became involved, protests erupted outside the Marines’ headquarters at Camp Butler. Hundreds of Okinawans have taken their protest signs to the base entrance, and politicians across Japan have jumped into the fray with demands the U.S. take actions to stop inappropriate actions by its troops. The Japanese Defense Minister, Shigeru Ishiba, has weighed in with fears the rape allegations with impede plans for moving Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to northern Okinawa as a move ultimately leading to removal of 8,000 Marines from the island.
Okinawa City’s anti-base mayor has questioned the ability of military leaders to maintain control of their troops. “In our city, a rape incident occurred in October, and then a taxi robbery in December, and now this,” Mitsuko Tomon said. “Each time, we’ve asked the military to take preventive measures, but things keep happening.” Chatan Town’s mayor, Masaharu Nogumi, blasted the military leadership as well, saying “there is no excuse for a man who is in a leadership position to commit a crime.”
Okinawa police, who initially released information on the incident very quickly, and gave interviews with international media, have backed off providing additional details of the investigation. Police have said Hadnott denies knowing the girl was underage, and have taken a wait-and-see posture while they await results of DNA tests taken on the young teen victim after the alleged rape.
The top American general in Japan, Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, has also visited Japan to express regrets to Governor Nakaima. Wright pledged to “do everything in our power to prevent incidents from occurring again.”
Leaders in three Okinawa municipalities, including the capital city of Naha, lashed out at the U.S. military as well, with city assemblies passing resolutions protesting the rape. Naha City, Chatan and Okinawa City Assemblies have already issued the resolutions, and at least 15 others are expected to follow suit. Okinawa City’s Assembly called the rape “absolutely impermissible,” while leaders in Chatan Town, where the rape is said to have happened, said its citizens are being “exposed to fear.” The Prefecture Assembly passed its version of a protest resolution on Thursday, calling for a reduced number of American troops, apologies to the victim, and new reassurances from the military it will better control troops stationed here.
Governor Hirokazu Nakaima has issued calls for a new review of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement. As it stands now, the governor says, “discretion is entrusted to the U.S. side, but is insufficient and a drastic review is necessary.” Still, the governor is trying to avoid the frenzy caused by a 1995 rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl by three U.S. service members, saying circumstances are different.
The Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, which gained prominence during the 1995 rape, has jumped into this incident with protests. The group’s members are calling for strict punishment for Hadnott, and wants to see American troops forced to live on the bases, or at least be under more stringent supervision. Hadnott, who is married to a Japanese woman, but separated from her, had military permission to reside off base in the area near Awase Golf Course.
The central government has taken “unusually quick action” to play down the incident. Foreign Minister Masahiko Koumura says “it will seriously affect Japan-U.S. relations” if things get out of hand. The government doesn’t want the rape to become a springboard for protests against troop realignments and construction of the new military airfield in northern Okinawan.
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda is also calling for the military to tighten up its discipline to prevent future incidents. He has met with Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima to discuss possible measures to safeguard citizens. One suggestion was installing surveillance cameras in public places across Okinawa, particularly downtown and near U.S. bases, to observe peoples’ behavior.
Senior Vice Foreign Minister Itsunori Onodera has been tasked with figuring out how to make the cameras system work. Odonera says it could work “if local municipalities agree to cooperate,” adding though, “there is opposition because of concerns about peoples’ privacy.”

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