CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — The U.S. military has made a partial apology for an alleged subway incident involving six soldiers that the local mayor says adds impetus to calls for revision of the Status of Forces Agreement.
Official apologies have become something of a sensitive issue here. Unlike blanket apologies issued in recent years for some incidents of military misbehavior, U.S. officials qualified their statement this time, pointing out that exactly what happened on the train is under investigation.
Railway police said the soldiers were acting up on a Dongducheon-to-Incheon train Saturday night — playing a “boom box” loudly while dancing and shouting — when a Korean woman in her early 20s asked them to quiet down.
That prompted the soldiers to verbally and physically harass the woman, while taking video and photos of her, police said. During the confrontation, one or more of the soldiers may have touched her breasts, they said.
Others on the subway car called police, at which point the soldiers got off at the Mangwolsa station and pulled the woman onto the train platform, according to reports. There, three of the men were arrested while the other three fled.
U.S. military officials said all six will be made available for interviews by authorities Thursday and Friday. Police said one or more could face charges of sexual harassment or molestation.
The soldiers are based at Camp Red Cloud in Uijeongbu, and the incident happened in the vicinity of the subway stop in that city, 2ID spokesman Lt. Col. Joe Scrocca said.
Two days after the incident, Lt. Col. Eric Walker, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, met with Uijeongbu Mayor Ahn Byung Yong to “express his apologies for the soldiers’ disrespectful behavior playing loud music on the train,” Scrocca said.
“He also said that we did not yet know precisely what happened on the train car as interviews with the Koreans and soldiers needed to be completed before final determination is made, Scrocca said.
Ahn said the incident “has tarnished the images of the U.S.-(South Korean) alliance and U.S. Forces Korea.” Echoing calls that a number of South Korean government officials have made after alleged wrongdoing involving U.S. servicemembers, he urged revision of the SOFA that outlines how American troops suspected of crimes are treated.
“It’s a problem that USFK servicemembers think they can avoid getting legal punishment even though they commit crimes,” he said. “South Koreans pay close attention to crimes by USFK troops because they know well the inequalities of the SOFA regulations.”
In recent years, some have criticized U.S. commanders in South Korea for making apologies immediately after alleged wrongdoing by servicemembers, saying such statements hurt the suspects’ chances for a fair trial.
American military officials have countered that blanket apologies have only been issued when suspects have confessed or it was clear the servicemembers involved had done wrong.
After one such instance in 2011, 2ID commander Maj. Gen. Edward C. Cardon said, “In (South Korean) society, apologizing is important.”