6 Marines on Okinawa arrested for drinking-driving in just over a week

In this file photo from February 2008, demonstrators stand outside the Headquarters Gate of Camp Foster to protest the alleged rape of an Okinawan girl. The banner proclaims opposition to a new Marine Corps air facility planned for Camp Schwab to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. The white sign at right reads, 'Okinawa never welcomes U.S. forces.'



YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Marine Corps in just over a week has been hit by a rash of criminal allegations — mostly drinking-and-driving incidents — a marked jump in incidents following more than two years of relative calm.

Since May 30, six Marines have been arrested for varying charges of drinking alcohol and driving, police said. The arrests have come during the first year since Okinawa servicemembers have again been able to drink freely off base, a right restored only since a Japan-wide liberty policy was issued Dec. 9.

A seventh Marine, based at Camp Hansen, is in Okinawa police custody after being arrested Saturday on suspicion of robbery resulting in bodily injury, police told Stars and Stripes on Monday. The incidents come at a time of intensified protests over the construction of a new runway for Marine aircraft at Camp Schwab — a project supported by the national government but bitterly opposed by Okinawa’s newly elected governor.

Eleven servicemembers have been arrested in 2015 for what Okinawa deems as major crimes — one more than during all of last year.

Okinawa police do not include driving while intoxicated in their servicemember major crimes statistics.

Marine officials in Okinawa did not respond Monday to a request for comment in regard to any actions they might consider in light of the arrests, which were reported by several Japanese national media outlets.

The Camp Hansen Marine arrested over the weekend stands accused of punching a 21-year-old Japanese man in the face and robbing him of 4,000 yen ($32) outside a building in the Kumoji section of Naha at about 5:25 a.m. May 24, an Okinawa prefectural police spokesman said Monday.

The Japanese man suffered a broken left cheekbone, police said.

The Marine was identified and arrested in a parking lot in Chatan at about 1:35 a.m. Saturday. Police said they are also looking for another man suspected of accompanying the alleged assailant during the May 24 incident.

Police sent the Marine’s case to the Naha District prosecutor’s office Monday, the police spokesman said.

Aside from potential legal action by Japanese authorities, he also could face military discipline for failing to abide by a U.S. Forces Japan curfew.

All servicemembers must be either on base or in a residence between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. and must also refrain from drinking off base between midnight and 5 a.m., according to USFJ’s liberty policy.

The liberty policy, while unpopular among servicemembers, is credited by commands with reducing crime and preserving political relations with Japan.

Two visiting sailors were arrested for raping a woman on Okinawa in 2012, an incident which stoked tensions on the island and led to liberty restrictions for servicemembers of all ranks.

The two sailors later pleaded guilty and were sentenced to 10 and nine years in Japanese prison.

While restrictions were loosened in other parts of Japan, Okinawa servicemembers remained barred from drinking off base at bars and were limited to two drinks with meals at restaurants until December.

Ten active-duty servicemembers were arrested on Okinawa in both 2013 and 2014, down from 37 in 2012, according to Okinawa Prefectural Police statistics.

Only one servicemember in 2014 was arrested for a class of “heinous crimes” that include murder, rape, robbery and arson. The one case, which involved a rape charge, was later dropped by prosecutors.

Okinawa, an island of about 1.4 million people, is home to more than half of all U.S. forces in Japan. Military officials prize the island for its strategic location in the Asia-Pacific region, but many residents have called for Japan and the United States to reduce the military’s footprint.

A bilateral agreement is slated to eventually rebase thousands of Marines on the U.S. territory of Guam, pending a series of construction projects planned for the island.

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