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Family of accused Marine fighting for SOFA changes

By DAVID ALLEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 30, 2003

NAHA, Okinawa — Marine Maj. Michael Brown is getting ready to fight back.

Brown, 39, a 19-year career officer, is charged with attempted rape and destruction of personal property. He is accused of attacking an Okinawa resident — a women who offered him a ride home from the Camp Courtney officers club Nov. 2.

While his new defense team scrambles to prepare for a Feb. 13 court date, Brown’s family in the States is beginning a campaign to change how American servicemembers are treated under the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement.

The woman, a foreign resident of Okinawa married to an Okinawan, has said Brown attempted to rape her after directing her to drive to a deserted road near the base. Brown has said he spurned her offer for sex; he told police he never attacked the woman.

He has been in Japanese custody since his Dec. 19 indictment. The Naha District Court has rejected three requests for bail.

Last week Brown fired his original attorney, Masayuki Akamine, and hired two high-profile attorneys — a former Okinawa prosecutor and an American who specializes in representing Americans overseas.

“We’re looking into filing a federal lawsuit challenging the SOFA,” said Raymond “Buck” Brown, who has set up a Web site, www.majorbrown.com, to support his younger brother. “The current SOFA forces our military to hand over our men and women in uniform accused of crimes to a system in which they automatically relinquish the basic rights they are guaranteed as citizens of the United States.

“In the Japanese judicial system there is no due process; no right to have a lawyer present during interrogations, which can take place for up to 23 days while the accused is kept in solitary confinement,” he said.

“We’re going to fight this SOFA,” he said. “Even after this is over, we will continue to fight this.

“We’re particularly upset with the denial of bail,” he added. “The judges said they were afraid that if my brother was released he would destroy evidence. What evidence? The police already collected their evidence and filed their report with the prosecutor. The prosecutor sought and obtained the indictments. The investigation is closed.”

The family also is upset that there is no provision for a speedy trial in the Japanese system. Hearings often take place for a half day every two weeks or so and the trials can last for months.

“He could be in jail literally forever,” Brown said.

Japanese police sought Brown’s arrest earlier, but U.S. officials decided to adhere to the SOFA and not hand him over until his indictment.

They did, however, restrict the major, assigned to the command element of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, to Camp Courtney. They also made him available for intensive interrogation sessions at the Okinawa police station in Gushikawa.

Brown did not have access to a lawyer during questioning.

Toshimitsu Takaesu, Brown’s new Japanese attorney, says the Japanese system needs a major overhaul. He and New York attorney Michael Griffith called the system skewed in favor of obtaining convictions at the expense of the rights of the accused.

“We will fight to modernize Japan’s court system,” Takaesu said.

Some Japanese legal experts said the change, especially in providing pre-trial representation for suspects, is long overdue.

Keiichi Muraoka, criminal law professor at the Hitotsuhaba University in Tokyo, said Japanese criminal law does not allow an attorney to be present during interrogations by police and prosecutors.

“That needs to be changed,” Muraoka said. “An individual is forced to counter alone against state authority. It is highly possible that confessions are coerced under such an environment.”

He said Japanese authorities believe face-to-face intense interrogation “is the only way to get a person to reveal the truth.” They claim that the presence of a lawyer — an unwelcome third party — disturbs the fact-finding process, he said.

“The presence of a third party is needed to assure due process and that fair, transparent procedures are undertaken,” Muraoka said.

Griffith frequently has lashed out at Japan’s legal system, claiming his experience has shown that “few people get a fair shake when 99 percent of the cases result in conviction and 95 percent of the defendants sign confessions.”

Muraoka said Japan has such a high conviction rate because it leaves the decision whether to bring cases to trial solely to prosecutors. There are no preliminary hearings or grand juries.

Brown’s trial is to begin Feb. 13.

“We have a lot of work to do before then,” Griffith said in a phone interview from his Southampton, N.Y., home. He was to travel to Washington, D.C., with Brown’s brother to ask Texas representatives to write letters of support that may help Brown gain release on bail.

Although Griffith has accused the U.S. military of being used as “an agent for the Japanese police,” the family has been supportive of the Marines.

Raymond Brown said he believes the Marines were doing all they could to aid his brother.

“But their hands are tied by the unfair SOFA,” he said. “They are in the bad position of having to be diplomats and soldiers at the same time.”

Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.


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