Okinawa major on trial for attempted rape seeks help from U.S. officials
By DAVID ALLEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 19, 2003
OKINAWA CITY — Marine Maj. Michael Brown is asking for help from the Department of Defense and State Department in his trial in a Japanese court for attempted rape.
In a letter sent this week to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, Brown’s attorney asked for an inquiry into whether Brown’s rights under the status of forces agreement were violated during court proceedings.
The letter was sent through the Okinawa Bar Association.
“Having them sponsor the letter should add weight to our request,” said Toshimitsu Takaesu, Brown’s chief lawyer. “It’s not just Maj. Brown asking for a clarification of the SOFA; it’s also the bar association.”
However, an Okinawa Bar Association leader said Wednesday that he forwarded the letter to the U.S. officials as a courtesy; he denied the group supports Takaesu’s claims.
The request specifically asks for a clarification of the section of the SOFA covering the right of SOFA-protected personnel to confront witnesses against them, especially their accusers, during criminal proceedings, Takaesu said.
Brown is accused of attempting to rape a Filipina barmaid working for the Camp Courtney Officers Club on Nov. 2, 2002, after she gave him a ride to his off-base home when the club closed. During the trial, the alleged victim, Victoria Nakamine, testified via closed-circuit television from another room in the courthouse.
The video screens were turned away from Brown and spectators.
“This is a direct violation of the SOFA, which allows for a defendant to confront his accuser,” Takaesu said. “Brown couldn’t even see her, let alone confront her.”
Takaesu said the court also violated the agreement by not accepting certain defense testimony, including that of a Marine military policeman who spoke to Nakamine the night she said Brown attacked her.
“He would have testified about the reluctance of the woman to name her alleged attacker,” Takaesu said. “She knew who Maj. Brown was, but she did not really want to file charges against him. She just wanted someone to pay for her lost cell phone.”
On the stand, Nakamine said she never wanted to bring Brown to court. She said she had parked on a dark road near the major’s home to talk and he started to fondle her.
However, he stopped when she complained, she said.
Nakamine said Japanese police and prosecutors coerced her into filing charges against Brown for the attempted rape and destroying her phone by throwing it out of the car when she jokingly threatened to call police.
“The MP would have testified that her demeanor was not of a woman who had just been attacked,” Takaesu said. “The SOFA entitles the defendant to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor and the court continues to deny the defense motion to call him as a witness.
“The shame of all this is that it happens to American GIs being tried in the Japanese courts all the time, and the U.S. government accedes to it and never complains,” he said.
“Their rights are being routinely violated in the Japanese courts and no one, not even the U.S. military — which should be looking out for their interests — does anything about it,” he said.
But “the content of the inquiry does not reflect any disposition of the Okinawa Bar Association in this case,” said Tsutomu Arakaki, association chairman. His response came a day after the association stated major changes were needed in the U.S.-Japan SOFA — some of them to protect the rights of Americans charged in Japanese courts.
However, the question brought up by Takaesu was not one of the issues addressed in the association’s request for the SOFA changes.
Arakaki said he forwarded Takaesu’s letter in compliance with the association’s bylaws.
“Takaesu claims and believes that there were problems in examining witnesses, but it is the court that has the jurisdiction on how to examine witnesses,” the bar association leader said. “Takaesu wants to know the U.S. government opinion on this issue. Mr. Takaesu has the right to express his opinion.”
Arakaki said he personally did not think Brown’s rights were violated when Nakamine did not appear in court in person to testify.