The Naha District Court building in Naha, Okinawa, on Jan. 30, 2024.

The Naha District Court building in Naha, Okinawa, on Jan. 30, 2024. (Mari Higa/Stars and Stripes)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – The U.S. military has yet to announce new restrictions on troops stationed in Japan despite calls from local authorities after two service members were indicted for alleged sexual crimes on Okinawa.

“There is currently no update right now in terms of any changes to liberty policy at the moment,” Gunnery Sgt. Jonathan Wright, spokesman for U.S. Forces Japan, told Stars and Stripes by phone Monday.

Tensions have escalated on Okinawa, where the U.S. military stations approximately 30,000 service members, more than 50% of its troops in Japan, following disclosures in late June of the two indictments by the Naha Public Prosecutors Office.

The commanding generals of Okinawa-based III Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Corps Installations Pacific directed their commanders to “reinforce their expectations of standards and conduct across the force,” III MEF spokesman 1st Lt. Owen Hitchcock said by email Monday.

“We take seriously the recent incidents involving U.S. service members stationed in Okinawa and are fully cooperating with local authorities throughout the course of each case,” Hitchcock wrote. “We provide every member of our force regular education and training throughout their careers to ensure service members follow local laws and U.S. military regulations. We will work closely with our Japanese allies to ensure U.S. personnel maintain the highest standards of behavior and conduct in support of our mutual security.”

In the first indictment, an Air Force member assigned to Kadena Air Base, Brennon R. E. Washington, 25, was charged March 27 with kidnapping and sexually assaulting a minor in December. The second indictment, June 17, was disclosed earlier this month and charged Marine Lance Cpl. Jamel Clayton, 21, with attempting to sexually assault a woman May 26 in Yomitan village.

The cases were not disclosed to the Okinawan government until court dates were scheduled, prompting protests from Gov. Denny Tamaki and other Okinawan officials. A special committee of Okinawan legislators drafted a protest letter to U.S. authorities Thursday urging the U.S. government to take measures to prevent further incidents, including revising the status of forces agreement.

Japan’s Defense Minister Minoru Kihara on June 28 said his office asked U.S. authorities to enforce discipline and take measures to prevent another incident. “We think that the important thing is that the U.S. side considers and applies a concrete preventive measure. And we’d like to prevent any crimes or accidents, cooperating with the U.S. side,” Kihara said.

Japan’s investigative authorities have begun sharing information about cases with Okinawa prefecture “as much as possible,” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi announced at a press conference Friday.

Under the new system, authorities will share information with the Foreign Affairs Ministry once investigations are concluded, and the ministry will share this information with the local government through the Ministry of Defense, “if the investigative authorities find that the crime was committed by the suspect,” Hayashi said.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel met with Japan’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Masataka Okano on Friday and reaffirmed the “U.S. commitment to cooperate with local authorities in support of the investigations.”

“It is clear the protections we have in place are insufficient,” Emanuel said in the release. “We are not meeting the standards we set for ourselves and the standards that we hold for the community. We need to do better and fix this fast.”

A 1995 case in which a 12-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by three U.S. service members on Okinawa led to a 1996 agreement between the U.S. and Japan to move Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan city to Camp Schwab in the Henoko region in the north of the island.

However, continued protests and disapprovals from Tamaki’s government repeatedly delayed construction on the project. The work resumed in January, but movement of quarried material was halted early this month after a truck hit and killed a security guard and injured a protester at the port of Awa.

author picture
Keishi Koja is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in August 2022. He studied International Communication at the University of Okinawa and previously worked in education.
Brian McElhiney is a reporter for Stars and Stripes based in Okinawa, Japan. He has worked as a music reporter and editor for publications in New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and Oregon. One of his earliest journalistic inspirations came from reading Stars and Stripes as a kid growing up in Okinawa.

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