Incidents with U.S. Soldiers in Okinawa: Delayed Notification for Cases Undermines Trust

Why do there continue to be sexual assault cases involving U.S. soldiers? These are despicable crimes and absolutely unforgivable. The U.S. forces in Japan should implement thorough measures to prevent such incidents.

Last December, a female minor was abducted and assaulted by an airman from the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture. In March, the Naha District Public Prosecutors Office indicted the airman on charges of indecent kidnapping and nonconsensual sexual intercourse.

In May, a marine at Camp Schwab in northern Okinawa Prefecture assaulted and injured an adult woman. Prefectural police made an emergency arrest of the marine, and the Naha District Public Prosecutors Office indicted him last month on charges of nonconsensual sexual intercourse resulting in injury.

The fear and despair of the victims are immeasurable. Many municipal assemblies in Okinawa Prefecture have adopted resolutions calling on the U.S. government to compensate the victims. There have also been protests around Kadena Air Base. The people of Okinawa are understandably outraged.

In 1995, an elementary school girl was assaulted by three U.S. soldiers in Okinawa Prefecture, an incident that sent shock waves through Japan and triggered the reorganization of U.S. military bases.

Since then, however, there has been no end to sex crimes committed by U.S. military personnel and civilian U.S. base workers.

Each time an incident occurs, the U.S. forces in Japan take such measures as restricting military personnel from going out for a certain period of time and strengthening training, but it can hardly be said that these measures have been effective.

The U.S. government must reform the discipline of the U.S. military. It should move quickly to implement effective measures to prevent crimes, and thoroughly explain these measures to the central and prefectural governments.

The U.S. forces in Okinawa play a vital role in ensuring the security not only of Japan but also of the Indo-Pacific region.

If anti-U.S. base sentiment among the residents of the prefecture increases, the stability of the U.S. base there could be undermined. This is also a serious matter for Japan’s security, and both the U.S. and Japanese governments need to focus their efforts on restoring trust with the prefecture.

For its part, Okinawa Prefecture has criticized the central government for delays in providing information to the prefecture in the two latest incidents.

In March, after the airman was indicted, the Foreign Ministry asked U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel to enforce strict discipline and prevent similar incidents but did not inform the prefecture of what had happened. It is said that the reason for not informing the prefecture was that it might have hindered the investigation and infringed on the privacy of the victim.

This raises the question of whether the government intended to delay the disclosure of the cases under the guise of protecting the victims. At the very least, they should have been made public after the indictments.

If the prefecture had known about the case in which the airman was indicted in March and had called attention to the situation, the May incident could possibly have been prevented.

The government must hurry to reduce the burden of hosting U.S. military bases, which is disproportionately placed on Okinawa. This would help ease the concerns of the people of Okinawa.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 3, 2024)