TOKYO (AFP) - Two US sailors who raped a Japanese woman in Okinawa last October were jailed on Friday for a crime that reignited long-smouldering anger against the American military in Japan.
The Naha District Court in Okinawa said Seaman Christopher Browning, 24, should go to prison for 10 years for the brutal rape of the young woman, from whom he also stole 7,000 yen ($75).
Petty officer 3rd class Skyler Dozierwalker, 23, was jailed for nine years, also for raping the woman before dawn in a car park.
Browning and Dozierwalker, who were not stationed in Okinawa, had been drinking on the evening of the attack, and “were contemptible and violent”, Judge Hideyuki Suzuki said.
“The ruling may seem severe, but the damage to the feelings of the victim and residents is more severe,” he said in a statement after the case, according to Kyodo News.
During an earlier court appearance the two men had admitted the rape, which caused outrage on the sub-tropical islands and beyond, and led to a nationwide night-time curfew on all US military personnel in Japan.
Despite the curfew, misconduct involving servicemen, much of it drunken, has continued to fuel anti-US sentiment in communities with bases.
Wary of yet another public relations disaster, the US moved quickly to try to lower the temperature immediately after the rape, with ambassador John Roos holding a special news conference at which he appeared visibly angry and upset.
“The United States will cooperate in every way possible with the Japanese authorities to address this terrible situation.” “I understand the anger that many people feel with respect to this reported incident,” he said. “I have a 25-year-old daughter myself, so this is very personal to me.”
The attack came amid already high tensions in Okinawa, which saw demonstrations last year against the US deployment to the island of the tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft.
The aircraft’s perceived poor safety record has been picked over in Japanese media and by local opponents, but commentators say it is a proxy issue and resentment over what many see as an unfair burden is at the root of objections.
Okinawa is the reluctant host to more than half of the 47,000 American service personnel in Japan, and the crimes, noise and risk of accidents associated with their bases regularly provoke ire in the local community.
In 1995 the gang rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by US servicemen sparked mass protests resulting in a US-Japan agreement to reduce the huge US military presence on the Okinawan chain.
Okinawans say other parts of Japan should take more of the burden and want bases closed or reduced in size.
But with islands stretching out from mainland Japan to Taiwan that obscure rising China’s access to the Pacific, Okinawa is too strategically important for either Washington or Tokyo to be able to countenance a large-scale drawdown.