July 22, 2024

Japanese prosecutors have charged a US Air Force member with allegedly kidnapping and raping an underage girl just before Christmas last year, Okinawa police confirmed to CNN on Wednesday.

Brennon R. E. Washington, 25, was indicted on March 27 on charges of “non-consensual sexual intercourse” and “indecent kidnapping”, a court spokesperson in Naha, Okinawa’s capital, told CNN, adding that the US military handed the serviceman over to the Japanese authorities on the same day.

Washington was released on bail and transferred to the Kadena US Air Base in Okinawa for custody, according to a government spokesperson.

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His trial will begin on July 12, according to the Naha District Court spokesperson.

The court’s spokesperson told CNN they do not have any details regarding the airman’s legal representation.

The prosecution comes at a time when Washington and Tokyo are deepening their military alliance – in part as geopolitical tensions rise with both China and North Korea.

The alleged rape is the latest in a history of criminal cases involving US personnel in Okinawa, home to one of the largest US foreign military bases, and could exacerbate tensions with residents who have long opposed the presence of American troops and weaponry on the island.

The presence of V-22 Ospreys, a tiltrotor military aircraft, has also been a regular source of anger and protest in Okinawa following a series of recent crashes and noise complaints.

Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki told reporters on Tuesday thatr the allegations of rape and kidnap were “extremely regrettable,” adding it was necessary “to strongly protest against the US military and other related organisations”.

The governor also said his office will “take a tough stance in dealing with the situation.”

Washington, the indicted serviceman, was stationed with the 18 Logistics Readiness Squadron at the Kadena Air Base in Japan, according to the US Air Force, which confirmed his rank and service record to CNN.

“The 18th Wing is aware of a sexual assault allegation against a Kadena Airman involving a Japanese citizen,” 18th Wing Spokesperson, 1st Lieutenant Alvin G. Nelson III, told CNN on Wednesday.

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“We understand and share the local community’s concerns regarding this case,” Nelson said, adding that Wing leadership was “deeply concerned by the severity of this alleged crime,” and has been working with local authorities to investigate the allegations.

“All US service members are expected to uphold the highest standards, and the US military is committed to holding accountable those who are convicted of criminal acts,” the Wing spokesperson said.

The indictment comes nearly 30 years after three US servicemen raped a 12-year-old Okinawa schoolgirl in 1995, sparking a backlash against the US military on the island.

In 2016, the rape and murder of a 20-year-old woman by a former US base worker in Okinawa triggered mass protests in the island’s capital, with tens of thousands of residents demanding the US move its bases outside of Okinawa. The fallout resulted in curfews for US personnel on the island.

In another crime involving US personnel in Japan, a US Navy officer killed two Japanese nationals while driving down Mount Fuji in 2021.

Masataka Okano, Japan’s Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, called for stricter discipline and lodged a protest with the US Ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, on March 27, the day Washington was indicted, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

CNN reached out to the US Embassy in Japan, which said it was aware of the case but will not comment. The embassy told CNN in a phone call to contact Kadena Air Base, where Washington was based, for information on the case. CNN has contacted Kadena Air Base for comment.

Japan and the US have a mutual defence alliance and a decades-old military partnership that has only been deepened in recent years by regional threats, particularly North Korea and an ever more assertive China.

US President Joe Biden met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at Camp David in August 2023 in a show of solidarity and force against Beijing.

In what Biden hailed as a “new era of cooperation,” the three powers committed to a yearly trilateral summit, intelligence sharing and annual military exercises.

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