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To read the Okinawa papers now, you would think the main mission of U.S. military personnel there is to engage in crime sprees. A closer look at the police blotter tells a different story. According to the Okinawa prefectural government, U.S. military personnel were responsible for 5,006 crimes between 1972 and 2001. That means of the 290,814 crimes committed in Okinawa during the 29-year period, 1.7% were perpetrated by a group that comprised 4% of the population. Rapes and sexual assaults by servicemen grab the biggest headlines. Last year 2,260 rapes nationwide were reported to authorities. Statisticians don't break out how many were committed by foreigners, but this much is known: of those rapes, 267 occurred in Osaka, 260 in Tokyo and 29 in Okinawa.
It does not bode well for Woodland that his case has become a focal point of U.S.-Japan relations or that the Japanese media continue to cover every foolish escapade by U.S. servicemen. And there are many such episodes. During a single week in late July, one U.S. serviceman in Okinawa fired a BB gun at pizza-delivery boys, another tipped over a stranger's motor scooter, another set fire to a car, and a Marine lance corporal was sentenced to five years for arson attacks on stores.
The crimes haven't all been petty. U.S. troops of all races have committed atrocities in Okinawa, particularly sexual assaults. In the years following World War II, locals say, rapes by U.S. servicemen were shockingly rampant--but the U.S. military, which governed the islands then, has no record of any such crimes. In more recent years, the list of crimes makes shameful reading for any American: July 2000, a 19-year-old Marine is charged with molesting a 14-year-old girl; January 2000, a Marine lifts the skirt of a 16-year-old to take a picture of her underwear. But the crimes committed by blacks are particularly noted and remembered by Okinawans, and few seemed surprised when the three servicemen who raped the 12-year-old girl turned out to be black.
"When a suspect is black and from the military, people here assume he must be guilty," says Annette Eddie-Callagain, an African-American lawyer. "Meanwhile, whenever something happens, the rest of us think, Oh, please, don't let him be black." Eddie-Callagain and two Japanese lawyers represent Woodland, who has pleaded not guilty and argues that the sex was consensual. Eddie-Callagain admits the politically charged atmosphere and the Japanese judicial system stack the odds against her client. "Here you're guilty until proved innocent," says Eddie-Callagain, who returned to Okinawa in 1995 to set up an independent practice after leaving the Air Force. "In Japan the criminal-justice system is run by prosecutors," she says. "Defense lawyers are just bystanders."
Though prosecutors here don't discuss cases before or during trial, their strongest evidence appears to be that Woodland admits to having sex with the woman. But in Japan, winning a rape case is never a cinch--particularly for a woman who admits to having an active sex life, which can scuttle her credibility. "The defendant's lawyer can use the number of a victim's sexual partners as evidence," says Yukiko Tsunoda, a lawyer in Shizuoka. "To win a rape case, a plaintiff often must prove violence, a threat to her life, and that she resisted with all her might."