US serviceman who claimed to be victim of racism is jailed for rape on Okinawa

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The Independent Online

An American serviceman on the island of Okinawa was jailed for two and a half years for rape yesterday, in a case which provoked accusations of racism and strained the military alliance between the United States and Japan.

An American serviceman on the island of Okinawa was jailed for two and a half years for rape yesterday, in a case which provoked accusations of racism and strained the military alliance between the United States and Japan.

Timothy Woodland, 25, an air force sergeant, was convicted of assaulting his Japanese victim, 24, on the bonnet of a parked car outside a cluster of bars in the town of Chatan in June last year.

Woodland said the woman consented to sex; his lawyers claimed their client, who is black, was the victim of racial prejudice.

The case cast a shadow over last summer's meeting between the Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, and President George Bush after the American authorities refused to hand over Woodland even though a warrant for his arrest had been issued.

Soichi Hayashida, the judge presiding at the district court in Naha, the capital of Okinawa, said: "Testimony offered by the victim is supported by several witness accounts, and statements by the accused cannot be trusted. It was nothing other than rape, because the victim screamed and refused.

"The victim suffered both physically and psychologically. But the accused made no effort to compensate her, and hurt her profoundly after the incident by insisting on excuses."

The rape was the latest in a string of highly publicised crimes by US servicemen that have galvanised opposition to the huge American presence on the island. In 1995, there were mass demonstrations on the island after three US Marines gang-raped a girl, aged 12. As a consequence, the US and Japanese governments were forced to make plans to reduce the American presence.

Yesterday's case threatened to revive the movement to remove the bases, as well as raising questions about the standards of justice and attitudes to black people. The victim had been drinking in a bar known to be a haunt of women referred to by the slang term kokujo – Japanese women who seek out black men.

She claimed she had been sitting with Woodland in a car outside the bar and got out when he tried to force her into a sexual act. He caught her and raped her. Woodland said the woman embraced him as they walked through the car park and consented to sex.

Annette Eddie-Callaghan, one of Woodland's lawyers, said: "When a suspect is black and from the military, people here assume he must be guilty.

"Meanwhile, whenever something happens, the rest of us think, 'oh, please, don't let him be black'."

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