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Japan may get custody of U.S. airman Friday

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley says Japanese authorities questioned Woodland again Thursday.  

By Chris Plante and Rebecca MacKinnon
CNN Washington Bueau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard Baker is expected to announce Friday that a U.S. airman suspected of raping a woman last week on Okinawa will be handed over to Japanese authorities for legal action, U.S. officials said.

Baker issued a statement in Tokyo Friday morning that said, "We are still working on final details. We are hopeful we will resolve the issue yet today."

Air Force Staff Sgt. Timothy Woodland, 24, is accused of raping a Japanese woman in a parking lot near a several nightclubs.

Defense Department sources told CNN several U.S. military members saw the incident June 29. At least one Marine reported the woman appeared to be protesting during the alleged incident, the sources said.

Woodland has denied he raped the woman, and sources have told CNN he claims any sexual contact with the woman was consensual.

CNN's Rebecca Mackinnon reports on the ongoing rape investigation in Okinawa, Japan

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Woodland arrived Friday at a police station in Okinawa City. He has been reporting for questioning to the police station for several days in a row.

U.S. military spokeswoman, Master Sgt. Leah Gonzalez in Tokyo, said it is her understanding a decision has been made, but she would not characterize what the decision is. She said any announcement on Woodland's handover would come from Baker.

CNN has learned Japanese authorities performed a polygraph test on Woodland and they say he did not pass it. U.S. officials have objected to the use of a lie-detector test in the absence of legal counsel or of U.S. representation of any kind.

The U.S. military's commander in chief of the Pacific, Adm. Dennis Blair, has recommended Woodland be handed over because the Japanese government has agreed to a number of U.S. demands regarding the airman's treatment, officials said.

Pentagon sources said the Japanese have agreed to allow legal counsel to be present during any further interrogations and to allow Woodland access to U.S. Embassy personnel. The Japanese also have also agreed to treat the accused airman in a "humane" fashion, the sources said.

Woodland has already undergone 38 hours of questioning in 11 sessions. Japanese law limits interrogations to no more than 10 hours per day.

There was no time given for Baker's announcement. The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said no news conference was planned.

U.S. and Japanese officials have been in "nearly continuous" talks in Washington and through Baker since July 2 about the possible handover, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said.

The questions surrounding Woodland's status led to a number of heated conference calls between officials at the State Department and the Pentagon Thursday, officials said.

"The State Department is only interested in diplomatic relations between the two countries," said one irritated Pentagon official. "They could give a rat's ass about this sergeant."

The handover could defuse tensions between the two nations, other U.S. defense officials said.

A Pentagon spokesman said Woodland had received legal advice from the U.S. staff judge advocate and Thursday retained a Japanese lawyer at his expense.

Woodland is stationed at Kadena Air Base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa. Since the incident, he has been in U.S. custody on the base there, officials said.

Under a "Status of Forces Agreement" with Japan, U.S. military members do not have to be handed over to Japanese authorities unless they have been indicted.

Following indictment, the member is entitled to treatment and rights similar to those afforded under the U.S. justice system, Pentagon officials said.

Without a formal indictment, however, Japan is not automatically required to give those rights to service members. Although an arrest warrant was issued for Woodland on Monday, he has not been indicted.

The conviction rate in Japanese courts is reported to be greater than 90 percent, much higher than conviction rates in the United States.

• Virtual Okinawa

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