Japan charges U.S. airman with rape
TOKYO, Japan -- Japanese prosecutors have formally charged a U.S. serviceman with the rape of a woman on Okinawa island last month.
A spokesman for the district prosecutor's office in Okinawa, said Air Force Staff Sgt. Timothy Woodland, was charged with rape for the June 29 attack on a 20-year-old Japanese woman.
The case -- the latest in a string of controversial incidents involving U.S troops -- has sparked anger and calls for a withdrawal of the 27,000 service people stationed on the island.
Okinawa is host to about half the U.S. military presence in Japan and one-fourth of that in Asia.
Woodland insists that although he had sex with the woman, it was consensual and he did not rape her.
He was arrested on July 6, almost a week after the incident took place, sparking anger among Japanese who saw it as an insult to the nation's justice system.
Washington's delay in handing him over has revived calls to revise a pact on the status of the U.S. military presence in Japan.
The incident has further frayed relations between the two countries, already complicated by Washington's call for Tokyo to back its controversial missile defense shield program.
It also comes at a time when U.S. President George W. Bush is hoping to tighten security ties with America's key Asian ally.
Woodland's defense lawyer, Tsuyoshi Arakaki, is expected to meet with prosecutors to set a date for the beginning of the trial.
Court officials said they did not know when the meeting would take place.
Arakaki was preparing an attempt to get Woodland released on bail, said an official in Arakaki's legal office.
He made a similar plea for bail on Wednesday, but a judge denied it, reportedly amid concerns that Woodland would dissuade witnesses in the U.S. military from testifying.
If convicted, Woodland faces a minimum of two years in prison, to be served in Japan.
Woodland is only the second U.S. serviceman to be given up to Japanese investigators before the filing of formal charges.
The case has sparked calls in Japan to revise the U.S.-Japan agreement governing the nearly 50,000 American military personnel in Japan.
Under that agreement, the United States is not required to hand over criminal suspects until they are formally charged.
But the 1995 rape of a Japanese schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen on Okinawa prompted Washington to agree to give "sympathetic consideration" to handing over U.S. military personnel suspected of "heinous" crimes prior to their indictment,
The agreement, however, does not oblige them to do so and Woodland's handover was delayed while U.S. officials received assurances his rights would be protected.
Some human rights activists have charged that Japan's lengthy detention period -- up to 23 days -- before indictment gives police time to force confessions out of suspects.
Japanese Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka told U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in a meeting in Rome on Wednesday that there was "growing sentiment" for improvements in the pact.
Powell was reported to have agreed the two countries should discuss ways of improving it.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has said revising the pact was a topic for future debate but the priority now was to make the agreement work better.
Any changes would likely spark calls for revisions in similar agreements the United States has with other allies, including South Korea, analysts said.
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