The commander of the U.S. forces in Japan on Friday implemented an immediate and mandatory curfew that for the first time will affect all military personnel in the country.
The move was taken as part of a days-long damage-control campaign to allay tensions following the arrest of two U.S. Navy sailors involved in the alleged rape of a local woman in Okinawa earlier this week.
“I want to personally apologize for the grief and trauma the victim has endured and the anger it has caused among people in Okinawa,” said Lt. Gen. Sam Angelella, Commander of the U.S. Forces in Japan, in a statement released Friday evening. He added: “We will continue to do all we can to ensure the U.S.-Japan relationship remains strong.”
The day the rape was first reported on Wednesday morning in Japan, the U.S. faced a storm of protests from officials in the Japanese government and in Okinawa. Since then, following a swift American government promise to deal severely with the situation, complaints appear to have died down.
The curfew requires the some 50,000 U.S. military personnel to either be on a U.S. military installation or in a private residence between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. If they are on temporary duty, or have been given leave or pass, they must be in their place of lodging. The order does not apply to family members or civilians assigned in Japan.
The U.S. military has enforced mandatory curfews in Japan following incidents in the past, but they have been limited to just one area like Okinawa, where the bulk of U.S. troops are stationed. Underlining the sensitivity of the issue that could strain U.S.-Japan military ties already facing tests on multiple fronts, Friday’s announcement marks the first time the order affects all personnel in Japan.
Reports of rape allegedly committed by U.S. military personnel are a particularly emotionally charged and delicate issue in Japan. The rape of a 12-year-old Japanese girl by three American military men in 1995 triggered massive protests and widespread debate about the U.S. presence in the country.
The curfew is “indefinite.” The military will also review the liberty policies – the time when a service member is not at work nor on official leave status — that are in place for each of the respective services in Japan “in an effort to create one overarching U.S. Forces Japan” policy, said Maj. Neal Fisher, deputy director of public affairs for U.S. Forces Japan.
Until now, there have been inconsistent policies across the services that, for example, allowed some servicemen to stay out later than others of the same rank. In the case of the two sailors, a uniform system would have meant under the existing policy they would have been required to be back at their assigned lodging by midnight. Because the two 23-year-olds were on temporary assignment from a reserve unit based in Fort Worth, Texas they didn’t have a “home unit” in Japan.
“They fell into a category that unfortunately kind of straddled a couple of different (policy) areas and we want to fix those,” said Maj. Fisher.
The victim alleged that two men attacked her in the parking lot of her apartment building at 4 a.m. on Tuesday. Japanese media reports have said the two men had been drinking that night.
“I’m not sure any policy would have really stopped what they were alleged to have done. We have a microcosm of the U.S. in the military and unfortunately we sometimes have folks who do bad things,” said Maj. Fisher.