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Documents reveal chaotic U.S. military sex-abuse record in Japan

Feb. 9, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
In this March 23, 2008, file photo, protesters shout a slogan during a rally against an alleged rape in February of a 14-year-old girl by an American serviceman in Okinawa. An Associated Press investigation into the military's handling of sexual assaults in Japan has found a pattern of random and inconsistent judgments in which most offenders are not incarcerated. Instead, commanders have ordered 'nonjudicial punishments' that ranged from docked pay to a letter of reprimand.
In this March 23, 2008, file photo, protesters shout a slogan during a rally against an alleged rape in February of a 14-year-old girl by an American serviceman in Okinawa. An Associated Press investigation into the military's handling of sexual assaults in Japan has found a pattern of random and inconsistent judgments in which most offenders are not incarcerated. Instead, commanders have ordered 'nonjudicial punishments' that ranged from docked pay to a letter of reprimand. (Itsuo Inouye / AP)
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More than 1,000 summaries of sex-crime cases involving U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan, which The Associated Press obtained following Freedom of Information Act requests filed with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Naval Criminal Investigative Service, are displayed at the AP office in Tokyo. (Shizuo Kambayashi / AP)

AP findings on US military sex crimes in Japan

Hundreds of records detailing sex-crime investigations involving U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan show most offenders were not incarcerated, suspects received light punishments after being accused of serious violations, and victims increasingly were wary of cooperating with investigators.


According to the Department of Defense documents:


Navy use of nonjudicial punishment on rise

Data from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which handles the Navy and Marine Corps, show that Navy commanders in Japan increasingly are resolving sexual assault cases through nonjudicial punishment rather than courts-martial. From 2006 to 2009, they favored courts-martial, but from 2010 to 2012 they were three times more likely to choose nonjudicial punishment. In 2012, just one Navy sex-abuse case went to a court-martial, while 13 were handled through nonjudicial punishment.


Most don’t get prison time

The NCIS documents show that out of 473 Marines and sailors accused of sex offenses, 179 were given some punishment, and 68 went to prison. Marines were accused more frequently than sailors, though they are stationed in Japan in similar numbers. But Marines were three times more likely to get prison sentences, which sailors received in only 15 cases over more than seven years. The Air Force data showed that out of 124 airmen accused over five years, 17 received prison time and 42 received some other punishment. In 21 Air Force cases, the sole punishment was a letter of reprimand.


Lesser charges common

In 46 Marine cases and 22 Navy cases, those initially accused of a violent sex crime ended up being punished for nonviolent or nonsexual offenses. The most common such charges were assault, failure to obey orders, adultery, having sex in barracks and fraternization.


Most victims in military

Of more than 620 serious sex-crime allegations against military personnel, at least 323 of the alleged victims also were in the military. Civilians were the accusers in 94 cases, but in nearly 200 cases the alleged victim’s status was unclear. Among U.S. military sexual assault reports worldwide in the 2011-12 fiscal year, 2,949 of the 3,604 victims were service members, according to the department’s annual report to Congress on sexual assault in the military.


Victims giving up

The NCIS data show a growing number of accusers dropping out of investigations, either by recanting the allegations or simply declining to cooperate further. In 2006, 13 accusers recanted or stopped cooperating, and 28 did so in 2012. The Air Force data showed a decline, and the Army data was incomplete.


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The Associated Press obtained more than 1,000 summaries of sex-crime cases involving U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan, following Freedom of Information Act requests filed with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and NCIS.


More than 600 of the documents come from the NCIS, which investigates Navy and Marine Corps cases. They cover allegations of sex crimes filed between mid-2005 and early 2013. More than 400 additional documents came from the Air Force, (covering cases from 2005 to 2010), the Army (2006-12), the Marines (2009-12) and the Navy (2011-2013). The AP reviewed all the documents but did not use the Marine or Navy data to compile overall statistics, to avoid duplicating parts of the more extensive and detailed NCIS data.

TOKYO — At U.S. military bases in Japan, most service members found culpable in sex crimes in recent years did not go to prison, according to internal Department of Defense documents. Instead, in a review of hundreds of cases filed in America’s largest overseas military installation, offenders were fined, demoted, restricted to their bases or removed from the military.

In about 30 cases, a letter of reprimand was the only punishment.

More than 1,000 records, obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act, describe hundreds of cases in graphic detail, painting a disturbing picture of how senior American officers prosecute and punish troops accused of sex crimes. The handling of allegations verged on the chaotic, with seemingly strong cases often reduced to lesser charges. In two rape cases, commanders overruled recommendations to court-martial and dropped the charges instead.

Even when military authorities agreed a crime had been committed, the suspect was unlikely to serve time. Of 244 service members whose punishments were detailed in the records, only a third of them were incarcerated.

The analysis of the reported sex crimes, filed between 2005 and early 2013, shows a pattern of random and inconsistent judgments:

■ The Marines were far more likely than other branches to send offenders to prison, with 53 prison sentences out of 270 cases. By contrast, of the Navy’s 203 cases, more than 70 were court-martialed or punished in some way. Only 15 were sentenced to time behind bars.

■ The Air Force was the most lenient. Of 124 sex crimes, the only punishment for 21 offenders was a letter of reprimand.

■ Victims increasingly declined to cooperate with investigators or recanted, a sign they may have been losing confidence in the system. In 2006, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which handles the Navy and Marine Corps, reported 13 such cases; in 2012, it was 28.

In two cases, both adjudicated by the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, the accusers said they were sexually abused after nights of heavy drinking, and both had some evidence to support their cases. One suspect was sentenced to six years in prison, but the other was confined to his base for 30 days instead of getting jail time.

Taken together, the cases illustrate how far military leaders have to go to reverse a spiraling number of sexual assault reports. The records also may give weight to members of Congress pushing to strip senior officers of their authority to decide whether serious crimes, including sexual assault cases, go to trial.

“How many more rapes do we have to endure to wait and see what reforms are needed?” asked Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., chair of the Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee. She leads a vocal group of lawmakers from both political parties who argue that further reforms to the military’s legal system are needed.

Air Force Col. Alan Metzler, deputy director of the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said the department “has been very transparent that we do have a problem.” He said a raft of changes in military law is creating a culture where victims trust that their allegations will be taken seriously and perpetrators will be punished.

The number of sexual assault cases taken to courts-martial has grown steadily — from 42 percent in 2009 to 68 percent in 2012, according to DOD figures. In 2012, of the 238 service members convicted, 74 percent served time.

That trend is not reflected in the Japan cases. Out of 473 sexual assault allegations within Navy and Marine Corps units, just 116, or 24 percent, ended up in courts-martial. In the Navy, one case in 2012 led to court-martial, compared to 13 in which commanders used non-judicial penalties instead.

The authority to decide how to prosecute serious criminal allegations would be taken away from senior officers under a bill crafted by Gillibrand that is expected to come before the Senate this week. The bill would place that responsibility with the trial counsel who has prosecutorial experience.

Senior U.S. military leaders oppose the plan.

“Taking the commander out of the loop never solved any problem,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the personnel subcommittee’s top Republican. “It would dismantle the military justice system beyond sexual assaults. It would take commanders off the hook for their responsibility to fix this problem.”

Gillibrand and her supporters argue that the cultural shift the military needs won’t happen if commanders retain their current role in the legal system.

“Skippers have had this authority since the days of John Paul Jones and sexual assaults still occur,” said Lory Manning, a retired Navy captain and senior fellow at the Women in the Military Project. “And this is where we are.”

Lardner reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Leon Drouin-Keith in Bangkok and AP researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

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