Law, Military and Veterans

Matter of Rape in Japan, Part 2

Earlier, I promised you a second case-story about rape, the first story trying to give you some sort of idea about why neither good cops nor defense lawyers will take a female accuser’s word as gospel.

This next case in about a rape charge that highlighted the difference in legal cultures (Japan and the United States) and the bias against foreign criminals there which I’ve never seen in America in my lifetime.


In March, I think, 1974, Mrs Minami showed in a young Spec4 named Evans. He said his Command Sergeant Major told him to come see me. (A Major Army command, we had several sergeant majors, but only one CSM.)

Straight out he said, “I’ve been charged with rape by the Japanese, already been to CID, who read me my rights, but didn’t ask any questions, then let me go, saying I was confined to barracks except duty hours. Then Sergeant Major sent me here.”

He didn’t have a drop of paperwork.

Wow. All hands on deck.

“OK, what’s the story?”

“Captain, I have no idea. Japanese police reported to CID that a woman who lives in Zama City and works on base said I had raped her a few weeks ago out in some field just off post.”

“What else?”

“That’s all I know. CID didn’t even ask me for a statement.”

“Well, first, let’s get this out of the way. Did you do it? Trust me, it matters. If you did it, even half-way, the Army can’t stop the Japanese from  doing whatever they want to with you. I’ve visited some of our guys in their prisons and it isn’t pretty. But if you didn’t then maybe the Army can help you.”

“No sir. I have no idea what this has to do with me. CID says she picked me out of a photo line-up. That’s all I know.”

“OK then, it’ll take a few days to dig into the paperwork the local police sent over to CID. They’re supposed to share. Make an appointment with Mrs Minami in about a week. We have sixty days.

“But let me let you know how this works. When a serviceman is charged with committing a crime off-base, the local government sends us a notice of charges, and then has 60 days to decide whether to take jurisdiction, or send the case back to the Army to handle the case ourselves. They generally only take serious cases, but rape would certainly be one of those types of case. I assume they have hard evidence.

“I’ll look into it. And we’ll talk more next week. But the clock has officially started ticking.”

We shook hands, and Evens walked out, and lo and behold, who was sitting on the divan next to Mrs Minami’s desk but CSM Carter

Wow! The CSM visits as few captains in their office as the CG.

“Something not right here, Captain. Evans is our top soldier. Honor Guard. Soldier of the Month twice. Slated for promotion. Going places in the Army. Not an enemy in the world. Never known to drink more than a beer or two at the NCO club. Doesn’t run the bars in Tokyo.

“But this victim is not like the ordinary bar-girl who screams “rape” when a soldier won’t pay her, or tries to shake him down. You know, ‘He-said, she-said.’ We have to buy a couple of them off with ‘Gomen-nasai” money (means ‘I’m sorry for having offended you’, a solatium) every month.

“This woman is old, unmarried, 50s, short and squat and not good looking at all. Works at the base laundry. About 2000 (8 PM) you see them walking to the gates to catch a bus home. A charge of rape by a woman like her is a big deal with the local government.

“Problem is, she waited over two weeks to report it, and burned all her clothes. Out of shame, she said. Not a drop of evidence, CID says.”

“Who’s side is CID on?” I asked.

I think ours.

“All the Japs have is her picking his face out of a photo line-up provided by CID, based on 201-file photos of the owners of cars that had gone out of Gate #2. Evans went out and came back within three hours through #2.

“Personally, Captain, I don’t believe the kid did it. Unless he was very, very drunk. More like something a dependent might have done, and we have a few. So you might begin by asking CID if any officers’ cars were on the list of cars leaving the gate that night. There should be plenty. Then find out which ones have teenage sons.

“I can’t ask these questions myself. The next 60 days you’re this kid’s only official representative. I’ll be in touch.”

Next morning I went down 20 feet from my office to that of Hawaii Jim, Mrs Ogawa’s boss, who was the legal liaison with the local Japanese government. “More a social liaison that legal”, Mrs Minami once said. (Mainland Japanese-Americans and Hawaiian Japanese-Americans didn’t get along that well, mainly because none of the Hawaiians were interned after Pearl Harbor, just West Coast Japanese.) Like Mrs Minami, Jim had been there since the war, and knew the ropes.

Jim was nonplussed about the case. No big deal. It wasn’t that he believed Evans actually raped the woman, but that the Japanese would automatically convict if they took jurisdiction, so his office had to begin figuring out how to mitigate the conviction. I asked about the absence of physical evidence, and you’d have thought I spoke to him in French. This case wasn’t about evidence, but politics in his world.

“He does get a trial? And a lawyer?” I asked sarcastically.

Indeed, there was a lot of politics going on at that time, for our new boss, a colonel from Washington who had never served in the field, Harvard man, sent to Japan especially because of his international law credentials, as we were in strained negotiations about a child on Okinawa who was blown up while pilfering ordnance from a Navy firing range. The whole country was up in arms.

And then here comes this high profile rape charge by an LN (local national) at our base. There were even small groups of placard-carrying people outside our gates, not many, but that always meant the communists were involved.

Our new Colonel Harvard was nervous and I got the sense from Hawaii Jim my Spec4 Evans may be played into the larger negotiations going on about the Okinawa death.

Jim gave me a single-page memo about Japanese trial practices, (trial by judge alone, no jury, potential sentence 15-25 years) and an undated, no time-stamp statement of the account the woman from the base laundry had made:

Juichiko Watanabe, age 55, unmarried, Zama City, (address), says that she left Camp Zama Gate #2, at 2000hrs, (8 PM) walking to her home about 3 km away. Along the way a young American stopped and offered her a ride. She spoke very little English and he spoke no Japanese that she could tell. He was young and not in uniform, But instead of taking her directly home he pulled off the road into a harvested corn field, pulled her out of the car and raped her. She put her clothes back on and he drove away.

Three weeks later she reported the incident to her local police box (every neighborhood had a small 1-2 man police station).

I found out that Evans was picked out of an 8-photo array, and was later able to find out from a CW2 investigator I later bailed out of pickle that no photos of officers or dependents, but only enlisted, were included in the photo array. No reason given.

With little to do but wait for the decision by the Japanese, I decided to do some research of Japanese trials involving foreign nationals.

Japan received civilian control of it court system in 1952, and in the 22 years leading up to the Evans case there had been over 60 foreign nationals tried in Japan for serious felonies, mostly rape and murder. The bulk of those were military around the several  military installations we had in Japan.

Only one was acquitted and he was a German civilian in Tokyo.

This convinced me that the only chance Evans had was for our Commanding General, a 3-star, to intervene and request the Japanese government not to take jurisdiction and let the Army handle it.

The General knew me, even liked me (I’d worked with him on other matters) , and I felt I could give him facts about the case that he could use to persuade his Japanese counterparts.

But with a new colonel, I felt I owed him the respect of briefing him about what I planned to do at the General’s office.

I gave him the briefing: 1) no evidence, just she-said, and 2) the 99.9% guarantee the Japanese would convict. He listened, and then told me there were bigger issues involved, and then ordered me, ordered me, not to take this case to the CG.

I don’t think I have ever been so pissed, in part because he really couldn’t order me not to make the General aware. But I also knew I had blown my own case by even telling him in the first place. (I’m still kicking myself today.) I had circumvented the chain of command with a 4-star once, and while I took three ass-chewings from colonels in two countries, both the 4-star my 3-star congratulated me later.

Two weeks later, the Japanese took jurisdiction under SOFA  (Status of Forces Agreement)  and I escorted Evans to Tokyo to meet his appointed defense lawyer, a nice older man who carried his law books wrapped up in a belt that buckled, like college kids used to. He probably made $50 a week taking court-appointed cases. I made my evidentiary case to him as well, and he smiled, then I sat outside while he spent an hour with Evans alone.

Then we shook hands and Evans and I took the train back to America.

I was totally locked out by Hawaii Jim, but CSM Carter came by to say that the trial had begun. Never knew who his source was, but he said the woman testified, and the prosecutor asked her if she saw the man who raped her in the courtroom and to point him out. Although Evans was seated at a table in front of the bench, and was the only foreigner in the courtroom…

she couldn’t!

All hell should have broken loose, but it didn’t. CSM said that Evan’s lawyer did not jump up and demand an acquittal. I’m not even sure that’s permitted in their culture. He just sat there. And the judge simply ordered a three-day recess, and ordered the woman to go home and come back and point out the man in the courtroom who had raped her. In so many words.

Surely there were motions Evans’ lawyer could file. I asked Hawaii Jim. He said he didn’t know. 22 years and he didn’t know? He had never seen such a thing. A first instance for him.

Three days later, the woman came back, Evans was found guilty, but instead of being carried off to a Japanese holding facility was returned to military control.

I hadn’t spoken with Evans since I took him to meet his attorney in Tokyo. Mrs Minami, through Mrs Ogawa, told me that Hawaii Jim and our colonel were frantic about this turn of event.

I’d have been elated.

Our general, my general, had suddenly retired due to the death of General Abrams, who was his boss in Vietnam. Every senior officer who had worked for Abrams flew back to Washington to his funeral, and when they all returned most were back just long enough to file their retirement papers. Three weeks later he flew home for the last time, his aide bringing me a nice signed photograph which still hangs on my wall.

One day later our Deputy came in and said I had been reassigned, and walked me out the back entrance of our pentagon and into the garrison command across the street. I went into see the garrison commander, a colonel, who I knew, shown my office with a side entrance to his, and sign on the door that said “Garrison Judge Advocate”.

I had been demoted…up. I went back, cleaned out my desk, said “Sayonara” to Mrs Minami and Mrs Ogawa. Just a few hundred feet, things were still different. I talked to Mrs Minami on the phone regularly (I really didn’t have any routine work except to read the morning police reports. I did have some interesting stories those last few months, though.)

The Japanese judge found Evans guilty of “Rape with Injury” but then suspended the sentence!, Who ever heard of that except maybe in France ?  They handed Evans  back to American military control under the proviso that he be removed from the country as expeditiously as possible.

So they began a Chapter 13 Board process, which would lead to an Undesirable Discharge (a UD, I don’t think they give those anymore). This is required for a servicemen who is convicted of a civilian criminal offense. This may have explained my “promotion” across the street as I would then not be available to represent Evans.

While this was in process Evans came to see me. His family called their congressman who had launched a Congressional inquiry.. a  big deal then. He then told me then that he had been called in after our trip to Tokyo three months earlier, by Hawaii Jim and Col Harvard, and told not to have any further contact with me. Or they’d let the Japanese throw away the key.

That would answer any question about a “fix”. The Japanese had a case they couldn’t prove in any court, but we let them save face by agreeing to ship the kid out. I’d love to know who had to go to who with hat in hand to work that.

But stamping “rapist” on his forehead  for the rest of his life didn’t seem to bother them.

Evans was still in the boarding-out process when I shipped out.

But his case wasn’t over.

When I got to my new duty station in Arizona, it was like everyone knew I was coming. A little chilly. Their senior admin clerk, E-7 John Johnson, was preparing to go to Japan so knew about me because he was talking to the guy he was replacing.

It seems the boarding out of Spec4 Evans went to Hell in hand basket, when up and down the line, his commanders who had to sign off on the recommendation for Undesirable Discharge, and each and every one had recommended retention. Some with glowing notes.

This worked its way up to the new 3-Star and he wanted to know “What in the Hell happened here?” Nobody gets convicted of rape…real rape…and his commanders still want to keep him.

So the General called a meeting, with the JAG, Col Harvard, Hawaii-Jim, the G1, (a colonel and friend) and CSM Carter. Instead of justifying Evans conviction they had to convince him that that it was someone else’s fault, not theirs, that Evans was framed.

That someone else was me, 8000 miles away.

In the meeting, (I’m told), Col Harvard, told the new general that Evans had been managed by an incompetent lawyer. “Well, who is this sunavabitch and where can I find him?”

In steps CSM Carter, and sez, “Oh no, General. It couldn’t be Captain B” and then, according to the G1, defended me, even suggesting he contact his predecessor, who knew me.

That’s the finest compliment that was ever paid to me, and I still mention CSM Carter (by his real name) in my prayers…for some justice came of it.

You see, the floor leveled, that new general launched a full investigation. In a letter Mrs Minami relayed to me, seems Hawaii-Jim suddenly retired and moved back to Hilo. And Mrs Ogawa was even more happy than she was to see that pandering bastard go.

She also said Evans was sent onto Hawaii where he was separated, apparently with the UD, but that there was some paperwork still pending back in Washington that might allow for his reinstatement. I never knew.

But Col Harvard was relieved of his job and officially reprimanded and returned to whatever dark office he’d occupied at the War College. His chances of ever becoming General or TJAG were zero.

(I wish I could say the same for Senators Flake and Corker when they return to their home station.)

Never underestimate the power of “face” if it controls the venue. And never overestimate the power of fairness, honor, even fundamental law, if “face” is hanging in the balance.

In a world where evidence takes a back seat to politics, things often turn out this way.

It was on those playing fields of Zama that I first learned the difference between the “front lines” and the “front office” and the relative strength and weaknesses of each.

That’s what we’re doing here, equalizing things.


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