Airman Accused of Kidnapping, Sexually Assaulting Japanese Minor on Okinawa

Sign greets visitors to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan
Sign greets visitors to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A U.S. airman on Okinawa has been accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a Japanese minor, echoing a notorious abduction committed by troops there in the 1990s and potentially stoking long-simmering divisions on the island.

Senior Airman Brennon Washington, who was stationed at Kadena Air Base, was charged for the alleged crimes in March by Japanese authorities after allegedly taking the girl, who was under 16 years old, from a local park on Christmas Eve to his home, according to Japanese media outlets. Washington’s rank and service record was confirmed by the Air Force.

The air base said it could not provide additional information on the case due to an ongoing investigation. Service member crime has long been a problem for the U.S. military's relationship with Okinawa, but a 1995 abduction and rape of a 12-year-old Japanese girl by three troops was particularly damaging. That crime triggered an effort to reduce the military's footprint on the island that is still ongoing.

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"According to the indictment ... Brennon Washington, 25, invited the girl to speak to him in his car at a park in Yomitan on Dec. 24 and drove her to his residence before committing indecent acts such as touching the lower half of the girl's body with the knowledge that she was under 16," The Mainichi Shimbun, one of Japan's largest newspapers, reported Tuesday.

1st Lt. Alvin Nelson III, a spokesperson for the 18th Wing at Kadena, told in an emailed statement that he was aware of the alleged crimes against a Kadena airman, but provided no further information.

"The 18th Wing is aware of a sexual assault allegation against a Kadena Airman involving a Japanese citizen," Nelson said. "Due to the ongoing investigation, we cannot offer further details."

He said the 18th Wing is "committed to investigate the allegations thoroughly while ensuring due legal process under applicable laws and agreements," and would not speculate on disciplinary action while the investigation was ongoing.

During a June 25 press conference, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Yoshimasa Hayashi, confirmed the service member was prosecuted on March 27, that the Okinawa Prefectural Police Department alongside prosecutors in Naha, the prefecture's capital, were investigating the incident, and that a formal complaint was lodged with the U.S. through officials in the country's foreign ministry.

"This is very regrettable," Hayashi said, through his translator, at the conference. "The incidents and accidents by [the] U.S. military will have a very big impact on the local residents and will concern a lot of people."

The alleged crime may reopen long-standing wounds between the U.S. military and the local community in Japan that have festered for decades, and it seems sure to strain diplomatic relationships between the two countries.

A State Department spokesperson told late Tuesday evening in an emailed statement that the U.S. "takes these allegations very seriously" and added "the State Department and the Pentagon have been cooperating fully with Japanese authorities and will continue to do so."

In 1995, three service members rented a van and kidnapped a 12-year-old Okinawan girl, whom they proceeded to beat and rape. The trio were all convicted and sentenced to several years in Japanese prison, but the incident led to outrage and reforms to the legal framework that governed the legal rights of service members in Japan.

The case also spurred talks on realigning and reducing the large U.S. military presence on the island. The following year, the U.S. and Japan signed an agreement that cut the amount of land U.S. bases used on Okinawa by 21%.

"We understand and share the local community's concerns regarding this case," said Nelson, the 18th Wing spokesman. "Wing leadership is deeply concerned by the severity of this alleged crime and has worked diligently with local authorities to investigate the allegations thoroughly while ensuring due legal process under applicable laws and agreements."

A service record for Washington provided to identified him as a senior airman with the 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Kadena Air Base who joined the service in March 2021.

Attempts to reach Washington and associates through numbers listed in public records were unsuccessful Wednesday afternoon. It is not clear if the airman is being represented by an attorney.

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters he didn't have any details and referred comment to the Air Force when asked about the incident Tuesday by a Japanese media outlet.

An initial hearing has been scheduled for July 12 at the Naha District Court, the Mainichi Shimbun reported.

Meanwhile, the case is also just the latest in a long string of criminal incidents perpetrated by American service members and civilians associated with the military on the island that goes back decades and has continued to cause tension among the local population.

In the summer of 2016, a U.S. sailor was arrested after driving the wrong way on an Okinawa road, crashing into two cars and injuring two people. His blood alcohol content was six times the legal limit in Japan.

That incident led the Navy to issue a temporary lockdown of sailors’ activities in Japan. Military leaders prohibited troops from drinking alcohol and banned any non-essential travel off-base in the country.

Around the same time, a civilian worker and Marine veteran at Kadena was arrested in connection with the rape and murder of a 20-year-old Japanese woman. The base was forced to cancel an Independence Day festival that year.

A year later, another alcohol-fueled deadly car crash on Okinawa led to more lockdowns.

Amid all the incidents, the government of the island has repeatedly passed resolutions and proclamations that called for everything from the removal of all Marines from the island to greater independence to prosecute service members. asked the Pentagon whether it had any comment or concerns about this latest incident again inflaming tensions, but we did not receive a reply in time for publication.

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