TOKYO (AFP) — The US military announced Friday that it was court-martialling a Marine accused of raping a 14-year-old girl in Japan, in a case that triggered outrage in the close US ally.
Staff Sergent Tyrone Hadnott, 38, was charged with rape of a minor and making false official statements, even though he was controversially released by Japanese prosecutors.
Under military law, the charges could carry the death penalty, although execution is very unlikely.
The Marine was accused of raping the girl in February in his car on the southern island of Okinawa, home to more than half of the 40,000 US troops based in Japan under a security treaty.
A US Marines statement said that commanders decided to send him to a general court martial for five violations of the military code "as a result of a Marine Corps investigation."
The statement said the charges were "merely accusations" and that the court martial dates have not yet been set.
"The accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty and has the right to a fair and impartial trial," the statement said.
The five charges are rape of a child under 16, sexually abusing a child under 16, making a false official statement, adultery and "kidnapping through inveigling."
Hadnott, who lived off base, picked up the girl in his car and drove her home. After she protested, he took her home and allegedly raped her in the vehicle, according to Japanese police.
But Japanese prosecutors declined to indict him after the girl dropped the case, apparently because she did not want to be in the public glare.
The case outraged Japanese leaders who have called for stricter discipline on US troops.
Hadnott's court martial came one day after Japanese prosecutors indicted another US serviceman, a Nigerian national who deserted the US Navy, on charges of stabbing to death a taxi driver near Tokyo.
Four US Marines are also being court-martialled in western Japan on allegations of gang-raping a woman in Hiroshima.
Japan has been officially pacifist since its defeat in World War II and has stepped up military ties with Washington amid tension with nuclear-armed neighbour North Korea.
Okinawa, which was under US control from 1945 to 1972 and is strategically close to the Taiwan Strait, has often seen friction with US troops. In 1995, thousands took to the streets after three US servicemen gang-raped a 12-year-old girl.
US officials moved quickly to try to calm anger after Hadnott's arrest, while stressing the vast majority of US forces in Japan are law-abiding.
The US military took the rare measure of putting troops and their families under a round-the-clock curfew in Okinawa for nearly two weeks.
Japan has shouldered part of the costs of the US military, mainly by covering salaries for Japanese workers at the bases.
The main opposition Democratic Party on Friday used its control of the upper house to vote down the latest budget bill supporting US forces, saying some of the spending was wasteful.
But the 141.6 billion yen (1.36 billion-dollar) was set to be approved in any case, as the ruling conservatives can use their power in the more powerful lower house.
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