Reporting on the Jan. 4 pretrial hearing in the court-martial of Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned U.S. officer to refuse deployment to Iraq, Nichi Bei Times reported Thursday on the claim of Lt. Watada's attorney, Eric Seitz, that due process demands that the question of the Iraq war's legality be argued in the court-martial, because "Lt. Watada’s specific intent was to avoid unlawful actions in Iraq."[1]  --  On the matter of subpoenas to reporters, Ben Hamamoto reported that the PEN American Center, Military Reporters and Editors, and the Society of Professional Journalists have all expressed concerns.  --  On Tuesday, the Electronic Iraq web site posted an Inter Press Service piece on the First Amendment issues raised by the Army's subpoenas.[2]  --  Aaron Glantz quoted Gary Solis, a former military prosecutor who teaches at Georgetown's School of Law, who said he can't understand why the military has decided to call activists to testify against Lt. Watada.  --  "As a prosecutor, I would be very cautious about calling people who I knew would be unfriendly."  --  In addition, "The UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice) has no application to civilians so the military has no hammer with the UCMJ alone," he said.  "They would have to find a civilian court federal hammer, which would involve getting a second subpoena from a district court."  --  Glantz called attention to an editorial in the Los Angeles Times on Monday, rejecting the right to subpoena reporters absent extraordinary circumstances and telling the Army to "back off."[3]  --  On Wednesday, the Whidbey News-Times reported that Lt. Watada would speak at Coupeville (on Whidbey Island) and also in Bremerton on Saturday.[4]  --  The Corvallis (OR) Gazette-Times reported Thursday that the proceeds from a Saturday concert organized by local peace groups would be devoted to Lt. Watada's defense fund.[5]  --  A Hawaii TV station, doing a story on the reaction in the military to the new Iraq plan announced by President George W. Bush on Jan. 10, reported that "And one army soldier went so far as to not only oppose the president's plan but also voice his support for Lt. Erin [sic] Watada — who is being tried for his refusal to deploy to Iraq."[6]  --  A letter to the editor published Tuesday in the Charlotte (NC) Observer lauded Lt. Watada, saying:  "Lt. Ehren Watada is doing the right thing in refusing to serve in Iraq.  Our invasion of Iraq is unprovoked and unjustifiable aggression."[7]  --  In an open "Letter to a Young Marine, Days before His Deployment to Iraq," Peter Laufer asked:  "[D]on't you have an obligation to reject your orders, as did Lt. Watada, now, as I'm sure you know, facing a court martial at Fort Lewis? . . . [W]hat you may really owe [your colleagues] is a lobbying effort to get them to reject the assignment and the orders.  Perhaps you need to be a second Lt. Watada to reenforce his courage and bravery and help create a cascade of rejection within the ranks that will result in your immediate colleagues also saying no to the war."[8]  --  Finally, on Thursday, in a long review of U.S. Iraq policy, the Economist mentioned Lt. Watada in evoking the specter of military resistance to the war:  "Nobody knows how much strain the ground forces can bear.  Commanders worry about any sign of damage to morale, such as anecdotal evidence of rising divorce rates among servicemen.  A poll in the Military Times last month found falling support for the war.  Just 41% approved of the decision to go into Iraq, compared with 56% the previous year.  Last June Ehren Watada, an army first lieutenant, became the first commissioned officer to refuse to serve in Iraq.  He said the war was “not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law.”  He will be court-martialled next month.  Nevertheless, Mr. Bush has decided to stretch the army a bit more. . . ."[9] ...


By Ben Hamamoto

Nichi Bei Times
January 11, 2007

Original source: Nichi Bei Times

The pretrial hearing for Lt. Ehren Watada, who refused deployment to Iraq to fight in what he calls an illegal war of aggression, began on Jan. 4 in Fort Lewis, Wash.

Watada, 28, is charged with missing movement and four specifications, or counts, of conduct unbecoming an officer.

The first day of the pre-trial set the parameters of what can be expected from the court-martial. The day also saw protests against the war and in support of Watada, including a “die-in” in San Francisco, at which several Nikkei activists were arrested.


During the four-hour pretrial hearing, the prosecution and defense reportedly argued over what would be allowed during the actual court-martial, which is set to begin on Feb. 5. Watada’s civilian attorney, Eric Seitz, requested that the judge allow him to argue the legality of the war in court, by presenting what he called “overwhelming evidence that the war is illegal, beyond any doubt.”

According to a report in the Olympian, Capt. Daniel Kuecker, the lead prosecutor, argued that under the “political question doctrine” the courts defer to executive or legislative branch jurisdiction on the question of the war’s legality. The executive and legislative branch approved the war in 2003, Kuecker argued, therefore rendering Watada’s motive for missing movement irrelevant to the case.

Judge Lt. Colonel John Head initially agreed that the court-martial is only designed to determine what Lt. Watada was ordered and declined to do, regardless of intent. However, the judge later decided that by charging Watada with contemptuous speech as well as with missing movement, the prosecution has effectively made motive relevant.

“Aren’t you trying to block these issues from coming in the front door, but opening up the back door?” the judge reportedly asked the prosecution. “You have charged motive as an offense.”

Head said he would issue a written ruling on the request later.

Attorney Seitz said that if he were not able to present the evidence in court, he would present it during the appeals process before the military appeals court and the Supreme Court.

“The legality of the Iraq War is not merely a political question. Lt. Watada’s specific intent was to avoid unlawful actions in Iraq,” Seitz said in statement which appeared on the Not In Our Name Website. “For the sake of due process, we need the opportunity to raise this issue.”


Another controversial element to the trial arose when the prosecution subpoenaed journalists and anti-war activists.

San Francisco Bay Area journalist Sarah Olson and Nikkei reporter from Hawai‘i Gregg Kakesako were ordered to testify at the pre-trial as were Seattle-area anti-war activists Phan Nguyen and Gerri Haynes. Bay Area-based freelance reporter Dahr Jamail, an Iraq correspondent for the BBC and Democracy Now, has not been subpoenaed, but appears on the prosecution’s witness list.

The First Amendment rights of journalists have become the subject of controversy in recent years, largely due to the publicity surrounding former *New York Times* reporter Judith Miller and other reporters who were called to testify in the CIA leak case involving White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

The subpoenas for the Watada case have alarmed numerous groups including the PEN American Center -- described as “an international organization of writers dedicated to advancing literature, defending free expression and fostering international literary fellowship” -- the Military Reporters and Editors, and the Society of Professional Journalists.

“If Olson and Kakesako respond to these subpoenas by testifying, they will essentially be participating in the prosecution of their source,” the PEN American Center wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. “Reporters should not serve as the investigative arm of the government. Such a role compromises their objectivity and can have chilling effects on the press.”

Olson herself also voiced outrage over the subpoenas.

“Doesn’t it fly in the face of the First Amendment to compel a journalist to participate in a government prosecution against a source,” she wrote in an open letter, “particularly in matters related to personal political speech?

“What could be more hostile to the idea of a free press than a journalist participating in the suppression of newsworthy speech?”

While it’s not uncommon for journalists to be asked to verify the accuracy of their reporting in civilian court, Olson sees this case as different because she feels it sends a harmful message to journalists and dissenters alike.

“It seems clear that the U.S. Army is attempting to redefine the parameters of acceptable speech and to classify dissent as a punishable offense,” the embattled reporter continued. “Subpoenaing journalists in this case unequivocally sends the message that dissent is neither tolerated nor permitted. Utilize your constitutionally guaranteed speech rights and go to prison. What rational soldier would agree to speak with me or any other member of the media if jail was a likely result?”

Less than two days before its commencement, Lt. Col. Head dismissed the subpoenas for reporters and activists to appear at the pre-trial hearing. However, the reporters and activists remain under order to take the stand when the court martial begins.

Olson has no plans to testify and, as such, is facing a potential prison sentence.


More than 100 people rallied outside Ft. Lewis where the pre-trial was held. Speakers included retired United States Army Colonel, Ann Wright, one of three U.S. State Department officials to publicly resign in protest of the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003.

Also at the rally were Sara Rich, mother of Suzanne Swift, an army specialist who refused redeployment to Iraq after her allegations of sexual assault by two sergeants went unanswered; Darrell Anderson, Iraq combat veteran and war resister; and Phan Nguyen, a local activist subpoenaed for prosecution of Lt. Watada.

The day also marked the start of “Camp Resistance,” an encampment outside the gates of Ft. Lewis to support Watada by the Iraq Veterans Against the War Deployed. They plan to remain through the upcoming court martial.

In San Francisco, Watada supporters marched from the Peace Plaza in Japantown to the Federal Building to join “Not In Our Name” anti-war activists and participate in a “die-in.”

About 30 people, Nikkei and non-Nikkei alike, some coming from as far as Sacramento, marched from the plaza to the First Unitarian Universalist Church, where they met with fellow supporters who continued with them to the government building.

Approximately 150 people rallied outside the federal courthouse at 450 Golden Gate Ave. in protest of the war and support of Watada. Code Pink Founder Medea Benjamin, American Friends Service Committee Director Steven McNeil, and clergypersons Rev. Dorsey Blake, Rev. Meg Whitaker-Greene, and Rev. Lloyd Wake were among the speakers at the rally. They called on Representative Nancy Pelosi, newly appointed speaker of the house, to de-fund the war.

“Three of our United Methodist bishops came out in support of Lt. Watada and his courageous act,” Wake said. “We support him, we support this die-in this afternoon. We ask our Congress to stop supporting this war. Support our troops, bring them home, treat them with decency for all they have been through and also commemorate the deaths caused by this war.”

Around 1 p.m., 28 protestors participated in the “die in” portion of the rally. Participants took an oath of physical and verbal non-violence, and pledged to maintain an attitude of “openness and respect towards all.” They proceeded to lie down in front of the courthouse’s entrance and drape themselves in white sheets, to visually represent the war dead. Names of slain American soldiers and Iraqi civilians were read. About 20 police arrived and declared the die-in an “unlawful assembly,” then, over a period of three hours, proceeded to arrest the 28 participants.

Campaign for Justice for Japanese Latin Americans leader Grace Shimizu, and Grace Morizawa of the Watada Support Committee were also among those arrested.

“Watada as an act of conscience is facing . . . six years in prison, what less can I do than a small act of civil disobedience to support what he stands for,” explained Mike Tsukahara, a Watada Support Committee activist who was arrested at the die-in. “Watada (is) standing up and fighting for his rights and opposing what he considers to be unjust. I’d like to think he represents progress in the state of the Japanese American consciousness.”


By Aaron Glantz

Inter Press Service
January 9, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO -- In a case that could have repercussions for free speech and press freedom in the United States, the U.S. military has subpoenaed two peace activists and a journalist in its case against Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to be court-martialed for refusing to serve in Iraq.

"I'm alarmed," said Olympia-based activist Phan Nguyen, who moderated a Jun. 7th press conference that marked Lt. Watada's first public opposition to the Iraq war.

"When I was first contacted by the lead prosecutor I was questioned as to conversations I had had with Lt. Watada and how this press conference had come about," he said.

Nguyen told IPS that military prosecutors asked who organized the press conference as well as who produced the video statement from Lt. Watada that was played at the gathering.

"This starts leading into how activists go about their procedures in opposing the military," Nguyen said. "I don't believe the military should be questioning activists about how they protest military actions when we're just exercising our First Amendment rights."

The military maintains Watada's public comments are at issue, and has charged him with both refusing to deploy and "conduct unbecoming of an officer."

The lieutenant does not dispute any of the statements prosecutors seek to use against him. His attorney says Watada continues to stand by his comments at that June press conference, which his supporters have posted, along with all of his other speeches, on the website

"It is my duty as a commissioned officer in the United States army to speak out against grave injustices," Watada said on Jun. 7. "My moral and legal obligation is to the constitution. Not to those who issue unlawful orders. I stand before you today because it is my job to serve and protect American soldiers and innocent Iraqis who have no voice. It is my conclusion that the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong, but also a breach of American law."

At a pre-trial hearing last Thursday, the lead prosecutor, Capt. Daniel Kuecker, said Watada's statements are offensive to the military and must be looked at in the context in which they were made and the effects they could have, as well as the danger they present to the military's mission.

"The dividing line and what makes it more disgraceful is the fact that he made it to more than one person," Kuecker said at the court martial, according to the Army Times.

Military prosecutors also point to comments Watada made at the Veterans for Peace annual convention in Seattle last August.

In a "charge sheet" against the lieutenant, the military quotes Watada's comments at the gathering, calling them "disgraceful."

"Today, I speak with you about a radical idea," Watada told the gathering. "That to stop an illegal and unjust war, soldiers can choose to stop fighting it . . . If soldiers realized this war is contrary to what the constitution extols -- if they stood up and threw their weapons down -- no president could ever initiate a war of choice again. When we say, '. . . Against all enemies foreign and domestic,' what if elected leaders became the enemy? Whose orders do we follow? The answer is the conscience that lies in each soldier, each American, and each human being. Our duty to the constitution is an obligation, not a choice."

The military has also subpoenaed Seattle-area activist and doctor Gerri Haynes, who chaired the Veterans for Peace convention, and a free-lance journalist who interviewed Watada, Sarah Olson. Another journalist, Dahr Jamail, who filmed Watada's speech, has been placed on the prosecution witness list.

In an editorial Monday titled "Military Injustice", the Los Angeles Times strongly criticized the Pentagon's "pestering" of reporters in its prosecution -- which the paper argues is justified on the grounds that Watada refused to deploy to Iraq.

"It's egregious enough when U.S. attorneys subpoena journalists, which is happening at an alarmingly increasing rate (illustrating the need for a national shield law). But there is something especially chilling about the U.S. military reaching beyond its traditional authority to compel a non-military U.S. citizen engaged in news-gathering to testify in a military court, simply to bolster a court-martial case. There is no security interest at stake, and no matter of national urgency," the paper said.

Unlike fellow activist Phan Nguyen, Dr. Haynes said she has no problem appearing at the lieutenant's court martial, which is scheduled for Feb. 5.

"I have been very clear about my support for Ehren Watada," she told IPS. "His speech is on tape and all over the internet. I'm not sure that my testimony is of great relevance, but I'll do anything I can to help support Ehren."

Gary Solis, a former military prosecutor who teaches at Georgetown's School of Law, told IPS he's surprised the military has decided to call peace activists to testify against Lt. Watada.

"I really don't know what they may be driving at," he said. "As a prosecutor, I would be very cautious about calling people who I knew would be unfriendly. There's a certain risk that's being run here."

The tactic could blow up in the prosecutors' faces if the activists are able to make an articulate case for Watada and against the war, Solis said, adding the military may find it difficult to compel civilians who resist a subpoena to appear in court.

"The UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice) has no application to civilians so the military has no hammer with the UCMJ alone," he said. "They would have to find a civilian court federal hammer, which would involve getting a second subpoena from a district court."

The precise nature of the charges against Watada remains at issue. At the pre-trial hearing last week, military prosecutors sought to block Watada's attorneys from making a legal case against the Iraq war as part of his defence.

During the hearing, the military judge overseeing the case, Lt. Col. John Head, suggested that such arguments would go to Watada's motive for not deploying and therefore would not be admissible. However, he later said the Army had opened the door by charging the soldier for comments made during the June news conference moderated by Phan Nguyen.




** Army prosecutors are going too far in trying to conscript reporters to boost their case in a soldier's court-martial. **

Los Angeles Times
January 8, 2007

Original source: Los Angeles Times

Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada may or may not have a good claim for conscientious objector status. It makes sense for the Army to prosecute him for refusing orders to deploy to Iraq last June, and Watada has at best an uphill battle in defending his actions, given that he joined the military of his own free will. But Army lawyers are overreaching when they try to prosecute their case by drafting reporters.

Watada faces a court-martial next month for missing his troop movement and for his published explanations of his refusal to go. The Army has his statements, but it subpoenaed reporters to authenticate that he, in fact, said what is in print and on tape.

Portions of independent journalist Sarah Olson's interviews with Watada appeared on the website and were broadcast on radio stations in New York and the Bay Area. Freelance journalist Dahr Jamail had simply videotaped Watada's speech at a Veterans for Peace convention. *Honolulu Star-Bulletin* reporter Gregg K. Kakesako also reported Watada's story.

A military judge ruled that Olson and Jamail did not have to appear at Thursday's pretrial hearing. But the Army is pressing forward with its demand that the two reporters testify at the trial.

No prosecutor should be able to conscript any reporter into being a deputy by compelling testimony about a statement made by a source -- or go fishing for information beyond what a reporter presents in a story -- unless it's absolutely vital to protect U.S. citizens from crime or attack. This principle should apply whether or not the source was speaking in confidence, or whether or not the reporter works for a media organization.

It's egregious enough when U.S. attorneys subpoena journalists, which is happening at an alarmingly increasing rate (illustrating the need for a national shield law). But there is something especially chilling about the U.S. military reaching beyond its traditional authority to compel a non-military U.S. citizen engaged in news-gathering to testify in a military court, simply to bolster a court-martial case. There is no security interest at stake, and no matter of national urgency.

The Army can make its case against Watada without pestering civilian journalists. Sustaining the military subpoena would set a troubling precedent. It's time for the Army to back off.


By Paul Boring

Whidbey News-Times
January 10, 2007

An Army officer who has made national headlines for refusing to serve in Iraq will speak at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13 at the Coupeville Recreation Hall.

First Lieutenant Ehren Watada, stationed at Fort Lewis, became the Army’s first commissioned officer to publicly refuse orders to fight in Iraq on the grounds that the war is illegal.

Coupeville Peace and Reconciliation is sponsoring the event. Watada will speak in Bremerton on Saturday following the appearance.

The 28-year-old Watada announced his decision to not obey orders in a June 7 video press conference. He said in the press conference that his participation in the war would make him “party to war crimes.”

Watada has maintained that the war is illegal and that an order to take part in an illegal war is unlawful in itself.

The officer did not apply for a conscientious objector discharge because he is not opposed to all wars. Requests by Watada to be sent to Afghanistan have been denied. He now faces a court martial on Feb. 5 and up to four years in prison for conduct unbecoming an officer, referring to his public decrying of the war.

Initially, Watada was formally charged with contempt toward President Bush, conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and missing movement, or deployment.

On Nov. 11, the charges of “contempt towards the President” were dropped, but he is still facing four years in prison if he continues “political speech critical of the Iraq War.”

“I think the recent elections show more and more Americans are opening their eyes, but we aren’t there yet,” Watada says online at “I hope that actions such as mine will continue to help expose the truth behind the fundamental illegality and immorality of the war.”

Watada is originally from Hawaii and is currently stationed at Fort Lewis. He enlisted in the military after graduating from college. He received no financial assistance for college or loans from the Army.

He reported for basic training on June 18, 2003. After he received his officer’s commission, Lt. Watada was obligated to serve on active duty as an Army officer for a term of three years, which concluded Dec. 3 of last year.

In January 2006, he first asked for permission to resign his commission, based on his convictions about the illegality and immorality of the Iraq war, but he was refused. He was then refused assignment to Afghanistan.

Watada’s parents have been speaking across the country in support of their son. Supporters have rallied outside the gates of Fort Lewis and across the continent in support of his stand.

A Citizens' Tribunal will be held at the Evergreen Tacoma Campus Jan. 20 and 21. International law experts will come from around the globe to educate the public at the tribunal and will possibly testify at his court martial hearing Feb. 5.

Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild, has prepared background briefs for Watada’s defense.

And Retired Col. Ann Wright, a former ambassador who resigned in protest against the Iraq war, appeared with Watada when he announced publicly his refusal of orders to serve in Iraq.


By The Entertainer

** Trio joins Childers-Carson Duo for Second Saturdays performance **

Corvallis (OR) Gazette-Times
January 11, 2007

Original source: Corvallis (OR) Gazette-Times

CORVALLIS -- The trio Crooked Kate and the Childers-Carson Duo will perform a set of music ranging from folk to classical at 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13, in the first of a series of monthly musical events to benefit causes that contribute to peace. The first session of “Second Saturdays” opens at Sunnyside-Up, 116 N.W. Third St.

Organizers suggest a donation of $5 for the event, but say no one will be turned away because of a lack of funds.

Made up of Susan Peck, Rita Brown, and Anne Ridlington, Crooked Kate will produce a genre-crossing mix of voices, keyboard, cello, guitar, banjo, penny-whistle, accordion, and percussion from 7 to 8 p.m. Laurie Childers and Mina Carson, who accompany their songs with keyboard, violin, mandolin, guitar, and drums, will open for Crooked Kate from 6 to 7 p.m.

Corvallis Alternatives to War and the Mid-Valley Veterans for Peace chapter are sponsors of the monthly musical sessions. The Troubadour Music Center is co-sponsor.

All donations from the Jan. 13 event will go to the defense fund for Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse service in Iraq. As a result of his decision, the Army has chosen to court-martial him in a trial set to begin Feb. 5 at Fort Lewis in Washington. For information about the case, go to


By Paul Drewes

January 11, 2007

Hawaii, with its military presence, is home to thousands of enlisted men and women from all branches of our armed forces.

Several retired and active service members on Oahu listened to President Bush's speech on Wednesday.

It's a touchy subject.

Active military members refused to go on camera to tell us how they feel.

Off the record, some admitted they think more troops would not help win the war or could even be a costly mistake.

But we did find some who have served and who were willing to share their thoughts on the plan.

"So I have committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq," said President Bush on Wednesday.

The president's revised plan for Iraq keeps some supporters firmly on his side.

"He gave good reasons for the plan, if he's commander in chief we should go along with it," said Bud Williams, who is retired from the U.S. Navy.

"There is no choice, we have to win there or we'll be fighting them here," said Rick Nelson, who is retired from the U.S. Air Force.

For others, their support will only last so long.

"I would have to reconsider my position if by the end of the year, there is still a quagmire. Then we'd be in a bad position," said Mike Sarpy, who is retired from the U.S. Army.

Those who have served their country support the troops in Iraq, but not all support the president's decision to step up the number of soldiers.

"I absolutely support the troops but I don't think sending more troops is going to do that, get them out of there is a better way to go," said Nick Sporic, who is retired from the U.S. Air Force.

And one army soldier went so far as to not only oppose the president's plan but also voice his support for Lt. Erin [sic] Watada -- who is being tried for his refusal to deploy to Iraq.

What does Wednesday's announcement mean for island soldiers?

There have been assurances from General Lee that no more Hawaii National Guard troops will be deployed to the conflict in Iraq.



By Richard Gellar

Charlotte (NC) Observer
January 9, 2007

In response to "Backing a reluctant soldier" (Jan. 5) [a reprint of the Washington Post piece on the efforts of Lt. Watada's mother to lobby Congress on his behalf]:

Lt. Ehren Watada is doing the right thing in refusing to serve in Iraq. Our invasion of Iraq is unprovoked and unjustifiable aggression.

Following orders never excuses war crimes. It was no defense for the Nazis, and it was no defense for Lt. Calley and his men at My Lai.

Ultimately we all remain responsible for our own actions.

Richard Gellar


By Peter Laufer

Huffington Post
Janurary 4, 2007

Good evening, my friend.

I wish you were still in Santa Cruz because I'm coming down to make a presentation at the Capitola Book Café about my book Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq (have you read it?).

I would love it were you in the audience heckling me.

I spoke with your father last night to make arrangements for him to pack the bookstore, and he told me that you expect deployment to Iraq.

When you and I last spoke, at your wedding, you suggested to me that you opposed the Iraq policy and that you were just counting the days left in your duty, looking forward to your release from the military. Did I misinterpret what you said? Have your thoughts on the mission and your role with the Marines changed?

Please indulge me as I mention a few things that you undoubtedly know and that you've probably heard from me before and that you probably don't want to hear now.

Latest polls show over 75% of Americans oppose the U.S. Iraq policy. Latest polls by the Army Times show that there is deep questioning within the military regarding the policy. Rumsfeld, the war architect, has been run out of town. The Democrats took Congress based on the rejection of the Administration's lies and deceits regarding the war, and its failed policies.

I think I understand Semper Fi, and serving for the Corps and ones fellows, not the politicians. But as individuals, don't you agree we have a responsibility to stand up and reject flawed and failed policy and -- in addition to being appropriately concerned about ones self preservation -- taking a stand as an American patriot to reject participating in what is arguably criminal activity?

Stay with me a moment more, please.

Weren't the lessons of Nuremberg that following orders is not an acceptable rationale for participating in immoral conduct? (Please understand, my friend, I respect you too much to suggest that you, personally, would ever participate on a one-to-one basis in immoral activity. But if the Administration is doing so, and hence the DOD is doing so, and hence the Corps is doing so, don't you have an obligation to reject your orders, as did Lt. Watada, now, as I'm sure you know, facing a court martial at Fort Lewis?)

Before you stop reading, please consider the following points I first learned back in 1968 when I turned eighteen and was drafted to go to Vietnam, points I've relearned over the years working as a journalist as the U.S. engaged in failed military misadventures in Latin America and Somalia, Lebanon, and now Iraq.

1) The power is yours to reject illegal orders. In fact, it is your duty, as you've learned in the military.

2) You are a free agent despite your rank and contract. You can quit the Marines today. Yes, there will be repercussions: you will lose your pension, your discharge will be OTH at best, you may even do brig time, your compatriots will attempt to shame you. But you are an incredibly strong man. Courageous and brave. If you make a decision, peer pressure will not affect you for long (if at all).

3) There is an active, growing, and potent support system for those in the military who choose to reject the war. You are not alone. You can be counseled by experts through the process of disengagement.

4) Were you to apply for Conscientious Objector status, your case would be strong because of your personal background. You could be discharged with an honorable discharge. There would be no brig time, your peers would likely respect your decision. Remember, please, the vast majority of Americans now oppose this war. That figure must be replicated in some proximate similarity within the military population because the military is made up, of course, of Americans.

5) You have been lied to and cheated by the military (of course not necessarily by your immediate colleagues, but by the institution). You owe the institution nothing.

6) If you feel you owe your immediate colleagues your presence (and perhaps the protection of your maturity and skills sets) because they are deploying, consider that what you may really owe them is a lobbying effort to get them to reject the assignment and the orders. Perhaps you need to be a second Lt. Watada to reenforce his courage and bravery and help create a cascade of rejection within the ranks that will result in your immediate colleagues also saying no to the war.

7) Only we can stop the war. The perhaps trite-sounding Vietnam-era slogan, "What if they gave a war and nobody came," is true. And you are in the enviable position of being able to act on that mantra. If you and that cascade of others refuse to be George Bush's "surge" then you may be able to advance the time when the troops come home. You know that is what will happen. We will abandon this failed mission. As John Kerry said during Vietnam, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" How best to support the troops? With a magnetic yellow ribbon on ones bumper or by bringing them home ASAP?

There is a fast-growing anti-war movement filled with the experts who know how to extracate service personnel from the clutches of their contracts. If you do not wish to go to Iraq, you need not. I will work day and night to help you reject this deployment, all you have to do is flick my on switch (and of course, if you choose to go, I will send you my love and prayers).

Finally, if you wish to say no to this assignment and not deal with the potential OTH discharge or court marshal or CO application, but just start life anew, I will fly to your base tomorrow and drive you to Canada.

I love you and respect you. I hope you change your mind and say no to this immoral, illegal, and failed war.

Your friend and fellow patriot,


--Peter Laufer, a Vietnam War resister, is the author of several books about conflict and migration, including Wetback Nation: The Case for Opening the Mexican-American Border. A former NBC News correspondent, Laufer has won numerous journalism awards, among them a George Polk for his reporting on Americans in prison overseas and an Edward R. Murrow for his study of Vietnam War veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. He lives in Sonoma County, in northern California. His latest book, Mission Rejected, was published by Chelsea Green.


Special report

America in Iraq


anuary 11, 2007

HAIFA STREET evokes more dread than almost any other place in Baghdad. Its long gully of battle-scarred buildings, leading almost to the gates of America's fortified Green Zone, encapsulates the city's violent recent history. As a young man, Saddam Hussein found refuge in the area; later, he housed many of his top loyalists there. When the dictator was deposed, it became a stronghold of Sunni insurgents. American troops called it “Purple Heart Boulevard”, expecting to get killed or wounded on it.

After Iraq's first free elections in January 2005, a series of offensives brought Haifa Street under the control of Iraq's new army. Children played there, and the insurgents' graffiti were covered with slogans such as “Long live the National Guard”. These days, though, the boulevard is again one of Baghdad's bloodiest battlegrounds. The anti-coalition insurgents have been joined by sectarian death squads whose aim is the ethnic cleansing of mixed Sunni and Shia areas.

On January 6th, for instance, police found the bodies of 27 people, probably Shias, with their throats slit or shot through the head, dumped in a cemetery near Haifa Street. And for the past week more than 1,000 American and Iraqi soldiers, backed by helicopters and jets, have been battling it out there.

After expending so much blood, sweat and treasure—more than 3,000 soldiers killed, more than $300 billion spent—most Americans have lost hope and want to leave Iraq. Not so George Bush. He is convinced that “victory” is not just possible but essential, and that the Middle East can still be refashioned by democracy.

In a nationally televised address on January 10th he announced that he would send more than 20,000 extra troops to Iraq, mostly to help Iraqi forces in their new campaign to secure Baghdad. Some 4,000 additional troops would be destined for the violent western province of Anbar. American units will be “embedded” within Iraqi formations to help them hold neighbourhoods wrested from armed groups. The new military effort will be bolstered with economic, political and diplomatic measures. American commanders and officials will be given greater authority to spend money, a “reconstruction co-ordinator” will be appointed in Baghdad, and the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, will be held firmly to a set of political “benchmarks”.

Mr Bush turned down bipartisan calls to woo Iran and Syria. Instead, he accused those countries of instigating the violence in Iraq. He confirmed the deployment of an extra carrier strike group and Patriot anti-missile batteries to the Middle East—a clear signal that he is not only willing to raise the stakes in Iraq, but is also giving himself the option of a military strike to halt Iran's suspected development of nuclear weapons. And underlining his promise to stop interference by Iran and Syria, and to destroy their networks, on January 11th American troops raided an Iranian consular office in northern Iraq.

Mr Bush admitted he had made “mistakes”, accepted that more Americans were likely to die, and told his audience not to expect a “surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship”. Still, the war was part of “the decisive ideological struggle of our time”. Failure would bring catastrophe: the fall of the Iraqi government, “mass killings on an unimaginable scale”, the strengthening of radical Islam across the Middle East, danger for moderate governments, the creation of a terrorist safe haven and an Iran emboldened to build atomic bombs.

In deciding to redouble the war effort, Mr Bush now finds himself almost alone. General John Abizaid, the head of Central Command that oversees American strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, all but rejected the idea of a “surge” of forces two months ago. He told a Senate hearing that raising troop levels by 20,000 would have only a “temporary effect” on security. But it would delay the day Iraqi forces could take control and, if prolonged, would place an unbearable strain on American ground forces that are already overstretched.

Mr Bush has always said he would defer to his military commanders, but this time he did not take their advice. Instead, he dismissed General Abizaid and reshuffled key figures in his Iraq team. General John Casey, the commander in Iraq, has been booted upstairs to become the army chief of staff. The ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been sent to speak for America at the United Nations.

Mr Bush also ignored the managed withdrawal advocated by the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission co-chaired by James Baker, a former secretary of state. The strategy he plumped for was “surge”, an idea proposed by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a hawkish think-tank, and strongly backed by Jack Keane, a retired four-star general and former deputy chief of staff of the army. General Keane was the force behind an AEI report called “Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq”, written by Frederick Kagan, a military academic, and issued on January 5th. This called for an even bigger surge of about 35,000 troops. Security, Mr Kagan wrote, was the precondition for a political solution, not the other way around. Only by offering credible protection could the Americans undermine the militias.


The critical terrain is Baghdad: Iraq's most populous city, with 6m inhabitants of all sects (see map). It is both a main target for insurgents attacking coalition forces, and the centre of the sectarian war that has broken out since Sunni extremists blew up the Golden Mosque in Samarra, a Shia holy place, in February 2006.

The Americans have long pursued an “oil-spot” strategy—establishing areas of stability that would, with time, expand. These tactics have had success in some areas, particularly rural towns where American forces can monitor access routes and where tribal chiefs know what is happening. In Baghdad, though, any calm is short-lived. Last summer's joint American-Iraqi operation, codenamed “Together Forward”, was followed by the most vicious round of killing yet seen in the city.

Now, with the surge, “this is going to be completely different,” predicts General Keane. In the past, he says American and Iraqi forces could take only the first step of the three-stage strategy called “clear, hold, build”. They would clear insurgents out of parts of Baghdad. But the Americans lacked the numbers, and the Iraqis lacked the ability, to “hold” these areas, let alone rebuild them. With the promise of substantially more troops—five more American brigades in Baghdad to add to the four currently there, and the promise of 18 (smaller) Iraqi army and police brigades—General Keane says American forces will not only clear neighbourhoods of insurgents, but also stay behind and make sure that economic development follows immediately. Had these sensible tactics been followed in 2003, admits the general, the Americans would not be facing their current troubles. Still, he insists, it is not too late to change.

The man charged with implementing the new policy is General David Petraeus, who replaces General Casey. A former commander of the 101st Airborne Division that was deployed to Mosul, General Petraeus took charge of setting up the Iraqi army. He later led the training centre in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, from where he co-authored the new American counter-insurgency field manual, published jointly by the army and marines last month.

This new doctrine calls on America's warriors to perform the novel task of “armed social work”. Rather than trying to kill as many terrorists and insurgents as possible, the troops' priority should be to win the support and trust of civilians, and thereby obtain the intelligence essential to identify the enemy. Counter-insurgency requires “vast resources” of manpower and much stamina in America, says the manual. Decades after expunging the idea of “small wars” from their textbooks after the trauma of Vietnam, American officers are relearning the lessons the hard way.

At the heart of counter-insurgency doctrine is the idea of winning over the uncommitted “passive” majority. But after so much killing, and the shattering of hopes, there may not be many fence-sitters left in Baghdad. Iraqi polls are unreliable, but they show a trend of growing support for killing Americans. One survey in September found that 61% of Iraqis—including a majority of Shias and almost all Sunnis—approved of attacks on coalition forces.

More American troops may or may not bring greater security. But they will offer more targets for insurgents to shoot at, and reinforce many Iraqis' resentment of the occupation. More civilians could get killed, whether by error, carelessness, or worse. One British general with experience in Iraq believes no amount of extra American troops will solve the problem. “It may look quiet when the Humvees go past during the day, but the militias will be back at night, murdering and intimidating.” Feeling the strain

By the counter-insurgency manual's own estimate, there have always been too few forces in Iraq to stabilise it successfully. The manual recommends a saturation strategy of 20-25 members of security forces for every 1,000 civilians: the kind of ratio used when NATO soldiers entered Kosovo in 1999. For a country the size of Iraq, that means 535,000-670,000 soldiers and policemen.

The American-led coalition invaded Iraq with fewer than 200,000 men and women. Today there are just 150,000 American, British and other troops. Even counting Iraqi security forces, the total still falls short at 473,000—and that ignores their weaknesses. Many members of the Iraqi security forces are routinely absent, the army is only partly capable of carrying out its tasks, and the police force is often corrupt and infiltrated by militias.

The surge, then, may be too small to make a decisive impact and yet too large for the American armed forces to bear. The tempo of troop rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan is already in breach of the Pentagon's guidelines: two years at home for every year of operations abroad for the full-time army, and six years' relief for reserve citizen-soldiers who make up nearly half the current strength in Iraq. Equipment is being lost in battle or worn out much faster than anticipated. A bigger army would help, but it will take years to recruit and train new combat units.

Nobody knows how much strain the ground forces can bear. Commanders worry about any sign of damage to morale, such as anecdotal evidence of rising divorce rates among servicemen. A poll in the Military Times last month found falling support for the war. Just 41% approved of the decision to go into Iraq, compared with 56% the previous year. Last June Ehren Watada, an army first lieutenant, became the first commissioned officer to refuse to serve in Iraq. He said the war was “not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law.” He will be court-martialled next month.

Nevertheless, Mr Bush has decided to stretch the army a bit more. The surge will be achieved by extending the service of troops in Iraq, speeding up the deployment of forces scheduled to arrive later this year, and calling up a fresh batch of reservists for duty in 2008.

General Keane says such a surge can be sustained for up to two years. But he recognises that it will not allow America to pacify the whole country, or even the whole of Baghdad, “simultaneously”. Instead he proposes to act “sequentially”, starting by securing the mixed Sunni-Shia neighbourhoods of Baghdad to show even-handedness, and then moving to the towns surrounding the capital before attempting to take on the most important Sunni and Shia strongholds. The risk is that, as in the past, the insurgents will just wait for the Americans to go away, or shift the killing to areas where there are fewer soldiers.

Mr Bush said that Iraqi and American forces will have a “green light” to go anywhere in the city. But General Keane thinks that they would be wise for the moment to avoid Sadr City, the bastion of Moqtada al-Sadr, a firebrand Shia cleric and one of Iraq's most powerful figures. Although his Mahdi Army is a prime instigator of the violence, General Keane says a direct confrontation would be too risky.


Mr Bush's plan is to create some “breathing space”, bring down the violence to a level that the Iraqi security forces can manage and give them time to become more proficient. But to work, the military campaign has to be intimately bound up with economic and political progress. And the rub is in the politics.

The president's “benchmarks” for the Iraqi government—sharing oil revenues fairly, spending $10 billion on reconstruction, holding provincial elections, revising the federal constitution and the “de-Baathification” process—are desirable. But they have mostly been heard before, and Mr Maliki's government has failed to achieve them. In any case, big political issues may matter little to gunmen who are often fighting to control the local market, the local petrol station or the local street.

America is losing its means of influence. Iraq has made its transition to full sovereignty, and elections have enshrined the country's ethnic divisions in its politics. The downtrodden Shias, including followers of Mr Sadr, now so dominate the government that it is no longer seen as a neutral arbiter. Despite American objections to the manner of Saddam Hussein's execution last month, it went ahead anyway amid shouts of “Moqtada! Moqtada!”

America's real leverage over the Iraqi government is the threat to pull out and abandon it to its fate. That is what Mr Baker's study group advocated. But Mr Bush cannot bring himself to do that. Could the Democrat-controlled Congress force him to it, by denying him the money to wage the war?

Congress has used its power of the purse only in the most extreme circumstances, such as in the last couple of years of the Vietnam war. Doing so now would be rife with political dangers—allowing the Republicans to accuse the Democrats of overstepping their constitutional authority and, perhaps, enabling them to blame Democratic tight-fistedness if and when the war is lost. For the moment, the Democrats are considering only a symbolic non-binding vote of protest that would, in the words of Senator Joseph Biden, “demonstrate to the president he's on his own”. There could also be moves to block the increase in troop numbers while supporting the forces already in Iraq.

The unpopularity of the war is already reshaping the 2008 presidential race. Many Republicans, too, are expressing doubt about the war. The only Republican candidate to give vocal support to the “surge” is John McCain, the front-runner, but his hawkishness may hurt him. “If it destroys any ambitions I may have, I'm willing to pay that price gladly,” he said on January 5th. Most other candidates are either steering clear of the war or opposing it forcefully. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, who had backed the war, said that Mr Bush would “continue to take us down the wrong road, only faster.”

John Edwards, who was John Kerry's running-mate in 2004, says the troops should be brought home. If he does well in the primaries, he could force the rest of the field to adopt a more anti-war stance. But in any event, the uproar in Washington is sending a powerful message to the insurgents on Haifa Street: no matter how many soldiers Mr Bush sends to Iraq, they may not stay very long.