COMMANDER SAYS HE FELT ‘BIT BETRAYED’ BY WATADA
By Mike Barber
February 7, 2007
FORT LEWIS -- A day after barring defense witnesses who could have put the war in Iraq on trial in the court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, the military judge and prosecutor heard how dicey it can be to keep the issue out.
On Tuesday, the judge, Lt. Col. John Head, riding herd to keep the focus of the trial upon the legality of Watada's conduct and not the legality of the war, at one point cautioned a prosecutor to rephrase a question that strayed close to that prohibited subject, ordering "move on!"
Lt. Col. Bruce Antonia, Watada's battalion commander, summoned home from Iraq to testify, was asked by a prosecutor about his reaction when Watada first voiced his beliefs publicly in June.
"My reaction to that was I was dismayed," Antonia said, "probably a little bit betrayed. . . . Lt. Watada and I had some conversation about his opinions of the war. He said he would rather go to jail than go to what he considered an illegal war . . . ," Antonia said before Head cut him off.
"Please members," Head said to the jury of military officers, "disregard that last statement." Watada's defense team was mum.
The exchange took place as a jury of Army officers -- five men and two women -- began hearing testimony Tuesday.
Watada, who served with the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division that deployed to Iraq last summer, is the first commissioned U.S. officer to refuse to serve in Iraq. He has said the war is illegal and he is duty-bound to refuse illegal orders.
Watada is charged with missing movement to Iraq with his unit June 28 and two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer for public statements he made in June and August. If convicted, he faces a maximum of four years in prison and dismissal from the service.
The second day of the court-martial began with opening statements.
By refusing to serve in Iraq the way he did, Watada "brought shame and disgrace to himself, his unit and the officer corps of the Army," prosecutor Capt. Scott Van Sweringen said.
Instead of living up to his duty to lead soldiers who had trained with him, Watada sat in his office as his unit departed, "absent a leader they trusted," Van Sweringen said.
But Watada explained his actions this way in a video released to the media on June 7, when he went public with his decision not to go to Iraq.
"The wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of Iraqis is not only a terrible and moral injustice, but it's a contradiction to the Army's own law of land warfare," Watada said. "My participation would make me a party to war crimes. I appeal to my commanders to see the larger issues of their actions, but justice has not been forthcoming."
The June 7 video is the source of one of the counts of conduct unbecoming an officer. The other count stems from an address Watada made to a Veterans for Peace convention in Seattle in August.
Eric Seitz, Watada's civilian defense lawyer, urged the jurors to listen to Watada for themselves when he testifies today.
"He did not attack the president, the command, or fellow soldiers. He simply explained that he was upset about this war and that it was illegal and morally wrong," Seitz said.
"At most, he engaged in an act or form of civil disobedience," Seitz said. "No way does that add up to conduct unbecoming an officer."
No one disagreed that Watada was an exemplary, highly motivated, and hard-working officer before he emerged publicly with his concerns last summer.
Watada turned against the war after studying all he could about Iraq in 2005, when his unit learned it would deploy in June 2006.
By January 2006, Watada had shared his doubts with his commanders, seeking to resign, or even to serve in Afghanistan.
Seitz portrayed Watada as being painted into a corner by months of foot-dragging from commanders, then being forced out of frustration to go public just before his unit left for Iraq.
"I felt strongly I was not being taken seriously. It was something I felt would make me a criminal in my own eyes," Watada told Head when questioned out of earshot of the jury to clarify a statement he had signed.
Watada said he wanted the issue resolved at Fort Lewis, rather than later in Iraq.
But Antonia, who commands the 5th Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in Iraq, said he felt betrayed because Watada ensured him he would not go public, creating a "big media event" as his troops were readying for Iraq.
"My opinion of him fell because I told him I did not want this to be public on the forefront of my soldiers minds on the eve of deployment, but he did it anyway," Antonia said.
"Everything you put on a soldier's plate prior to deployment is magnified. What should be on their minds is getting their weapons zeroed, making final preparations, kissing their wives and children goodbye, not what Lt. Watada is going to say next," Antonia said.
Antonia's comments drew murmurs from among 30 spectators, most Watada supporters, in a court overflow room when he told the court soldiers are obligated to determine for themselves whether they are given an illegal order.
"I would expect him not to obey if the order was illegal," Antonia said.
But he quickly added that the responsibility falls with the chain of command to determine legality. If the chain says, "No, this is not illegal, then I would expect that officer to obey," Antonia said.
Antonia said he was dismayed with Watada's comments. "I believe what he said was that the commander in chief made decisions based on lies, that he specifically deceived the American people. That is nowhere in the realm of a lieutenant in the United States Army."
ARMY: WAR OBJECTOR BROUGHT DISGRACE
By Melanthia Mitchell
February 6, 2007
FORT LEWIS, Wash. -- An Army lieutenant who refused to deploy to Iraq because he considers the war illegal abandoned his soldiers and disgraced himself and the service, prosecutors said Tuesday at his court-martial.
A lawyer for 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, however, argued that his client was acting in good conscience, based on his understanding of the war and military law.
"At most, he engaged in an act or form of civil disobedience," defense attorney Eric Seitz said in opening remarks. "No way does that add up to conduct unbecoming an officer."
The military accuses Watada, 28, of Honolulu, of refusing to ship out with his unit and conduct unbecoming an officer for accusing the Army of war crimes and for attacking the Bush administration's handling of the war.
Although other officers have refused to deploy to Iraq, Watada is the first to be court-martialed.
Prosecutor Capt. Scott Van Sweringen told the court Tuesday that by Jan. 1, 2006, Watada had concluded that the war was illegal and that he could not deploy.
Watada's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Bruce Antonia, testified that he learned of Watada's concerns soon after that and urged Watada not to make any public statements.
Instead, Watada released a video statement at a June news conference in Tacoma.
"The wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of Iraqis is not only a terrible and moral injustice, but it's a contradiction to the Army's own law of land warfare. My participation would make me a party to war crimes," Watada said in the video, which was played in court Tuesday.
"I was dismayed, probably a little bit betrayed," Antonia said. "I believe what he said was that the commander in chief made decisions based on lies, that he specifically deceived the American people. That is nowhere in the realm of a lieutenant in the United States Army."
Under cross-examination, Antonia said he believes soldiers are obligated to determine for themselves whether they've been given an illegal order.
"I would expect him not to obey if the order was illegal," Antonia said, prompting several excited murmurs from spectators watching the hearing from a nearby overflow room.
Antonia stressed, however, that if the chain of command determined it not to be illegal, he would expect the officer to obey.
Lt. Col. William James, Watada's former brigade commander, said he counseled Watada against making "a young man's mistake, not making a decision based solely on emotion."
James said he wanted Watada to understand his responsibilities both as a citizen and as an officer who would lead soldiers.
"An officer at any level . . . you are oftentimes the point of reference soldiers use for their moral compass," James testified.
Soldiers in Watada's unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, left for Iraq -- "absent a leader they had trained with. Absent a leader they had trusted," Van Sweringen told the seven-member panel of officers hearing the case.
Seitz argued that the young officer had no choice but to go public after the Army refused his attempts for a solution other than going to Iraq.
Watada has admitted that he didn't get on the plane and that he made the statements in question, Seitz told the panel.
"The question is . . . why? What was his intent? How did he comport himself when he made those statements and took action?" Seitz asked.
Testimony was to resume Wednesday at this Army base south of Tacoma.
On Monday, a small group that included actor Sean Penn demonstrated outside the base in support of Watada. A few others demonstrated against him, including one man who carried a sign calling Watada a "weasel."
GOVERNMENT SAYS WAR OBJECTOR ABANDONED UNIT
By Daisuke Wakabayashi
February 6, 2007
FORT LEWIS, Wash. -- The U.S. government began its case against an Army officer being court-martialed for refusing to fight in Iraq by accusing him on Tuesday of making "disgraceful" statements and abandoning his unit.
First Lt. Ehren Watada faces up to four years in a military prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted on a charge of missing movements for not deploying to Iraq and two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer for his criticism of the war.
Watada, whose supporters say is the first commissioned Army officer to refuse publicly to fight in Iraq, has called the war illegal and immoral. He rejected conscientious objector status, saying he would be willing to fight in Afghanistan.
Government and defense lawyers laid out their arguments to a seven-member panel of officers, the equivalent of a jury in a civilian trial, who will determine Watada's fate.
"The accused sat comfortably in his office while the soldiers in his unit deployed to Iraq," said Capt. Scott Van Sweringen, the prosecuting attorney. "The manner and content of his statements were disgraceful."
Outside the gates of Fort Lewis, an Army base near Seattle, demonstrators supporting and opposing Watada waved banners and held signs. One anti-Watada demonstrator held a sign that read "Jail Weasel Watada."
Inside the courtroom, Watada, 28, sat quietly wearing his formal dark-green dress uniform and answered most of the judge's questions with either a "Yes sir," or "No sir."
The government called Lt. Col. Bruce Antonia, Watada's commander, as a witness. Antonia, who called Watada "a smart, generally hard-working officer," said he was disappointed that the defendant went public with his comments after promising in private not to create a media frenzy.
Watada does not deny that he refused to go to Iraq, criticized the war and accused U.S. President George W. Bush's administration of deceiving the American people to enter into a war of aggression.
"There are no real facts in dispute here," said Watada's lawyer, Eric Seitz. "The only real question is why."
The defense aims to show that Watada acted on principle and tried to avoid a public confrontation with the Army by offering to resign his commission or fight elsewhere.
Seitz told reporters on Monday he would consider a lighter sentence for Watada as a victory after the military judge limited the scope of the defense strategy.
The judge, Lt. Col. John Head, denied the defense's motion to argue the legality of the war, saying it was not a matter for a military court. He also disallowed the defense's entire witness list as irrelevant.
The two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer stem from public comments Watada made encouraging soldiers "to throw down their weapons" to resist an authoritarian government at home.
Defense lawyers had intended to argue that his comments were free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution. The judge decided prior to the trial that there are limits to an officer's rights to free speech.
The military panel will decide whether Watada's criticism amounted to misconduct posing a danger to the loyalty, discipline, mission, and morale of the troops.
"He was acting out of his own conscience. He was not compelling anyone to act out," said Seitz. "At most, he engaged in an act of civil disobedience."
The defense was expected to present its case on Wednesday. If a guilty verdict is returned, the trial will enter the sentencing phase.
THE LEFT’S DEFINITION OF A ‘HERO’
By Michelle Malkin
February 7, 2007
Angry, left-wing *Washington Post* blogger William Arkin considers American troops in Iraq who believe in their mission "mercenaries" who are "naive" and should be thankful they haven't been spit upon yet. Curdled Democrat Sen. John Kerry thinks those soldiers, who volunteer for service, didn't "make an effort to be smart" and are "stuck in Iraq" because of their intellectual deficiencies. At the last anti-war spasm in Washington, liberal peace-lovers vandalized a military recruitment office -- repeating an act of destruction taken by rock-wielding thugs across college campuses and at ROTC headquarters nationwide.
So, who inspires these troop-bashers? Whose courage do they cheer? Whom do they call "hero"?
Not the American soldier on the battlefield, willingly and freely putting his life on the line for his beliefs, his family, our country, security and freedom.
No, their idea of a military hero is Army Lt. Ehren Watada. Did Watada take a bullet for his comrades? Rescue innocent civilians from insurgent forces? Throw himself on a grenade? Ambush a terrorist sniper nest? No.
Watada's the soldier who went on trial this week for defying orders to be deployed to Iraq -- after volunteering for duty. For those deficient in English, here's the meaning of volunteer: "To perform or offer to perform a service of one's own free will." Hundreds of anti-war groupies, including actor Sean Penn, showed up to cheer Watada.
Watada was scheduled to leave Fort Lewis, Wash., for his first tour of duty in Iraq last summer. Instead of getting on the bus with his fellow soldiers, he announced he would not go and denounced the war as "unjust" and "illegal." He was the only military officer to refuse deployment to Iraq with Fort Lewis' 4,000-member Stryker Brigade. The anti-war propaganda machine kicked into full gear for Watada, with coordinated press conferences in Tacoma, Wash., and Honolulu, where Watada grew up.
Some of Watada's hometown neighbors are sick of his intellectual disingenuousness. Writing in Watada's hometown newspaper, the *Honolulu Advertiser*, retired Col. Thomas D. Farrell, who served as an Army intelligence officer in Iraq in 2005-2006, retorted:
"How can anyone seriously claim that our military involvement in Iraq is illegal when both Congress and the U.N. have taken the steps to authorize it, and allow it to continue to this day? Lt. Watada argues that he has the right to make his own personal assessment, notwithstanding whatever Congress and the U.N. may do. If he's right, why not make our personal assessments about how fast is safe to drive, or how much tax is our fair share? The answer is obvious: Anarchy would prevail, and the rule of law -- the basis of all real freedom -- would cease to exist."
The only thing illegal here is Watada's willful refusal to obey orders. Watada is just the latest in a line of losers abandoning their men, their mission and the rule of law. The left calls this "dissent." The rest of us call it what it is: Desertion.
Many military observers say they smelled a rat when they first heard of Watada's story. Watada graduated from Hawai'i Pacific University in 2003, joined the Army shortly after, went to Officer Candidate School and incurred a three-year obligation. Wrote Navy Officer Robert Webster:
"This guy graduated from college and then joined the Army, going to Officer Candidate school, after we had already started the Iraq campaign just to claim it was an 'illegal' war when his unit is called to go. Smells funny to me. In my mind, either the Army gave a commission to an idiot not aware of current events or he planned this all along."
Soldiers making calculated political statements against their own troops? Wouldn't be the first time -- cough, cough, John Kerry. Idiot or schemer, Watada deserves a stiff, strong penalty for his lawlessness. An excellent proposal put forth at the military blog Op-For (op-for.com):
"Relieve him of operational duties and send him to work at Walter Reed, to handle the in- and out-processing of wounded veterans."
Yes, where the real heroes are.