On Wed., Jun. 7, Lt. Ehren K. Watada held a news conference in Tacoma, WA. -- Below is a synopsis (not a transcript) of the questions asked and answers given. -- Lt. Watada's chief points: that the U.S. war in Iraq is not only morally misguided but actually illegal, and that he was obliged as an officer of honor and integrity to disobey the illegal order to deploy to Iraq. -- These are difficult propositions for America's mainstream press to address, even to acknowledge, perhaps since to express these ideas is also to suggest the possibility that much of the reporting on Iraq in the mainstream media over the past four years has been complicit in, and has abetted, crimes against the peace....
SYNOPSIS OF LT. EHREN WATADA'S PRESS CONFERENCE IN TACOMA, WASHINGTON
By Mark Jensen
United for Peace of Pierce County (WA)
June 8, 2006
[NOTE: The text below is a synopsis, not a transcript.]
Wednesday, June 7, 2006 -- 6:15 p.m.
Question: How are you feeling?
Lt. Ehren K. Watada: I feel fine. I have no regrets.
Question: What changed for you?
Lt. Watada: I learned that I would be deployed to Iraq, and I was trained to learn everything I could about my mission. I wanted to read everything I could. Specifically, why we were in this war. After reading many articles and books, including scholarly works on constitutional and international law, I concluded that not only is the war in Iraq morally wrong, but it is, in fact, illegal.
Question: Would your stand be different -- would you refuse to go if you were ordered to go to Afghanistan?
Lt. Watada: I would not. It is the Iraq war that is a betrayal of trust.
Question: What has been the reaction of your fellow officers?
Lt. Watada: A few have supported me. There has been a lot of negative sentiment. There has been no harassment at this time. There is a lot of tension.
Question: How do you spend your days? And what comes next?
Lt. Watada: In March I was transferred to an administrative position. I have not received word on what will happen to me.
Question: Have you applied for conscientious objector status? If not, why not?
Lt. Watada: Applications for conscientious objector status have not always been handled fairly, or consistently. Also, I felt that I couldn't be true to myself if I applied for something I didn't really believe in.
Question: Why is the war bad?
Lt. Watada: The war is bad because it violates American law and international law. It is bad because while we occupy a foreign country, we are violating many laws.
Question: Did you agree with the war when you signed up?
Lt. Watada: I believed the president should have the benefit of the doubt.
Question: What is all this like for you?
Lt. Watada: All this public scrutiny is not something I'm comfortable with, but it's a sacrifice it's important to make. I felt it was my obligation as a leader to speak out against the willful misconduct at the highest level of the chain of command.
Question: [ -- ]
Lt. Watada: Trust is essential in the military because it is impossible for officers to fully investigate the truthfulness and legality behind every decision. We must have the strength and the courage to do what is right for America.
Question: Why did you obey the order not to appear at the noontime news conference, when you are refusing to obey the order to deploy to Iraq?
Lt. Watada: The order relating to how to make public statements is a lawful order. The order to deploy is not.
Question: Do you think, then, that we should we coddle Muslim terrorists? And what would you do about al-Qaeda sleeper cells in our own society?
Lt. Watada: We should do whatever American law allows us to do.
Question: How did you make your decision?
Lt. Watada: The turning point came when I saw the pain and suffering of so many families of soliders killed, and Iraqi civilians.
Question: How did it go from that to this?
Lt. Watada: The transition came in January. I told my commander about my intention to send a letter of resignation. They told me that it wouldn't do any good, but to go ahead and do it anyway. I sent it in April. The request was denied. I feel the order to deploy is illegal.
Question: How did you come to be represented by peace groups?
Lt. Watada: I best serve my soldiers by speaking out against willful misconduct of leaders, and doing what I can to end an illegal war.
Question: Are you prepared to go to prison?
Lt. Watada: Yes, I am. I'm prepared to face the punishment. We all have to remember our oath, which is to the Constitution. It is the duty of every officer to evaluate the lawfulness of every order.
Question: Didn't it occur to you when you signed up that you might have to fight in a war you disagreed with?
Lt. Watada: It's not that I disagree with this war. This war is unlawful. It is my duty not to participate.
Question: When are you scheduled to leave for Iraq?
Lt. Watada: For security reasons, I can't answer that question.
Question: What's next? Fort Lewis released a statement today saying that you have not exercised an option to make a request not to execute a stop-loss order.
Lt. Watada: I was asked if still planned not to deploy. I said yes. They said they would figure out what to do. I only heard about the possibility of making such a request this morning. I will submit another resignation request through that channel.
Question: How has this affected how you perceive this country?
Lt. Watada: We pride ourselves on being a nation of laws and a nation governed by the people. I think that after the horrible tragedies of 9/11, people felt that we had the right to make war on anyone, even if this was not so.
Question: Will your association with extreme groups make you extreme?
Lt. Watada: We must obey the law.
Question: Would you be willing to name the people in the chain of command guilty of willful misconduct -- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for example?
Lt. Watada: I don't feel I can answer that question at this time.
Question: Are you drawing on deeper sources in taking this step?
Lt. Watada: I draw on people throughout history. There have been laws that were not morally right, and were not legally right, either. Later they have been seen not to be right, and those who have disobeyed them have been absolved.
Question: Should a soldier in Iraq have the right to say no to orders?
Lt. Watada: We have a duty and an obligation to evaluate the lawfulness of every order.
Question: You are only one person. You say the war is illegal, but what about all the others who think otherwise? Why are you not joined by others?
Lt. Watada: I can't speak for the others in the military. But I see that there are many people here today who see the war for what it is.
[NOTE: The text above is a synopsis, not a transcript.]