On Thursday, Prof. Michael Honey of the University of Washington-Tacoma sent a letter to the News Tribune (Tacoma, WA).[1]  --  In it, he refutes with ease an obtuse editorial published by the News Tribune (Tacoma, WA) on Wednesday.[2]  --  The News Tribune's notion that if Lt. Watada's view that officers have an obligation to disobey illegal orders should prevail, "the United States would have a useless Army," and that "whether to fight is not an issue service members get to debate," is shocking.  --  It suggests that the News Tribune has an editorial board both morally purblind and abysmally ignorant of history.  --  Lt. Watada's view is not only legitmate.  --  It is also orthodox under American law, having been embodied in the Nuremberg Principles promulgated by the United States in 1945 and endorsed by the United Nations in 1950.[3]  --  Moreover, it was this position that was used to justify the execution of Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, Obergruppenführer Ernst Kaltenbrunner, and Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel.  --  Is the News Tribune challenging the legitimacy of the Nuremberg Trials?  --  (For the record, the News Tribune says its editorials represent the opinion of its editorial board, which consists of David Seago, Patrick O'Callahan, Cheryl Tucker, Kim Bradford, Cheryl Dell, and David Zeeck, and written by the first four named.)  --  Michael Honey is the author of Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights: Organizing Memphis Workers (University of Illinois Press, 1993), Black Workers Remember: An Oral History of Segregation, Unionism, and the Freedom Struggle (University of California Press, 2000; paperback 2002), and the forthcoming Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King's Last Campaign (W.W. Norton, 2007)....



By Michael Honey

To the editor:

Your editorial (June 8) condemning First Lt. Ehren Watada for refusing to deploy to Iraq [#2 below] says officers do not have the right to evaluate the legality of orders from above, except, perhaps, "in instances involving war crimes." Indeed, the United States at the Nuremburg trials after World War II set the principle that commanding officers must exercise moral judgement and must obey international standards of conduct in war. That is the principle Watada is following, and we should applaud him for it.

Watada says the President invaded Iraq under false premises, thereby committing "a betrayal and a deception of the American people." Bush's deceptions are well documented, as are his policies of torture of suspects and imprisonment without charges or trial, all in violation of international and U.S. law. These policies, and the occupation of a country that did not attack the U.S., places our soldiers in the untenable position of killing and maiming many noncombatants, thereby violating our own democratic standards of human rights. Americans do not lose their status as citizens when they join the military. The oath of allegience we all take to defend the Constitution demands a high standard of conduct and requires each of us to stand up for the rule of law, even against a lawless commander in chief.

Michael Honey
Tacoma, WA



Our views


** A Fort Lewis lieutenant refusing to go to Iraq is a hero to some, but he's betraying a solemn oath he made to serve his country **

News Tribune (Tacoma, WA)
June 8, 2006
Page B6


It’s a fact of life -- and duty -- that soldiers don’t get to choose which wars they’ll fight. The United States would have a useless Army if every officer saw his duty as it seems to 1st Lt. Ehren Watada.

Watada, now stationed at Fort Lewis, has attracted the support of antiwar activists for refusing orders to deploy to Iraq -- even though he accepted his commission after the U.S. invaded Iraq.

Watada is not a conscientious objector, which is a morally defensible position if it applies to all war. Watada makes it clear he’s not against all war -- just this one in Iraq. That doesn’t make him a hero any way you slice it.

Watada, whose Stryker brigade is scheduled to leave for Iraq this month, claims to have been “lied to and betrayed” by the Bush administration. When he enlisted, he believed the administration’s claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Now he calls the war illegal and immoral.

Americans can legitimately debate the evidence and arguments the administration used to lead the nation into war in Iraq. History will ultimately be the judge of that issue, and it likely will not be kind.

But whether to fight is not an issue service members get to debate. Watada took a solemn oath when he accepted his commission. It’s worth repeating here:

“I . . . do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God.”

Watada has a novel interpretation of this oath: “It is the duty, the obligation of every soldier, and specifically the officers,” he told the Seattle Times, “to evaluate the legality, the truth behind every order -- including the order to go to war.”

That is a breathtaking -- and wholly nonsensical -- assertion. No military service could function if officers and enlisted men and women had such a right or obligation. Only in instances involving war crimes might such a scenario be applicable.

The plain truth is that Watada is betraying his oath and disobeying orders. The only honorable thing he can do is accept the appropriate punishment the Army inevitably will levy.




No. 82

Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and in the Judgment of the Tribunal. Adopted by the International Law Commission of the United Nations, 1950.

Introductory note: Under General Assembly Resolution 177 (II), paragraph (a), the International Law Commission was directed to "formulate the principles of international law recognized in the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and in the judgment of the Tribunal." In the course of the consideration of this subject, the question arose as to whether or not the Commission should ascertain to what extent the principles contained in the Charter and judgment constituted principles of international law. The conclusion was that since the Nuremberg Principles had been affirmed by the General Assembly, the task entrusted to the Commission was not to express any appreciation of these principles as principles of international law but merely to formulate them. The text below was adopted by the Commission at its second session. The Report of the Commission also contains commentaries on the principles (see Yearbook of the Intemational Law Commission, 1950, Vol. II, pp. 374-378).

Authentic text: English Text published in Report of the International Law Commission Covering its Second Session, 5 June-29 Duly 1950, Document A/1316, pp. 11-14.

Principle I

Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefor and liable to punishment.

Principle II

The fact that internal law does not impose a penalty for an act which constitutes a crime under international law does not relieve the person who committed the act from responsibility under international law.

Principle III

The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law acted as Head of State or responsible Government official does not relieve him from responsibility under international law.

Principle IV

The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

Principle V

Any person charged with a crime under international law has the right to a fair trial on the facts and law.

Principle Vl

The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under; international law:

1. Crimes against peace: 1. Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances; 2. Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).

2. War crimes: Violations of the laws or customs of war which include, but are not limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave-labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or illtreatment of prisoners of war, of persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.

3. Crimes against humanity: Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime.

Principle VII

Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principles VI is a crime under international law.