(Updated Jul. 23, 10:30 a.m. PDT) In a major media break in the Watada case, on Sun., Jul. 23, the New York Times became the first national newspaper to devote an article to U.S. Army Lt. Ehren K. Watada, the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq on the grounds that the war is illegal.[1]  --  Written by John Kifner and Timothy Egan, the piece is based on interviews and original research, and offers new details about Lt. Watada's military past, including quotations from his miiltary fitness reports, which were, the Times reported, "glowing":  "'Exemplary,' said his executive officer fitness report . . . 'Tremendous potential for positions of increased responsibility.  He has the potential to command with distinction. Promote ahead of his peers.'"  --  Kifner and Egan noted:  "In retrospect, though, there may have been one ominous note in the praise heaped on him in his various military fitness reports:  he was cited as having an 'insatiable appetite for knowledge.'"  --  Also quoted for the first time in the Times article are two officers who served with Lt. Watada in South Korea, Capt. Scott Hulin and First Lt. Bernard West, both of whom spoke highly of him, though they do not share his views.  --  The Times paid almost no attention to the legal case and devotes only one sentence to his "critics"; instead, Kifner and Egan emphasized Watada's impeccable character and civic devotion: "Lieutenant Watada conceded that the military could not function if individual members decided which war was just.  But, he wrote to Colonel Townsend, he owed his allegiance to a 'higher power' -- the Constitution -- based on the values the Army had taught him:  'loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.'  --  The article was republished in its entirety by the Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune.  --  Shorter versions of the Times article were also printed by the Houston Chronicle and the Tacoma (WA) Tacoma (WA) News Tribune.  --  Islam Online has posted a piece based on the New York Times article.  --  Also published this week:  a piece in the Nichi Bei Times reporting on the mostly negataive reaction of five Japanese American veterans to Lt. Watada's decision.[2] ...




By John Kifner and Timothy Egan

New York Times
July 23, 2006


[PHOTO CAPTION: First Lt. Ehren K. Watada joined the Army after Sept. 11 but says he will not serve in Iraq. “I was still willing to go until I started reading,” he said.]

SEATTLE -- When First Lt. Ehren K. Watada of the Army shipped out for a tour of duty in South Korea two years ago, he was a promising young officer rated among the best by his superiors. Like many young men after Sept. 11, he had volunteered “out of a desire to protect our country,” he said, even paying $800 for a medical test to prove he qualified despite childhood asthma.

Now Lieutenant Watada, 28, is working behind a desk at Fort Lewis just south of Seattle, one of only a handful of Army officers who have refused to serve in Iraq, an Army spokesman said, and apparently the first facing the prospect of a court-martial for doing so.

“I was still willing to go until I started reading,” Lieutenant Watada said in an interview one recent evening.

A long and deliberate buildup led to Lieutenant Watada’s decision to refuse deployment to Iraq. He reached out to antiwar groups, and they, in turn, embraced his cause, raising money for his legal defense, selling posters and T-shirts, and circulating a petition on his behalf.

Critics say the lieutenant’s move is an orchestrated act of defiance that will cause chaos in the military if repeated by others. But Lieutenant Watada said he arrived at his decision after much soul-searching and research.

On Jan. 25, “with deep regret,” he delivered a passionate two-page letter to his brigade commander, Col. Stephen J. Townsend, asking to resign his commission. “Simply put, I am wholeheartedly opposed to the continued war in Iraq, the deception used to wage this war, and the lawlessness that has pervaded every aspect of our civilian leadership,” Lieutenant Watada wrote.

At 2:30 a.m. on June 22, when the Third Stryker Brigade of the Second Infantry Division set off for Iraq, Lieutenant Watada was not on the plane. He has since been charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with one count of missing movement, for not deploying, two counts of contempt toward officials and three counts of conduct unbecoming an officer.

Lieutenant Watada’s about-face came as a shock to his parents, his fellow soldiers, and his superiors. In retrospect, though, there may have been one ominous note in the praise heaped on him in his various military fitness reports: he was cited as having an “insatiable appetite for knowledge.”

Lieutenant Watada said that when he reported to Fort Lewis in June 2005, in preparation for deployment to Iraq, he was beginning to have doubts. “I was still prepared to go, still willing to go to Iraq,” he said. “I thought it was my responsibility to learn about the present situation. At that time, I never conceived our government would deceive the Army or deceive the people.”

He was not asking for leave as a conscientious objector, Lieutenant Watada said, a status assigned to those who oppose all military service because of moral objections to war. It was only the Iraq war that he said he opposed.

Military historians say it is rare in the era of the all-voluntary Army for officers to do what Lieutenant Watada has done.

“Certainly it’s far from unusual in the annals of war for this to happen,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in military affairs at the Brookings Institution. “But it is pretty obscure since the draft ended.”

Mr. O’Hanlon said that if other officers followed suit, it would be nearly impossible to run the military. “The idea that any individual officer can decide which war to fight doesn’t really pass the common-sense test,” he said.

Lieutenant Watada conceded that the military could not function if individual members decided which war was just. But, he wrote to Colonel Townsend, he owed his allegiance to a “higher power” -- the Constitution -- based on the values the Army had taught him: “loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.”

“Please allow me to leave the Army with honor and dignity,” he concluded.

Lieutenant Watada said he began his self-tutorial about the Iraq war with James Bamford’s book A Pretext for War, which argues that the war in Iraq was driven by a small group of neoconservative civilians in the Pentagon and their allies in policy institutes. The book suggests that intelligence was twisted to justify the toppling of Saddam Hussein, with the goal of fundamentally changing the Middle East to the benefit of Israel.

Next was Chain of Command, by Seymour M. Hersh, about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. After that, Lieutenant Watada moved on to other publications on war-related themes, including selections on the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and the so-called Downing Street memo, in which the British chief of intelligence told Prime Minister Tony Blair in July 2002 that the Americans saw war in Iraq as “inevitable” and that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

Lieutenant Watada said he also talked to soldiers returning to Fort Lewis from Iraq, including a staff sergeant who told him that he and his men had probably committed war crimes.

“When I learned the awful truth that we had been deceived -- I was shocked and disgusted,” he wrote in the letter to his brigade commander.

There were efforts to work things out, Lieutenant Watada said. The Army offered him a staff job in Iraq that would have kept him out of combat; but combat was not the point, he said.

Lieutenant Watada said he had volunteered to serve in Afghanistan, which he regarded as an unambiguous war linked to the Sept. 11 attacks. The request was denied.

In public statements, Army officials warned Lieutenant Watada that he was facing “adverse action” in the days leading up to his decision to refuse to go to Iraq. Charges were filed only after he showed insubordination, they said; his insubordination included giving interviews.

“This was a call of his commander, after he decided that Lieutenant Watada’s action required these charges,” said Joe Hitt, a Fort Lewis spokesman.

When Lieutenant Watada’s mother, Carolyn Ho, learned of his decision, she was caught off guard, she said. Her son, an Eagle Scout who grew up in Hawaii, had always admired the Army.

“I tried to talk him out of it,” Ms. Ho said. “I just saw his career going down the drain. It took me awhile to get through this.”

Now, she said, “I honor and respect his decision.”

Two officers who served with Lieutenant Watada in South Korea also voiced support for him in telephone interviews arranged by Lieutenant Watada, though they made it clear they did not share his views on Iraq.

“He was a good officer, always very professional,” said one of the officers, Capt. Scott Hulin. “I personally disagree with his opinion and his stance against the war. But I personally support his stand as a man, to be able to do what his heart is telling him.”

A former roommate of Lieutenant Watada, First Lt. Bernard West, offered similar remarks.

Lieutenant Watada had two assignments in South Korea. One was as the executive officer of the headquarters battery, the other as a platoon leader of a unit of multiple-launch rockets. His evaluations were glowing.

“Exemplary,” said his executive officer fitness report, which Lieutenant Watada provided to a reporter. “Tremendous potential for positions of increased responsibility. He has the potential to command with distinction. Promote ahead of his peers.”

His evaluation as a platoon leader also called him “exemplary” and said he had “unlimited potential.”

Under the military system, the charges against Lieutenant Watada will be reviewed in an Article 32 hearing, the rough equivalent of a grand jury hearing. If there is a court-martial hearing, it will probably come in the fall; the maximum penalty would be a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay and seven years in prison, according to a news release from Fort Lewis.

A spokesman for the Army, Paul Boyce, said that as far as he knew, Lieutenant Watada would be the first Army officer to be court-martialed for refusing to go to Iraq.


By Ben Hamamoto

Nichi Bei Times
July 20-26, 2006


Since announcing he would refuse deployment to Iraq because he feels the war is illegal, U.S. Army First Lt. Ehren Watada has become the subject of controversy nation-wide. His case has been debated on Fox News more than once and his name appears in countless blogs.

But by and large, Japanese Americans, veterans in particular, have been left out of the conversation.

This week, the Nichi Bei Times spoke to a handful of Japanese American veterans to get reaction to Lt. Watada’s refusal.

“I’m rather disappointed myself. Watada is a first lieutenant and he’s had quite a long time to think about this. By not deploying with his unit, he’s letting his men down. He should have never taken the commission in the first place.” --Bob Hayamizu, World War II veteran, Los Angeles.

“The veterans are not happy about this. We feel it’s setting back the traditions and historical record of Japanese Americans. In the Korean War, we were not so sure why we were there. I know a lot of guys didn’t like it. A lot of guys didn’t believe in it, but they were there. They served. I lost a real close friend in that war. The Vietnam War was one of the most unpopular wars ever and there were no Nikkei guys that refused to go, not a single one. In the military, you lose your discipline and chain of command if soldiers decide on their own what to do and what not to do. I am a little apprehensive about Iraq, but I firmly believe in supporting our troops, no matter what war it is they are in. Lt. Watada joined before the war started. He has no real excuse for not obeying the commander-in-chief. I haven’t heard of a single Nisei vet that supports him. We’re all appalled. He’s brought a lot of shame to the legacy of Nisei veterans.” --Robert Wada, Korean War veteran, Fullerton, Calif.

“I’m 100 percent in support of Lt. Watada. His logic is very clear, he believes in the use of military force to protect Americans, but he was shocked as he began to learn more about the war in Iraq. He felt betrayed by the president. Weapons of Mass Destruction were the primary purpose for this war and not a single one has been found. I have absolutely no interest in supporting this president and I don’t see why Lt. Watada should have to either. The Japanese American Veterans Association has come out in support of the Nikkei draft resistors (in World War II). What the young lieutenant from Hawaii did was take a stand according to his conscience. I think it is exactly the same thing.” --Paul Tsuneishi, World War II veteran, Sunland, Calif.

“Many have voiced their support of first Lt. Ehren Watada’s refusal to deploy to Iraq. However, I strongly disagree with his decision. How effective of an Army would we have if we allowed our soldiers, especially officers, to refuse to comply with military orders simply because they did not agree? Some consider him a hero for refusing to deploy. It took a great deal of fortitude to come to such a decision, but that does not make him a hero. When he commissioned as a U.S. Army officer, he took a solemn oath to obey all orders. The effectiveness of our military will be undermined if the actions of men like Watada are accepted without consequence. If one has any reservations about such things, then why join in the first place? I am a World War II veteran and I volunteered for the U.S. Army from Gila River internment camp in November 1942 when it was not a popular thing to do. I believe we should instill patriotism and loyalty in our present and future Nikkei generations. We can respect his decision, but let’s not applaud it. --Col. Harry Fukuhara (retired), WWII veteran, San Jose.

“In this country, we are all encouraged to study an issue and express our thoughts on it. Lt. Watada is doing just that. From what I know, he is well-educated, an intellectual, and a deep thinker. He has reached a decision, which is not popular and which has gotten him in a lot of trouble, but he had the courage to take a stand anyway. Ours is a free country and we have to respect his right to express his views.” --Marvin Uratsu, World War II veteran, Richmond, Calif.