IRAQ WAR: CONSCIENCE COURSE
January 31, 2007
The U.S. Army's decision to drop two charges against 1st Lt. Ehren Watada is a reasonable step, taken in concert with Watada.
Watada agreed to stipulate to the authenticity of media accounts of his statements, avoiding a government attempt to force reporters to testify in his court-martial next week. Forcing the testimony would have raised free speech issues.
Dropping charges means Watada's maximum prison sentence has been reduced to four years, from what could have been six. We would prefer further reductions and no prison time for a conscientious refusal to serve in what Watada believes, right or wrong, is an illegal war in Iraq.
Military leaders have shown commendable flexibility in dealing with a variety of conscience- and belief-motivated requests to be excused from service. For instance, the Marine commandant, Gen. James Conway, last week granted conscientious-objector status to Pvt. Ronnie Tallman to allow the 21-year-old to pursue a newfound calling as a Navajo medicine man. Under Navajo spiritual law, Tallman could not serve in a special group of certified spiritual healers if he participated in any killing.
Actions like Conway's have given the military greater rather than lesser stature in the difficult circumstances of the Iraq war. Similar flexibility on policy at a higher level might save many Americans from the dangers of Iraq combat. Unless Congress insists, however, the Bush administration will stay the course.
San Francisco Chronicle
January 30, 2007
Original source: San Francisco Chronicle
Ehren Watada became a first lieutenant in the infantry for the best of reasons. He enlisted after Sept. 11, 2001, prompted by patriotism and duty.
But now he has landed in serious trouble. Next Monday, he is due to stand trial in military court at a Washington state Army base for refusing to deploy to Iraq with his unit. The war, he has come to believe, is "illegal and immoral."
His message taps into a national mood of rejection and anger over a deceitful venture. He has drawn support from anti-war groups, who support his change in outlook.
His arguments are appealing, but unconvincing. As an officer, he's in no position to refuse orders to go to Iraq. His change of mind and claims of conscience don't excuse him duty.
Watada, who did an earlier tour of duty in Korea, has offered to serve in Afghanistan. Yet no soldier can be allowed to pick and choose assignments, a notion that undercuts the necessary hierarchy of military order. He also faces charges of conduct unbecoming an officer for publicly denouncing President Bush, who is also commander in chief of the military.
Free-speech advocates are bothered by another angle in the case. Army prosecutors may oblige two journalists to testify as to the veracity of Watada's remarks critical of Bush and the war. It's one thing to verify a published account, as reporters often do. But there must not be a wider fishing expedition into the case against Watada.
He's already lost a preliminary ruling that bars a hearing on the illegality of the war. With his options so limited, it's hard to imagine an outcome that will satisfy him or his supporters. He faces prison and a dishonorable discharge. A promising officer has made a ruinous misjudgment.