FIRST U.S. OFFICER SINCE VIETNAM GOES ON TRIAL FOR SPEAKING OUT
By Suzanne Goldenberg
** Eager recruit turned critic faces military prison after refusing to fight **
February 3, 2007
On the eve of America's invasion of Iraq, he was heartsick at the prospect that he might not be military material. He even shelled out $800 for medical tests to convince the recruiters that he was fit for duty despite childhood asthma that would ordinarily render him ineligible for service.
On Monday, that same eager recruit, now Lieutenant Ehren Watada, faces a court-martial for refusing to deploy to Iraq and for making public statements against the war. He is the first officer to be prosecuted for publicly criticizing the war -- indeed the first since the Vietnam era, when an army captain was court-martialled for addressing an anti-war demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in London. If he is convicted on all charges, Lt Watada could spend four years in a military prison.
In that trajectory from eager recruit through disillusion to dissent is a transformation that mirrors and resonates with an American public at a point when it too has turned against the country's involvement in Iraq, making Lt Watada a hero of the anti-war movement.
His prosecution was also seen as an issue of free speech after two journalists were subpoenaed to testify against Lt Watada on two additional charges. Those charges were dropped this week. Lt. Watada, 28, argues that to serve in Iraq would betray his conscience and his duties as an officer. "It would be a violation of my oath because this war to me is illegal in the sense that it was waged in deception, and it was also in violation of international law," he told the *Guardian*. "Officers and leaders have that responsibility to speak out for the enlisted and certainly when we do so it comes with more consequences, which is what a leader should do. A leader can't just go with the crowd."
Lt. Watada decided a year ago that he would not serve in Iraq. Since then he has spoken out at press conferences and to veterans' groups. These actions infuriated military officials, who have charged him with conduct unbecoming an officer for publicly saying that service in Iraq would make him party to a war crime, and for suggesting that soldiers could bring the war to an end by throwing down their weapons.
Lt. Watada is not the first soldier to voice his objections to the war in Iraq. A number of enlisted men have publicly refused to serve there, citing conscientious objection. Thirteen have sought refugee status in Canada. Thousands more have gone AWOL. Last year, six senior generals, including some who had served in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, demanded that Donald Rumsfeld, then Pentagon chief, stand down.
But Lt. Watada is in none of those camps and he does not claim to be a conscientious objector. He decided to go public with his opposition to the war, a choice his civilian lawyer, Eric Seitz, believes singled out Lt Watada for prosecution. "They decided at a lower level to make an example out of Lt Watada," he said. "It was this kind of questioning and resistance that ended up destroying the ability of military forces to fight in Vietnam and they are very concerned about a repetition of that."
Lt. Watada's objections to the war are unlikely to be aired at his court-martial. The judge has narrowed the scope of the trial and refused defense witnesses.
The Pentagon maintains that Lt. Watada gave up his right to free speech when he put on the uniform. "As a soldier you are held to a different standard. You can't go and say things that are going to offend the order and discipline of the military," said Joseph Piek, a spokesman at Fort Lewis, Washington, where Lt. Watada is to stand trial. "Soldiers understand that you can't divorce yourself from being a soldier."
That view is also shared by the retired generals who spoke out last year.
"He is wearing the uniform," said General John Batiste, who left the army in protest at Mr. Rumsfeld's leadership. Lt. Watada's criticism falls into a different category because he was still on active duty. "Discipline is fundamental in a military organization and officers swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and obey the officers appointed over them."
Lt. Watada would not have envisaged his collision with army doctrine when he joined the military in March 2003, after finishing college in his native Hawaii. A former Boy Scout, he had always wanted to join the army -- an ambition that did not change with the prospect of war in Iraq. "Certainly I joined the military already knowing that we were about to enter a war in which there was some notable opposition," Lt. Watada said. "But when the administration comes out and says the threat was imminent and that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction and that he has ties to al-Qaeda and therefore he has the means to attack us at any point, I remember telling my father: 'You know, we should give them the benefit of the doubt.'"
He shipped out to South Korea in June of that year. By the time his unit returned to the U.S. in June 2005, American public opinion had already begun to turn against the war. But Lt Watada's conversion did not start until several months later when he began reading up on Iraq in preparation for a tour of duty.
"It was so shocking to me. I guess I had heard about WMD and that we made a terrible, terrible mistake," he said. "Mistakes can happen but to think that it was deliberate and that a careful deception was done on the American people -- you just had to question who you are as a serviceman, as an American."
Early last year, Lt. Watada took his doubts to his commanding officer, hoping he would be allowed to retire quietly. He also offered to serve in Afghanistan. Both options were refused although the military did offer him a safe berth in Iraq -- which he turned down.
Lt. Watada accepts that refusing orders on the battlefield would lead to chaos. "In a pitched battle of course you can't have soldiers saying 'oh, no I don't feel like covering that sector right now.'" But he refuses to believe that the dissent of a junior officer would destroy army morale, or threaten control of America's military, and he was not willing to wait until he was out of uniform to speak out. Someone had to speak out, he argues.
"Everybody is scared there is going to be a coup if the military does not bow down to civilian control, but that does not mean to bow down blindly," he said.
"A general can still resign in protest publicly, and not be subverting civilian control. He can be sending a message, and I think it would be a huge message if it was someone on active duty. But these guys wait until they retire and their pension is secure."
He added: "I wish it didn't have to be me. I wish the generals hadn't put me in this position."
SOLDIER IN COURT-MARTIAL FOR REFUSING TO SERVE IN IRAQ
By Andrew Buncombe
February 3, 2007
WASHINGTON -- Along with many Americans, Lt. Ehren Watada considered joining the army in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. He signed up shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, expressing "a desire to protect our country."
But when he learned he was to be deployed to the Middle East, he researched the origin of the invasion and spoke to returning soldiers. He concluded the war was illegal, and in January last year he tended his resignation, claiming the war breached international law and the U.S. Constitution.
On Monday, the 28-year-old will make history as the first commissioned officer to be court-martialled for refusing to serve in Iraq. He faces up to four years in jail when he goes before the military court at Fort Lewis, Washington State, where the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division is based.
"When we sign up we take an oath . . . to protect and defend our Constitution and our Constitution in America is pretty much the [encapsulation] of all the freedoms and justice," Lt. Watada, from Hawaii, told the *Independent*. "When you know what we have been doing is clearly illegal and in many cases immoral, even if I supported it with my silence I would be betraying the people I swore to protect."
Lt. Watada has not sought conscientious objector status. He insists he is not opposed to all wars but that after considerable study he concluded the conflict in Iraq was illegal and that if he agreed to serve there, even in a non-combatant role, he would committing war crimes. When he tended his resignation he said the conflict breached the U.N. Charter, the Geneva Conventions, and the Nuremberg Principles.
When Lt. Watada refused to go to Iraq last summer the army charged him with missing movement -- for failing to deploy -- as well as several counts of conduct unbecoming an officer.
"They are going to find me guilty -- there is not any question over that," he said. "[But] they have not allowed me to bring evidence to consider the illegality of the war, they have side-stepped that issue."
ARMY OFFICER COURT-MARTIAL TESTS FREE SPEECH
By Daisuke Wakabayashi
February 3, 2007
SEATTLE -- A U.S. Army officer, whose public refusal to fight in Iraq made him a champion of the anti-war movement, faces a court-martial next week when a military panel could determine the limits of free-speech rights for officers.
First Lt. Ehren Watada faces up to four years in prison if convicted on a charge of missing movements and two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer when his court-martial starts on Monday at Fort Lewis, an Army base near Seattle.
Watada, a 28-year-old artillery officer, refused to deploy with his brigade to Iraq last summer and called the war illegal and immoral. He refused conscientious-objector status, saying he would fight in Afghanistan but not Iraq.
The court-martial gets under way at a time of waning public support for the war in Iraq in the face of President George W. Bush's proposal to send 21,500 more troops to war.
Supporters of Watada say he is the first Army officer to publicly refuse to fight in Iraq and refuse conscientious objector status.
"It's not that I am scared. It's that I strongly believe this war is illegal and immoral and participation in it would be contrary to my oath to this country," Watada said in an interview this week.
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.
Earlier this month, a military judge rejected the defense's argument that Watada's statements were completely covered by the U.S. constitutional right to freedom of speech.
"If you do go out with public statements, you have to be prepared for what are the potential repercussions of that," said Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman.
A military panel will decide if his criticism of the war amounted to officer misconduct -- whether the comments pose a danger to the loyalty, discipline, mission, and morale of the troops.
"This case will test the limits of what is free speech and what is speech that can be curtailed in the military," said Kathleen Duignan, executive director of the National Institute of Military Justice, a non-profit organization.
"Of course, when you join the military you give up some of your constitutional rights, such as the right to complete unfettered free speech," she said, referring to the military justice code that individuals must agree to before enlisting.
Demonstrators plan to rally for Watada, who has become a focus of anti-war protesters, outside the gates of Fort Lewis when his court-martial starts next week.
Watada, a native of Hawaii who served for a year in Korea, joined the Army in 2003 after the United States had already invaded Iraq. Upon returning to America, Watada began to question the reasons behind the U.S. involvement.
The officer said he decided to speak out against the war, because he feared that the administration was emboldened by the ability to use "lies and deception" to engage in war in Iraq and could repeat that course of action with Iran or Syria.
"When you have leaders that are unaccountable, who have already deceived people over something as serious as war and are willing to do it again, you have to ask yourself, 'where do you stand?'" said Watada.
[Translated from 20 Minutes (Lausanne & Geneva, Switzerland)]
TRIAL OF AN AMERICAN SOLDIER WHO REFUSED TO GO TO IRAQ
20 Minutes (Lausanne & Geneva, Switzerland)
[PHOTO CAPTION: Ehren Watada]
WASHINGTON -- The trial of Ehren Watada, an American lieutenant, who refused to go to Iraq, opens Monday before a court-martial.
He is the first American Army officer publicly to disobey an order to deploy to that country.
Ehren Watada, born in 1978 in Hawaii, refused in June 2006 to be deployed to Iraq because of his opposition to the decision of President George W. Bush to unleash that war. According to his support committee, he risks as much as four years in prison.
According to the indictment filed against him, Ehren Watada declared publicly on June 6, 2006: “I never could have imagined that our leader (the president -- ed.) could have betrayed the confidence we had in him.” [This and other quotes below are reverse translations.]
“While reading the quantity of lies that the Bush administration used to unleash and conduct this war, I was shocked . . . If the president can betray my confidence, it is time for me to reexamine what he is asking me to do,” declared the lieutenant, according to the remarks attributed to him in the indictment.
“How could I wear this horrible [sic -- Watada in fact said ‘honorable’] uniform now that I know that we invaded a country based on a lie,” said the lieutenant before refusing to leave for Iraq with his unit on June 22.
The Support Committtee has called for a demonstration Monday outside the military base of Fort Lewis (Washington State, in the Northwest) as well as a national day of action, with a demonstration in front of the White House.
READY TO GO TO AFGHANISTAN
Lieutenant Watada signed up in 2003 before serving in South Korea and then returning to the United States. Learning that he would go to Iraq, he asked to be transferred to another unit and proposed being deployed to Afghanistan.
Since being charged, he has been assigned to office work at Fort Lewis while awaiting the opening of his trial.
Ehren Watada “volunteered to serve in the Army after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to protect his family and his fellow citizens. His service reports are exemplary and he was designated as exemplary by his superiors,” emphasized a Democratic representative from Washington State, Mike Honda. [Reverse translation; in fact, Mike Honda represents the Fifteenth Congressional District of California, which includes San Jose.]
NOT A CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR
Mike Honda has also stated that “Watada is not alone. All the polls show a growing opposition of public opinion to the way in which President Bush has waged war in Iraq. But this soldier is unique in that he is the first officer to refuse to be sent to Iraq.”
Ehren Watada has emphasized that he is not a conscientious objector and that he asked last April to resign from the Army in order not to leave for Iraq, a request that was refused.
“It was then that I decided to make the matter public and to tell people the reasons for which soldiers are dying in Iraq,” he said. He says that soldiers have the right to refuse to disobey an illegal order, according to military rules.
Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
Home page: http://www.plu.edu/~jensenmk/
US-ANGEKLAGTER DES TAGES: EHREN WATADA
junge Welt (Berlin)
February 5, 2007
Seit den Nürnberger Prozessen nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg sind Angriffskriege als kriminell geächtet. Die Weigerung eigener Soldaten und Offiziere, an einem solchen teilzunehmen, gilt aber den politischen und militärischen Führungen imperialistischer Staaten immer noch als das größte Verbrechen. Das trifft nun den Leutnant der US Army Ehren Watada, dessen Kriegsgerichtsprozeß heute in den USA beginnt. Er hatte als erster Berufsoffizier der Vereinigten Staaten im Juni vorigen Jahres den Marschbefehl nach Irak verweigert (siehe jW vom 24. Juni 2006). Seine Begründung: Die Bush-Administration habe die Kriegsgründe herbeigelogen und führe folglich im Irak einen »illegalen und unmoralischen« Krieg. Wie seinerzeit in Nürnberg verlangt, müsse er seinem Gewissen folgen und die Teilnahme an einem verbrecherischen Angriffskrieg verweigern. Watada wird gegenwärtig in einer landesweiten Kampagne als »Verräter« angefeindet, zumal er die US-Generalität und Präsident George W. Bush als »eine Bedrohung für die (amerikanische) Verfassung« verurteilt.
Watada muß sich wegen zwei Vergehen verantworten, die »eines Offiziers nicht würdig« seien: Erstens, weil er dem Oberkommandierenden der US-Streitkräfte, Präsident Bush, vorwirft, das amerikanische Volk »betrogen« zu haben. Zweitens, weil er den Marschbefehl nach Irak verweigert hat. Die Bedeutung des Prozesses geht inzwischen weit über Watadas Person hinaus: Die Antikriegsbewegung in den USA gewann zunehmend an Kraft und feiert ihn als einen ihrer Helden.
Klar ist bereits, daß Watada nicht freigesprochen werden kann. Gerade unter jungen US-Offizieren gibt es viele scharfe Kritiker des Irak-Krieges und damit potentielle Nachahmer. Watada hat im schlimmsten Fall eine Strafe von vier Jahren Militärgefängnis zu erwarten. »Für mich lohnt sich das Opfer«, meinte er am Wochenende. Über seine Chancen auf einen fairen Prozeß mache er sich keine Illusionen, wolle aber nicht, daß später gefragt werde: »Warum ist kein Amerikaner dagegen aufgestanden?« (rwr)
USA, MILITARE FA OBIEZIONE DE COSCIENZA
** Rinviato a processo **
Corriere Della Sera (Milan, Italy)
February 3, 2007
SEATTLE -- Ehern Watada, 28 anni, tenente della Terza Brigata di fanteria dell'esercito statunitense di stanza a Fort Lewis, a Seattle, e' finito sotto processo per essersi rifiutato di prestare servizio in Iraq. La prima udienza scatta oggi: e' il primo caso di obiezione di coscienza da parte di un ufficiale americano dai tempi della guerra in Vietnam. Le accuse mosse al tenente sono condotta impropria per un ufficiale e mancato rispetto per le autorita', dato che Watada avrebbe anche fatto aspri commenti sull'Amministrazione Bush e sulla guerra in Iraq. (Agr)