In a surprise development Wednesday, the judge in the court-martial of Lt. Ehren Watada declared a mistrial, bringing proceedings to a halt.  --  Reuters said "Lt. Col. John Head, the military judge, declared a mistrial after throwing out a 'stipulation of fact' — an agreement over the facts of the trial — that forced the government to ask the judge for a mistrial instead of reargue its case.  --  The judge also set a new trial date for the week of March 19, but agreed that the timing could be subject to change."[1]  --  Watada "did not fully understand a document he signed admitting to elements of the charges," AP reported.[2]  --  The News Tribune (Tacoma, WA) reported that it "could be summer before charges are refiled and court action resumes."[3]  --  Reporter Adam Lynn wrote:  "Questions over the 'duty' portion arose this morning, causing Head to question Watada about the stipulation.  --  Under direct questioning from Head, Watada said he did not believe he had a legal duty to board the plane because he thinks the war is illegal.  --  'No, I did not believe I had that duty,' Watada said.  --  Head then ruled over the arguments of prosecutors that Watada's statement today invalidated the earlier stipulation of facts upon which the case is based.  Head said he had no choice but to throw it out.  --  'I don't see how I can continue to accept (the stipulation) as we stand here now,' said the judge, who had called Watada's original agreement a tacit confession to missing movement.  --  'You have to treat it essentially like a guilty plea because he admits to all the facts surrounding the offense,' the judge said.  --  He then threw out the stipulation."  --  The result would appear to confound those who have been calling the procedure a "kangaroo court," and seems to leave Lt. Watada free to continue to speak out publicly against the war at a time when antiwar opinion in the United States is surging....


1.

MISTRIAL DECLARED IN U.S. WAR OBJECTOR COURT-MARTIAL

Reuters
February 7, 2007

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N07192005.htm

FORT LEWIS, Wash. -- A military judge declared on Wednesday a mistrial in the court-martial of a U.S. Army officer, who publicly refused to fight in Iraq and criticized the war.

First Lt. Ehren Watada faces up to four years in prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted on a charge of missing movements for not deploying to Iraq and two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer for his criticism of the war.

Lt. Col. John Head, the military judge, declared a mistrial after throwing out a "stipulation of fact" -- an agreement over the facts of the trial -- that forced the government to ask the judge for a mistrial instead of reargue its case.

The judge also set a new trial date for the week of March 19, but agreed that the timing could be subject to change.

2.

SOLDIER'S COURT-MARTIAL ENDS IN MISTRIAL

Associated Press
February 7, 2007

http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/16637475.htm

FORT LEWIS, Wash. -- The judge overseeing the court martial of an Army lieutenant who refused to deploy to Iraq declared a mistrial Wednesday, saying the soldier did not fully understand a document he signed admitting to elements of the charges.

First Lt. Ehren Watada was fighting charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and missing movement for refusing to leave last June with his unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

3.

MISTRIAL DECLARED IN WATADA COURT-MARTIAL
By Adam Lynn

News Tribune (Tacoma, WA)
February 7, 2007

http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/breaking/story/6357747p-5673436c.html

The military judge presiding over the court-martial of Lt. Ehren Watada declared a mistrial early this afternoon after prosecutors huddled and agreed they wanted one.

Lt. Col. John Head, who is presiding over the proceedings at Fort Lewis, set a new date of March 19. But Watada's civilian attorney, Eric Seitz of Honolulu, said that he had other commitments around that time.

It could be summer before charges are refiled and court action resumes.

Head threw out the basis for the Army's case right after lunch and asked prosecutors if they wanted him to declare a mistrial. Prosecutors took 30 minutes and decided they did.

At issue was a stipulation of facts that Watada signed earlier this week. In it, he admitted to a set of facts, including that he had a duty to board the plane that carried his unit to Iraq last June but that he intentionally missed the flight.

Questions over the "duty" portion arose this morning, causing Head to question Watada about the stipulation.

Under direct questioning from Head, Watada said he did not believe he had a legal duty to board the plane because he thinks the war is illegal.

"No, I did not believe I had that duty," Watada said.

Head then ruled over the arguments of prosecutors that Watada's statement today invalidated the earlier stipulation of facts upon which the case is based. Head said he had no choice but to throw it out.

"I don't see how I can continue to accept (the stipulation) as we stand here now," said the judge, who had called Watada's original agreement a tacit confession to missing movement.

"You have to treat it essentially like a guilty plea because he admits to all the facts surrounding the offense," the judge said.

He then threw out the stipulation.

Army prosecutor Capt. Scott Van Sweringen asked Head whether the panel of seven officers sitting in judgment of Watada would be able to consider any other facts from the stipulation, including Watada's statements to the media and a Seattle veterans group in which he criticized the war.

Head said no.

"They would disregard it in its entirety. That's the problem with this. How do we unring this bell?" the judge said.

Van Sweringen then asked for 30 minutes to decide whether he would like to request a mistrial.

The issue over the stipulation came to the forefront this morning after all parties in the case, including Head, met to discuss instructions that would be given to the panel of officers when testimony ended.

Seitz objected to Head questioning his client, saying it was too far along in the process to reopen the stipulation.

Head responded that unless he was satisfied that Watada knew what he had signed, he would be forced to declare a mistrial.

The defense attorney said in open court this morning that it was Watada's intent to avoid the entire Iraq war when he refused to board the plane, not just to miss that specific flight. He is charged only with missing that plane.

"That is why we did not plead guilty to that charge (of missing movement)," Seitz said.

In pretrial rulings last month, Head decided that Watada could not call witnesses to bolster his claims that the war is illegal.

Watada is charged with three violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for refusing to deploy with his unit to Iraq in June and public statements he made about what he sees as the illegality of the war in Iraq.

He faces up to four years in confinement and a discharge from the Army if found guilty of missing movement and two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer.

The 28-year-old Stryker Brigade officer contends he had a duty to refuse orders to deploy because he believes the war violates U.S. and international law and that his participation would make him party to war crimes. He has said he would fight in Afghanistan and potentially other conflicts.