Lt. Col. John Head has been the judge in the court-martial at Fort Lewis, WA, of Lt. Ehren Watada that began on Monday and then came to a surprising and sudden conclusion Wednesday afternoon. -- His surprising declaration of a mistrial and dismissal of jurors has left observers speculating both about his motives and about the consequences of his action. -- After excluding a stipulation of fact made by Lt. Ehren Watada on the grounds that prosecuted officer did not fully understand it and granting a subsequent motion from the prosecution for a mistrial, Lt. Col. Head "set a March 12 date for a new trial and dismissed the jurors," AP reported. -- "Watada, 28, of Honolulu, had been expected to testify in his own defense Wednesday until Head and attorneys met in a closed meeting for much of the morning," Melanthia Mitchell wrote. -- Reuters, reporting that Mar. 19 was the selected date (the News Tribune of Tacoma said the trial could be put off until summer) said the judge cited "a material misunderstanding over what this stipulation is" after Lt.Watada said he did not believe it was his duty to board the plane to Iraq on Jun. 22, 2006. -- "The judge's objection to the stipulation of fact was first raised after the defense asked him to deliver a special instruction in addition to the standard directions given to military panel members before convening to decide a verdict," wrote Daisuke Wakabayashi. -- (Since Lt. Watada pled not guilty, it seems bizarre that any judge could take a stipulation of fact as implying an admission of guilt — but that was the ground upon which the judge excluded the entire stipulation, giving rise to speculation that the military was looking for an opportunity to drop the case on procedural grounds.) -- Both sides sought to spin the verdict positively: "Army officials said the mistrial was an example of how the military justice system protects the rights of the accused," wrote Wakabayashhi. "Watada's lawyer, Eric Seitz, called it 'significantly positive.' -- 'The mistrial is very likely to have the consequence of ending this case because double jeopardy may prevent the government from proceeding with a retrial,' he said in a statement." -- Should there be a new trial, "the defense will be allowed to again file a motion to argue the legality of the war. A new judge may preside over the case and all the proceedings before and during the first trial will be wiped clean. -- 'Everything will start from scratch,' said Lt. Col. Robert Resnick, chief of administrative law at Ft. Lewis." -- Or perhaps not....
OFFICER'S COURT-MARTIAL ENDS IN MISTRIAL
By Melanthia Mitchell
** Judge declares mistrial in court-martial of lieutenant who refused to go to Iraq **
February 7, 2007
A judge declared a mistrial Wednesday in the court-martial of an Army lieutenant who refused to deploy to Iraq, saying the soldier did not fully understand a document he signed admitting to elements of the charges.
Prosecutors said 1st Lt. Ehren Watada admitted in the document that he had a duty to go to Iraq with his fellow soldiers. Watada, however, said he admitted only that he did not go to Iraq with his unit, not that he had a duty to go.
Military judge Lt. Col. John Head granted prosecutors' request for a mistrial, which Watada's lawyer opposed. He set a March 12 date for a new trial and dismissed the jurors.
Watada, 28, of Honolulu, had been expected to testify in his own defense Wednesday until Head and attorneys met in a closed meeting for much of the morning.
Watada is the first commissioned officer to be court-martialed for refusing to go to Iraq, said Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice in Washington, D.C.
In the 12-page stipulation of fact he signed last month, Watada acknowledged that he refused to deploy last June with his unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, and that he made public statements criticizing the Iraq war. Watada has said he refused to go to Iraq because he believes the war is illegal.
In exchange, prosecutors dropped two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer against him. He remains charged with missing movement -- for his refusal to deploy -- and two other allegations of conduct unbecoming an officer for comments made about the case. He could receive four years in prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted.
In their opening statements Tuesday, prosecutors said Watada abandoned his soldiers and brought disgrace upon himself and the service by accusing the Army of war crimes and denouncing the Bush administration.
Watada's attorney, Eric Seitz, countered that Watada acted in good conscience, based on his own convictions.
MISTRIAL DECLARED IN COURT-MARTIAL OF U.S. WAR OBJECTOR
By Daisuke Wakabayashi
February 7, 2007
FORT LEWIS, Wash. -- A military judge declared a mistrial on Wednesday and set a new trial date for the court-martial of a U.S. Army officer who publicly refused to fight in Iraq and criticized the war.
First Lt. Ehren Watada had faced up to four years in prison and a dishonorable discharge if found guilty 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 certain facts of the trial -- that forced the government to request a mistrial instead of immediately arguing its entire case over to prove those facts with new witnesses.
The judge said he could not accept the stipulation, because it amounts to a confession to the missing movements charge when Watada, 28, stated he is not guilty.
At the center of the dispute is the defense's assertion that Watada would not go to Iraq because he considered it an unlawful order that would make him party to war crimes and as as result, it was not his duty to obey it.
"There is a material misunderstanding over what this stipulation is," said Head.
It was an unexpected ending to a case that had rallied the anti-war movement in the first known court-martial of a U.S. Army officer for publicly refusing to serve in Iraq.
Army officials said the mistrial was an example of how the military justice system protects the rights of the accused. Watada's lawyer, Eric Seitz, called it "significantly positive."
"The mistrial is very likely to have the consequence of ending this case because double jeopardy may prevent the government from proceeding with a retrial," he said in a statement.
The judge set the new trial to start on the week of March 19, but agreed the timing would be subject to change. Watada will report to duty at Fort Lewis until the new trial begins.
'START FROM SCRATCH'
Watada agreed to the stipulation before the court-martial began in exchange for the government dropping two additional charges of conduct unbecoming an officer.
In the stipulation, Watada said he did not board the plane with the rest of his unit to Iraq and admitted to making public statements criticizing the war and accusing U.S. President George W. Bush's administration of deceiving the American people to enter into a war of aggression.
Watada does not dispute the facts, but said it was not an admission of guilt because it does not take into account the intent behind his actions.
When asked by the judge if he thought it was his duty to board the aircraft to Iraq, Watada said no. "I felt the order was illegal," he said in the courtroom where he wore his dark-green dress uniform.
The defense had aimed to show that Watada acted on principle and tried to avoid a public confrontation with the Army by offering to resign his commission or fight elsewhere.
In a new trial, the defense will be allowed to again file a motion to argue the legality of the war. A new judge may preside over the case and all the proceedings before and during the first trial will be wiped clean.
"Everything will start from scratch," said Lt. Col. Robert Resnick, chief of administrative law at Ft. Lewis.
Before the trial, the judge had ruled that the defense was not allowed to argue whether the war itself is illegal, asserting the matter could not be settled in military court.