LT. EHREN WATADA STATES HIS CASE AT UPS
By Matt Nagle
January 25, 2007
[PHOTO CAPTION: FACING COURT MARTIAL. Just two weeks before his trial begins, Lieutenant Ehren Watada spoke to a standing room-only crowd Jan. 24 at the University of Puget Sound about why he’s refusing to go to Iraq.]
At about the same time that President Bush was giving his State of the Union address Jan. 24 calling for additional troops to be sent to Iraq, one lone soldier who’s refusing to go was stating his case to an overflow crowd at the University of Puget Sound (UPS).
In June of last year U.S. Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada captured national headlines when he became the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse deployment to the war torn region. At a press conference in Tacoma June 7 he announced that he would refuse to obey orders to deploy with a Fort Lewis Stryker brigade.
He has been charged with “contemptuous words” toward the president and conduct unbecoming an officer. Including the charge for not deploying to Iraq, Watada faces more than five years in military prison.
Watada’s court-martial begins Feb. 5 with a jury made up of senior and career military officers. He told the audience that he expected to go to prison from the beginning and wanted to go to trial to “prove the illegality of the war.” However, he has been told that he will not be allowed to argue the legality of the war in his defense during his trial.
Watada’s speaking engagement at UPS kicked off with the showing of the short film “A Soldier’s Duty?” by Michael Honey, professor of African-American, ethnic, and labor studies and American history at the University of Washington-Tacoma. Combining footage of President Bush speaking about why the war is necessary, graphic images of wounded Iraqis and song snippets like “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again,” the film provided the basis for Watada’s presentation.
“I am here for one reason,” he said, “to encourage all of you to imagine change for our country and how you can be part of that change if you want to be.
“I am not against war. A war to defend against aggression is different than starting a war of aggression for corporate profits,” he continued. [This paragraph appears in the print edition, but does not appear in the online version of the story. --M.J.]
He said that if the citizenry of the United States had called for war he would have gone.
Watada described the war in Iraq as illegal under U.S. and international law. The U.N. Charter, the Geneva Convention, and the Nuremberg principles were put in place to bar wars of aggression, he said, and that the president has put the country at risk by ignoring this fact.
“I swore an oath to protect the country from all threats,” Watada declared, which includes actions taken by President Bush that threaten the security of the United States and its citizens.
“We have been deceived. The will of the people has been ignored,” he stated.
“Upon appointment or election to any office within the civil service of our government the officer swears an oath to protect the Constitution, not any one person or select group of people, and against all existential threats be they foreign or domestic,” he said. “An appointed or elected officer is a protector of this country and not only is it their moral obligation but their Constitutional duty to impede and prevent the willful dismissal of the voice of the people.
“I swear no loyalty to the commander in chief but to the Constitution,” he added. “I serve not at the pleasure of the president but as a servant of the people.”
Watada chastised Congress, Democrats in particular, for not doing more to stop the war that he said has turned into another Vietnam. “It’s a sick and twisted déjà vu of an older generation. Nothing has changed except the faces and names,” he said.
By refusing to participate, the lieutenant sees himself as defending his fellow soldiers from harm and defending the country from escalating terrorism. “I’m here to speak for those who are unwilling or unable to speak for themselves. An officer protects his soldiers, plain and simple,” he said. By attacking Iraq, the U.S. is “expanding terrorism, not stemming it. To stop an unjust war, members of the military can choose to stop fighting it. ‘I was only following orders’ is never an excuse.”
Watada said he sees no soon end to the war in Iraq and called on American citizens to speak up, especially now when polls show an all-time low in how Bush is handling the war.
“You have the power to change history,” he told the crowd, “to put an end to the cycle of violence and war.” He encouraged the audience to contact their elected representatives and voice their opinion. “Unless they hear from the people they won’t act.”
WAR ON TRIAL
By John Larson
January 25, 2007
[PHOTO CAPTION: TRIBUNAL. Daniel Ellsberg testifies during the tribunal at the Tacoma branch campus of Evergreen State College Jan. 20.]
A military judge won’t allow the question of the legality of the war in Iraq into the court-martial proceedings of U.S. Army Lieutenant Ehren Watada, so anti-war activists decided to take up the issue. About 400 people gathered at the Tacoma branch campus of Evergreen State College Jan. 20-21 for a “Citizens’ Hearing on the Legality of U.S. Actions in Iraq.”
Last year Watada refused to deploy to Iraq with his Fort Lewis-based Stryker unit. He was charged with several violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. If convicted at a court martial next month, he faces more than five years in prison.
The event brought together a panel of people from various backgrounds, most residents of western Washington, to hear testimony from lawyers, military veterans, and academics from around the country.
The witness with the highest profile was Daniel Ellsberg. As an analyst with Rand Corporation in 1971, he leaked the top-secret Pentagon Papers to the *New York Times* in 1971.
Ellsberg discussed President Bush’s surge plan, which would send another 21,500 troops to Baghdad. Ellsberg said it would anger Shiites and antagonize Iran.
He called American intervention in Iraq “the most incompetent occupation in the history of empire,” and likened it to Japan’s invasion of Manchuria and Germany’s invasion of Poland in the late 1930s.
A panelist asked Ellsberg what court determines whether a war is legal. “It is for Congress and the president to fight this out,” he replied. “Ehren Watada did not have to go to law school to determine this war is illegal.”
He discussed the United Nations Charter, which has language on the topic. A war is legal under that document if the U.N. Security Council directs the operation. A country can also take up arms in self-defense while the Security Council debates what action the U.N. should take.
Two law professors, Richard Falk from Princeton University and Benjamin Davis from the University of Toledo, offered their legal perspective.
Falk said the Iraq war is a violation of the U.N. Charter, perhaps the worst ever. The Nuremberg principles, which resulted from trials of Nazi war criminals after World War II, requires the United States to halt the war, in Falk’s opinion.
He drew cheers when he said Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other administration officials should be indicted as war criminals.
Davis said Watada should have his case reheard with the legality of the war examined. He said actions of American military personnel at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison were war crimes, and other incidents may fall within that category.
Davis said other legal possibilities for Watada besides a court-martial would be for his case to be heard in federal or state courts.
Davis was asked about the legality of the United States invasion of Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. He said international law suggests it could be legal. He said the United States determination that Taliban fighters are not covered by the Geneva Convention was a big mistake.
Falk noted the attacks could have been interpreted as an act of war or as a crime. The United States chose the former, which he said might be the worst decision our federal government has ever made because it gave neo-conservatives within the Bush administration free reign to pursue their agenda. The inability of Congress to reign in the executive branch is the biggest threat to our constitution, he added.
Falk said Watada is right as an obedient, observant, and loyal American soldier to refuse deployment to Iraq.
Davis said 50 years from now America might issue an apology to Watada. “It is much more important that he receive justice now,” he declared.
Dennis Kyne, who served in the U.S. Army for 15 years and is a veteran of the Persian Gulf War, testified on Jan. 21. He said racism and sexism in the ranks among troops in Iraq is justification for Watada to refuse to deploy.
Kyne discussed use of depleted uranium by American troops in Iraq in the Persian Gulf War and the current conflict.
Kyne’s testimony raised concerns for panelist Lyle Quasim, chief of staff for Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg. “We could pull out of Iraq today, but the effects will linger,” Quasim remarked. “There are bells we have rung that we cannot un-ring.”
John Burroughs, executive director of Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy, testified about the status of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program.
Zeke Green, a panelist and member of International Longshore Workers Union Local 23 in Tacoma, told Burroughs that longshore workers often unload military cargo returning from Iraq. He asked if any studies have been done to determine if this cargo could be contaminated with depleted uranium, and if that poses any risk to the workers.
“If it hasn’t been done, it should be done,” Burroughs replied.
The panel chair was David Krieger, president of Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and a juror at the World Tribunal on Iraq held in Istanbul in 2005.
In his closing remarks, he told the audience they have an obligation to support Watada and work to end the war. “Citizens hold the highest office in the land in a democracy,” he declared.