"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."


August 24, 2006

Lt. Watada offers the American people some badly needed exercise in moral reasoning, if only the media will give his case the hearing it deserves.

Is the Iraq war a mistake? Is it immoral? Is it unjust? Is it illegal? As the U.S. national security state slogs with greater and greater difficulty into a 21st century that is beginning to resemble the Big Muddy, and the big fool says to push on, more and more Americans will be struggling with these questions. Lt. Watada has thought through them and come to clear conclusions.

Who decides what is wrong, what is unjust, what is illegal? Who or what is the ultimate arbiter? As the Iraq war drags on (2,618 U.S. military personnel have died there so far), Americans must be thinking about these problems. According to an Opinion Research poll of 1,033 American adults carried out on Aug. 18-20, 61% now oppose the Iraq war, the highest proportion yet recorded. For every 50 American adults who oppose the war, only 29 support it.

The book currently at the top of the New York Times bestseller list is Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (Penguin Press, 2006), by Thomas E. Ricks, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist at the Washington Post. Ricks thinks the Iraq war is a the result of the simultaneous failure of many American institutions. The hijacking of foreign policy in the Bush administrative by misguided neoconservative fanatics and the Bush administration’s subversion of the rule of law and the United States Constitution are only part of the problem. The intelligence agencies of the U.S. national security state failed (or else colluded in the Bush administration misdeeds), Congress failed in its oversight function, Democrats failed to act as an opposition party, the mainstream media failed to report accurately on what was happening, and the military establishment failed in more than one way as well (these last failures are the subject of Fiasco).

The leaders of America’s institutions must lack clarity about illegality and immorality. Recent newspaper editorials corroborate this hypothesis. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has been giving the Watada case good coverage, but last week it showed itself incapable of reasoning its way out of the moral equivalent of a wet paper bag. “[I]s Watada's behavior dishonorable or courageous? Perhaps it needn't be one or the other. . . . Maybe the only way Watada believes he can do the right thing is to do a wrong thing” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 23, 2006).

The News Tribune of Tacoma was even worse. Last Sunday’s lead editorial called Watada’s notions of military honor “confused” and his legal defense “absurd,” but praised him for having a “functioning conscience” and said it wished he had been at Haditha to interfere with American war crimes there (News Tribune, August 20, 2006). As Prof. Michael Honey of the University of Washington-Tacoma wrote in response, the News Tribune seems incapable of understanding that Lt. Watada’s argument is that the Iraq war is an American war crime. It’s blind to the simple idea that unprovoked aggression is banned under the United Nations Charter, which is part of U.S. law under Article VI of the United States Constitution.

Other American leaders are taking the benighted view of “my country right or wrong.” The military is particulary prone to this error. Robert M. Wada, for example, a veteran who is a charter president of Japanese American Korean War Veterans in Los Angeles, said last week: “It is not for us to question why, but to do and die. That addresses the entire Watada case.” He added: “We went to Korea, and we didn’t know what the hell we were there for. In Vietnam, those guys didn’t know what the heck they were there for. But nobody refused to go.” (Honolulu Advertiser, August 22, 2006) Wada seems oblivious to the fact that such remarks do a great disservice to veterans and dishonor many who believed they were giving their lives in defense of the United States Constitution—including an uncle of Ehren Watada, who served and was killed in the Korean War (Inside Bay Area, August 24, 2006).

Fortunately, the nation still has individuals of the moral caliber of Lt. Watada to speak out and bring it to its senses. On August 12, 2006, speaking to a Veterans for Peace convention in Seattle only five days before his Article 32 hearing on charges that could lead to more than seven years in prison, Ehren Watada spoke out loud and clear:

“The Constitution is no mere document—neither is it old, out-dated, or irrelevant. It is the embodiment of all that Americans hold dear: truth, justice, and equality for all. It is the formula for a government of the people and by the people. It is a government that is transparent and accountable to whom they serve. It dictates a system of checks and balances and separation of powers to prevent the evil that is tyranny.

“As strong as the Constitution is, it is not foolproof. It does not fully take into account the frailty of human nature. Profit, greed, and hunger for power can corrupt individuals as much as they can corrupt institutions. The founders of the Constitution could not have imagined how money would infect our political system. Neither could they believe a standing army would be used for profit and manifest destiny” (Truthout, August 14, 2006).

He concluded by quoting the man who remains the most clear-sighted moral beacon of modern America, Martin Luther King Jr., who said: “One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”

A video recording of Lt. Watada’s August 12 speech was played at his Article 32 hearing at Fort Lewis five days later. We hope that Lt. Col. Mark Keith, the investigating officer who will make a recommendation to Lt. Gen. James Dubik, commandant of Fort Lewis, on how to proceed in Lt. Watada’s case, was listening.


"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."