Revolution #53, July 16, 2006

Iraq War Resister Lt. Watada Charged by Army

On July 5 the U.S. Army brought charges against First Lieutenant Ehren Watada for refusing to join in the on-going war crime in Iraq. Watada was charged with missing troop movement, conduct unbecoming an officer, and “contempt toward officials”—specifically President Bush. Lt. Watada is the first commissioned officer to refuse Iraq deployment. His Stryker Brigade unit left Ft. Lewis in Washington state for Iraq on June 22.

The military is seeking to punish Lt. Watada because of his courageous and timely public refusal to participate in a war he has called “morally wrong” and “manifestly illegal.” In a June 7 statement Watada said, “The wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of the Iraqi people with only limited accountability is not only a terrible moral injustice, but a contradiction to the Army’s own Law of Land Warfare. My participation would make me party to war crimes.”

Watada’s lead attorney Eric Seitz said, “The Army has made a very serious mistake by charging him with the content of the statement he has made, which are not only true with regard to the manner with which the war was initiated and conducted, but are not disrespectful or contemptuous as alleged.”

On June 27, according to the website, thousands of people in 30 locations around the country came out to support Ehren Watada. 200 people rallied outside the gates of Ft. Lewis where he is stationed.

On June 16, 150 people came out to hear Watada speak at the University Lutheran Church in Seattle. They gave him a very warm welcome and much encouragement and support. There were many progressive vets and resisters from the Vietnam war and other eras present to stand with Watada, as well as people from Gold Star Military families, family and friends of Ehren’s, progressive church and peace and justice groups, and activists from Not in Our Name and World Can't Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime.

Watada started by saying he felt a certain amount of guilt and responsibility for the deaths of GI’s and the suffering of Iraqis because he “didn’t step up sooner.”

He said he had joined the military after 9/11 with a “deep sense of patriotism.” Facing deployment to Iraq, he felt a duty to learn as much as he could about the conflict and its history in order to lead soldiers he felt responsible for. What he learned by researching things was deeply shocking to him. He continued, “I felt I still had a duty. You’re not supposed to question, but you should know the truth. When I found out, I felt it violated what I believe as an American…. I was no longer willing to watch pain and suffering and the pain of the Iraqis, for a lie. Soldiers don’t have a voice, they’re supposed to be apolitical, but I didn’t believe that. I felt I had to speak out against the misconduct of the government.” He said he felt he had to make the soldiers question the legality of every order, and to look at the consequences.

Ehren recounted hearing a brother of a U.S. soldier who was being sent back to Iraq lamenting on the radio about why more people weren’t protesting as they did during Vietnam. Watada recalled, “I felt frustrated that no one was standing up. And then I thought, why rely on other people when I can do something myself. I told myself, I’m a person, and an officer. So I could do something so the soldiers can come back and be with their families.”

The audience jumped to their feet and gave him a standing ovation. People were clearly moved and deeply inspired by Watada’s calm but firm determination to act on principle no matter the consequences. In the question-and-answer period vets stood up to tell their own stories, how they had come to oppose U.S. wars, and others spoke of how they had resisted fighting in the military.

Support for Lt. Watada has come from other military resisters, and Watada’s family and supporters have also linked up with Sara Rich, the mother of military resister Suzanne Swift. Suzanne is being held at Ft. Lewis after she went AWOL rather than be redeployed to Iraq after being raped and sexually harassed by other soldiers in her first tour of duty. Sara Rich said, “May many more soldiers make the right and honorable choice to say no more killing and not allow themselves to be added to the daily increasing numbers of U.S. soldiers being wounded, damaged or killed.”

In Watada’s case, the military is expected to call an “article 32” hearing (to determine cause to proceed to court martial) in the next month or two. Friends and Family of Lt. Watada is calling for an international mobilization of support the day before he’s scheduled to be court marshaled—possibly sometime in September. They are calling for people to protest at military recruiting centers and public places and for a mass mobilization at Ft. Lewis, near Tacoma in Washington state.

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