Revolution #54, July 23, 2006

Lt. Watada and the Contemptible U.S Military

When the U.S. Army brought charges against Lt. Ehren Watada on July 5 (see Revolution #53, “Iraq War Resister Lt. Watada Charged by Army”), they charged him with “contempt toward officials,” notably, President Bush. Army charging papers say Watada violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice Article 88 with these words:

“In that First Lieutenant (name blacked out) U.S. Army, did, at or near Fort Lewis, Washington, on or about 7 June 2006: use orally and publicly the following contemptuous words against the President of the United States, to wit:

"‘I could never conceive of our leader betraying the trust we had in him…As I read about the level of deception the Bush administration used to initiate and process this war, I was shocked. I became ashamed of wearing the uniform. How can we wear something with such a time-honored tradition, knowing we waged war based on a misrepresentation and lies? It was a betrayal of the trust of the American people. And these lies were a betrayal of the trust of the military and the Soldiers…But I felt there was nothing to be done, and this administration was just continually violating the law to serve their purpose, and there was nothing to stop them…Realizing the President is taking us into a war that he misled us about has broken that bond of trust that we had. If the President can betray my trust, it’s time for me to evaluate what he’s telling me to do.’"

Lt. Watada was also charged with a second count of contempt toward President Bush, with missing troop movement, and three counts of “conduct unbecoming an officer” for other statements of belief. To substantiate the “conduct unbecoming” charge, Army papers cited statements by Watada saying that the war in Iraq is “morally wrong” and “a breach of law,” and that to take part in the “wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of Iraqis” would make him party to “war crimes,” etc. The Army called these statements “disgraceful.”

In other words, Ehren Watada is being prosecuted and threatened with seven years behind bars because of publicly stating his beliefs, which happen also to be true!

Ehren’s attorney Eric Seitz told Revolution that Watada is being prosecuted for what is supposed to be “protected speech” by U.S. law. Seitz, an attorney specializing in defense of soldiers and military law, said he hadn’t heard of a case of contempt toward officials being brought by the military since the Vietnam War. According to the website, the last time the military brought such charges was in 1965, and largely Article 88 was largely used during the Civil War and World War I.

Seitz told Revolution that he sees the attempt to punish Lt. Watada in light of an overall campaign by the military and the Bush administration to control and intimidate the media and to keep people silent, both inside the military and in general. He pointed out that the charges against his client are coming at a time of increasing opposition within the military to the war, including even from admirals and generals. Thousands of soldiers are AWOL, and a number have publicly resisted the war in various ways.

On Democracy Now! Seitz said, “We did not really anticipate that they would charge him with additional offenses based upon the comments and remarks that he’s made. And that opens up a whole new chapter in this proceeding, because what the Army has clearly tried to do by the nature of these charges is send out a message to people in the military, that if you criticize the war and if you criticize the decisions that were made to bring the United States into this war, that you, too, could be charged with disloyalty, contemptuous remarks and disrespect for higher officers, and in this case, specifically in this charge, the President.”

Trying to Turn Reporters into Tools of the Prosecution

On top of the unprecedented nature of the charges against Ehren Watada, this week a Reuters news story said the Army may call two reporters who published interviews with Lt. Watada as prosecution witnesses to “corroborate” statements he made to them! The two reporters who, according to Attorney Seitz, the military has put on its witness list, are Sarah Olson, a freelance journalist from the Bay Area, and Gregg Kakesako, of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Seitz said he knew of no case before this in which the military called civilian reporters to testify in court martials. Sarah Olson told Revolution the listing of her and Gregg Kakesako as potential witnesses should be seen in the larger “macrocosm of the Bush administrations attempts to control the press,” and that “it’s not my role to help the military prosecute its cases and I shouldn’t serve any function in a military court martial.” Olson said that if the government can call reporters to court to testify against their sources, “people will have a deeper fear of talking to the press.”

She said that Lt. Watada has raised “serious questions that deserve answers and they should be considered by the administration… No one has answered the questions asked and the concerns raised by Lt. Watada.” She added, if elected officials can’t answer them, then the public has to take them up.

The persecution of Lt. Watada and the attempt of the military to use supportive reporters against him must be opposed. What’s taking place in this case is another escalation by the government and military to assert unprecedented authority, to redefine and eliminate the rule of law, and to seek to create a climate where dissenters, and the truth itself, is silenced. They cannot be allowed to succeed.

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