Revolution #60, September 10, 2006
Iraq War Resister Lt. Watada vs the U.S. Military
Lt. Ehren Watada, the first U.S. commissioned military officer to refuse deployment in the current Iraq war, at a press conference with members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Seattle, August 12, 2006. (Photo: Jeff Paterson)
On Aug. 12 Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to the Iraq war, spoke to 400 people at the national Veterans for Peace (VFP) convention in Seattle.
Charged with “conduct unbecoming an officer,” “contempt toward officials” (specifically Bush), and missing troop movement, Ehren is facing 7 plus years in jail. Just 5 days before a military hearing on his case, he delivered a stirring condemnation of the war and crimes of the Bush regime and called on people to act on their conscience.
Watada said, “Enlisting in the military does not relinquish one’s right to seek the truth—neither does it excuse one from rational thought nor the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. ‘I was only following orders’ is never an excuse.
“The Nuremberg Trials showed America and the world that citizenry as well as soldiers have the unrelinquishable obligation to refuse complicity in war crimes perpetrated by their government. Widespread torture and inhumane treatment of detainees is a war crime. A war of aggression born through an unofficial policy of prevention is a crime against the peace. An occupation violating the very essence of international humanitarian law and sovereignty is a crime against humanity…
“Today I speak with you about a radical idea…to stop an illegal and unjust war, the soldiers can choose to stop fighting it.”
Revolution recently spoke with Ehren’s dad, Bob Watada, who has been on a speaking tour up and down the West Coast. In the Bay Area, Bob spoke at a World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime youth conference. Bob described the growing support for his son—from the ACLU to an interfaith council in Hawaii, United Methodist ministers, the National Japanese American United Methodist Caucus, and West Point Graduates Against the War.
Bob Watada said, “Now, in a strange twist, we have Bush the fascist saying we should go after the ‘Islamic fascists’…You have a president who believes he’s above the law, he tramples all over the Constitution, they wiretap at will…they can torture prisoners at will.”
At the August 17 hearing at Ft. Lewis, Washington, military prosecutors called only one witness to support the charge of “missing troop movement.” Their main evidence was videotapes of Ehren Watada speaking against the war, including his speech at the VFP convention.
The U.S. military is acutely aware of the impact of Lt. Watada’s stand. Time magazine, reporting on the hearing, quoted from his speech—that “to stop an illegal and unjust war, the soldiers can choose to stop fighting it” —and then noted, “That, prosecutors said, is exactly what they most fear.” Time quoted the military prosecutor saying, “It’s just dangerous in our Army to allow that to happen.”
Watada’s lawyer Eric Seitz introduced important testimony from expert witnesses that, in effect, “put the war on trial.” Testifying were international law expert Francis Boyle from the University of Illinois, former U.S. Army Colonel Ann Wright, and former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General Denis Halliday.
The presiding judge at the hearing, Lt. Col. Mark Keith, recommended that Watada be court-martialed on all charges. Keith said Watada’s views are “political questions” and “don’t excuse his refusal to deploy.” But it is precisely Watada’s political views that the Army is attempting to silence and to prosecute him for. (See “Lt. Watada and the Contemptible U.S. Military” in Revolution #54—online at revcom.us)
Keith declared, “As an officer and leader, his refusal to obey a lawful order can not be excused and serves to embolden others to commit the same or similar misconduct… Lt. Watada’s contempt for the President serves to break down the good order and discipline of all military personnel by casting doubt regarding his integrity and leadership attributes while under the stress of combat operations.”
And very ominously, Keith said, “I believe Lt. Watada’s contempt for the President and suggestion that U.S. Soldiers can stop the war simply by refusing to fight, borders on a violation of Article 94.”
“Violation of Article 94”—i.e., mutiny and sedition—are charges that carry a possible death penalty. Keith’s threat is clearly intended as a warning of the heavy consequences for taking the kind of stand Watada has taken.
The final decision on court-martial in Ehren’s case will likely be made in the next couple of weeks by the Commanding General of Ft. Lewis, Lt. Gen. James Dubik. Friends and Family of Lt. Watada (thankyoult.org) is calling on people to phone Dubik at 253-967-0022 to express support for Ehren and opposition to his court-martial, and to mobilize nationwide for a protest near Ft. Lewis leading up to the possible court-martial this fall.
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