Revolution #69, November 19, 2006
Army Moves to Court Martial Iraq War Resister Lt. Ehren Watada
On Nov. 6, the U.S. Army announced they are going to court-martial First Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq. The army first brought charges against Watada in July and has been seeking to punish him for his public refusal to participate in a war that he has called “morally wrong” and “manifestly illegal.” His unit left for Iraq in June.
Watada is stationed at Ft. Lewis in Washington state. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “The base commander, Lt. Gen. James Dubik, agreed with the recommended charges of missing a military movement and conduct unbecoming an officer. But in referring the case today for court-martial, Dubik dismissed a charge of contempt toward officials.”
Watada’s attorney, Eric Seitz, notes that “contempt toward officials” is basically a charge for “disloyal speech.” Seitz told Revolution he believes the military dropped this charge because of the difficulty of proving it and because it so blatantly targets Watada for his words. But he noted that the military’s refocusing on the “conduct unbecoming” charge amounted to the same thing—targeting Watada for speaking out, specifically against Bush and other top officials. Seitz said, “They think they can prove [this charge] more easily, but they face the same difficulties. They are trying to get away with First Amendment restrictions under this provision, but we believe this will be even more difficult for them to prove.”
Watada faces four counts under the “conduct unbecoming” charge, including a new count the Army added in September for a speech he made at the Vets for Peace convention. In that talk, he said in part: “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… Today I speak with you about a radical idea…to stop an illegal and unjust war, the soldiers can choose to stop fighting it.”
If convicted of all charges, Lt. Watada could be jailed for 6 years in a military prison.
No date has yet been set for the court-martial. Family and Friends of Lt. Watada (www.thankyoult.org) has previously called for "December 8-10 days of action to support Lt. Watada and all GI resisters."
The move to court-martial Ehren Watada shows how intent the U.S. military is to silence him, to punish him for his principled stand, and to deliver a warning against others within the military. This unjust prosecution must be opposed and defeated.
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