Revolution #78, February 11, 2007
Court Martial of Iraq War Resister Ehren Watada Starts Feb. 5
The military court martial of Lt. Ehren Watada is set to begin on Feb. 5 at Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Washington. Watada is the first commissioned military officer to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq. He has publicly denounced the Bush regime's war as “illegal and immoral.”
Support for Watada has been growing and broadening. Statements in support of Lt. Watada have been made by Harry Belafonte, U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, Susan Sarandon, Willie Nelson, Ed Asner, Martin Sheen, and others (available online at thankyoult.org). In December Rolling Stone magazine described him as one of 2006’s “greatest mavericks.” On January 25 he was interviewed on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air.
In early January, members of Iraq Vets Against the War held an encampment in support of Watada outside Fort Lewis, where they engaged GIs and their families and received a positive response. Rallies are planned at the entrance to the Army base on Feb. 5 and supporters are planning to attend the court martial.
On Jan. 20-21, 500 people attended a “Citizens' Hearing on the Legality of U.S. Actions in Iraq” in Tacoma, focusing on the Watada case. According to the organizers, “The Citizens' Hearing was convened to present evidence that Lt. Ehren Watada would have presented in his February 5 court martial on the question that the military ruled barred from entry on Jan. 16--the question of the Iraq War's legality. Lt. Watada has repeatedly asserted that because the Iraq War is illegal, it is his duty to refuse orders to deploy.” Well-known academics, activists, former government officials, Gulf War vets, and international law experts testified, including Ann Wright, Daniel Ellsberg, Marjorie Cohn, Denis Halliday, and Prof. Richard Falk. Iraq war vets Darrell Anderson and Chanan Suarez-Diaz testified about what they had personally seen in Iraq, including the killing of innocent civilians, the destruction of grave sites, and mass round-ups. What emerged was a powerful picture of the Iraq war and occupation as a giant war crime.
On Jan. 16, military judge Lt. Col John Head ruled that Watada could not argue that his refusal to be deployed to Iraq was based on the illegal nature of the war under international and U.S. law—because, Head declared, the issue of the illegality of the war is a “political question”! This is the same military that has charged, and is prosecuting, Watada for political speech--for talks and interviews in which he exposed Bush's lying justifications for the Iraq war and suggested that soldiers could refuse to fight in an illegal war (see “Lt. Watada and the Contemptible U.S. Military,” Revolution #53, at revcom.us).
Head denied another defense motion--that Watada be allowed to argue his case based on the Nuremberg defense (that soldiers have a duty to disobey illegal orders that would force them to participate in war crimes). Head also refused to dismiss the “conduct unbecoming an officer” charges against Watada (which target political speech), saying that free speech rights of military personnel are limited.
Watada’s attorney, Eric Seitz, said in response to the judge's rulings, “We’ve been stripped of every defense. This is a disciplinary system, not a justice system. Otherwise, we would have been entitled to defend ourselves.”
The week before the start of the court martial, the military dropped two of the four “conduct unbecoming an officer” charges against Watada. This was after broad condemnation and opposition to the military prosecutors' subpoena of two reporters. Independent journalist Sarah Olson and Honolulu Star-Bulletin writer Gregg Kakesako had conducted interviews with Watada, and the military sought to make them testify to confirm what Watada said. Refusal to testify when subpoenaed by a military court can be punished by 6 months in jail. Olson publicly stated her opposition to testifying, writing in the Editor and Publisher, “It is my job as a professional journalist to report the news, not to act as the eyes and ears of the government…. it is stunningly ironic that the Army seeks my testimony--the testimony of a journalist--in a case against free speech itself. What could be more hostile to the idea of a free press than a journalist participating in the suppression of newsworthy speech?”
In December the military had also subpoenaed three anti-war activists who have organized events where Watada spoke. One of these activists, Phan Nguyen of Olympia Movement for Peace and Justice, said that the military prosecutor “basically demanded that I name the names of any key organizers that had anything to do with the public support campaign created to support Lt. Watada…. They are clearly on a political fishing expedition. Unless we fight back, this could have a chilling effect on anti-war organizing at a time when we have to step up to end the war.”
After statements by the Society of Professional Journalists, the PEN American Center, and Military Reporters and Editors; an editorial in the L.A. Times; and other protest against the subpoenas, especially from journalists and free press advocates, on Jan. 29 the military backed off and dropped the subpoenas of the journalists. On Jan. 31 the military also felt they had to withdraw the remaining subpoenas of the anti-war activists.
The dropping of the subpoenas and two of the charges is an important victory against the military attempts to punish Ehren and to intimidate and coerce his supporters. At the same time, the Army remains determined to press ahead with the court martial and to suppress the example he has set of resisting illegal and immoral orders. Ehren Watada continues to face two charges of “conduct unbecoming an officer” and one charge of "missing troop movement.” Conviction on these charges could mean four years in military prison.
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