FIRSTLY CONGRATULATION : I regard Boxer Muhammad Ali and Lieutenant Ehren Watada as heros and kiss their foreheads because they didn’t participate in the tyranny by unjust and illegal wars. Mimoza33, 31 July 2008, Turkiye

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Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada saw his case move one step closer to resolution earlier this month when a federal court issued a preliminary injunction against a second court martial. The Army’s prosecution of the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq has been in legal limbo since a February court martial ended abruptly when the military judge threw out a stipulation agreement and declared a mistrial.

In June 2006, Lt. Watada held a press conference where he declared that the Iraq War was illegal, and that it was his duty to refuse orders to deploy. Lt. Watada was charged with violations of articles 87 and 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for refusing to deploy to Iraq, and publicly explaining his reasons for doing so. If convicted, he faced up to six and a half years in prison.

Following February’s mistrial, the Army refiled charges against Lt. Watada, and prepared for a second court martial. The defense argued Fifth Amendment protection against being tried for the same crime twice, and filed appeals with every level of military court. Lt. Watada’s claims to constitutional protections were not heard in court until the case reached the civilian, federal district court, in Tacoma, Washington.

Lt. Watada’s refusal to deploy to Iraq launched him into the public spotlight. His refusal to obey direct orders made him the center of controversy, and he drew sharp criticism from many fellow members of the officer corps. At the same time, many active duty soldiers expressed gratitude to the Lieutenant for giving voice to the rising opposition to the war among those being asked to fight it.

Prior to the beginning of his first court martial, Lt. Watada faced four years in prison, for explaining his opposition to the Iraq War. In attempting to prove those charges, the Army subpoenaed two journalists and a number of peace activists. Sarah Olson interviewed Lt. Watada before his public announcement, and objected to the Army’s attempted use of journalists to criminalize and prosecute speech.

The Center for Media and Democracy joined numerous professional organizations, journalists and media outlets in supporting Olson’s claims that hauling a journalist into military court to testify as a prosecution witness against their source creates a chilling effect on personal speech and dissenting political voices, and that subpoenaing journalists, especially in cases where speech itself is the crime in question, erodes the necessary separation between press and government, and encourages the public to see journalists as agents of government prosecution.

The Center for Media and Democracy formed the Defend the Press coalition that sent thousands of letters and emails to Ft. Lewis, demanding that the Army respect the spirit of the First Amendment requiring the press be free from government intimidation, and that the public have access to a vigorous debate on important issues — including whether or when the military should go to war.

As the Army proceeded with plans for its second court martial, it subpoenaed all of its witnesses except the journalists involved, and as it becomes clear that Lt. Watada will have his Fifth Amendment rights upheld, it is also a victory that he will not be prosecuted for speaking about his opposition to the war. Members of the military are opposing the Iraq War in growing number. Many of them are acting on this opposition: The Army reported recently that the number of AWOL soldiers had grown 80 percent since the beginning of the Iraq War, and GI rights advocates say the Army’s data still represents only a fraction of AWOL soldiers.

Without actually hearing from these men and women, public debate is dominated by the Bush Administration. A vigorous and free debate cannot be had on any issue when one side has all the power and access, and the other is barred from even speaking to the media. But, as Lt. Watada’s case appears to be headed for what supporters call a victory, it’s useful to remember that the original issues Lt. Watada raised — those of the illegality of the war, and a soldier’s obligation to refuse orders thought to be illegal — have not yet had their day in court.

Sarah Olson; 26 Nov 2007



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By Charles Burress

A U.S. Army officer’s refusal to go to Iraq has touched off an intense, at times furious debate among Japanese Americans, reopening an unhealed wound that dates back to World War II.

Many news articles, op-ed pieces and emotional letters to the editor in the Japanese-American press have featured the case of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, a Japanese American native of Honolulu stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington state. Army officials say he’s the first commissioned officer to refuse orders to deploy to Iraq, on the principle established by the Nuremberg war-crimes trial that he is obliged to disobey illegal or immoral orders.

The 28-year-old Watada is expected to be court-martialed and faces a possible seven years in prison, not just because of his refusal to deploy on June 22 but also because of public comments accusing the Bush administration of lying to Congress and the American people about the justifications for the invasion of Iraq. His statements, according to the Army charges against him, make him guilty of “contempt toward officials” and “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman,” each of which are crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

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The case, which could put the war’s legality on trial in a military courtroom, has garnered a moderate amount of mainstream media coverage, as well as an amicus court filing from the American Civil Liberties Union, which supports his free-speech rights. It also drew three well-known and distinguished critics of the war who testified on his behalf at a preliminary hearing at Fort Lewis on Aug. 17: Denis Halliday, former UN Assistant Secretary General in charge of humanitarian relief in Iraq in the late ‘90s; retired Army Col. Mary Ann Wright, who began a second career at the State Department and was the number two official at the U.S. embassy in Mongolia in March 2003 when she abruptly resigned in protest of the Iraq invasion, making her the highest ranking among the three diplomats who quit in protest that month; and Francis Boyle, an expert in international law at the University of Illinois College of Law and a specialist on military law and civil disobedience.

Watada himself does not frame the issue in terms of his Japanese American identity. He has cited his duty as an American citizen and U.S. Army officer. In public statements quoted by the Army at the Aug. 17 hearing, Watada made clear the principles behind his objections to the war:

“My moral and legal obligation is to the Constitution and not those who would issue unlawful orders,” he said in a June 7 statement. “…It is my conclusion as an officer of the Armed Forces that the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law. Although I have tried to resign out of protest, I am forced to participate in a war that is manifestly illegal… My participation would make me party to war crimes.”

“This is a war not out of self-defense but by choice, for profit and imperialistic domination,” he said in an Aug. 12 speech at a Veterans for Peace convention in Seattle. “WMD, ties to Al Qaeda, and ties to 9/11 never existed and never will…Our narrowly and questionably elected officials intentionally manipulated the evidence presented to Congress, the public, and the world to make the case for war…. Neither Congress nor this administration has the authority to violate the prohibition against pre-emptive war — an American law that still stands today. This same administration uses us for rampant violations of time-tested laws banning torture and degradation of prisoners of war.”

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“‘I was only following orders’ is never an excuse,” he said. “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.”

Watada had a very different view in March 2003 when the U.S. invaded Iraq. A senior at Hawaii Pacific University, he enlisted in the Army that month in response to President Bush’s call to join the war on terrorism and began active duty after graduating that June.

After serving in Korea, he learned he would be dispatched to Iraq.

“I realized that to go to war, I needed to educate myself in every way possible,” he told journalist Sarah Olson in an interview for Truthout.org. “Why were we going to this particular war? …I began reading everything I could.

“One of many books I read was James Bamford’s Pretext for War. 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.

“The deciding moment for me was in January of 2006. I had watched clips of military funerals. I saw the photos of these families. The children. The mothers and the fathers as they sat by the grave, or as they came out of the funerals. One really hard picture for me was a little boy leaving his father’s funeral. He couldn’t face the camera so he is covering his eyes. I felt like I couldn’t watch that anymore. I couldn’t be silent any more and condone something that I felt was deeply wrong.”

Watada’s offered to resign or to serve in Afghanistan instead but was turned down.

When his unit, the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, left Fort Lewis on June 22, he refused to board the plane. He has been reassigned to administrative tasks on base while the Army reviews his case and is free to come and go when off duty.

Watada has said he is prepared to accept the consequences of his decision.

In the Pacific Citizen interview, conducted by Executive Editor Caroline Aoyagi-Stom, he said, “I knew joining the Army, whether it was fighting in a foreign war or now fighting for the rights of soldiers, meant sacrifice. In combat, you may lose a limb, bodily functions, or your life. Speaking out against an authoritarian government and refusing to obey their unlawful orders may mean loss of liberty and other less than pleasant things. These are both sacrifices and commitments made to the American people as an American soldier. I gave my life to protect freedom and democracy — a sacrifice I am willing to make by doing the right thing.

“In a way I’m already free. Physically they can lock me up, throw away the key, leave me to rot and contemplate my ‘crimes.’ For a long time I was in turmoil. I felt compelled to fulfill the terms of my contract despite what I knew to be utterly wrong. Only when I realized that I served not men and institutions but the people of this country, did I believe there was another answer. That choice was to do what is right and just.”

Following standard procedure, the Army is reviewing its investigating officer’s report before deciding the next step. Watada’s attorney, Eric Seitz of Honolulu, put the likelihood of a general court-martial at “100 percent.”

For Michael Honey’s video film, A Soldier’s Duty?, on Lt. Ehren Watada’s
Story challenge to President Bush’s invasion and war in Iraq,

Charles Burress covers Asia-Pacific and Asian-American affairs for The San Francisco Chronicle.
He wrote this article for Japan Focus. Posted on September 12, 2006.

Find the full text of the Pacific Citizen’s August 30, 2006 interview with Lt. Watada here.

Find the full text of John Rockwell’s Counterpunch report: Citizens of Conscience: Military Resistance from the Vietnam War to Iraq here.




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