View Full Version : Demos As First U.S. Officer Stands Trial For Refusing To Fight In Iraq

02-05-2007, 09:49 PM
Demos as first US officer stands trial for refusing to fight in Iraq


Published: Monday February 5, 2007

US anti-war groups called nationwide protests as the first US army officer to publicly refuse orders to go to Iraq arguing that the war was illegal was set to go on trial.

As First Lieutenant Ehren Watada, 28, was to face a court martial Monday, his supporters organized a demonstration outside the Fort Lewis military base in the northwestern state of Washington.

About 20 other protests were also planned from New York to Los Angeles, as well as outside the White House.

Watada is being tried for refusing to be deployed to Iraq in June 2006, on the grounds that he opposed the decision of President George W. Bush to launch the war.

He is being charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with expressing contempt toward Bush, of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman and purposely missing his unit's deployment when it departed for the Middle East on June 22, 2006.

The charges, which could earn him four years in a military prison, cite statements Watada made on June 6 defending his decision on the basis that Bush initiated an illegal and immoral war.

"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. If the president can betray my trust, it's time for me to evaluate what he's telling me to do," Watada said, according to the court martial charge sheet.

According to the rights group Amnesty International, three US privates have already been sentenced to between 12 to 15 months in jail for refusing to fight in Iraq.

Although the US Army insists that a soldier has to respect the chain of command and cannot choose which war to fight in, Watada has said that under the US constitution he has the right to refuse an illegal order.

Watada joined the army in 2003 and was posted in South Korea until 2005, when he was transferred to Fort Lewis to prepare for deployment to Iraq.

Instead he requested to be transferred to another unit and proposed that he be deployed to Afghanistan. That was turned down.

Since his arrest he has been assigned to an office job in Fort Lewis while awaiting his trial.

His case has garnered significant support in a nation that has turned sharply against the Iraq war.

Mike Honda, a member of the US House of Representatives, told the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper last week that Watada volunteered for the military in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks "out of a desire to protect his family and compatriots."

Noting Watada's "exemplary" service record, Honda defended his act: "Watada is not alone. Poll after poll points to an ever-rising tide of public opposition to President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq."

But the judge hearing the case has already said that the issue of the legality of the war in Iraq will not be raised during the court martial, saying the hearing has no authority to rule on the question.

To counter his ruling, anti-war groups have mocked up several hearings in recent days to lay out "testimony" from witnesses explaining why in their view the war is illegal.

Watada's stand has also drawn celebrity support, according to a website set up by his supporters.

"I admire your courageous and moral stand. In Christian tradition, ethics insist on the absolute primacy of obeying one's conscience. It is a categorical imperative," South African Nobel peace prize laureate Desmond Tutu wrote.

The US actress and activist Susan Sarandon said: "If the definition of a patriot is one who loves and defends his country then Ehren Watada is truly a patriot for his refusal to serve in a war that is harming the people of Iraq and increasing the threat of harm to Americans."

In an interview on National Public Radio in January, Watada said he felt he had no choice but to refuse to go to Iraq.

"When I saw there were no other alternatives, I believed that I needed to take this issue to the public arena and let the people know why soldiers were dying in Iraq."