War objector's 2nd court-martial blocked


Thu Nov 8, 11:21 PM ET

TACOMA, Wash. - The Army cannot hold a second court-martial for an Iraq war objector until the resolution of the soldier's claim that it would violate his right against double jeopardy, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

The first court-martial for 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, who is charged with missing his unit's deployment to Iraq in June 2006, ended in a mistrial in February. U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle wrote that the military judge likely abused his discretion in declaring the mistrial.

Watada contends that the war in Iraq is illegal and that he would be party to war crimes if he served there. He is also charged with conduct unbecoming an officer for denouncing President Bush and the war. If convicted, he could be sentenced to six years in prison and be dishonorably discharged.

"This is an enormous victory, but it is not yet over," Watada attorney Kenneth Kagan said in a statement.

The federal judge did not indicate what the next steps would be.

"We look forward to the opportunity to file additional briefs to further explain to the District Court judge the full extent of the protections and safeguards" afforded under the military justice system at the trial court and appellate levels, Fort Lewis spokesman Joseph Piek said.

Watada's second court-martial had been scheduled to begin last month when his lawyers asked the federal court to step in. The soldier contends a second trial would violate his Fifth Amendment rights by trying him twice for the same charges.

Settle ruled on Oct. 5 that his court had jurisdiction on the request for an emergency stay and that Watada's claim was "not frivolous. The judge then asked for additional briefs, leading to Thursday's ruling.

Watada's term of service in the military ended in December, but the legal proceedings have prevented his discharge. He lives in Olympia and continues to perform administrative duties at Fort Lewis, south of Seattle.