Ehren Watada was the first officer to refuse orders to deploy to the war in Iraq. His decision was based on his conclusion that the war in Iraq was illegal under international law and the U.S. Constitution and his oath as an officer he had a duty to disobey an unlawful order. The court martial essentially put the war on trial, which was what the military judge bent over backwards to prevent, basically denying Watada a defense. When the prosecution expert witness began to support the defense argument under cross examination, the judge declared a mistrial, in violation of double jeopardy. It is a big win for all military resisters.
Posted on: Saturday, September 26, 2009
Army to discharge Hawaii soldier who took stand against Iraq war
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
Ehren Watada’s transformation from U.S. Army officer to internationally celebrated (and vilified) war resistor to private citizen is nearly complete.
First Lieutenant Watada, the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq, is being allowed to resign from the Army following a high-profile, three-year legal battle that included unsuccessful attempts by the Army to court martial him.
According to Watada’s Washington-based attorney, Kenneth Kagan, the Army will grant Watada a discharge “under other than honorable conditions.”
Watada, who holds a desk job at Fort Lewis in Washington state, will officially complete his service on Friday, Kagan said.
“I’m very happy, obviously,” said Watada’s father, retired Campaign Spending Commission executive director Bob Watada. “I’ve supported him from the beginning.”
The Kalani High School graduate came to national and international attention in 2006 when he refused to deploy to Iraq, arguing that the United States’ 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation of the country were violations of international law and that his participation would constitute participation in a war crime.
Watada offered to deploy instead to Afghanistan but was denied.
Watada’s stand underscored vigorous and heated debate about the war at a time when U.S. citizens increasingly defined themselves in relation to political and philosophical positions for or against the Bush administration and its post-9/11 policies.
While anti-war activists and other liberal interests hailed Watada as a man of conscience and principle, many conservatives and some affiliated with the military condemned him as a coward and a traitor.
Kagan said the truth, as always, is more complex.
“There are very few instances in which a commissioned officer has refused a deployment because his involvement would constitute participation in an action that is in violation of international law and the commission of a war crime,” Kagan said.
“What’s striking is that (Watada) was not an evangelist for his point of view. He did not try to proselytize to his fellow soldiers and officers, and he did not criticize or condemn those who chose to deploy. He never claimed to be a pacifist or conscientious objector. He took a principled stand that the invasion and occupation were violations of international laws.”
Watada was tried in military court in February 2007 for “missing movement” and “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman” (related to comments Watada made regarding the Bush administration and the war in Iraq). The proceedings ended in a mistrial after the court held that it did not have the jurisdiction to rule on Watada’s claim that U.S. military action in Iraq violated international law.
Watada’s legal team successfully pre-empted a second court-martial attempt by arguing “double jeopardy,” a legal restriction preventing a person from being tried twice for the same offense.
U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle issued an injunction preventing Watada from being retried on three of the five counts against him; he deferred judgment on the two remaining counts related to “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.”
On May 7, the Army announced that it would not seek to retry Watada on the original three counts of missing movement, but retained the option of trying him on the remaining two counts.
Watada submitted his resignation during the summer and received notice last week that the Army had accepted it. He had attempted to resign twice before (once before his refusal to deploy and once after) but had been denied.
Kagan said other alternatives, such as administrative separation, could have taken up to a year and a half to complete.
“When the Army realized they could not beat him in court, they threw up their hands and looked for some way to handle the situation quickly and quietly,” Kagan said.
Kagan said discharging Watada “under other than honorable conditions” was a “face-saving device” for the Army.
“It’s a way of them getting the last negative word,” Kagan said. “But (Watada) never saw the inside of a jail cell and was never court-martialed.”
Kagan said Watada’s only regret is that he was not able to present his case in open court.
Reach Michael Tsai at firstname.lastname@example.org.