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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 10, 2006

Rally planned before Watada hearing

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

Anti-war and peace movement groups are massing a show of support for Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, who refused to deploy with his unit to Iraq, at his Article 32 pretrial hearing next week at Fort Lewis, Wash.

"I would say people like to put faces to things ... and 1st Lt. Watada being a soldier and officer, validates for people in the peace movement their position because he's saying the same things they are," Michael McPhearson, executive director of Veterans for Peace, said yesterday in a telephone interview from St. Louis.

McPhearson, whose son is serving in Iraq, said the focus on Watada's stance will raise the consciousness of other soldiers who feel the same way. "That's most dangerous to the pro-war people," added McPhearson, who sent out a national alert to his group's 6,000 members about a planned "national day of education" rally promoted by Courage to Resist next Wednesday, the day before the start of Watada's pretrial hearing.

Tammy Reed of the Fort Lewis public affairs office is not aware of any Army concerns about planned rallies and said she could not comment about the pretrial hearing.

Eric Seitz, Watada's attorney, said the Army rejected offers by his client to give up his commission and serve in another combat zone, such as Afghanistan.

Watada was also willing to accept a reprimand, fine and reduction in rank instead of facing court-martial but that also was rejected, said Seitz.

"They're not interested in avoiding confrontation," Seitz said. "I expect a referral to court-martial."

Watada, 28, of Honolulu, refused deployment to Iraq on June 7 with the Army's first Stryker Brigade Combat Team on grounds that the war was illegal. He became the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment.

McPhearson issued a statement for Veterans for Peace in June supporting Watada's decision:

"Many of our troops believe the U.S. occupation to be just and must follow their conscience. Other soldiers, while they do not believe in the war, feel obligated to follow the orders of their leaders or fear the consequences of resisting. However, more and more men and women are coming to the realization that they have the right to follow their conscience to resist this immoral war and are willing to face whatever consequences lay ahead."

If convicted, Watada faces a maximum sentence of seven years in prison, forfeiture of all pay and benefits, and a dishonorable discharge on charges that include conduct unbecoming an officer and missing troop movement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Rod Ohira at rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com.