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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 11:25 a.m., Thursday, August 17, 2006

Army starts hearing against Honolulu-born soldier

Melanthia Mitchell
Associated Press

SEATTLE — A lieutenant facing possible court martial for refusing to go to Iraq called on other soldiers to throw down their weapons in a video shown today as the Army mounted its case against the officer.

The video, taken at the Veterans for Peace convention last weekend in Seattle, was presented by Army prosecutors at Fort Lewis during a hearing to determine whether 1st Lt. Ehren Watada will stand trial.

Watada, 28, of Honolulu, was charged last month with conduct unbecoming an officer, missing troop movement and contempt toward officials. He refused to deploy to Iraq on June 22 with his Stryker unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division based at Fort Lewis.

Watada has been reassigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, I Corps, and now works in an administrative position at the post.

The prosecution played a total of three video clips with comments Watada made over the weekend as well as on June 7, when he publicly announced his decision to refuse deployment.

Today, Watada sat quietly, flanked by his attorneys, Eric Seitz of Honolulu and Army Capt. Mark Kim. His father and stepmother sat in the back of the hearing room.

The government called its only witness, a Capt. J.C. Kaplan, with the 3rd Brigade. Kaplan said he oversaw administrative and logistical operations as the brigade prepared for deployment in June and was there June 22 when Watada failed to show.

Kaplan said he had to escort Watada to his assigned quarters. "He was restricted to post," he said.

Watada has been very public in his disagreement with the war, including making statements that he felt the Bush administration deceived Americans in order to initiate the war.

Seitz has said such comments are protected free speech.

Just before the lunch break today, Seitz began to present evidence during the Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding, to support Watada's contention that the Iraq invasion violated domestic and international law.

The first witness for the defense was University of Illinois professor Francis Boyle, an international law expert.

The war in Iraq, Boyle said, is a war against peace because it was not authorized by the United Nations Security Council. Secondly, he said, Congress approved going to war only after being lied to by the Bush administration about Iraq having weapons of mass destructon and Saddam Hussein's ties to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"This constitutes ... a conspiracy to defraud the United States government," he said.

After researching the United States' invasion of Iraq, Watada has said he determined it to be an illegal and unjust war.

Watada made a very extensive study of the facts surrounding the war, Boyle said.

"The more you know, the higher your rank, the more your responsibility," he said. "If he had deployed, he would be facilitating a Neuremberg crime against peace."

Kuecker objected to the relevance of Boyle's testimony, saying the legality of the war is not to be decided by a military court.

Under questioning by Lt. Col. Mark Keith, the investigating officer presiding over today's hearing, Boyle acknowled that either a U.S. federal court or the U.S. Supreme Court could declare the war to be illegal.

Watada was calm the day before the hearing.

"I made this decision a long time ago," he said during a telephone interview Wednesday night. "It is my obligation to this country. I'm not happy about it and I didn't want to do it, but I had to."

"You don't join the military just to blindly follow whatever orders you're given," he said. "An order to go to an unlawful and immoral war based on false pretenses is no different than to kill innocent civilians."

After the hearing, an investigating officer will recommend to commanders whether Watada should stand trial. If convicted, he could face more than seven years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.