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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, August 18, 2006

Army lays case with Watada's own words

Advertiser Staff and Wire Reports

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 yesterday 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, a 1996 Kalani High School graduate, 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, 28, has been reassigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, I Corps, and works in an administrative position at the post.

The prosecution played 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.

Yesterday, 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.

After the hearing, Seitz said "it went very well as far as I'm concerned. We were able to have our witnesses testify fully and their testimony I think was very impressive."

Seitz, however, said he doesn't think there's any doubt what will happen following the Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding.

"I think the hearing officer is going to recommend a general court-martial, and that's where we'll find ourselves next," Seitz said.

Bob Watada, the lieutenant's father, who flew to Washington and was at the hearing with his wife, Rosa Sakanishi, said his son "is doing fine."

"Eric Seitz put on a good case, but we know the military they make up their own minds what they want to do," the O'ahu man said.

The government called its only witness, Capt. J.C. Kaplan, who's 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.

CASE FOR FREE SPEECH

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.

The rare case of an Army officer publicly refusing his Iraq deployment order at a time of increased public unhappiness with the more than three-year-old conflict has inflamed emotions and polarized opinions about the soldier.

Just before the lunch break, Seitz began to present evidence 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 destruction and Saddam Hussein having ties to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

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

Also testifying were Denis Halliday, the former under-secretary of the United Nations, who also served over a number of programs dealing with Iraq, and Ann Wright of Honolulu, a retired colonel who resigned from the U.S. Foreign Service in 2003 over the Iraq war.

She was expected to testify about the Army's training of officers and their obligations to international law.

'A NUREMBERG CRIME'

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 Nuremberg crime against peace."

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

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. An order to go to an unlawful and immoral war based on false pretenses is no different than to kill innocent civilians."

The investigating officer is expected to recommend to higher command in about a week whether Watada should stand trial. If convicted, he could face more than seven years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.

The Associated Press and Advertiser Military Writer William Cole contributed to this report. Reach Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.