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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 22, 2006

Military must give Watada fair hearing

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The heated rhetoric over Army 1st Lt. Ehren K. Watada's refusal to deploy to Iraq has resurfaced just two weeks before his first pre-trial hearing.

Watada returned home to Hawai'i for the holidays this week and appeared at a forum at the Church of the Crossroads in Honolulu. And his words and actions have understandably drawn mixed reviews.

Whether you agree with the 28-year-old Kalani High School graduate's decision to oppose the Iraq war and refuse deployment, his trial should be fair. He must also deal with the consequences of his words and refusal to obey orders.

From the beginning, Watada has made his views clear. He doesn't call himself a conscientious objector because he's not against all wars, just this one in Iraq. Watada's view is that President Bush led the country into an illegal war.

Indeed, increasingly the majority of Americans want to see a different direction in Iraq.

The difference, of course, is that Watada's strong dissent comes from a soldier.

For that, Watada has been seen as a hero, or a coward depending on your views on the war.

To his credit, Watada has been clear about his convictions and has said he understands that as a soldier with a signed contract with the military there's a price to be paid for those beliefs. This, perhaps, is the lesson in Watada's situation.

It's true that under his contract with the military, Watada has limited free-speech rights. A trial will determine how far he has exceeded those limits.

Watada has repeatedly stated that he is willing to answer for his actions; he prefers the discussion center on the war and not his personal circumstance.

Instinctively, he does understand his soldier's contract. Defiance simply is not part of the agreement.

In the upcoming hearings, the military must be certain that the process is fair amid the emotionally charged debate. Encouragingly, military officials have assured that Watada's due process rights will be respected.

That, of course, is imperative if the integrity of these proceedings are to be beyond reproach.