Lieutenant defies Army over 'illegal' war
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By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
By William Cole
In one of the first known cases of its kind, an Army officer from Honolulu is expected to refuse to go to Iraq this month with his unit, citing what he calls the "illegal" and "immoral" basis of the war, his father confirmed.
The officer, 1st Lt. Ehren K. Watada, 28, son of former state campaign spending commission executive director Bob Watada, is believed to be one of the first military officers to publicly take steps to refuse his deployment orders.
"My son has a great deal of courage, and clearly understands what is right, and what is wrong," Bob Watada said yesterday. "He's choosing to do the right thing, which is a hard course."
Watada declined further comment until a news conference planned for 11 a.m. tomorrow at the state Capitol. His son is with a Stryker unit out of Fort Lewis, Wash., and is expected to participate by teleconference.
Jeff Paterson, a former Kane'ohe Bay Marine who refused to board a transport in 1990 heading to the Gulf War and now works as an anti-war activist with the organization Not In Our Name, said a second news conference will be held in Tacoma, Wash.
On the Web site www.thankyoult.org., which Paterson said was created by friends and family, the "Lt." is quoted as saying: "I refuse to be silent any longer. I refuse to watch families torn apart, while the President tells us to 'stay the course.' ... I refuse to be party to an illegal and immoral war against people who did nothing to deserve our aggression. I wanted to be there for my fellow troops. But the best way was not to help drop artillery and cause more death and destruction. It is to help oppose this war and end it so that all soldiers can come home."
Ehren Watada apparently sought in January to resign his commission, and later asked again and was denied.
Watada, who is not seeking conscientious objector status, but rather has moral objections to the Iraq war, faces the possibility of a court-martial, dishonorable discharge and several years in prison if he refuses the war orders.
According to the GI Rights Hotline, a conscientious objector has a deeply held moral, ethical or religious belief that it is wrong to kill another human being in war.
Some service members discover that opposition after joining the military, and are discharged, the organization said.
Watada doesn't qualify as a conscientious objector because he does not oppose all wars.
Watada graduated from Hawai'i Pacific University in 2003, joined the Army shortly after, went to Officer Candidate School, and incurred a three-year obligation.
The Hawai'i man is with the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry, at Fort Lewis. The unit is part of a larger 3,600-soldier Stryker brigade combat team similar to a unit being developed in Hawai'i with about 300 eight-wheeled armored vehicles.
The Fort Lewis brigade is heading to Mosul in northern Iraq, and the soldiers are expected to leave this month and into July.
At a farewell ceremony on Friday, I Corps and Fort Lewis commander Lt. Gen. James Dubik, a former Schofield Barracks commander, said that of 299 million people in the United States, only 2.3 million serve in uniform to defend the nation, the Olympian newspaper reported.
"Less than 1 percent of the nation is carrying 100 percent of the burden of this war," Dubik said.
But in a sign of increased opposition to the three-year-old Iraq war, anti-war activists demonstrated at the Port of Olympia after Stryker vehicles drove there for shipment, the Olympian reported.
Police used pepper spray on about 100 activists, and 22 people were arrested in one of the more volatile confrontations, the newspaper said.
Paterson, 38, who in 1990 alleged that the Gulf War was about profits and oil in the Middle East and sat down on the tarmac at Kane'ohe Bay instead of boarding a transport, said he's not sure of the number of Iraq or Afghanistan war objectors.
Cases that resulted in court-martial include a Navy sailor sentenced to three months of hard labor for refusing to board a ship headed to the Persian Gulf, a specialist in the National Guard given 120 days in a stand against fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a soldier sentenced to 15 months for refusing to deploy to Iraq a second time.
Robert Arakaki, the 83-year-old president of the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans group, who saw combat in Italy in 1945, yesterday said Watada "owes the country a lot."
There "should be some kind of good explanation" for why Watada wants out, he said, and Arakaki takes issue with claims of an immoral and illegal war.
"Who determines what is legal or illegal? Him or our government? Not him," Arakaki said.
Retired Navy Cmdr. Jack Miller, past president of the Hawai'i chapter of the Military Officers Association of America, said "there's always been the problem of following orders. This time is no different."
"Being a Vietnam veteran, we went through this," said Miller, 72. "The rest of the load had to be shared by those willing to follow orders and serve their country."
Dependable, loyal officers are needed, and "if one doesn't fit that qualification, a bad apple will contaminate the barrel. He (Watada) should be punished in some way," Miller said. "You don't want someone over there in Iraq who's not going to willingly follow orders. That's dangerous."
Reach William Cole at email@example.com.