As unit departs, soldier remains
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Will Hoover
Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada crossed his personal Rubicon yesterday by refusing to obey a direct order to deploy with his unit to Iraq.
Instead, the 28-year-old soldier from Honolulu stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., stayed on base in his battalion's headquarters while members of his unit left by bus at 6:45 a.m., en route to their flight from nearby McChord Air Force Base, the Army said.
"He refused to board the bus and he refused to board the airplane," said Bob Watada, Ehren's father and former executive director of the Hawai'i state Campaign Spending Commission.
The senior Watada, currently in Washington state, said he had spoken with his son by cell phone.
"He's taking it well. This is something he prepared for. He understood what was going to happen," Bob Watada said.
"And he's still prepared for what's going to happen. We can expect the Army to not be kind and to do whatever they want to do."
About 4,000 soldiers of Fort Lewis' 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division were scheduled to be part of this deployment.
Since Watada announced earlier this month that he intended to disobey orders to deploy because he had concluded the Iraq war is immoral and illegal, he has become a lightning rod for a nation polarized over the conflict.
While other officers have refused to deploy to Iraq, Watada is the first to publicly state he would refuse to go on moral and legal grounds.
Although Watada has received both praise and condemnation since he announced his decision, until yesterday the Army lieutenant had violated no orders.
An effort to persuade him to refrain from doing so apparently continued until nearly the final moment.
Bob Watada said his son told him that three officers spent several hours with him on Wednesday trying to pressure the 28-year-old soldier to change his mind.
"They put the full-court press on him," he said. "They were telling him, 'You know, you're facing 10 to 15 years in jail, and do you want to do all of that?' And they were telling him what a good guy he was, that he's the kind of officer that they needed."
The pressure lasted through yesterday morning with other officers underscoring the risks involved in his actions, Watada's father said.
"First Lt. Watada has been ordered to remain on duty at his unit, with some limitations on his pass privileges, pending further instructions from his chain of command," Fort Lewis officials said in a statement.
No charges had been filed against Watada as of yesterday.
"None will be filed until the commander has had a chance to review all of the facts of the case and consult with the Staff Judge Advocate," the Army statement said.
Watada said this month that he researched the reasons behind the U.S. involvement in Iraq and concluded that the government has violated American law.
"We can't break laws in order to fight terrorism," he said.
Watada said he believes intelligence on whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was manipulated "to fit a policy that was already implemented prior to 9/11," and he cited "mistreatment of the Iraqi people," saying it was "a contradiction to the Army's own Law of Land Warfare."
He did not apply for conscientious objector status, defined by Army regulations as a "firm, fixed and sincere objection to participation in a war in any form or the bearing of arms, because of religious training and belief." He said he objected only to the war in Iraq.The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reach Will Hoover at firstname.lastname@example.org.