Watada reaffirms stance as he faces court-martial
By Teresa Watanabe
Los Angeles Times
By Teresa Watanabe
The nation's first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq said he was disappointed by the Army's decision last week to proceed with a court-martial against him but reiterated that he believed he did the right thing in opposing the war.
As the nation honored its military veterans yesterday, Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, from Ho-nolulu, said he believed his refusal to lead his soldiers into what he views as an illegal and immoral war was fulfilling his duty to them and the Constitution he pledged to uphold.
"I am at peace with my decision because I feel that from the beginning I made it according to my conscience and my duty as a soldier and officer," said Watada, who is stationed at Fort Lewis, about 50 miles south of Seattle. "The reason I'm standing up is that no one else is speaking up for the troops dying every day — not to mention the 600,000 Iraqis who have died.
"I'm willing to accept the punishment, whatever it may be," said Watada, whose case has sparked widespread debate over a soldier's duty to follow orders versus conscience.
In phone interviews Friday and yesterday, Watada also said that recent events reinforced his belief that many Americans, including a growing number inside the military, shared his sentiments against the Bush administration's conduct of the war. Those events include the midterm election results giving Democrats control of Congress, the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and a landmark editorial in four civilian military publications calling for the Pentagon chief's ouster.
The Army announced Thursday that it would refer Watada's case to a general court-martial for refusing to deploy to Iraq. Although that decision was expected, observers were closely watching whether Lt. Gen. James Dubik, the Ft. Lewis commanding general, would also refer to trial charges involving public statements Watada made about the administration's war efforts.
They included Watada's statement at a June news conference that "the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law. ... The wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of Iraqis is not only a terrible and moral injustice, but it's a contradiction to the Army's own law of land warfare. My participation would make me party to war crimes."
The Army contends that statement and others expressing shame over wearing the uniform to conduct a war "waged on misrepresentation and lies" brought dishonor to the military.
In his decision, Dubik dismissed two of the speech-related charges of "contempt toward officials" but referred to trial four others of "conduct unbecoming an officer."
Watada faces a maximum of six years in prison.
Army officials were not available for comment.
Watada's attorney, Eric Seitz of Honolulu, said yesterday that he was disappointed that the Army refused to negotiate on the charges, but predicted a "spectacular" trial next year that would put the administration's handling of the war under public scrutiny. Seitz argued that Watada's statements, made off-duty and out of uniform, were permissible exercises of his free speech rights.
Watada, who enlisted after the Sept. 11 attacks, said he gradually came to his conclusion that the war was illegal and immoral after his superiors told him to study up on it last year in preparation to deploy to Iraq in June with his Stryker brigade combat team.
Watada said he concluded that the war violated international and U.S. law because the administration failed to obtain U.N. Security Council authorization for it and secured congressional authorization based on false assertions that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and was linked to al-Qaida.
The Nuremberg principles adopted after World War II require soldiers to disobey illegal orders, he said.
Watada offered to deploy to Afghanistan or resign his commission instead but the Army rebuffed him.
Army spokesman Col. Dan Baggio said in a previous interview that soldiers could not pick and choose their conflicts but must uphold their oath to follow orders.