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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 4:45 p.m., Monday, April 16, 2007

Watada's father becomes outspoken critic of Iraq war

Associated Press


Army Lt. Ehren Watada, left, walks with father, Bob Watada; his stepmother, Rosa; and attorney, Eric Seitz, during a lunch break in an Army hearing concerning Watada's refusal to deploy to Iraq, at Fort Lewis, Wash., last August. Bob Watada has been touring the country to gain support for his son.

AP library photo | August 2006

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HONOLULU — Since Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada refused to go to Iraq, his father has become an outspoken critic of the war, touring the country to gain support for his son.

Bob Watada, a 67-year-old retired state official, said after his son, Ehren, became the first military officer to face a court-martial for publicly refusing to deploy to Iraq, his life dramatically changed.

He researched events leading up the war, started criticizing the Bush administration on its reasons for invading Iraq, and then traveled across the country for much of the past year with his wife to speak about his son and raise money for legal costs.

"It was because of him that I've gone out and educated myself," said Bob Watada, who served as executive director of Hawai'i's Campaign Spending Commission for a decade. "I've given literally hundreds of speeches. If it wasn't for my son I wouldn't have read all these books."

The soldier's father talked about his anti-war activities at a Society of Professional Journalists regional meeting in Honolulu during the weekend.

Ehren Watada, 28, refused to deploy with his unit last June because he believes the war is illegal and didn't want to commit acts which he felt could be war crimes. He faces charges of missing movement and conduct unbecoming an officer — and could be sentenced to a dishonorable discharge and six years in prison if convicted.

He faces a second court-martial July 16 after his first trial in February ended abruptly when the judge, Lt. Col. John Head, said he did not believe the soldier fully understood a pretrial agreement he signed admitting elements of the charges.

As part of that agreement, the Army had dropped two of the charges against him, lowering his potential sentence to four years.

His lawyers have advised him to no longer talk about the case, his father said.

"My son has somewhat backed off a little bit," Watada said. "He's somewhat become afraid of what people are going to do to him right now. He's become very cautious."

Bob Watada, however, continues to attract attention despite cutting many of his appearances after his wife, Rosa, had a stroke. He sometimes brings DVDs of documentaries on the war to hand out and is candid about his son's situation.

He still gets about 30 e-mails a day and sometimes is recognized by people when out in public, he said.

Watada, who had seven brothers in the military, also opposed the Vietnam War, served in the Peace Corps in Peru, and extended his education to avoid the draft, claiming that war was illegal.

He said he discussed his opinions on war with his son when Ehren had decided to join the Army.

"He felt there were terrorists out there and he wanted to do his part," Watada said of his son.

Both of the accused soldier's parents have remained supportive, crisscrossing the nation to speak after canceling a move to Japan, where they had planned to spend a few years.

"We saw that there are a lot of beautiful places in this country," Watada said.

While the Watadas spoke against the war in Oregon, they visited Eugene where they found friendly people, beautiful pine trees and lush valleys and a comfortable climate. The couple also discovered a farm house, where they plan to move in May.

"Because of Ehren I discovered my paradise," Watada said.