Thursday, August 17, 2006

Watada won't go!

WireTap Magazine posted a piece today on Lt. Ehren Watada, 28, who is facing indictment and imprisonment for refusing to deploy to Iraq. He faces a pretrial hearing this week.

Watada is the first military officer to face charges for opposing the war and the government seems to be pursuing his prosecution to deter further objection from within the ranks of the Armed Forces. Watada faces a maximum sentence of seven-and-a-half years.

But the military lawyers might have a hard time winning this case. Watada has been straightforward and reasonable throughout. He is no radical, patsy or opportunist. As the Wiretap story makes plain, his motivations fall in line with the highest ideals of the US military code and the laws of war that govern soldier conduct throughout the world, laws that have been strengthend since being disregarded over the last decade or so in places like Bosnia, Rwanda and Sudan, where soldiers who "just followed orders" are now having to live with what they did while dodging investigators from the Hague International War Crimes Tribunal. Watada is right to not want to join that class of soldier.

Here's some of the wiretap story that speaks to Watada's motivations:

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Lt. Watada was moved by a profound sense of duty and patriotism and enlisted in the Army right out of college in 2003. He received no monetary assistance from the military to pay for his education. His first two years in the Army were spent in a tour of duty in South Korea.

"It is a preconception that we have when we join the military that people just blindly follow orders," Lt. Watada said in a phone interview. "But if you can't distinguish between lawful and unlawful orders, the Abu Ghraibs will continue to exist."

Since January, Lt. Watada has twice submitted a formal resignation application. But... the Army maintained he had not fulfilled his obligation. He then offered to serve in Afghanistan, a war he considers unambiguously tied to Al Qaida, but was turned down. He also said he was willing to face a nonjudicial hearing, resign his commission, and accept a less-than-honorable discharge. But this, too, was denied.

Lt. Watada did not apply for conscientious-objector status because he does not oppose all wars, just the war in Iraq.

"I think the people at the top could have pushed for the resignation if they wanted to," he said. "They have kind of expressed surprise that the military did not want to get rid of me quietly."

By comparison, the Administration's actions with regard to US constitutional law, the US military honor code, and the international rules of combat constitute a record of lawyerly shucking and jiving and craven retreat from principle that any schoolyard child could tell you isn't the best approach to winning lasting security.

Watada's case may force more of these issues into the spotlight and spur increased mainstream media debate on Iraq and on the needlessly reckless conduct of the Bush Administration's War on Terror more generally.

Here's a video of Watada making his case.

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