Published on Sunday, February 4, 2007 by the Agence France Presse
Trial of US Soldier Who Refused to Go to Iraq Opens Monday
by Jean-Louis Doublet
First Lieutenant Ehren Watada, the first US army officer to publicly refuse orders to go to Iraq, will go on trial in a court martial Monday at Fort Lewis, Washington, according to his supporters.
Watada is being tried for his refusal in June 2006 to be deployed to Iraq on the grounds that he opposed the decision of President George W. Bush to launch the war.
He is being charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with expressing contempt toward Bush, of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and purposely missing his unit's deployment when it departed for the Middle East on June 22, 2006.
The charges, which could earn him four years in a military prison, cite statements Watada made on June 6 defending his decision on the basis that Bush initiated an illegal and immoral war.
"I could never conceive of our leader betraying the trust we had in him. As I read about the level of deception the Bush administration used to initiate and process this war, I was shocked. I became ashamed of wearing the uniform. If the president can betray my trust, it's time for me to evaluate what he's telling me to do," Watada said, according to the court martial charge sheet.
A group of supporters of Watada plan to hold a demonstration outside Fort Lewis in the northwestern state on Monday, as well as a protest in his support outside the White House in Washington, the US capital.
Watada joined the army in 2003 and was posted in South Korea until 2005, when he was transferred to Fort Lewis to prepare for deployment to Iraq.
Instead he requested to be transferred to another unit and proposed that he be deployed to Afghanistan. That was turned down.
Since his arrest he has been assigned to an office job in Fort Lewis while awaiting his trial.
His case has garnered significant support in a nation that has turned sharply against the Iraq war.
Mike Honda, a member of the US House of Representatives, told the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper last week that Watada volunteered for the military in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks "out of a desire to protect his family and compatriots."
Noting Watada's "exemplary" service record, Honda defended his act: "Watada is not alone. Poll after poll points to an ever-rising tide of public opposition to President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq."
In an interview on National Public Radio in January, Watada said he felt he had no choice but to refuse to go to Iraq.
"When I saw there were no other alternatives, I believed that I needed to take this issue to the public arena and let the people know why soldiers were dying in Iraq."
But he said the court martial will avoid the issues his refusal was aimed at raising.
"In this case, the judge has already predetermined that he will not allow any evidence or witnesses to testify that the war is illegal or immoral. He has already predetermined that the order (to deploy) is lawful and, in a sense by charging me with missing movement, they are skirting the issue of the legality of the order."
On the Net: Watada supporters: http://www.thankyoult.com/
© Copyright 2007 AFP