A federal judge has blocked the Army from conducting a second court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada of Honolulu, an Iraq war objector based at Fort Lewis, Wash., saying it's likely the second trial would violate his constitutional rights.
"This is an enormous victory, but it is not yet over," Kenneth Kagan, one of Watada's attorneys, said in a written statement.
U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle ruled yesterday that no court-martial will be held for Watada, a 1996 Kalani High School graduate, pending the outcome of his claim that it would violate his Fifth Amendment rights by trying him twice for the same charges.
Watada's first court-martial ended in a mistrial in February. Settle wrote that the military judge likely abused his discretion in declaring the mistrial.
Bob Watada, a former Hawai'i Campaign Spending Commission executive director, said by phone yesterday from his Oregon farm that his son is pleased with the decision.
"We talked for a few minutes and he said he's happy," Bob Watada said. The father also noted there remains uncertainty because the charges remain in effect.
The younger Watada is charged with missing his Stryker brigade's deployment to Iraq in June 2006 and with conduct unbecoming an officer for denouncing President Bush and the war, saying it was illegal and unjust.
Watada, 29, had said he would be a party to war crimes if he served in Iraq. The Army refused his request to resign or be posted in Afghanistan or elsewhere.
He was the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse deployment to the Iraq war, and his stand polarized opinion over his personal conviction versus his officer's oath and obligations to the Army.
Settle did not indicate what the next steps would be. Supporters of Watada said the judge indicated that no trial proceedings could occur until his further order, or until Settle's preliminary injunction is modified by a higher court.
An Army spokesman at Fort Lewis said late yesterday that officials had just received the ruling and could not immediately comment.
MISTRIAL ON DAY 3
Watada's second court-martial had been scheduled to begin last month when his lawyers asked the federal court to step in. The soldier contended the second trial would have violated his constitutional rights by trying him twice for the same charges. If convicted, he could be sentenced to six years in prison and be dishonorably discharged.
In February, military judge Lt. Col. John Head unexpectedly declared a mistrial in the third day of Watada's trial as the soldier prepared to take the stand in his own defense.
Head did so after he expressed concern that Watada did not understand what the soldier had earlier agreed to in what's called a stipulation of facts because it conflicted with his defense.
Honolulu attorney Eric Seitz, who represented Watada at the time, said yesterday that he believes the latest federal court decision means the case against Watada essentially is dead.
The Army can appeal the case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which would likely be unsuccessful, Seitz believes, or even the U.S. Supreme Court.
Seitz, an experienced military law attorney, said Watada's lawyers should resubmit his resignation and the Army should accept it "and put an end to it."
'HE HAS TO DEAL WITH IT'
Bob Watada said his son is not happy that the case has dragged on. His term of service in the Army ended in December, but the legal proceedings have prevented his discharge.
"He has to deal with it, and he is dealing with it," Bob Watada said.
Monday through Friday, Ehren Watada reports to a desk job at Fort Lewis, south of Seattle.
"They don't give him too much to do because he doesn't have any security clearance to do anything," the father said.
Bob Watada said his son hasn't thought too much about his future "because he doesn't know what's going to happen."
But the younger Watada has developed a deep interest in global warming and what mankind has done to the environment.
"We've been talking about, well, maybe that's an option for him to do something along that area," Bob Watada said.
The Associated Press and Advertiser military writer William Cole contributed to this report. Reach Cole at email@example.com
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