FORT LEWIS, Wash. (AP) – The judge overseeing the court martial of an Army lieutenant who refused to deploy to Iraq declared a mistrial Wednesday, saying the soldier did not fully understand a document he signed admitting to elements of the charges. Military judge Lt. Col. John Head announced the decision after 1st Lt. Ehren Watada said he never intended to admit he had a duty to go to Iraq with his fellow soldiers – one element of the crime of missing troop movement. Head set a March 12 date for a new trial and dismissed the jurors.
Watada, 28, of Honolulu, had been expected to testify in his own defense Wednesday until Head and attorneys met in a closed meeting for much of the morning.
Watada is the first commissioned officer to be court-martialed for refusing to go to Iraq, said Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice in Washington, D.C.
In the 12-page stipulation of fact he signed last month, Watada acknowledged that he refused to deploy last June with his unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, and that he made public statements criticizing the Iraq war. Watada has said he refused to go to Iraq because he believes the war is illegal.
In exchange, prosecutors dropped two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer against him. He remains charged with missing movement – for his refusal to deploy – and two other allegations of conduct unbecoming an officer for comments made about the case. He could receive four years in prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted.