Support grows for Lt. Ehren Watada

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SAN FRANCISCO — Supporters of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada — the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq — welcomed his father, Bob Watada, this week for a whirlwind tour of the Bay Area.

“I feel the support is really building up,” Bob Watada told an Aug. 21 press conference here near the start of the tour. He said many organizations, including Iraq Veterans against the War, Veterans for Peace, Code Pink, the National Lawyers Guild and others, are actively supporting his son. Events during the week, organized by peace, veterans and religious groups, were also slated for San Jose, Santa Rosa, Sacramento and Berkeley.

The elder Watada described the evolution of his son’s thinking about the war in Iraq. Ehren Watada joined the Army in “the fervor of the patriotic fever young people felt after September 11,” he said, “because he wanted to do something for his country, and he felt that was the right thing to do.”

Transferred back to the U.S. after serving in Korea, Ehren Watada even sought immediate deployment to Iraq, but the Army rejected the request. “And that was perhaps a misfortune for the Army,” said Bob Watada, because his son “began to study what was going on in Iraq, and started developing some strong feelings about this war,” including the daily killings of civilians and the Bush administration’s lies about weapons of mass destruction.

Calling the war a violation of the U.S. Constitution as well as international law, Bob Watada said his son was acting to uphold the Constitution, including his right to free speech.

Following a preliminary hearing at Ft. Lewis, Wash., last week, Ehren Watada now faces a court martial trial, possibly in November, for missing a movement, contempt toward officials and conduct unbecoming an officer — the latter based on his public criticism of the Iraq war as a violation of U.S. and international law. He has been reassigned to a desk job at Ft. Lewis.

If convicted, Lt. Watada faces a possible seven and a half years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.

Joining Bob Watada at the press conference were Marti Hiken, co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild’s Military Law Task Force, and San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Hidachi.

Hiken presented a statement by the task force, calling Ehren Watada’s resistance “a response to the deception and illegality surrounding this war as well as the increasing resistance to it on the part of those forced to fight it.”

Calling Lt. Watada’s position “a moral one,” the statement concluded that “all people of honor, whether in the military or not,” should reject the Army’s insistence that he “abandon his core beliefs and integrity to support this unconscionable war.”

“When people enter the military, they don’t automatically give up their rights,” Hiken said in a later interview. “The Bush administration’s attempts to silence dissent have a far-reaching impact on all of us,” she added. “We want the American people to be able to hear what soldiers are saying about the war.”

Hidachi told the reporters, “We in the Japanese community should be proud that a Japanese American soldier has taken a stand against this illegal war.” Prosecuting a soldier for stating his views on what is commonly known — that the Bush administration misled its citizens when it claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was connected to Sept. 11 — “is particularly unjust and immoral,” Hidachi added.

The web site www.thankyoult.org features a petition and further information on Lt. Ehren Watada’s situation. Information about Bob Watada’s Bay Area events this week can be obtained by calling (510) 528-7288.