Antiwar GI stands firm

As the Feb. 5 date for his court martial approaches, Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada continues his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq.

Speaking Jan. 23 on Democracy Now, Watada recalled that as he studied the war’s background in preparation for his unit’s departure for Iraq, he became convinced that the war itself and the conduct there of U.S. forces and the U.S. government were both illegal and immoral.

Watada said, “As somebody who has sworn an oath to protect our Constitution, our values and our principles, and to protect the welfare and safety of the American people, I said to myself, that’s something I cannot be a part of.” Watada’s repeated requests to resign his commission and leave the military were denied, as was his offer to serve instead in Afghanistan.

The 28-year-old Watada, the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq, faces up to six years in prison if he is convicted of one count of missing movement and four counts of conduct unbecoming an officer — the latter for public statements he has made opposing the war. The Army filed the charges after Watada publicly refused to go to Iraq with his unit last June.

At a pre-trial hearing last month, an Army judge rejected Watada’s defense that he refused to go because he believes the war is illegal, as well as his request to dismiss the four “conduct” charges on the grounds of free speech. The judge, Lt. Col. John Head, ruled that the war’s legality is a political question that is irrelevant to the charges, and cited earlier military court decisions that free speech is limited for military personnel.

Watada told the Democracy Now audience he is concerned that the court martial proceedings “will not be a fair trial or a show of justice,” but “will be pretty much a disciplinary hearing.” He said no appeals can be made until after the verdict has been issued.

Noting that Watada was not in uniform when he made his comments, Marti Hiken, co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild’s Military Law Task Force, pointed out that “people do not surrender all their constitutional rights when they enter the military.” Watada “did it very responsibly, very honestly,” she added. “Regardless of whether the military wins this court martial, they lose for silencing an individual who has so much integrity that is evident to people across the country.”

The military seeks to make Watada a scapegoat not only because he is the first officer to openly resist, Hiken said, but also because of growing concern about resistance inside the military. “We’re five years into the war, starting with Afghanistan, and it took six years for GI resistance to really emerge during the Vietnam War,” she said.

The Army’s efforts to compel several journalists to testify have “frightening” implications for civil liberties, Hiken said, adding that she believes “the military loses by doing this — it leaves everyone feeling uneasy.”

Watada’s supporters will gather at Ft. Lewis, Wash., on Feb. 5, for rallies and vigils beginning at 11:30 a.m. Events will also be held in other parts of the country. Details can be found at , or call (877) 689-4162.

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