Support grows for Iraq war refuser

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

Also last week, an Army investigating officer said he would recommend that court martial proceedings be held, though he called Lt. Watada’s beliefs “sincere.” A final decision is expected soon and a trial is anticipated during the fall on charges of missing a movement, contempt toward officials and conduct unbecoming an officer. If convicted, Lt. Watada could face over seven and a half years in prison and a dishonorable discharge. He has been reassigned to a desk job at Fort Lewis, Wash.

“I feel the support is really building up,” Bob Watada told an Aug. 21 press conference here. Peace, veterans and religious groups organized over two dozen events in San Jose, Santa Rosa, Sacramento, Berkeley and other Bay Area communities.

The elder Watada said his son joined the Army in “the fervor of the patriotic fever young people felt after Sept. 11.” 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.

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 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.”

“We in the Japanese community should be proud that a Japanese American soldier has taken a stand against this illegal war,” Hidachi told the journalists. To prosecute 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,” he added.

The website features further information on Lt. Ehren Watada’s situation.