Lt. Ehren Watada, a junior Army officer refused being deployed to Iraq based on his belief that the war is immoral and illegal. He was charged with missing movement and Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman. The legal proceeding about the case was accompanied by public debate on the military’s duty to obey versus their choice to refuse orders they believe to be against their moral principles and legal obligations. The case convened in July 2006 and was dropped by the US Justice Department on May 6, 2009. Duty or Choice In every war, there are casualties- people who are at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The case of Lt. Watada teaches us that we do not have to be at the middle of the war zone to become a casualty. Background Lt. Ehren Watada joined the Army in 2003 in response to the 9/11 bombing. He viewed the military as a noble profession and his four years of service includes a year in Korea. According to him, one of the things he learned from his officer training commander is the importance of knowing “everything about the mission, not just where you’re shooting the missiles but why you’re shooting the missiles” (Mckelvey, 2008). This was a lesson he took to his heart.
In 2005, while training in the Firing Center Road, the Army’s training ground located in Yakima County, Washington for possible assignment to Iraq or Afghanistan, he spent his free time reading books about these missions. He read Bamford’s A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies and was convinced that the Iraq war is unnecessary, illegal and immoral. On June 22, 2006, his unit, the Third Stryker Brigade of the Second Infantry Division, left for Mozul, Iraq. Watada refused the assignment. Faced with the prospect of being forced to deploy, he decided to hire a lawyer and go public.
The Army filed a case against him on July 2006. He was charged with five violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. With these allegations, Watada faces the prospect of dishonorable discharge and six years of imprisonment. Duty to Obey In the case filed against Lt. Watada on July 5, 2006, he was accused of five violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice namely: Missing movement of Flight Number BMYA91111173 and four counts of Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman detailing interviews and public speeches he made after his refusal to deploy.
For the military, Watada failed to uphold the oath he took when he joined the Army. Military officials have the duty to obey the commands of their senior officers. By refusing his appointment, he dishonored his superior’s orders and neglected his duty as an officer of the Army and violated his obligations to the American people. Moreover, speaking out in public against the war and the government’s deception is an even bigger offense. Military officers do not publicly criticize a war or voice their grievances about the government.
According to the military, this violates the Uniform Code of the Military on the proper conduct of an official. In his testimony for the prosecution, retired military officer Richard Swain said America and the military has laws and violations of these laws have accountability. Even Paul D. Eaton, a 53-year-old retired Army major general known for his public stand against the war agreed with Swain. According to him, speaking out against the military may be the right thing to do but not from the ranks. He justified his own stance by his resignation.
However, he believes officers in active duty like Watada do not have the right to disobey orders from their superiors or express opinions in public (Mckelvey, 2008). In the military, obedience is an expression of patriotism. Failure to uphold the obligation to comply with orders is tantamount to the neglect of duty and violation of military laws. Watada’s noncompliance to his commander’s orders has a corresponding accountability and the Army is determined to penalize Watada. The court proceeding was also a way of the military to preserve the code and regain control of their members.
The Iraq war has cast doubts in the ranks about the extent of their obedience and Watada’s public case is a big threat to the military. Right to Refuse In his defense, Watada contends that his research showed the Iraq war is unnecessary and illegal. He considered it as a crime of aggression initiated by the Bush administration and it breaches international and domestic laws. According to Watada, what the government was asking them is shameful and offensive to the nobility of the military profession. Knowing he wanted no part of the Iraq war, he offered to go to Afghanistan but was turned down by his commanders.
Early 2006, he submitted a resignation letter to his senior commander demonstrating the gravity of his position against the Iraq war. He signified his willingness to prepare and train other soldiers bound for Iraq but affirmed his refusal to get involved in it. In his letter he mentioned willingness to go to prison in exchange of the mission (Mckelvey, 2008). While his request was being reviewed, his unit spent 30 days training in Yakima County. In June 2006, the order for deployment was signed and Watada’s unit left for Iraq.
Watada, determined to follow his conscience intentionally missed his plane. Responding to the criticisms about his violation of his military duty to obey, he cited that the military oath upholds to protect the Constitution not to follow orders blindly. According to him, it is not his duty to follow commands that violates his moral beliefs. His biggest defense is the Nuremberg principle. Nuremberg is a post World War II human rights law that emerged from the horrors of the Holocaust and set forth in the United Nations Charter and Geneva Convention.
It establishes an officer’s duty to refuse military orders he considers against human rights. According to Robert H. Jackson, Associate Justice of the US Supreme court who served as prosecutor of the Nuremberg tribunal of the trial of Nazi military officials, individuals are accountable for their actions even in response to superior orders (Yamamoto and Kaho’omino’, 2007). Following orders is not an excuse to commit illegal acts and soldiers are accountable for their actions.
The US government had demonstrated their support of the Nuremberg principle in the trial of the case of US Army Lieutenant William Calley. Calley was convicted for the massacre of 500 hundred innocent of civilians, mostly women, children, infants and elderly during Vietnam War (Yamamoto and Kaho’omino’, 2007). General Antonio Taguba, in his investigation of the Abu Ghraib torture of Iraqi prisoners confirmed the alleged aggression of the American government and military in Iraq. He mentioned that senior officers forgot values of “duty, honor and integrity” (Yamamoto and Kaho’omino’, 2007).
Yamamoto and Kaho’omino’ (2007) wrote that he believes America violated the laws of warfare, the tenets of Geneva Convention and the values and principles of the military. This belief was corroborated by Richard Falk, a leading expert on international law of warfare. According to Falk, many scholars agree that the Iraq war is illegal. He added that if Lt. Watada believes so, his refusal to participate in the said war is plausible. Col. Ann Wright, a former U. S. diplomat who served thirteen years in the U. S.
Army and another sixteen years in the Army Reserves also opposed the Army’s Conduct Unbecoming of an Officer and a Gentleman charges against Watada. According to Wright, the Army should drop these allegations because all Watada’s interviews were done out of uniform and not on government time (Solomon, 2007). The freedom of expression defense also came up when the government issued subpoena for two journalists, Sarah Olson and Gregg Kakesako asking them to testify against Watada based on their interviews with him. This drew attention of the freedom of expression lobbyists.
Officials of the PEN American Center, a venerable organization that works to protect freedom of expression, opposed the subpoena maintaining that reporters should not be obligated to testify against their sources because it compromises the press and violates the freedom of speech (Solomon, 2007). Court Proceedings On July 5, 2006, the Army filed charges against Lt. Watada for a court-martial. Watada and the Government entered into a pretrial agreement on January 29, 2007. In the pretrial agreement, Watada signed a Stipulation of Fact detailing his intentional refusal to deploy to Iraq with his unit.
The court martial presided by Military Judge Lt. Col. John Head, convened on February 6, 2007. The Stipulation of Fact was accepted as evidence. Lt. Col. John Head declared that by signing the statement saying he had not been with his unit on the Kuwait-bound aircraft on June 22, 2006, Watada had already admitted his guilt. He ruled that the order to deploy was lawful thus, barred the defense from presenting its case on the reasonableness of Watada’s belief about the war and his refusal to participate in it.
This ruling raised questions about the military’s right to question the legality of war. Colonel Daniel Baggio, Army’s chief media relations officer opined that such decisions are political and the military cannot allow their people to participate in some campaigns and refuse others based on their personal judgment. Two days after the court-martial was convened, the Judge Head declared a mistrial noting the problem of the pretrial agreement. The government continued to pursue the case and pushed for a second court-martial. In November 2007, a federal judge Benjamin H.
Settle ruled that Judge Head erred in calling for a mistrial and that his decision may have jeopardized the case against Watada. This opened the possibility of a second court trial. Watada’s legal defense team appealed to the U. S. civilian court system to prevent the Army officer from being tried twice on the basis of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Judge Benjamin H. Settle found the merit of the petition and granted Emergency Motion for a Stay of Court Martial Proceedings until further proceedings result in a modification or dissolution of the preliminary injunction.
The Army maintained that a second trial would not count for double jeopardy because Watada was not able to present his case in the first trial. They filed a case to overturn Settle’s ruling. After review of the case, the Justice Department under the Obama Administration opted to dismiss the appeal. The case was discharged May 6, 2009 and Watada hopes to return to civilian life and attend law school (Bernton, 2009). Supporters and Critics The case of Watada elicited conflicting public opinion. Many people against the Iraq war expressed their support to Lt. Watada.
Members of Courage to Resist, an anti-war organization based in Oakland, California, created the Web site supporting Lt. Ehren Watada. Even celebrities like Susan Sarandon, Martin Sheen, and Ed Asner took notice added their names to a list of supporters on the site. Sean Penn called Watada to speak with him about his situation (Mckelvey, 2008). The case also affected the military. Reports of growing dissatisfaction and low morale in the ranks leaked. Mckelvey (2008) reported that a growing number of military dissenters who oppose the Iraq war had opted to leave the service.
He mentioned that more than 25,000 soldiers and officers have deserted since 2003; more than 200 have sought refuge in Canada. Some of those who remained in the military are voicing their grievances in blogs. The Appeal for Redress Project, a Washington, D. C. -based organization of military personnel opposed to the war noted the support of 100 unnamed officers. Chief Master Sergeant Jeff Slocum inspired by Watada, left the US Air Force. He agrees with Watada’s stance that military officers have the duty to refuse illegal orders.
According to him, the government uses military patriotism to subdue them but officers need to speak to protect the men and women fighting the war. He added, “There is no courage or honor in silence” (Solomon, 2007). Cooley (2007) wrote that Amnesty International (AI) believes Watada’s objection to the war for reasons of his moral and legal duty to resist orders he believes to be illegal is protected under international human rights standards, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the U.
S. has ratified. Among Watada’s supporters are the JACL Honolulu Chapter, Asian American Vietnam Veterans Organization, American Civil Liberties Union, Iraq Veterans against the War and Veterans for Peace. The two of the leaders of the Heart Mountain World War II resistance, Frank Emi and Yosh Kuromiya also expressed support for Watada. They recognized the parallelism of their plight with Watada’s case. Emi and Kuromiya spearheaded resistance to the draft ordering the enlistment of all male internees at the Heart Mountain during WWII.
According to them, being forced to sign the draft on account of their race is unconstitutional and against their equal rights as US citizens. The resisters were convicted and imprisoned in Heart Mountain until 1946. Despite the outpour of support, Yamamoto and Kaho’omino’ (2007) reported some of the critics who accused Watada of neglecting his duty. The founder of Military Families Voice of Victory called him “coward” and “traitor” who sacrificed his fellow soldiers to save himself.
They consider Watada’s decision to go public as a desire to gain fame. Nine other Japanese American Veterans Group criticized Watada for dishonoring the long-standing legacy of Japanese soldiers. Conclusion Watada’s case presented the dilemma of the military in relation to their duty and moral beliefs. Their profession calls for blind obedience to the commands of their superiors and the administration. However, Nuremberg principle states that they have the obligation to refuse what they believe to be illegal orders.
Watada professed to have followed the dictates of his conscience in refusing to participate in the Iraq War. To his supporters, this is an expression of patriotism to the United States Constitution. His detractors on the other hand, labeled him as coward and traitor to the military’s code of conduct. The military hoped to uphold the honor of the military code and regain control of its dissatisfied members through the court trial against Watada. However, the government stepped in and on May 6, 2009, the Justice Department of the Obama Administration decided to drop the case.
As a result, Watada escaped imprisonment and dishonorable discharge and was released from duty to return to his civilian life. References Bernton, Hal. (2009, May 6). Justice Department Drops Appeal on Watada Case. The Seattle Times Company. Retrieved July 20, 2009 from http://seattletimes. nwsource. com/html/politics/2009187681_watada07m. html Cooley, Laura. (2007). Lt. Ehren Watada Still Faces Possibility of a Second Court Martial. Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 26:9, 24-25. Retrieved July 2, 2009 from Military & Government Collection. Mckelvey, T.
(2008 June 3). The Officers’ War. The American Prospect, 27, 4. Retrieved July 3, 2009, from http://www. prospect. org/cs/articles? article=the_officers_war Solomon, Norman. (2007, March-April). The Pentagon vs. press freedom. The Humanist. 37, 1. Retrieved June 25, 2009 from Academic OneFile. Gale. European Regional Lib – US Army Lib 466. Watada v. Head, 2008 U. S. Dist. LEXIS 83572 (W. D. Wash. , 2008) Yamamoto, E. K. and Kaho’omino’, A. (2007). From Heart Mountain to Iraq: Lieutenant Watada and a Long Line of Resistance. Amerasia Journal, 33:3,73-94.
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