Lt. Ehren Watada
Faces Court Martial for Refusing to Serve in Iraq
Democracy Now, Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007
Last week a military judge ruled
Watada cannot present evidence challenging the warís legality
nor explain what motivated him to resist his deployment order.
He is the first officer to refuse to go to Iraq. With his court
martial less than two weeks away, Lt. Watada is facing up to six
years in prison. [includes rush transcript]
He faces one charge of missing
troop movement, and four counts of conduct unbecoming an
officer. Each of the later four charges relates to his public
comments on why he refuses to deploy to Iraq. The military judge
also rejected defense arguments that Lt. Watada's remarks are
protected by the First Amendment.
Lt. Ehren Watada joins me now
AMY GOODMAN: Lieutenant
Ehren Watada joins us live now from Seattle. We welcome you to
LT. EHREN WATADA: Thank
AMY GOODMAN: Itís good to
have you with us. First of all, explain why you have refused
deployment and when you refused.
LT. EHREN WATADA: Well,
basically, back in January of 2006, even before that, maybe a
few months prior to that, in my preparation for deployment to
Iraq, in order to better train myself and my soldiers, I began
to research the background of Iraq, including the culture, the
history, the events going on on the ground and what had led us
up into the war in the first place, and what I found was very
shocking to me and dismaying, and it really made me question
what I was being asked to do, and it caused me to research more
and more. And as I found out the answers to the questions I had,
I became convinced that the war itself was illegal and immoral,
as was the current conduct of American forces and the American
government on the ground over in Iraq. And as such, as somebody
who has sworn an oath to protect our Constitution, our values
and our principles, and to protect the welfare and the safety of
the American people, I said to myself that's something that I
cannot be a part of, the war. I cannot enable or condone those
who have established this illegal and immoral policy. And so, I
simply requested that I have my commission resigned and I
separate completely from the military, because of those reasons,
and I was denied several times, and I was basically given the
ultimatum, ďEither you deploy to Iraq or you will face a
AMY GOODMAN: And so, now
you are facing a court-martial.
LT. EHREN WATADA: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And youíre
the first officer who has refused deployment to Iraq.
LT. EHREN WATADA: That I
know of, correct.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about
the judge's ruling last week.
LT. EHREN WATADA: Well,
the judgeís ruling is very unfortunate. You know, during the
Article 32, which is a pretrial hearing, the prosecution asked
some of the witnesses we brought, including Denis Halliday, Ann
Wright and Francis Boyle, if there had been any congressional
representatives or congressional hearings or investigations, any
courts of law that had determined the war to be illegal or
immoral. And, of course, at this point, the answer would be no.
And I think it would have been an excellent opportunity to bring
to light in a court of law evidence and witnesses who could
testify to the illegality and immorality of the war and its
conduct. Unfortunately, just like Vietnam, my judge, just like
the judges back then, have refused to bring to light any of the
evidence or challenge the policies of the administration.
And I think itís also very
unfortunate that under the Uniform Code of Military Justice,
which is military law, all service members are obligated and
have the right to refuse unlawful orders, and in this case, you
know, you do so at your own peril, but the judge has simply
predetermined that the war is lawful, that the order to go to
war is lawful, and that it would not be debated in his court.
And they have simply skirted the issue of whether that order was
lawful or not.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what
is heard in the court, that you just refused to show up?
LT. EHREN WATADA: Correct.
It will simply be -- it will be a non-trial. It will not be a
fair trial or a show of justice, in any sense. I think that they
will simply say, ďWas he ordered to go? Yes. Did he go? No.
Well, heís guilty.Ē And that also goes for the conduct
unbecoming charges: ďDid he make those statements? Can we verify
that? Yes. OK, heís guilty.Ē And then it will be pretty much a
disciplinary hearing, in terms of how much punishment should we
give this lieutenant.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you
appeal this, even before the court-martial takes place, the
judge's decision to exclude your reasons?
LT. EHREN WATADA: No. We
will have to wait until after the verdict is rendered.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to
ask you about a press issue thatís come out in your case, and
that involves military and press freedom. The US Army subpoenaed
two journalists to testify on whether you made some of the
antiwar statements that they are charging you for. Earlier this
month, we interviewed one of the two journalists, Sarah Olson.
SARAH OLSON: I think
itís my job as a journalist to report the news. Itís not my
job to participate, again, in the Army, in the military or
government prosecution of political speech. I think when
journalists do that, they really risk being turned into kind
of the investigative arm of the government, really being
seen as the eyes and ears of the military and the
government. It really threatens to erode kind of that
separation between the press and our government. I think
that this is particularly ironic, because the Army is,
again, asking me, a journalist, to build the case against
military personnel speaking to the press, against dissenting
voices in the media.
And I think, you know, kind
of the final thing that I find really alarming about that is
that it really does threaten to kind of eliminate those
voices from the media. What kind of future war resisters
would agree to speak with me or with other journalists if
they thought that it was reasonable that they would be
facing very high prison sentences, four years in prison, for
explaining, you know, the reasons for their opposition to
the Iraq war?
AMY GOODMAN: Independent
journalist Sarah Olson. Thereís a petition going around in
support of her, as well as Honolulu Star Bulletin
reporter Gregg Kakesako, the other journalist who has been
subpoenaed in this case. Independent journalist Dahr Jamail and
videographer Sari Gelzer have also been added to the
prosecutionís witness list. Lieutenant Ehren Watada, can you
talk about Sarah Olson and her case?
LT. EHREN WATADA: Sure. I
think that when it comes to, if it's a national security issue
and it has to do with public safety that has the possibility of
being in danger, I think, of course, you know, reporters will be
compelled to testify in that case. But I think, as the
prosecutors determined, my speaking out has nothing to do with
national security or public safety. They simply said that itís
offensive to the Army. And Miss Olson is right, that once you
start using reporters to testify against their sources, what --
not just war resisters -- what whistleblowers, what minority
opinions will be willing to go out there and testify to
reporters in order to get the truth out, if they know that the
government will use those reporters to testify against them? And
I think that becomes very dangerous in our society, and itís
going to have a chilling effect thatís going to stifle free
speech. Itís going to stifle people having the courage to bring
the truth out. And itís going to stifle the freedom of the
AMY GOODMAN: Weíre talking
to First Lieutenant Ehren Watada. He has refused deployment to
Iraq, the first officer to do so. Next week, he will be
court-martialed. This is Democracy Now!,
democracynow.org. We'll be back with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Weíre talking
to First Lieutenant Ehren Watada, first officer to refuse
deployment to Iraq. He faces court-martial next week. Lt. Ehren
Watada, you went to Hawaii. You went home. Is that right? Can
you talk about your experience there and what other soldiers
there, going back to different wars, how they responded to you?
LT. EHREN WATADA: I think
that Hawaii, like everywhere else around the United States,
there's tremendous support out there. I think it's unfortunate
that we haven't been able to get into the national media as much
as we wanted to. And therefore, the more east you go, the less
people know about the case. And I think, just looking at how
much support Iíve received in Washington state and back home in
my home state, in Hawaii, there are a lot of people who are
coming out, and not just people on one spectrum of the political
ideology, but people from the mainstream, they are all coming
out -- the unions, the interfaith groups, the students,
universities -- they are all coming out to support. And I think
that's just a testament to how people feel about the war and the
policies of this administration.
AMY GOODMAN: We were
speaking with your mother here in studio in New York, as she
speaks out for you around the country. She went to Congress. She
spoke with congress members, tried to speak with senators. And
she talked about your background and the response of -- can you
explain who the No-No boys are?
LT. EHREN WATADA: Sure.
During World War II, when the Japanese Americans were interned
by the United States government, I think over 100,000 Japanese
Americans were forcibly removed from their homes, their civil
rights were stripped, their property was taken away without any
compensation whatsoever, and they were placed in concentration
camps. And there were Japanese Americans, young men who were
conscripted, or they volunteered to join the United States
military and fight over in Europe and the Pacific Theater. And
many of them volunteered, because they felt that they needed to
prove their loyalties to the United States government in any way
possible in order to free their families and to prove that they
were still Americans.
And there was also a minority of
those young Japanese American men who refused to swear loyalty
and who refused to fight in the army or the military until their
civil rights were restored, until their property was given back
to them, until their families were released from the
concentration camps. And I think there has been a lot of
controversy between those two groups ever since then. Certainly,
I think that my case has brought up some of those tensions.
But as I talked to them back in
Hawaii, I spoke to veterans of the 442nd, the 100th Battalion,
those who fought during World War II, and I also spoke to those
who refused to fight, and I told them that it doesn't matter
what the other believes the intent of the other was or if one
group was right or the other was wrong. Itís that both groups
were trying to prove to America that they were -- even though
they were Japanese Americans, they were still Americans.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally,
President Bush will be giving his State of the Union address
tonight. What do you think he should be telling the American
LT. EHREN WATADA: I think
that he should be telling the American people that he is going
to support the troops, really, and when these troops come back,
they will be provided all the healthcare, including
psychological care, when they come back, 100%, that they will be
given jobs, there will be homes for them. Back in 2004, there
were over 500,000 vets who were homeless at some point. That is
ridiculous, especially in our country and especially when we
have an administration that uses the line, ďSupport the troops.Ē
I think itís just -- itís a travesty. And we need to focus on
bringing the troops back home, and we need to focus on
supporting those troops for the rest of their lives.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to
thank you very much, First Lieutenant Ehren Watada. Again, we
will certainly cover your court-martial and also follow what is
happening to the reporters who have been interviewing you. Thank
you for joining us.