It is a sad day in American jurisprudence when a soldier of conscience is court-martialed not for lying but for telling the truth, not for breaking a covenant with the military but for upholding the rule of law in wartime.
The court-martial of Army 1st Lt. Ehren K. Watada is set for Monday at Fort Lewis near Seattle. The 28-year-old soldier from Hawaii is the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq. He is charged with "missing movement" and "conduct unbecoming of an officer," including "use of contemptuous words for the president." He was out of uniform on leave over a year ago when he delivered a moving address to a Veterans for Peace convention. He questioned the legality of the war in Iraq, and he denounced the mendacity of the Bush administration. Although he is not a conscientious objector (he offered to serve in Afghanistan), Lieutenant Watada believes no soldier should give a life, or take a life, for a lie.
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Lieutenant Watada reminds us that the U.S. Army Field Manual states: "Treaties relating to the law of war have a force equal to that of laws enacted by Congress. Their provisions must be observed by both military and civilian personnel with the same strict regard for both the letter and spirit of the law which is required with respect to the Constitution and statutes."
Nevertheless, in a pretrial hearing Jan. 16, Judge Head denied all defense motions to present hard evidence of ongoing war crimes in Iraq. Judge Head also upheld a pivotal government motion "to prevent the defense from presenting any evidence on the illegality of the war." Judge Head ruled that Lieutenant Watada's case is a political issue beyond the jurisdiction of the court. Judge Head is wrong, and his ruling denies American soldiers protection of the very laws for which they sacrifice their lives. Lieutenant Watada is not taking political positions in his trial. The United States may be overextended; the invasion may create blowback; unilateral actions may alienate allies; war debts may boomerang on the economy; anarchy in Iraq may be hopeless. These are political questions, to be sure. But they are not part of Lieutenant Watada's defense.
Lieutenant Watada is being persecuted because he is challenging the legality, not the political wisdom, of the war. The commander in chief is the final arbiter in foreign policy, but only so long as policies are in accordance with the law. Law trumps politics, not the other way around. The "political question doctrine," as attorneys call it, is nothing more than judicial abdication.
Believing that the outcome of the hearing Monday is all but pre-determined, Lieutenant Watada's attorneys are prepared for appeals. Eventually, the Supreme Court may be called upon to reject the Machiavellian doctrine that "in war, the laws are silent."
The above is from Paul Rockwell's "Truth has consequences for soldier of conscience" (Baltimore Sun). There's an event in Hawaii Saturday, Joan notes "Watada court-martial case up for discussion Saturday" (The Honolulu Advertiser):
A panel discussion on the court-martial case of Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada is being sponsored by the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i at the Manoa Room of the JCCH Building in Mo'ili'ili Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to noon. The discussion is free and open to the public.
There are demonstrations and vigils scheduled on the day before and day of the Fort Lewis court-martial. Information on those can be found at Courage to Resist. Tying the topics of Watada, the passing of Molly Ivins and the need to get active together,
Betty Medsger's "Molly Ivins Tribute: Reflections on the Washington Peace March" (Berkeley Daily Planet):
At the rally in Washington, two voices, those of Robert Watada of Honolulu and Jane Fonda, were especially eloquent. Watada, the father of First Lt. Ehren K. Watada--who is being court-martialed for his refusal to deploy to Iraq again because he thinks the war is illegal because it violates Army regulations that wars must be waged in accordance with the United Nations Charter -- said his son "seeks to give others a voice." He encouraged other troops to follow his son’s example and resist service. Fonda said she had feared that lies told about her 30 years ago when she opposed the Vietnam war would distract from the cause if she spoke out against the war in Iraq. Finally, she said, she felt compelled to speak. "Silence is no longer an option," she said.
The plaintive voice of a veteran who recently returned from Iraq also was eloquent. "I thought I was going to serve my country, to protect my country," he said. "Instead, I went there for causes that have proved fraudulent."
Since that war, the internet has empowered our communication. It has greatly increased our ability to engage in political action easily--give money to candidates and causes, organize voter drives and participate in polls. All of that is valuable work, but we are invisible as we do it. Perhaps that matters. Perhaps it is time for more people to be visible witnesses so all generations and the rest of the world can see what we stand for--and what we stand against--at this crucial time in history.
Let's do it in the smart and feisty spirit of Molly, whose wise words have amused, moved and inspired us for so many years.
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