Honolulu man not unique in refusal to deploy
Honolulu native 1st Lt. Ehren K. Watada announced he would not fight in Iraq
Army officials say a Honolulu native is "not the first officer, not the first enlisted, nor the first soldier" to refuse to fight in Iraq.
The Army's comments came after 1st Lt. Ehren K. Watada announced he would not fight in Iraq. Watada is the son of Bob Watada, former executive director of the state Campaign Spending Commission.
Paul Boyce, Army spokesman, told the Associated Press in Washington that the Army had approved 87 conscientious objectors' applications and denied 101 since January 2003.
But Eric Seitz, Watada's lawyer, said his client did not apply for conscientious objector status.
"In order to qualify as a conscientious objector, you have to be opposed to war in any form, and he is not. He's just opposed to this war.
"By his refusal to participate in the ongoing war, Lt. Watada joins a growing number of high-ranking military officers, West Point graduates and current and former members of the armed services who have expressed their opposition to the actions of the United States in Iraq," Seitz said yesterday.
The younger Watada was to hold a news conference today in Tacoma, Wash., near where his unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, is located at Fort Lewis. Watada also is expected to explain his actions during a teleconference call with the media.
Joe Hitt, a Fort Lewis spokesman, said Watada is assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, the Army's first Stryker Brigade Combat Team.
Hitt said the Army is aware of Watada's plans but had no comment. "We have nothing to say about it because nothing has happened, and we're not going to speculate on anything."
The 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team held its deployment ceremony on Friday and is scheduled to replace the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team from Fort Wainwright, Alaska, in Mosul in northern Iraq later this month. This is the 3rd Brigade's second combat tour in Iraq.
Seitz said that Watada, who turns 28 tomorrow, twice asked the Army to reassign him to any unit not scheduled to deploy to Iraq.
In his first request in January, when Watada told the Army he was willing to resign his commission, the 1996 Kalani High School graduate said he is "wholeheartedly opposed to the continued war in Iraq, the deception used to wage this war, and the lawlessness that has pervaded every aspect of our civilian leadership."
Seitz said Watada could be court-martialed if he refuses to go with his unit unless the Army is willing to let him resign his commission.
A court-martial would determine what type of punishment Watada would get.
Watada enlisted in the Army in 2003 after graduating from Hawaii Pacific University and entered Officer Candidate School in August, five months after U.S. troops invaded Iraq. His commission requires him to serve until Dec. 3.
The Army says Watada could be charged with desertion or "missing a movement" if he fails to join the Stryker brigade when it leaves Fort Lewis.
Desertion, which happens when a soldier leaves his unit permanently without permission, is a far more serious offense in the Army, especially during a time of war.
The Associated Press reported that Watada is the second Fort Lewis soldier who has refused to fight in Iraq.
Sgt. Kevin Benderman served in Iraq during the initial invasion in 2003, but refused to return for a second deployment because he concluded war is inhumane. The Army rejected his requests for conscientious objector status. He was sentenced to 15 months for "missing movement" to Iraq and is now detained at Fort Lewis.
Army regulations define conscientious objection as a "firm, fixed and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms, because of religious training and belief."
Boyce said the Army does not grant conscientious objector status to those who claim political, philosophical or sociological objections.