GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Members of the community at the Hawaii state Capitol gathered to support U.S. Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada yesterday. Watada has stated that he will refuse to be deployed to Iraq when his unit is called.
Watada could face prison and discharge for defiance
Refusing to report for Iraq could elicit a court-martial
A patriotic Eagle Scout who had hoped to make the Army his career, 1st Lt. Ehren K. Watada says the war in Iraq is illegal and that he will not deploy with his Fort Lewis unit when it leaves in two weeks.
Watada, who turns 28 today, did not tell his mother he had joined the Army until after he signed enlistment papers in March 2003 just before he graduated from Hawaii Pacific University. He reported for boot camp in June.
The 1996 Kalani High School graduate said he enlisted because "I felt the pull of duty, service and patriotism" following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Watada, an artillery officer, said even after enlisting he did not believe that "an invasion was fully justified, but I believed the president's claims should be given a benefit of doubt. At that time, I never imagined that our leader could betray the trust of the people over something as serious as war."
Watada could face up to five years in jail and a dishonorable discharge if he is convicted at a court-martial for failing to join his 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Regiment, unit when it begins leaving for Iraq on June 23.
In a phone interview from Fort Lewis, Wash., Watada said his actions are now closely monitored. "My supervisors have been told to report me as 'failure to report' even if I am a minute late and to report me immediately."
Watada said he does not regret his actions. "I realize it is going to be a difficult and arduous path -- one with a lot of personal risk and sacrifices on my part. I don't think it is any more or any less than the soldiers who are sacrificing and risking their lives over in Iraq. It is what we signed up to do to protect and defend our nation's laws and its people. What I am doing is trying to uphold those principles and values."
Watada told the Star-Bulletin "there is definitely tension with people" in his 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment -- one of seven battalions that make up the 3rd Brigade -- the Army's first Stryker Brigade Combat Team. But no one has confronted him.
To prepare himself for upcoming legal and other battles, Watada said he tries to remember "all the families of the soldiers who are dying for what I feel is a betrayal of trust and deception waged by the highest level of my chain of command. I think that when I chose to be a leader, I chose to set the example of making the right choice even if it was a difficult choice. It was a conscionable choice, and that is something I can live with for the rest of my life.
"I would rather do that than knowing what I know and then go to Iraq."
Watada's defense is that his participation "in this war is not only immoral, but a breach of American law" and that the 2003 invasion of Iraq violates a United Nations charter and the Nuremberg Tribunal Charter.
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Former Lt. Gov. Jean King, left, and Hawaiian sovereignty activist Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, front right, offered their support yesterday for Ehren Watada.
Eric Seitz, Watada's civilian attorney, acknowledged at a state Capitol news conference that Watada will face an uphill battle in making those arguments.
But Seitz said "there is a lot of support" for Watada. "There are a lot of people who are opposed to the war. There has been a crescendo of opposition against the war in the last couple of months.
"So we have a very, very favorable situation in my view for Ehren to take this position, although it is a very risky situation for anyone to place himself in."
Seitz was hired in April after Col. Stephen Townsend, 3rd Brigade commander, rejected Watada's Jan. 26 request to resign his commission.
Seitz said Watada's request for routine 30 days of leave in April before the June Iraqi deployment also was rejected.
In a written statement, the Army at Fort Lewis said, "For a commissioned officer to publicly declare an apparent intent to violate military law by refusing to obey orders is a serious matter and could subject him to adverse action. No decision regarding personnel actions involving 1st Lt. Watada will be made until a thorough review by his commander occurs in accordance with military law."
Watada, who reported to Fort Lewis in June 2005 after spending a tour in South Korea after he was commissioned in the summer of 2003, was supposed to be released from active duty in December. However, under the Army's stop-loss policy, that obligation was extended until early 2007 when the 3rd Brigade returns from Iraq.
In April, Watada again tried to resign his commission, but the Army rejected it, saying his unit was in the stop-loss category and that he still had not fulfilled his service obligation.
The Army said yesterday that Watada could take his case to the U.S. Forces Command at Fort McPherson in Georgia.
Seitz said Watada was never told that he had the option to make such a request. "That's something new," Seitz said. "We will do anything to avoid a confrontation."
Seitz said that until Tuesday the Army has not responded to any of his attempts to find a solution to Watada's situation, which included Watada's willingness to serve out his obligation in any Army unit not headed for Iraq.
On Tuesday, Townsend ordered Watada not talk to the media, especially while he is on duty. That forced Watada to cancel a news conference in Tacoma, Wash., and a planned teleconference in Honolulu during his duty hours. He did, however, hold a news conference in Tacoma after he was off duty.
Townsend also ordered Watada to "refrain from making statements that are disrespectful to the United States, the U.S. Army, the president of the United States and your commander in chief, other civilian and military leaders in your chain of command."
Bob Watada, former executive director of the state Campaign Spending Commission, said his son began getting doubts about the Iraq war after he studied about the history of the area because his unit was being sent there.
The younger Watada told the Star-Bulletin, "It was my responsibility as a leader to know everything about" where he was being deployed.
He said his research made him believe that "what we were doing there was wrong, and it also was illegal." He said he was "shocked and at the same time ashamed" that Bush had planned to invade Iraq before the 9/11 attacks. "How could I wear this honorable uniform* now knowing we invaded a country for a lie?"
Watada has drawn the support from various anti-war groups and politicians such as former Gov. Ben Cayetano, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, former Lt. Gov. Jean King, former Rep. Sam Lee and state Sens. Clayton Hee and Clarence Nishihara.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
» In a written statement, 1st Lt. Ehren Watada said, "How could I wear this honorable uniform now knowing we invaded a country for a lie?" An article on Page A1 in June 8's morning edition incorrectly quoted him as saying "horrible uniform."