Watada court-martial backed
An Army officer rejects beliefs that Bush's acts were illegal and that the war is immoral
An Army officer has recommended that 1st Lt. Ehren Watada face a general court-martial for failing to join his unit in Iraq.
Lt. Col. Mark Keith, presiding Army officer during a hearing last week in Washington state, also has endorsed two other charges: conduct unbecoming an officer and contempt toward officials.
A Fort Lewis, Wash., spokesman said Keith's decision now goes to Col. Cynthia Murphy, U.S. Army Garrison commander at Fort Lewis, who will review it and then submit her recommendations to Lt. Gen. James Dubik, former commander of the 25th Infantry Division who now heads Fort Lewis and I Corps.
"There is no timetable for action," Fort Lewis spokesman J.C. Mathews said. "It gets considered as long as the chain of command believes is appropriate."
Watada's attorney said he "wasn't surprised" by Keith's decision.
"I'm somewhat dismayed that he rejected the testimony of our expert witnesses out of hand, even though there was no contrary testimony," Eric Seitz said. "I think he is very general and un-discriminatory in discussion of the First Amendment issues."
In his two-page recommendation, Keith rejected Watada's defense that President Bush's acts were illegal and that the Iraq war is immoral.
"I find that 1st Lt. Watada's beliefs regarding the war do not excuse his refusal to deploy or his public statements," Keith wrote. "I find that these views are political questions and not within the purview of a court-martial."
Keith agreed with Seitz that "every officer is duty bound to evaluate each order given for efficiency. ... However, due to the complexity of U.S. and international law, I believe it would be very difficult for Army officers to determine the legality of combat operations (nor should they attempt to do so) ordered by the president of the United Statescommander chief."
Because "no government agency was working to reverse the president's decision," Keith wrote, it "should have caused 1st Lt. Watada's defense team to reconsider his stance."
But Keith said he believes Watada is "sincere in his beliefs," and that should be taken into consideration if a court-martial is held and "should mitigate any future punishment."
Watada faces the possibility of 7 1/2 years in jail, dishonorable discharge and a loss of privileges on three charges of missing a movement, contempt toward officials and conduct unbecoming an officer in his refusal June 22 to accompany his Army unit to Iraq.
In justifying the charge of "conduct unbecoming an officer," Keith said Watada refused to deploy with the Stryker brigade and showed his contempt for the president.
Watada, a 1996 Kalani High School graduate, has tried three times since January to resign his Army commission and has said he is willing to serve in Afghanistan.