10 WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE
1st Lt. Ehren Watada:
The Army officer risks prison by refusing to deploy to Iraq with his unit
Watada, 28, views duty as opposing ‘illegal’ war
No other military officer from Hawaii has caused more debate and controversy this year, both in Hawaii and on the mainland, than 1st Lt. Ehren Watada.
He has divided Japanese Americans, members of the military and ordinary citizens while prompting people to send angry and supportive e-mails and letters to media outlets.
People have described the 28-year-old as cowardly or courageous, and he has been labeled a pawn of the anti-war movement.
Watada, however, has embraced his anti-war supporters to strengthen his case against the U.S. government.
The 1996 Kalani graduate moved into the spotlight earlier this year after announcing he would refuse to deploy to Iraq with his unit, which left on June 22. He cited the illegality of the U.S. war in Iraq under international law.
When the Army denied his request to be deployed to Afghanistan instead, Watada brought his case to the public's attention, appearing at anti-war demonstrations -- he spoke to a crowd of more than 300 recently in Honolulu -- and speaking to the media to defend his beliefs.
The Army initiated a court-martial against Watada for missing movement and conduct unbecoming an officer for statements he made about the war. A charge of contempt toward a government official for statements he made about President Bush was later dropped.
Watada has criticized the government of committing lies to drag the U.S. into war in Iraq for the benefit of large corporations. He said he is defending the U.S. Constitution.
Whether they agree or disagree, people support that he has stood by his principles, Watada said recently, adding that he hopes to inspire others to learn more about the U.S. government's war in Iraq.
"If we don't get involved, we're giving up our civic responsibility -- as a democracy, as Americans -- to other people," he said.
Watada's pretrial hearing for his court-martial begins Jan. 4. He faces a maximum of six years of confinement and a dishonorable discharge.
Every day through year's end, the Star-Bulletin will recognize 10 who changed Hawaii this year. Some were controversial, others shunned the spotlight. But all made a difference.