Effects of pretrial rulings feared
Arguments will begin in the court-martial of Ehren Watada
A military judge is expected to hear arguments and make critical decisions beginning tomorrow on the parameters of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada's court-martial, and that may decide the trial's outcome before it even gets under way, his supporters fear.
The Hawaii-born Watada faces a Feb. 5 court-martial for refusing to deploy to Iraq and for making statements unbecoming an officer. He is the first American military officer to refuse deployment to Iraq, calling it "an illegal and unjust war."
The judge will make rulings that will "set the stage for what kind of trial Watada will receive," his attorney, Eric Seitz, said at a news conference yesterday.
Also at the news conference were the current and former president of the 160-member Honolulu chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, whose mission includes protecting civil and human rights of all. The board voted 7-6 in July to put its full support behind Watada, the second chapter nationwide to do so after Berkeley.
"We felt that the principled stand that Ehren Watada is taking was deserving of our support," local chapter President David Forman said.
Seitz said the Army intends to call witnesses, including eight to 10 reporters, before trial and to ask the judge to admit evidence and make determinations.
"So the trial would become a mere formality," Seitz said. "If they're successful, the trial would be just a farce."
Should the Army prevail at trial, Watada may get up to six years' imprisonment, his attorney said.
Seitz said his intention was never to make a case against the war. "I don't want to make a martyr out of my client," he said.
Watada, Seitz said, tried to avoid confrontation by proposing to resign his commission and to be allowed to serve in Afghanistan instead of Iraq, since he does not object to that conflict and is not a conscientious objector.
Seitz was scheduled to depart Honolulu last night for Fort Lewis, Wash., where pretrial hearings will held tomorrow and Friday and where Watada will face a court-martial.
If the only charge was refusing to deploy, he would probably face two years, Seitz said, since most of the enlisted men and women who have done so have received up to 18 months' imprisonment. But by adding charges of conduct unbecoming an officer for making statements to the media, he faces up to six years, Seitz said.
Seitz has filed motions that he plans to defend Watada on the grounds that the war in Iraq amounts to an act of aggression, which is illegal according to international law.
"It amounts to a selective and vindictive prosecution," Seitz said.