Watada's remarks legal, says lawyer
Throw out the charges over comments, the attorney argues
FORT LEWIS, Wash. » An Army lieutenant who called the Iraq war illegal and refused to deploy with his Stryker Brigade has a constitutional right to debate such political issues, his attorney said yesterday during a pretrial hearing.
Seeking to reduce charges against 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, his attorney Eric Seitz said the soldier should not be penalized for statements he made explaining why he was challenging the Bush administration's reason for going to war and refusing to deploy to Iraq.
Watada is charged with "missing movement" after refusing to deploy with his unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. The Army also proceeded with charges of conduct unbecoming an officer for statements he made to journalists and at a veterans convention.
Seitz argued that the latter charges should be dropped.
"He should not face another four years of penalties because he chose to explain his reasons for opposing the war," Seitz told Lt. Col. John Head, the military judge overseeing Watada's case at Fort Lewis, south of Tacoma.
Army prosecutors argued that Watada's statements are offensive to the military and must be looked at in the context in which they were made and the effects they could have as well as the danger they present to the military's mission.
"The dividing line and what makes it more disgraceful is the fact that he made it to more than one person," Capt. Daniel Kuecker said.
Watada, a 28-year-old from Honolulu, refused to go to Iraq on June 22 with his Stryker Brigade after conducting research and deciding the war was illegal. He said he would be willing to serve in Afghanistan or elsewhere.
The soldier was initially charged with missing troop movement, conduct unbecoming an officer and contempt toward officials for comments he made about President Bush.
He was not allowed to resign his commission because his unit is covered by a stop-loss policy.
The Army later added another specification of conduct unbecoming an officer based on his comments in Seattle during the national convention of Veterans for Peace in August. Fort Lewis commander Lt. Gen. James Dubik, in recommending Watada for court-martial, dropped the contempt charge.
If convicted of all charges, Watada could serve six years in prison and be dismissed from the service.
He now works in an administrative position. His court-martial is scheduled for Feb. 5 at Fort Lewis.
Watada's parents sat in the back of the courtroom during the hearing, his father leaning forward on the bench at times with his hands clasped in front of him.
The family spoke briefly during the lunch break.
"We're very hopeful the charges will be dropped," said Bob Watada, the lieutenant's father.