ERIKA SCHULTZ / SEATTLE TIMES
Army 1st. Lt. Ehren Watada sat in a car yesterday after he dropped off his mother at the Guesthouse Inn in Dupont, Wash. A judge declared a mistrial yesterday in the court-martial of Watada, who refused to deploy to Iraq. He said he was not admitting that he had a duty to go to Iraq. CLICK FOR LARGE
A judge calls for a new court-martial for war objector Ehren Watada
FORT LEWIS, Wash. » A judge declared a mistrial yesterday in the court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, who refused to go to Iraq, just as the Army officer was to testify in his own defense.
Military judge Lt. Col. John Head said he did not believe Watada, who is from Honolulu, fully understood a document he signed admitting to elements of the charges against him.
The judge announced his decision after Watada, under questioning with the military jury absent, said he never intended to admit he had a duty to go to Iraq with his fellow soldiers -- one element of the crime of missing troop movement.
Watada told the judge he understood what he had signed but was not admitting guilt since he believed he still had a defense -- that the war was illegal.
"I'm not seeing we have a meeting of the minds here," the judge said. "And if there is not a meeting of the minds, there's not a contract."
Head dismissed the jurors and set a March 19 date for a new trial. The prosecution had rested, but the defense had not yet presented any witnesses.
Watada's defense lawyer, Eric Seitz, objected to the mistrial and said a second trial would amount to double jeopardy -- more than one prosecution for the same alleged crime.
Watada, 28, of Honolulu, had been expected to testify in his own defense Wednesday, but Head and lawyers in the case met in closed session for much of the morning.
Prosecutors have said Watada abandoned his soldiers and brought disgrace upon himself and the service by accusing the Army of war crimes and denouncing the Bush administration for conducting an illegal war founded on lies.
Seitz contends Watada acted in good conscience, based on his own convictions.
Watada faced four years in prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted of missing movement and two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer for his statements against the war.
He is the first commissioned officer to be court-martialed for refusing to go to Iraq, said Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice in Washington, D.C.
"My professional opinion is that Lt. Watada cannot be tried again because of the effect of double jeopardy," Seitz told a news conference later Wednesday. Should the Army proceed with a second trial, Seitz said his first motion would be to seek dismissal of the charges with prejudice, so they could not be refiled.
Seitz contended that double jeopardy applies either when a jury is impaneled or when the first witness testifies -- both of which occurred in this trial.
If his motion is not granted, he said he will appeal.
Carolyn Ho, mother of Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, shed a tear yesterday while being hugged by Carlos Arredondo in DuPont, Wash. Arredondo's son, Alex, was killed in Iraq while serving in the Marine Corps. Watada announced last June that he would refuse to go to Iraq with his unit. CLICK FOR LARGE
"Our hope is, at this point, that the Army will realize that this case is a hopeless mess," Seitz said.
An Army official disagreed with Seitz's interpretation.
Lt. Col. Robert Resnick of the Judge Advocate General's office at Fort Lewis said double jeopardy does not apply. Resnick also said the Army was not upset with the mistrial declaration, adding, "We would not want this case to go forward if there was a question of fairness."
Seitz said his client was "not happy. He's not able to get this over with. He was ready to testify."
Last month, Watada signed a 12-page stipulation of fact in which he acknowledged he did not go to Iraq with his unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, last June. He also acknowledged making public statements criticizing the Iraq war, which he believes to be illegal.
In exchange, prosecutors dropped two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and agreed to proceed to trial on the remaining charges.
To prove a charge of missing movement, the prosecutors needed to show that Watada did not report when he had a duty to do so. The disagreement that prompted the mistrial was about whether Watada admitted missing troop movement and having a duty to report, or only missing troop movement.
"I see there is an inconsistency in the stipulation of fact," the judge said yesterday. "I don't know how I can accept (it) as we stand here now."
Because much of the Army's evidence was laid out in the document, rejecting it would hurt its case, Head acknowledged. He then granted the prosecutors' request for a mistrial, which Watada's lawyer opposed.
After concluding the Iraq war was illegal, Watada asked to take a combat post in Afghanistan or elsewhere. The Army refused those requests, along with Watada's request that he be allowed to resign.
Watada then made several public appearances to denounce the war.