Watada prepares for another court-martial
A Hawaii-born Army officer who refused to go to Iraq will be retried on charges next week, even as his unit returns from the war.
On Tuesday , the court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, who is believed to be the first officer to refuse to be sent to Iraq, will begin anew at Fort Lewis, Wash., near Seattle. Watada's refusal was based on his belief that the war is immoral and illegal under U.S. commitments to the United Nations.
Two days later, Fort Lewis will hold a welcome-home ceremony for Watada's deployed unit -- the 3rd Stryker Combat Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division. The unit lost 48 soldiers in combat after it left the Army post June 22, 2006. It served in northern Iraq near Mosul and, like the 25th Infantry Division, its deployment was extended beyond its scheduled 12 months.
Watada's first court-martial ended in a mistrial Feb. 7 when Lt. Col. John Head, military presiding judge, rejected a pretrial agreement because he believed that Watada did not understand the terms of the agreement. That deal would have cut Watada's sentence to four years.
Head will again preside over the 29-year-old artillery officer's second court-martial, which will consist of a jury of nine officers, a Fort Lewis spokesman said yesterday
However, the 1996 Kalani High School graduate will have a new team of defense lawyers -- Seattle attorneys Ken Kagan and James Lobsenz.
Honolulu defense attorney Eric Seitz, who handled Watada's case through the mistrial largely for free, said Watada "wanted someone local to do his appeal."
In July, Head ruled that retrying Watada won't violate his constitutional right not to be prosecuted twice for the same crime.
The Army has refiled four charges against Watada, including one count of missing a deployment and two counts of conduct unbecoming of an officer. Those counts cover statements Watada made criticizing the Iraq war and President Bush. Conviction on all counts could mean nearly eight years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.
Watada's lawyers have appealed the Army's actions to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals in Arlington, Va., and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
Watada's commitment to the Army under the terms of his commission as an officer was supposed to have ended in December 2006, but was extended. He has been assigned to a desk job since the case began last year.