Lawyer seeks to delay Watada’s second court-martial
Attorneys for 1st Lt. Ehren Watada filed a motion in federal court in Tacoma, Wash., yesterday requesting a postponement of his court-martial for refusing to go to Iraq last year.
Ken Kagan, one of two Seattle attorneys hired by the 29-year-old artillery officer, hopes to get a hearing on his request by tomorrow since Monday is Columbus Day, a federal holiday, and Watada's court-martial is slated to begin Tuesday at Fort Lewis.
Kagan believes Watada's second court-martial should not be held until a Washington, D.C., appeals court rules on its constitutionality.
"We believe we have a strong case, and are looking forward to litigating the double-jeopardy issue in federal court," Kagan said after the motion was filed.
Lt. Col. John Head, the military judge presiding over Watada's court-martial in February, declared a mistrial because he believed Watada did not understand the terms of a pretrial agreement. In July the same judge denied motions filed by Kagan to dismiss the case or to delay the court-martial until a judgment is rendered on Watada's double-jeopardy appeal.
"The Army or the government's position," Kagan said in a phone interview, "is that if he is convicted at trial, he always has a double-jeopardy issue pending a appeal.
"We take the position, as have most federal courts, that it's too late for that because the whole point of the double-jeopardy issue is that he shouldn't have to go through a trial a second time."
Kagan's first appeal before the Army Court of Criminal Appeals was denied in August. So Watada's case is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in Washington, D.C.
"We may ultimately lose," Kagan said, "but the point is that it shouldn't go to trial before there has been a meaningful review."
Kagan said he does not see "any middle ground" on the case, which has been going on for 18 months. During that period, Watada's 3rd Stryker Combat Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, has been deployed to Iraq and returned home. A welcoming ceremony is planned for next Thursday at the Seattle-area Army post. *
Kagan said Watada is "cautious and is trying to remain optimistic."
Watada refused to join his unit when it left on June 22, 2006, because he believed that the war is illegal and immoral.
The mistrial centered on a pretrial agreement that would have cut Watada's sentence to four years. The mistrial occurred three days after the court-martial began and after the prosecution had rested its case, but before Eric Seitz, Watada's first civilian attorney, had presented any witnesses.
In a 12-page pretrial agreement, the Army dropped two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer in exchange for Watada's acknowledgment that he failed to deploy with his unit. He also acknowledged making public statements criticizing the Iraq war.
Watada is charged with missing a movement and conduct unbecoming of an officer. Those counts cover statements Watada made criticizing the Iraq war and President Bush. Conviction on all charges could mean nearly eight years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.
Friday, October 5, 2007
» A welcome-home ceremony for the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, based at Fort Lewis, Wash., will be next Thursday. A Page A5 article in yesterday's morning edition incorrectly said the ceremony was set for yesterday.
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