Free Watada

1st Lt. Ehren Watada is facing up to six years in prison for not deploying with his unit to Iraq and for publicly criticizing the Bush administration’s handling of the war. Watada’s ground for defense has been that because the war itself is illegal, he was within his rights to refuse deployment. But yesterday, a military judge ripped that defense out from under the Lieutenant’s feet:

Defense attorneys had hoped to argue that the war is illegal, in part, because it violated Army regulations that call for wars to be launched in accordance with the United Nations charter. But in a ruling, Lt. Col. John Head said that “whether the war is lawful” is a political question that could not be judged in a military court.
(The Seattle Times)

In what perverse understanding of the judicial system is legality a matter of political affiliation? Does the judge mean to say that what appears illegal to democrats is legal to republicans? Lt. Col. Head is selectively stripping away an essential function of the judicial system – to consider necessary evidence to debate the applicability of laws that are often vague.

Head, citing federal court precedents, also rejected defense attorneys’ claim that Watada’s First Amendment rights shielded him from charges relating to his criticism of the war. Instead, Head ruled that there are limits to the free-speech rights of military personnel and that a military panel should decide whether Watada’s criticism of the war amounted to officer misconduct that could have endangered the morale, loyalty and discipline of troops.

The notion that those who sacrifice most the war effort are not allowed to publicly criticize its legitimacy is blatantly authoritarian and unconstitutional. It appears that Watada is being singled out, because over 1,000 Iraq veterans have come out against the war with no consequence, signing a web site petition that calls for bringing the troops home:

Marine Sgt. Liam Madden helped to launch Appeal for Redress last fall. A portion of the group’s Web site ( is devoted to the rights and responsibilities of people in military service. A Defense Department directive allows service members to send a protected communication to a member of Congress on any matter without blowback. Although Madden was braced for some sort of retribution, formal or informal, after he went public with his opposition to the war, “it never came,” he said. “I give credit to my chain of command. After all, the appeal for redress is legal.”
(The Seattle Times)

Watada is being prosecuted for a speech he gave August 12 to the Veterans for Peace in Seattle, in which he said:

Though the American soldier wants to do right, the illegitimacy of the occupation itself, the policies of this administration and the rules of engagement of desperate field commanders will ultimately force them to be party to war crimes.

Nothing in the recent history of this country’s civil liberty abuses gives me hope that Watada will come out of this a free man, but I hope that I am wrong. If he is incarcerated, then another scrap of freedom will have been stripped from the American people – we now walk a slippery slope where one bull headed decision could send us tumbling towards a very dark future.


1 Response to “Free Watada”

  1. 1 Follow Up: “Day of Action” for Watada « The Daily Transit Trackback on February 5, 2007 at 5:27 pm
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