Six months after Army First Lt. Ehren Watada formally refused his deployment to Iraq, pretrial hearings in his court-martial case were heard on Jan. 4. Watada, 28, is being charged with missing a troop movement for his June 22 refusal to accompany his Fort Lewis,Wash.-based infantry unit to the Middle East.
He is also charged with conduct unbecoming an officer and contempt toward officials, based on remarks in which he advocated resistance to the war he made to journalists and activists. Watada, a native of Honolulu, appears to face an uphill battle in his trial. His defense centers on the premise that the war in Iraq is illegal, but the presiding judge does not appear inclined to allow the submission of evidence contesting the legality of the 2003 invasion.
However, the judge also refused to let the prosecution interview eight potential witnesses in the pretrial hearing, including journalists Sarah Olson, Gregg Kakesako, and Dahr Jamail. The journalists were all subpoenaed by the Army to corroborate statements Watada made regarding the war.
“As I read about the level of deception the Bush administration used to initiate and process this war, I was shocked,”Watada told Olson in May 2006. “I became ashamed of wearing the uniform. How can we wear something with such a time-honored tradition, knowing we waged war based on a misrepresentation and lies?”
Watada’s case has made waves across the nation and has attracted antiwar groups from Hawaii and elsewhere to his cause. On the day of his pretrial hearing, 28 protesters rallying in his support were arrested in front of the San Francisco Federal Building.
The full trial will begin Feb. 5 and will be a key indicator of the government’s willingness to suppress dissent within the military as the Iraq occupation deteriorates.
Watada, who faces a maximum of six years in prison if found guilty, remains stoic at the prospect of jail time. “I’ll still get out…It’s just one chapter of my life,” he told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.