Justice Dept. drops case against war resister Watada


By Stephen C. Webster

The Department of Justice has dropped its case against 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, a war resister who refused Iraq deployment in June 2006 and denounced President George W. Bush’s decision to invade as illegal and immoral.

In Feb. 2007, military judge Lieutenant Colonel John Head halted Watada’s case following possible inconsistencies concerning a “stipulation of fact” agreed before the hearing. The decision led to a mistrial, ending Watada’s court martial. The Army appealed, but a judge said Watada could not be tried again on the same charges, as it would violate his right to be free of double jeopardy.

The Justice Department is dropping its appeal of that judge’s decision.


 “Because there are no longer any criminal charges pending against Lt. Watada, and because (his) military service has been extended far beyond his normal release date, he anticipates that he will soon be released from active duty,” Watada’s attorney, James Lobsenz, said in a media advisory published Wednesday. “He plans to return to civilian life and to attend law school.”

“Settle set aside two specifications of the same charge — conduct unbecoming an officer — which stemmed from public statements Watada made against the war and President Bush,” reported Vanessah Ho for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

“Settle left the door open for the United States to pursue those charges later. Fort Lewis spokesman Joseph Piek said he did not know if the Department of Justice intended to refile those charges.”

One of the charges was filed for statements Watada made during the 2006 convention of Veterans for Peace, held in Seattle.

“I could never conceive of our leader betraying the trust we had in him. As I read about the level of deception the Bush administration used to initiate and process this war, I was shocked. I became ashamed of wearing the uniform. If the president can betray my trust, it’s time for me to evaluate what he’s telling me to do,” Watada said, according to the court martial charge sheet.

“In the 2004 fiscal year, the Army court-martialed 176 deserters, just 7 percent of the total who fled for civilian life. Courts-martial, or military trials, must be held for prison sentences to be handed out,” reported Nina Shapiro in Seattle Weekly. “When they are, the standard ranges from three to five months, according to Bill Galvin, who has counseled hundreds of AWOL soldiers in his work for the Center on Conscience and War in Washington, D.C.

“‘The Army doesn’t have enough jail cells to accommodate all the people who go AWOL,’ says James M. Branum, an Oklahoma lawyer nationally known for his work with deserters. Nearly 7,000 soldiers deserted in fiscal year 2007, according to figures from each branch of the military. (The military counts soldiers as deserters once they’ve been AWOL for more than 30 days.)

“While some branches, most notably the Navy, have seen the number of deserters drop since the beginning of the Iraq War, the total number has risen, largely in the Army, where roughly 4,700 people deserted in the last fiscal year—an 80 percent jump since the beginning of the war—amounting to just under one percent of the Army’s total manpower.”

Watada was the first high-profile resister of the Iraq war.

With AFP.


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