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Ehren Watada's stand against a criminal war

February 9, 2007 | Pages 1 and 2

JASON FARBMAN and SAM BERNSTEIN report from Washington state as the court-martial of war resister Lt. Ehren Watada begins.

WITH NEARLY 1,000 supporters gathered over the course of the day at the gates of Fort Lewis, Lt. Ehren Watada went on trial before a military judge February 5 for the "crime" of refusing to participate in a criminal war. Watada faces as many as four years in a military prison on charges related to his refusal to deploy to Iraq.

After a year of research and deliberation, Watada announced his decision last June. He offered to serve elsewhere, but the Army refused him. Both before and after his announcement, Watada has spoken out against the Iraq war, questioning its legality and criticizing the Bush administration for the lies it told to pave the way for the invasion.

This led directly to some of the charges against him. He has been accused of "missing movement" for his refusal to deploy--but he also faces charges of "conduct unbecoming of an officer," including "use of contemptuous words for the president," because of his antiwar statements.

In other words, the Army wants to put Ehren Watada behind bars for years just for exercising his right to speak his mind.

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IN THE run-up to the court-martial, Watada and his supporters experienced both setbacks and victories.

What you can do

For more information on Lt. Watada's case, updates on future activities and what you can do to support him, see the Thank You Lt. Ehren Watada Web site.

Active-duty soldiers can register their discontent by signing the Appeal for Redress. Troops who need advice about their rights should go to GI Rights Hotline Web site or call 800-394-9544 from the U.S. or 510-465-1472 from outside the U.S. Go to the Iraq Veterans Against the War Web site for news and updates about war resisters and other initiatives.

For an excellent history of the GI rebellion during the U.S. war on Vietnam, read David Cortright's Soldiers in Revolt, newly republished by Haymarket Books. David Zeiger's Sir! No Sir! is an inspiring documentary about the Vietnam soldiers' revolt, and is available on DVD, along with many other supplemental materials.

 

In mid-January, after a pre-trial hearing, the military court ruled that Watada would not be allowed to testify that he refused deployment because he would be participating in an illegal war of aggression. It also refused to dismiss charges related to Watada's antiwar statements.

But a week before the court-martial was due to begin, military prosecutors dropped subpoenas against independent journalists who had interviewed Watada. The retreat from this attempt to make reporters testify against Watada was a victory for freedom of the press.

Prosecutors likewise dropped subpoenas aimed at several antiwar activists. Several charges against Watada were dropped, limiting his maximum prison time if he is convicted to four years from six.

The first officer to refuse deployment, Watada has attracted significant support from around the country and the world. His more well-known backers includes South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who expressed admiration for Watada's "courageous and moral stand."

Actor Sean Penn was on hand the night before the court-martial began for a Watada fundraiser in Tacoma, Wash.--and at the protest the next day outside Fort Lewis. Among the organizations that mobilized for the February 5 demonstration were Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, the International Socialist Organization and many others.

Iraq war veterans Chanan Suarez Díaz and Darrell Anderson, having seen firsthand the racism and atrocities of the U.S. occupation, addressed the crowd--their speeches punctuated by chants of "They're our brothers, they're our sisters, we support war resisters."

"George Bush has escalated this war with his troop surge," Suarez Díaz shouted into a bullhorn. "What do we need to do? Escalate our resistance!"

Helga Aguayo spoke on behalf of her husband, Spc. Agustín Aguayo, who is facing court-martial in Germany next month for refusing a second deployment to Iraq. Helga said her husband "struggled for three years through the 'proper channels'" to gain conscientious objector (CO) status.

Agustín spent his entire first deployment in Iraq as a medic and guard, waiting for his CO status. It was ultimately denied, and he went AWOL before his second deployment. "All war resisters should be supported," Helga told the crowd. "They will ultimately bring an end to the war."

Also speaking at the rally was Penn, Vietnam War resister Randy Rowland, hip hop artists Son of Nun and other activists.

Supporters of Watada called for a national day of action on February 5, and events took place around the country nearly every day leading up to the beginning of the trial. The campaign for Watada has also helped galvanize the struggle around other cases of war resisters, and brought together a number of Iraq war vets showing their solidarity.

Like during Vietnam, soldiers are growing increasingly opposed to the war, and are willing to take a stand--posing a threat to the war machine from the inside. That's why the military wants to make an example of Watada as the highest-ranking member of the Army to refuse to participate in their war.

But as the crowd outside Fort Lewis made clear, the antiwar movement will not stand by while soldiers are intimidated for following their consciences.

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