Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Soldier's Duty: Lt. Watada

UPDATE: Mistrial:

The court-martial of Lt. Ehren Watada has been ruled a mistrial because of a dispute over a pretrial agreement. Watada’s attorney, Eric Seitz, called the ruling a “significantly positive event,” and said he hoped it would put an end to the case.

First Lieutenant Ehren Watada still refuses Iraq deployment orders, calling the war illegal. A six-year prison term could result. His preliminary hearing was yesterday; trial commences Febuary 5th.

"WATADA: Certainly. I think that when we take an oath we, as soldiers and officers, swear to protect the constitution — with our lives as necessary — and those constitutional values and laws that make us free and make us a democracy. And when we have one branch of government that intentionally deceives another branch of government in order to authorize war, and intentionally deceives the people in order to gain that public support, that is a grave breach of our constitutional values, our laws, our checks and balances, and separation of power."
A lot of people think of this young man as a "coward" for refusing to "do his duty." It's true that in nearly every other military, there would be absolutely no room to argue that he is refusing to do his duty. But the United States is an exception; unlike every other military power I'm aware of, the oath is to the Constitution, not to the Crown or to Civil Authority, and that makes a huge and sometimes awkward difference.

It is ordinarily assumed that superior officers ARE obeying their oaths and issuing legitimate orders. When circumstances arise that make that assumption unreasonable or impossible, an officer has a higher loyalty - to their oath. And there is a procedure to test and resolve such questions, because the alternative is to give orders he's reasonably certain to be illegal.

Therefore, when a commissioned officer says to a superior, "I request and require written orders to that effect, Sir." the challenged officer knows that is a means of perpetuating evidence for the eventual court-martial. Since the orders in question have to do with the legitimacy of the war itself, he's got both the duty and the right to refuse unfounded orders until the matter is resolved in just such a court-martial.

Watada has questioned the validity of an order under the terms of the Constitution. The conditionality and legality of the order now becomes a matter of fact to be determined. The shock and awe comes in when we realize the scope; he is questioning the validity and legality of the President's orders in his military capacity as Commander in Chief.

Watada must be well aware that this is career suicide and likely to dog him throughout civilian life. Indeed, he may well have to leave the country after facing whatever legal consequences may ensue. So the consequences he faces are as grave as those any other officer of his rank in combat. Different, but no less severe.

He is not facing a mere slap on the wrist and a dishonorable discharge. The stated charges carry a maximum of six years hard time and a dishonorable discharge. However, military courts have wide latitude and the charges he's facing are in all likelihood "placeholders" while the prosecution attempts to build a strong case on unassailable grounds that will see him in Leavenworth for the greater part of his life. Indeed, it would be no less than the proper duty of the prosecution to make every effort to see him dance at the end of a rope.

This is a legal No-Man's land and there's not a single person involved who will have a single clue about the outcome, except that it's some variety of "bad for Lt. Watata." He is staking "His life, his fortune and his sacred honor" on this matter.

The path of cowardice would be to serve as ordered, despite his qualms, knowing that to do so would be to betray his conscience and (in his view,) his oath. Many officers have taken a quieter path of protest, simply resigning their commissions, or leaving active duty service.

I'm certain Judge Advocate Generals office has offered him some sort of plea, probably a rather attractive plea, that anyone looking for a "way out" due to cowardice would have jumped at. I can't imagine any sane reaction from SecDef other than "make this go away!"

Instead, he is choosing to face the full might of an angry Defense Department and Administration, who accurately see him as personally challenging their basis of legitimate authority.

But those questions have been politely asked and brusquely dismissed. We have been lied to, we have seen organized campains to discredit civilians who ask, we have found out that our government wants the ability to simply disappear people without question, and we cannot help but wonder if "asking questions" will be considered a good reason for indefinite detention without trial.

WATADA: The constitution was established, and our laws are established, to protect human rights, to protect equal rights and constitutional civil liberties. And I think we have people in power who say that those laws, or those principles, do not apply to them — that they are above the law and can do whatever it takes to manipulate or create laws that enable them to do whatever they please. And that is a danger in our country, and I think the war in Iraq is just one symptom of this agenda. And I think as soldiers, as American people, we need to recognize this, and we need to put a stop to it before it's too late.

There are a lot of things you could call him, but I think that "Coward" ain't one of 'em. Please take a moment and consider why some folks might want you to think he is a coward and trying to escape his duty, rather than an officer who is trying to fulfil it. And then ask yourself, if there is the slightest question as to whether or not he's right, don't you want to see that sorted out?

Whether or not you agree or disagree with the Lieutenant's stand, it's impossible to understate the potential social and legal consequences here. The Army, the Defense Department, the President, and indeed Congress and the entire government are as much on trial here as one young first Lieutenant.

And if he prevails in either a legal or moral sense - this war, and all the further conflicts and military involvements the "global war on terror" surely implies will face increasing skeptical review. Given the stakes, it's a review that EVERY American needs to make, if only because every NON-American has been keeping their reviews current since at least '03.

It will surely bring increased Congressional oversight and it certainly will add fuel to those questing for grounds to impeach the President. Indeed, if the Lieutenant is permitted to call in his defense witnesses he should obviously call, it will in fact be preliminary hearings to that effect.

If Lt. Wataba is willing to stake his future and reputation upon the legality of orders he might find himself giving - is it not reasonable to ask George Bush, Commander in Chief of all American Forces to stake his future and reputation upon them as well?

As a matter of record I will state this; any trial that is legimately attempting to establish the facts of this case and which does not have George Bush on the stand under oath is not to be taken seriously and no verdict should be considered less than a badge of honor.

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1 comment:

Ken said...

...any trial that is legimately attempting to establish the facts of this case and which does not have George Bush on the stand under oath is not to be taken seriously and no verdict should be considered less than a badge of honor.

I'm not sure how that's relevant. Watada's attempts to define the war as 'illegal' should not depend on the testimony of George W Bush, which would be full of lies and unhelpfulness anyway. It seems the only reason to demand that Bush be called to the stand is to reassure that the war be found 'legal.'


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