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Sunday, June 25, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Editorial

Dishonorable discharge, not prison, for Watada

Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada has put the military and himself in a difficult spot.

Watada's refusal to accompany his unit to Iraq and the military's response will be framed by those against the war and those angered by the 28-year-old's choice. Watada supporters need to understand the Army has to deal with the lieutenant's actions. The people enraged at Watada should not be so quick to shout "treason!"

Watada could serve serious prison time for his refusal to join the Fort Lewis-based 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division when it deployed Thursday. An option other than prison should be considered.

The Army, which has yet to file charges, should consider a dishonorable discharge. Watada does not want anything to do with the Army, the Army does not want anything to do with him. No need to drag out a trial that would undoubtedly be burned into the public eye.

Watada's actions put the military in an awkward position, especially with the horrible news from Iraq the past couple of weeks: U.S. soldiers being charged for the murder of Iraqi civilians; the abduction and grisly killing of two soldiers.

The Army should resist the urge to make an example of Watada, who is believed to be the first officer to refuse orders to Iraq. A whiff of hypocrisy would follow Watada if he is locked away in prison for many years. The Army was reluctant to do much of anything to anybody involved in the Abu Ghraib fiasco. The people directly involved have received sentences from six months to 10 years, none of them with a rank higher than sergeant.

The Army should also consider Watada's conduct since he asked to resign in January, a request that was denied in May. His feelings about the war were known to superiors, and he has not deserted, remaining at Fort Lewis.

Even though Watada's view about the Iraq war has changed — like many Americans' views — since he joined in 2003, he still must be held accountable in some fashion.

There is no draft. He made a choice when he joined the military. And not following through with that commitment should have consequences.

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