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Fort Lewis officer on decision: "I have no regrets"
Seattle Times staff reporter
TACOMA — A Fort Lewis officer who is disobeying deployment orders made his first public appearance Wednesday, explaining he feels bound to resist what he believes is an unlawful order to participate in an illegal war.
1st Lt. Ehren Watada, appearing Wednesday evening at Associated Ministries, looked somber in a dark suit and blue tie, flanked by supporters that included black T-shirted members of Veterans for Peace.
Watada acknowledged a difficult decision but at the start of the news conference said, "I have no regrets."
The news conference was Watada's second public act of the day. At noon, he released a DVD in which he criticized what he called the "wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of the Iraqi people," and said his participation in the war "would make me a party to war crimes."
Watada is a commissioned officer trained by the Army to lead troops into battle, and in a Tuesday phone interview with The Seattle Times he said his refusal to obey deployment orders could lead to a court-martial and a prison term.
His high-profile actions this week have quickly earned him attention.
The peace movement embraced Watada, with a coalition of supporters raising money for his legal defense. The supporters include veterans against the war, clergy, anti-war activists and law professors who consider the war illegal
"I feel like no one should be forced to serve in an unjust war," said Jim Grayson, an Air Force veteran from Federal Way who showed up Wednesday in Tacoma to show support.
Others condemn his actions as a grave breach of military law.
"This is something that the anti-American left has been working on for quite a while to find people like this to use as propaganda tools," said Kristinn Taylor, spokesman for the Military Families Voice of Victory, a Maine-based group that represents 79 military families. On Wednesday, the group denounced Watada as a traitor.
In a statement Wednesday, Fort Lewis officials said Watada's public declaration of his intent to violate military law "is a serious matter and could subject him to adverse action." However, no decisions will be made until a thorough review by commanders.
"Since the beginning of the Global War on Terror, hundreds of thousands of U.S. service men and women ... have deployed into harm's way at great personal sacrifice and inconvenience," the statement said.
Watada says he is not a conscientious objector, since he supports war, for instance in Afghanistan, that does not breach U.S. and international law. But after reading up on the Iraq war, he came to the conclusion this war was not legal.
One of the articles was "A Duty to Disobey All Unlawful Orders," said the author, Lawrence Mosqueda, a professor of political economy at The Evergreen State College, who earlier this spring received a call from Watada.
In the 2003 article, Mosqueda writes that unlawful orders can be those issued by a president that violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He then argues that President Bush's policy of "pre-emptive war" is such an order and violates The Hague Convention on Land Warfare and other international treaties signed by the United States.
Mosqueda said he talked with Watada this spring for about an hour on the legal arguments against the war. "I wasn't sure why an Army officer wanted to talk to me, but I found him to be extremely intelligent and sincere."
There still appears to be at least a small chance that Watada could leave the service without facing charges.
Army officials said Watada has the option of submitting a request for an exception that would allow him to resign. Watada said he would submit that application but didn't hold out much hope it would be approved.
Watada had initially hoped to speak at a Wednesday noon news conference in Tacoma but was ordered by the Army not to make such an appearance during duty hours, he said.
So instead, supporters played the DVD statement and held a panel discussion.
Then in the evening — after duty hours — Watada arrived in Tacoma to meet with reporters. At that appearance, he acknowledged that his decision has been an unpopular one at Fort Lewis. "There is certainly a lot of negative sentiment ... but there is no overt harassment. I definitely feel a lot of tension."
Watada said he was not trying to tell other soldiers what decisions they should make about the war.
But he encouraged other soldiers to evaluate the legality of every order, and choose "the hard rights" over "the easy wrongs."
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company