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Tuesday, June 20, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Anti-war activist lauds officer's refusal to fight

Seattle Times staff reporter

A Fort Lewis lieutenant's refusal to go to Iraq because he believes the war is illegal "won't be easy," but it just might "save his soul," a retired Army colonel and former State Department official who has become a prominent anti-war activist said Monday in Seattle's University District.

Ann Wright appeared with 1st Lt. Ehren Watada and his parents at a news conference at University Lutheran Church to announce a national day of action June 27, when anti-war demonstrations will be held in cities across the country in support of Watada.

Watada is the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq and is potentially facing a court-martial and possible prison time if he does not board a plane with the rest of his unit. Watada's Stryker Brigade could be sent to Iraq as early as this week.

Wright, who was the second-highest official at the U.S. embassy in Mongolia just before U.S. forces invaded Iraq, resigned in protest of the war and has become a leader in the anti-war movement.

Watada's parents came to Seattle from Hawaii earlier this month to support their son.

"We taught him to obey the law, we taught him to obey the Constitution as the supreme law of the land ... we taught him he has to care for the people of this planet," said Watada's father, Robert Watada. "He's chosen the hard course but it's the right course."

According to Wright, thousands of servicemen and women have deserted since the war started, but only a handful have been jailed — because they spoke out against the war.

Because the war in Iraq is a war of aggression and thus is illegal under international law, what Watada is doing "is an act of conscience [that] will save his soul," she added.

No charges have been filed against Watada, but the military is conducting an administrative investigation into his public statements, according to his lawyers. Although Watada said his superiors have assured him he wouldn't be immediately arrested if he doesn't board an Iraq-bound plane with his unit, they also said formal charges would be filed against him.

In the three years since he enlisted, Watada said Monday, he has "found out what it means to sacrifice for your country ... and what it means when I took that oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies."

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Watada said he has received "numerous hate mails but also letters of support from all ranks in the military."

The conduct of U.S. forces in Iraq amounts to a "gross violation of international law," he said.

"I have no regrets with the choices I've made."

Wright will hold another news conference today at University Lutheran Church on behalf of another Fort Lewis soldier, Suzanne Swift, who was arrested earlier this month in Eugene, Ore., for deserting her post.

Swift served in Iraq for a year but said she won't go back to war because she feels it lacks purpose and because she alleges her superiors sexually harassed her.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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