When you are looking your children in the eye in the future, or when you are at the end of your life, you want to look back on your life and know that at a very important moment, when I had the opportunity to make the right decisions, I did so, even knowing there were negative consequences.
— Lieutenant Ehren Watada, June 7, 2006
Ehren Watada’s moment of truth comes February 5, 2007. As the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq, that’s the day he faces a court martial for his stance against the war. The proceedings impact not only the young Hawaiian’s life, but the moral compass of the United States as well.
Watada isn’t opposed to the military, or wars in general. Having joined the army in 2003 “out of a desire to protect our country,” he served with distinction in Korea before preparing to deploy to the Middle East. He believes the present war in Afghanistan is justified by the attacks of September 11, and even offered to fight in that theater for the duration of his service requirement. But the legality of American involvement in Iraq isn’t in question to him — as far as the lieutenant is concerned, what we’re doing over there breaks many laws.
“The war was based on false pretenses,” asserted Watada in 2006. ” If the president tells us we are there to destroy Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, and there are none, why are we there? Then the president said Saddam [Hussein] had ties to al-Qaeda and September 11. That allegation has been proven to be false, too. So why are we going there?
“[The] Iraq war is not legal according to domestic and international law. It violates the Constitution and the War Powers Act, which limits the president in his role as commander in chief from using the armed forces in any way he sees fit. The UN Charter, the Geneva Convention, and the Nuremberg principles all bar wars of aggression.
“There is no justification for why we are there or what we are doing.”
Watada is echoing what many before him have said. Unfortunately, he’s done so while in uniform — and that carries a heavy price tag. Furthermore, Watada is not seeking conscientious-objector status; he’s forcing the legality of several wars and the actions of a sitting President of the United States into open court. This all but assures a stiff punishment, as the status quo is not something that likes to be disrupted.
After all, getting the courts to declare a war illegal is bad for public relations.
Watada’s defense, as outlined above, has merit in the court of common sense. Invoking Nuremberg sends a powerful message, as the aftermath of World War II established a soldier’s duty to refuse orders he considered illegal or immoral. (American military ostensibly operate under this belief as part of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.) And given the long list of lies promulgated by the Bush adminstration, chief of which are the ones that led us to attack Iraq in the first place, the government’s case is on very shaky ground.
So how does the judiciary level the playing field in favor of perpetual war? By stripping the defendant of his constitutional rights.
When Watada faces prosecution on February 5, he will be unable to assert free speech in questioning the legality of the war and is forbidden from using Nuremberg laws as defense. Watada’s entire argument rests on the fact that troops are bound to serve honorably and follow lawful orders, and that the Iraq war is a hodgepodge of neither. By denying his defense, the court martial will not just be a kangaroo court with a predestined outcome straight from the decaying remains of the Soviet system; it also signals the death knell for servicemen of their protections as granted by the Constitution.
“All you readers wearing the uniform, sorry to say but apparently you are not Americans any more,” says pundit Mike Rivero. “The Bill of Rights does not apply to you. So go out there and get killed to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution against all enemies both foreign and domestic.”
In all likelihood, Watada will be sentenced to six years in prison for refusing to deploy as well as for conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. Conduct unbecoming. Consider that urging one’s fellow Americans to stand up, to voice their conscience, to refuse to put themselves in harm’s way for a lie is honorable and becoming an officer. You’ll then realize how political and self-serving this trial is.
“He’s not doing anything other than saying things he believes to be true, and that we believe are true,” says Watada defense attorney Eric Seitz. “This makes it that much clearer that this is just a political prosecution, and that’s really all this case has been about from the beginning.”
If Watada is convicted, the United States should drop any pretense of living in a global world. If we cannot abide by rules set down in response to Nazi atrocity, or follow the UN charter we helped create, what’s the point? Why give an inkling of compassion? Why obey any law? If they can be rewritten at the whim of those in power to suit their needs, why not just declare this country as one ruled by the shifting sands of anarchy? We clearly aren’t ruled by anything or anyone sane.
I’ve read editorials condemning Ehren Watada as both a deserter and a shame on the Japanese-American community. Others think a court martial is too good for him, that he should be tried for mutiny and executed. Whatever the result, while the rest of us are banging our heads against the wall trying to rationalize why we accept the fascism sweeping federal government, he’ll be able to look at himself in the mirror and know he made the right decision.
Even if the mirror is inside a prison cell.