Watada's court-martial halted by double-jeopardy argument
By Hal Bernton

Seattle Times, May 19, 2007

The retrial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, the first Army officer to face a court-martial for refusing to deploy to Iraq, was put on hold Friday by an Army appeals court.

That trial was scheduled for July 23 at Fort Lewis, but it's now unclear whether it will proceed on schedule.

In a motion filed with the Army Court of Appeals, Watada's defense attorney argued that the initial February trial, which ended with the judge declaring a mistrial, created a double-jeopardy situation in which a second trial would violate Watada's constitutional rights.

"There can be no question that the military judge acted precipitously and abused his discretion," attorney James E. Lobsenz wrote.

Army prosecutors have consistently said a mistrial did not create double jeopardy. They have pushed for a speedy retrial for Watada, who believes the war illegal and refused to deploy last June with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Watada has been charged for missing a troop movement to the war, and four counts of conduct unbecoming an officer for statements critical of the war. If convicted on all counts, he faces a maximum of six years in prison.

The Army Court of Criminal Appeals in Arlington, Va., granted a partial stay of the defense motion. It has given Fort Lewis prosecutors 10 days to respond to the defense arguments, and also extended to the defense the option of filing a second round of briefs.

Fort Lewis officials on Friday said they were not surprised by the order.

"This is all part of the normal procedures," said Joseph Piek, a spokesman for the base south of Tacoma. "The Army expected the defense would file the double-jeopardy motion."

He added: "The court-martial itself is still more than two months away. Even with this motion ... we still expect the court-martial to occur on July 23."

According to Lobsenz, once the briefs are filed, the appeals court could: dissolve the stay and allow the case to proceed; hear oral arguments and then issue a ruling; or issue a ruling based on a review of the briefs.

In February, military judge Lt. Col. John Head declared a mistrial, saying he didn't believe Watada fully understood a pretrial agreement he'd signed.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com