Lt. Ehren Watada faces Court
Martial for refusing to serve in Iraq
23 January 2007
Last week a military judge ruled Watada
cannot present evidence challenging the warís legality nor explain what
motivated him to resist his deployment order. He is the first officer to
refuse to go to Iraq. With his court martial less than two weeks away,
Lt. Watada is facing up to six years in prison. [includes rush
He faces one charge of missing troop
movement, and four counts of conduct unbecoming an officer. Each of the
later four charges relates to his public comments on why he refuses to
deploy to Iraq. The military judge also rejected defense arguments that
Lt. Watada's remarks are protected by the First Amendment.
Lt. Ehren Watada joins me now from
This transcript is available free of
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deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your
AMY GOODMAN: Lieutenant Ehren
Watada joins us live now from Seattle. We welcome you to Democracy
LT. EHREN WATADA: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Itís good to have you
with us. First of all, explain why you have refused deployment and when
LT. EHREN WATADA: Well, basically,
back in January of 2006, even before that, maybe a few months prior to
that, in my preparation for deployment to Iraq, in order to better train
myself and my soldiers, I began to research the background of Iraq,
including the culture, the history, the events going on on the ground
and what had led us up into the war in the first place, and what I found
was very shocking to me and dismaying, and it really made me question
what I was being asked to do, and it caused me to research more and
And as I found out the answers to the questions I had, I became convinced
that the war itself was illegal and immoral, as was the current conduct
of American forces and the American government on the ground over in
Iraq. And as such, as somebody who has sworn an oath to protect our
Constitution, our values and our principles, and to protect the welfare
and the safety of the American people, I said to myself that's something
that I cannot be a part of, the war. I cannot enable or condone those
who have established this illegal and immoral policy. And so, I simply
requested that I have my commission resigned and I separate completely
from the military, because of those reasons, and I was denied several
times, and I was basically given the ultimatum, ďEither you deploy to
Iraq or you will face a court-martial.Ē
AMY GOODMAN: And so, now you are
facing a court-martial.
LT. EHREN WATADA: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And youíre the first
officer who has refused deployment to Iraq.
LT. EHREN WATADA: That I know of,
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about the
judge's ruling last week.
LT. EHREN WATADA: Well, the
judgeís ruling is very unfortunate. You know, during the Article 32,
which is a pretrial hearing, the prosecution asked some of the witnesses
we brought, including Denis Halliday, Ann Wright and Francis Boyle, if
there had been any congressional representatives or congressional
hearings or investigations, any courts of law that had determined the
war to be illegal or immoral. And, of course, at this point, the answer
would be no. And I think it would have been an excellent opportunity to
bring to light in a court of law evidence and witnesses who could
testify to the illegality and immorality of the war and its conduct.
Unfortunately, just like Vietnam, my judge, just like the judges back
then, have refused to bring to light any of the evidence or challenge
the policies of the administration.
And I think itís also very unfortunate
that under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is military law,
all service members are obligated and have the right to refuse unlawful
orders, and in this case, you know, you do so at your own peril, but the
judge has simply predetermined that the war is lawful, that the order to
go to war is lawful, and that it would not be debated in his court. And
they have simply skirted the issue of whether that order was lawful or
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what is heard
in the court, that you just refused to show up?
LT. EHREN WATADA: Correct. It will
simply be -- it will be a non-trial. It will not be a fair trial or a
show of justice, in any sense. I think that they will simply say, ďWas
he ordered to go? Yes. Did he go? No. Well, heís guilty.Ē And that also
goes for the conduct unbecoming charges: ďDid he make those statements?
Can we verify that? Yes. OK, heís guilty.Ē And then it will be pretty
much a disciplinary hearing, in terms of how much punishment should we
give this lieutenant.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you appeal this,
even before the court-martial takes place, the judge's decision to
exclude your reasons?
LT. EHREN WATADA: No. We will have
to wait until after the verdict is rendered.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you
about a press issue thatís come out in your case, and that involves
military and press freedom. The US Army subpoenaed two journalists to
testify on whether you made some of the antiwar statements that they are
charging you for. Earlier this month, we interviewed one of the two
journalists, Sarah Olson.
SARAH OLSON: I think itís my
job as a journalist to report the news. Itís not my job to
participate, again, in the Army, in the military or government
prosecution of political speech. I think when journalists do that,
they really risk being turned into kind of the investigative arm of
the government, really being seen as the eyes and ears of the
military and the government. It really threatens to erode kind of
that separation between the press and our government. I think that
this is particularly ironic, because the Army is, again, asking me,
a journalist, to build the case against military personnel speaking
to the press, against dissenting voices in the media.
And I think, you know, kind of the
final thing that I find really alarming about that is that it really
does threaten to kind of eliminate those voices from the media. What
kind of future war resisters would agree to speak with me or with
other journalists if they thought that it was reasonable that they
would be facing very high prison sentences, four years in prison,
for explaining, you know, the reasons for their opposition to the
AMY GOODMAN: Independent
journalist Sarah Olson. Thereís a petition going around in support of
her, as well as Honolulu Star Bulletin reporter Gregg Kakesako,
the other journalist who has been subpoenaed in this case. Independent
journalist Dahr Jamail and videographer Sari Gelzer have also been added
to the prosecutionís witness list. Lieutenant Ehren Watada, can you talk
about Sarah Olson and her case?
LT. EHREN WATADA: Sure. I think
that when it comes to, if it's a national security issue and it has to
do with public safety that has the possibility of being in danger, I
think, of course, you know, reporters will be compelled to testify in
that case. But I think, as the prosecutors determined, my speaking out
has nothing to do with national security or public safety. They simply
said that itís offensive to the Army. And Miss Olson is right, that once
you start using reporters to testify against their sources, what -- not
just war resisters -- what whistleblowers, what minority opinions will
be willing to go out there and testify to reporters in order to get the
truth out, if they know that the government will use those reporters to
testify against them? And I think that becomes very dangerous in our
society, and itís going to have a chilling effect thatís going to stifle
free speech. Itís going to stifle people having the courage to bring the
truth out. And itís going to stifle the freedom of the press.
AMY GOODMAN: Weíre talking to
First Lieutenant Ehren Watada. He has refused deployment to Iraq, the
first officer to do so. Next week, he will be court-martialed. This is
Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. We'll be back with him in a
AMY GOODMAN: Weíre talking to
First Lieutenant Ehren Watada, first officer to refuse deployment to
Iraq. He faces court-martial next week. Lt. Ehren Watada, you went to
Hawaii. You went home. Is that right? Can you talk about your experience
there and what other soldiers there, going back to different wars, how
they responded to you?
LT. EHREN WATADA: I think that
Hawaii, like everywhere else around the United States, there's
tremendous support out there. I think it's unfortunate that we haven't
been able to get into the national media as much as we wanted to. And
therefore, the more east you go, the less people know about the case.
And I think, just looking at how much support Iíve received in
Washington state and back home in my home state, in Hawaii, there are a
lot of people who are coming out, and not just people on one spectrum of
the political ideology, but people from the mainstream, they are all
coming out -- the unions, the interfaith groups, the students,
universities -- they are all coming out to support. And I think that's
just a testament to how people feel about the war and the policies of
AMY GOODMAN: We were speaking with
your mother here in studio in New York, as she speaks out for you around
the country. She went to Congress. She spoke with congress members,
tried to speak with senators. And she talked about your background and
the response of -- can you explain who the No-No boys are?
LT. EHREN WATADA: Sure. During
World War II, when the Japanese Americans were interned by the United
States government, I think over 100,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly
removed from their homes, their civil rights were stripped, their
property was taken away without any compensation whatsoever, and they
were placed in concentration camps. And there were Japanese Americans,
young men who were conscripted, or they volunteered to join the United
States military and fight over in Europe and the Pacific Theater. And
many of them volunteered, because they felt that they needed to prove
their loyalties to the United States government in any way possible in
order to free their families and to prove that they were still
And there was also a minority of those
young Japanese American men who refused to swear loyalty and who refused
to fight in the army or the military until their civil rights were
restored, until their property was given back to them, until their
families were released from the concentration camps. And I think there
has been a lot of controversy between those two groups ever since then.
Certainly, I think that my case has brought up some of those tensions.
But as I talked to them back in Hawaii, I
spoke to veterans of the 442nd, the 100th Battalion, those who fought
during World War II, and I also spoke to those who refused to fight, and
I told them that it doesn't matter what the other believes the intent of
the other was or if one group was right or the other was wrong. Itís
that both groups were trying to prove to America that they were -- even
though they were Japanese Americans, they were still Americans.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, President
Bush will be giving his State of the Union address tonight. What do you
think he should be telling the American people?
LT. EHREN WATADA: I think that he
should be telling the American people that he is going to support the
troops, really, and when these troops come back, they will be provided
all the healthcare, including psychological care, when they come back,
100%, that they will be given jobs, there will be homes for them. Back
in 2004, there were over 500,000 vets who were homeless at some point.
That is ridiculous, especially in our country and especially when we
have an administration that uses the line, ďSupport the troops.Ē I think
itís just -- itís a travesty. And we need to focus on bringing the
troops back home, and we need to focus on supporting those troops for
the rest of their lives.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you
very much, First Lieutenant Ehren Watada. Again, we will certainly cover
your court-martial and also follow what is happening to the reporters
who have been interviewing you. Thank you for joining us.
- First Lieutenant Ehren Watada,
the nation's first Army officer to refuse deployment to Iraq. For
more information on his case visit