Refusing to join the killing
Morning Star (UK), Monday 6 February 2007

BRITISH REPORT: ANN DOUGLAS reports on Britain's part in the global solidarity campaign for US military refusenik Lieutenant Ehren Watada

AS the first US officer to refuse deployment in Iraq, Lt Watada's case has given new energy to the US anti-war movement and sparked protests and campaigns around the world.

On Monday, his court martial began at Fort Lewis in Washington state and was met with more demonstrations.

Lt Watada faces one count of missing movement to Iraq last June and two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer, for public statements that he has made opposing the war.

Groups in England, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Peru, Turkey, Uruguay, the US and Venezuela have, so far, notified their participation in the international days of action for the refusenik.

In London, demonstrators joined forces with tenacious lone protester Brian Haw and other peace campaigners in Parliament Square, chanting: "Jail Bush, Jail Blair, not Watada" and "Carolyn Ho, we are with you," in honour of the lieutenant's mother.

The demonstrators heard phone reports from Turkey's Conscientious Objection Platform, which held a press conference - attended by CNN - in Istanbul in support of Lt Watada and conscientious objector Halil Savda, currently detained in a military prison.

On Sunday, Mark Wallinger's replica at Tate Britain of Mr Haw's display in Parliament Square spilled onto the street in support of Lt Watada.

Peace campaigners from Payday and the Global Women's Strike resumed their community picket and open mic outside.

Visitors to the Tate joined the lively demo and heard, by phone, demonstrators in Athens and Venice broadcast through the PA system.

Carolyn Ho described, from Los Angeles, the 450-strong rally in preparation for the trial, where she was joined on the platform by Helga Aguayo, whose husband is a US soldier detained in Germany for refusing to fight in Iraq.

Demonstrators stood transfixed when they heard Lt Watada's electrifying speech at the Veterans for Peace convention in Seattle in August 2006.

They cheered when he stated: "If soldiers stood up and threw their weapons down, no president could ever initiate a war of choice.

"For soldiers to stop fighting, they must have the unconditional support of the people."

He urged campaigners to "convince them that, no matter how long they sit in prison, their family will have a roof over their heads, food in their stomachs, opportunities and education."

After requests from groups including Payday and Global Women's Strike, Lt Watada has been recognised as a prisoner of conscience by human rights group Amnesty International.

The international solidarity campaign has already forced the court to drop some charges.

While Lt Watada still faces four years in jail, his refusal to participate in an illegal war has galvanised anti-war activists within and outside the military who know that marching is not enough.

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