press coverage 20 December 2006
The Associated Press, Wednesday, December 20, 2006, HONOLULU
An Army lieutenant who refused to deploy to Iraq told supporters that he was only following his military oath by challenging an "illegal and immoral policy."
First Lt. Ehren Watada, 28, faces a court-martial in February. Speaking before a crowd of more than 100 supporters, Watada said he understands that in order to live with a clear conscience he would have to face the legal repercussions, including a possible prison sentence, for refusing to go to Iraq.
"As leaders, as officers, we must stick our necks out and take that first step," he said.
Watada, a member of the Army's first Stryker Brigade Combat Team at the time, refused to go to Iraq after researching the war and determining it to be illegal. He said he would be willing to serve in Afghanistan or elsewhere.
He was charged with missing a troop movement, conduct unbecoming an officer and contempt toward officials for comments he made about U.S. President George W. Bush.
The Army later dropped the contempt charge but added another specification of conduct unbecoming an officer based on his comments in Seattle during the national convention of Veterans for Peace in August.
If convicted of all charges, Watada could serve six years in prison and be dismissed from the service.
The Army refused to allow him to resign his commission because he has not fulfilled his service obligation. He now works in an administrative position at Fort Lewis, Washington. His pretrial hearing is scheduled for Jan. 4.
Watada said he was following the oath he took as an officer to uphold the U.S. Constitution.
"I have challenged an illegal and immoral policy on behalf of those who cannot or are unwilling to speak," Watada said. "This is the responsibility of a leader, and I assure you I am not alone."
His lawyer, Eric Seitz, said he wants the hearing to be moved to a larger courtroom so supporters can attend.
Watada was temporarily released from a travel restriction imposed by the Army and returned to Hawaii to visit with his attorney and to spend time with family and friends.
"I really do appreciate when these men and women step up and say, 'I will risk going to jail because this war is wrong and I will not participate in it,'" said retired Army Col. Ann Wright, who resigned as a senior diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Mongolia in 2003 to protest the Iraq war.