Courage to Resist. February 5, 2007
Over a thousand people and giant puppets rallied at the gates of Fort Lewis, Washington today in support of Lt. Ehren Watada. Formed for the occasion, the Tacoma Puppetistas visually dominated the mass rally by putting the war on trial via huge puppet theater. Meanwhile Iraq Veterans Against the War and families of military resisters led chants and marches from rallies in a nearby park to the base gates.
On Fort Lewis, supporters of Lt. Watada lined up at the visitors station beginning at 5:00 am in order to gain entry to the court proceedings. Many were turned away, but about 50 civilians were eventually allowed to view the proceedings from a viewing room with an audio/video feed.
As Lt. Watadas mother Carolyn Ho entered the legal building at 8:30 am, dozens of supporters, lined up across the street, erupted into cheers. This is probably not something that happens on Fort Lewis often.
The morning proceedings covered numerous defense motions, including a few related to what the military judge Lt. Col. John Head despairingly referred to as the Nuremberg Defense. All motions, DENIED, cause: irrelevant.
All defense witnesses, with the possible exception of a West Point instructor, were also systematically denied by Judge Head. Witnesses denied by the judge included Richard Falk, Professor of International Law and Practise, Princeton University; Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights; former UN Assistant Secretary-General Denis Halliday, and outspoken Iraq War critic General Newbold.
Lt. Watadas civilian defense lawyer Eric Seitz explained that all of these witnesses were required to defend his client against the two remaining charges of conduct unbecoming and officer and a gentleman, charges based on his speech to the Veterans for Peace National Convention last year in Seattle and his initial June 7th pre-recorded video statement.
In rejecting all of these witnesses, Judge John Head in an Orwellian twist of logic explained that Lt. Watada is not on trial for his speech, although that is what is laid out in the charges against him. Lt. Watada is actually on trial for his conduct (presumably in uttering the statements that appear on the charge sheet).
Under this premise, Lt. Watada can not then attempt to defend himself by proving that the words he spoke were in deed factual. According to Judge Head, allowing these witnesses would only confuse the issues at trial. When Eric Seitz attempted to vigorously object, Judge Head requested he leave the dramatics at the courtroom door.
During the afternoon jury selection, an Army officer who treats returning Iraq War veterans for PTSD was asked what he thought of Lt. Watada. He replied that he was impressed with what he knew of him. Judge Head asked if he meant that he was surprised by Lt. Watadas public statements. No, he was impressed. Juror dismissed.
At the end of the day, a panel of seven career military officers was seated to act as a jury of Lt. Watadas peers. The court will begin hearing evidence in U.S. v. Watada tomorrow, Tuesday morning. At this rate, the trial is expected to last through Wednesday or Thursday. Courage to Resist and other supporters of Lt. Watada will gather at the I-5 Exit 119 overpass at 4:00 pm every evening through the end of the trial.
At the rally outside, Helga Aguayo, with her two daughters and mother-in-law at her side, spoke of her husband Agustins three year battle with the Army for a conscientious objector dischargeonly to then be forced to refuse to return to Iraq for a second deployment. Spc. Aguayo is now facing seven years imprisonment at a upcoming March 6 court martial for desertion.
Report and photos by Courage to Resist organizer Jeff Paterson