Twenty-eight opponents of the Iraq war were arrested after blocking entrances of the San Francisco federal courthouse Thursday during a demonstration in support of an Army officer who refused to go to Iraq, police said.
Watada, 28, the first commissioned U.S. officer to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq, had a preliminary hearing Thursday at Fort Lewis, Wash., for his upcoming court-martial, which is scheduled for Feb. 5 at the same base.
He is charged with missing a troop movement, for failing to accompany his armored infantry unit to the Middle East in June, and with four counts of conduct unbecoming an officer, for criticizing the war and President Bush in press interviews and public statements. The charges are punishable by six years in prison.
Watada’s lawyer, Eric Seitz, asked a military judge to dismiss the charges based on his client’s statements, arguing that they were protected by freedom of speech. Seitz’s office said the judge did not rule on the issue at Thursday’s hearing.