By Courage to Resist. June 15, 2008

The U.S. Army’s case against 1st Lieutenant Ehren Watada remains unresolved, 2 years after Lt. Watada boldly and publicly refused deployment to Iraq with his unit in June 2006. Seven months ago U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle set in place a temporary injunction against a second court martial after the prosecution and military judge orchestrated a mistrial during the first trial in February 2007.

Lt. Watada remains stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington where he works a desk job and is under no special restrictions. Though his term of service ended in December 2006, these ongoing legal proceedings prevent his release from duty.

Lt. Watada recently spoke with Tara McKelvey of The Prospect Magazine (his first public interview in over a year), and was unwavering when asked about his original stand against the Iraq War; “I realized we had been lied to…and I had a deep sense of betrayal. I had joined an army, and I thought it was noble. And to think we had engaged in something that had caused so much carnage and destruction and then to find out it was unnecessary. There I was in uniform, and I felt ashamed of what I was being asked to do. I think there’s no bigger crime than taking your country into a war based on lies.” As reported on by McKelvey, despite the frustration of being held in the military pending dragged out legal proceedings, Watada appears resolute; “I believed I would always try to do what I believe is moral…I didn’t do this to be a public figure–to be hated or loved. I just did it because it needed to be done.”

Lt. Watada’s legal journey has been rife with unexpected twist and turns. At his court martial in February 2007, over a thousand supporters rallied to support Ehren and other war resisters at the Fort Lewis gates. Inside, military judge John Head declared a mistrial following a very aggressive legal defense organized by civilian attorney Eric Seitz of Honolulu, and some surprising testimony in Lt. Watada’s favor by prosecution witnesses.

Following the declared mistrial, the Army displayed every intention to try to go ahead with a ‘do over’ retrial of Watada. However, this retrial was blocked at the last minute in November 2007 by Judge Settle based on Fifth Amendment protections against being tried for the same crime twice – known as double jeopardy.


In declaring a temporary injunction, Judge Settle left no clear next steps for either side in Lt. Watada’s case. Shortly following this ruling, the Army indicated that it would file papers to attempt to prevent the injuction from becoming permanent, though to date, no such action has been taken.

For the most part, Lt. Watada has tried to keep a low profile and avoid public speaking since the February 2007 mistrial in order to avoid giving the military any excuse to fabricate new legal charges against him.

According to the Honolulu Advertiser on May 26, Lt. Watada’s current attorneys have stated that the burden is now on the government to come forward to modify or dissolve the injunction. The Honolulu Star Bulletin reported on June 8 that Watada attorney Ken Kagan said he expected Judge Settle to revisit the case early this fall. He also expected the case to end up in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where it could take up to 3 years to be resolved!

Lt. Watada’s father Robert Watada, now living near Eugene, Oregon sums up the military’s strategy regarding his son, “I kind of think it’s like Guantanamo – just hold him.” continues to post updates on this legal limbo: “As Democratic Presidential candidates call for troop withdrawal from Iraq, we cannot let the public forget the courageous stand taken by Lt. Watada in June, 2006, when he refused to deploy to serve in the illegal Iraq War and occupation. No New Court Martial! Dismiss All Charges! Release Lt. Watada with an Honorable Discharge!”