ImageUS Army First Lieutenant, was the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq June 2006 while stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington. As a thousand rallied in his support during a February 2007 court martial a mistrial was declared. Another court martial in currently scheduled for October 2007, but resolution of double jeopardy issues are still forth coming from appeals courts. Ehren K. Watada was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1978. Watada joined the US Army after the war in Iraq had begun, stating that he was motivated “out of a desire to protect our country” after 9/11. He was commissioned by the Army’s Officer Candidate School, on November 20, 2003, at Fort Benning, Georgia as a Second Lieutenant of Field Artillery. Watada served one year in South Korea, and was subsequently reassigned to Fort Lewis, Washington.

Soon after reporting to Fort Lewis, Watada discovered that his unit would be deploying to Iraq, in support of ongoing operations there. In preparation to deploy, he began conducting research on the country, its culture, and the reasons for the U.S. involvement in Iraq. After reading several books and articles about the history of Iraq, international law, and the evidence used to justify the war, and speaking with veterans returning from Iraq, Watada claims that he ceased to believe in the legality and morality of the war.

In January 2006, he attempted to resign his commission. The Army denied his request. Watada asserted that the war violated the Constitution and War Powers Act, which “limits the president in his role as Commander in Chief from using the armed forces in any way he sees fit.” He also cited the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, and the Nuremberg Principles, which “bar wars of aggression.” He argued the command responsibility would make him personally responsible and liable for legal challenges for violating international law. Further, he asserted that the war was based on misleading or false premises such as the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, and that the occupation itself did not follow the Army’s own legal rules of conduct for occupying a country.

Watada even offered to serve in Afghanistan, which he regarded as “an unambiguous war linked to the Sept. 11 attacks.” This was also refused. Based on his sincere beliefs about the illegality of the Iraq war, he refused an offer for a desk job in Iraq without direct combat involvement.

The military charged Watada with Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman (for statements made in speeches and interviews) and Missing Movement (for refusing to deploy to Iraq on June 22). Then, after Watada spoke at a Veterans for Peace convention, the Army announced additional charges of “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.” This brought the potential prison term faced by Watada to eight and one-half years in prison if convicted of all charges. Approximately six of these years would have been for statements that he made concerning the war rather than his refusal to deploy to Iraq. The military justified the additional charge by asserting that “contempt for the President and suggestion that US soldiers can stop the war simply by refusing to fight borders on mutiny and sedition.”

The second court-martial of 1st Lt. Watada is scheduled to take place on October 9, 2007. His first court-martial resulted in a mistrial in February 2007.

In regard to the possibility of a long prison sentence, Watada has stated: “When you are looking your children in the eye in the future, or when you are at the end of your life, you want to look back on your life and know that at a very important moment, when I had the opportunity to make the right decisions, I did so, even knowing there were negative consequences.”