Jeff Paterson, Courage to Resist. January 4, 2007
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada became the first commissioned officer to refuse his orders to deploy to Iraq last June 22. In his upcoming February court-martial Lt. Watada faces one charge of missing troop movement, and four counts of conduct unbecoming an officer. Each of the later four charges relates to Lt. Watadas public explanations of his refusal to deploy to Iraq. If convicted of all charges Lt. Watada faces six years in prison, four of which would be for speaking to the press.
In order to bolster their four charges of conduct unbecoming against Lt. Watada, the military prosecution has taken the unheard of step of issuing subpoenas to reporters and anti-war activists. Reporters Sarah Olson and Gregg Kakesako, and Seattle-area anti-war activists Phan Nguyen and Gerri Haynes, were originally served subpoenas to appear at Lt. Watadas pre-trial hearing at Fort Lewis, Washington today, January 4. In the wake of growing attention and controversy, the military judge postponed the testimony of these witnesses untilthe full courts martial scheduled for February 5.
Todays pre-trial hearing will in large part set the tone of the upcoming court martial, specifically addressing the issue of how much evidence Lt. Watada can enter into the proceeding regarding his assertions that the Iraq occupation war is illegal.
Journalists Say Free Press Threatened By Army Subpoenas
Independent journalist Sarah Olson interviewed Lt. Watada last May. The Army says statements Watada made during Olsons interview constitute one charge of conduct unbecoming an officer, and wants Olson to verify those statements in a military court. Olson says: Its my job to report the news, not to participate in a government prosecution. Testifying against my source would turn the press into an investigative tool of the government and chill dissenting voices in the United States.
Independent journalist Dahr Jamail reported on Lt. Watadas address to the Veterans for Peace convention last August in Seattle. Unlike Olson, he has yet to be subpoenaed, but the Army has placed him on the witness list in order to authenticate his reporting of the event. Jamail says: I dont believe that reporters should be put in the position of having to participate in a prosecution. This is particularly poignant in this case, where journalists would be used to build a case against free speech for military personnel.
Subpoenaed reporter Gregg Kakesako of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin has thus far chosen to make no public statements regarding his possible testimony.
Olson sums up the situation in a widely reprinted commentary, Why I object to testifying against Lt. Watada first published by Editor & Publisher, Do I want to be sent to prison by the U.S. Army for not cooperating with their prosecution of Lt. Watada? My answer: Absolutely not. Would I rather contribute to the prosecution of a news source for sharing newsworthy perspectives on an affair of national concern? That is the question I wholly object to having before me in the first place.
While conservative blogs have attacked Olson and Jamail as making something out of nothing, Military Reporters and Editors Association President James Crawley stated, “Trying to force a reporter to testify at a court-martial sends the wrong signal to the media and the military. . . . One of the hallmarks of American journalism, as documented in the Bill of Rights and defended by our armed services, is a clear separation of the press and the government. Using journalists to help the military prosecute its case seems like a serious breach of that wall.”
Colleagues and supporters of Olson and Jamail have formed the Free Press Working Group to assist in their defense. As independent journalists, Olson and Jamail do not have access to corporate legal teams, so a fund has been established to cover travel, legal, and communications expenses. For more information, please visit: http://www.FreePressWG.org
Anti-war Activists Also Subpoenaed By Army
At a Tacoma, Washington press conference yesterday, January 3, Olympia-based anti-war activist Phan Nguyen described his objections to having been subpoenaed last week by the Army to testify against Lt. Watada. Nguyen, a member of the Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace, was the moderator of a number of press conferences in June 2006 regarding Lt. Watada and his objections to serving in an illegal and immoral war in Iraq.
When contacted directly by Army prosecutor Captain Daniel Kuecker last week, Nguyen refused to answer any questions without first speaking with a lawyer. However, Nguyen described the Kueckers line of questions as focusing on the behind the scenes workings of the anti-war movement in the Pacific Northwest. Kuecker basically demanded that I name the names of any key organizers that had anything to do with the public support campaign created to support Lt. Watada, explained Nguyen. They are clearly on a political fishing expedition. Unless we fight back, this could have a chilling effect on anti-war organizing at a time when we have to step up to end the war.
Seattle chapter Veterans for Peace (VFP) organizer Gerri Haynes has also been subpoenaed by the Army.
Apparently, Haynes landed on the Armys radar because she played a public role in organizing the Veterans for Peace National Convention in Seattle last August. Like Jamail, the Army is looking for information regarding Lt. Watadas speech to the convention. Like Nguyen, Haynes confirmed that Kuecker wanted the names of convention attendees and organizers. Another VFP organizer Tom Burkhart has been placed on the Armys witness list.
Lt. Watada Supporters Plan Protests And Peoples Hearing
Despite unheard of legal maneuvers by Army prosecutors, the campaign to support Lt. Watada plans a protest and press conference at the gates of Fort Lewis this morning from 8 AM to 11 AM as the pre-trial hearing begins.
Supporters are asked to write Lt. General James Dubik, Commanding General Fort Lewis, 1 Corps Building 2025 Stop 1, Fort Lewis WA 98433. Please request that General Dubik Dismiss all charges and honor Lt. Watada’s long-standing resignation from the U.S. Army.
Citizens’ Hearings is being convened January 20-22 at Evergreen State College ( http://www.WarTribunal.org ), Tacoma campus in order to fully evaluate Lt. Watadas claims regarding the legality and morality of the Iraq War. Confirmed witness include: Daniel Ellsberg, military analyst who released the Pentagon Papers in the Vietnam War; Denis Halliday, former UN Assistant Secretary General; Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University. For more information: www.WarTribunal.org
Finally, help spread the word about the regional mobilization at Fort Lewis on day Lt. Watadas court martial is scheduled to begin on February 5, or organize your own local protest in solidarity on that day. For more information: http://www.ThankYouLt.org or http://www.CourageToResist.org