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The Case of Lt. Ehren Watada

A 'Citizens’ Hearing' on the Legality of U.S. Actions in Iraq

Anti-war activists are ramping up their public presence in advance of the Saturday, January 27 march in Washington D.C. Gold Star mom, Cindy Sheehan, joined a three-week long demonstration today at the offices of CA. Representative Doris Matsui demanding that she publicly commit to vote against additional funding for the war. Meanwhile, communities are holding “Citizen's Hearings” on the legality of the war. Groups have held tribunals in Istanbul and New York City. Another is scheduled for February 3rd at Brooklyn Law School. Martha Baskin attended a citizen's hearing in Tacoma, Washington and has this report.

Lt. Ehren Watada
Lt. Ehren Watada

Last week a military court judge ruled Lt. Ehren Watada, the first Army Lieutenant to refuse orders to deploy to Iraq, could not raise the legality of the Iraq War in his defense. Members of the public gathered over the weekend for a Citizens' Hearing on the Legality of U.S. Actions in Iraq. The hearing was attended by legal and military experts, military families and Iraq War veterans.“We believe that Watada's contentions deserve a full and fair hearing,” said David Kreider, panel chair of the Citizens' Hearing. “This ruling cuts out the heart of Lt. Watada's defense.”

Organizers said the intent of the hearing was to put the Iraq War on trial, complete with evidence, witnesses and jurors. In this way, the hearing would present the defense that Lt. Watada has been denied. Watada's defense attorneys, who did not attend the hearing, maintain that the war is illegal under international treaties and under Article VI of the Constitution. Article VI makes treaties adopted by the US a part of the “law of the land.” A violation of the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions and the Nuremberg Principles is also a violation of US federal law. Principle VI of the Nuremberg Principles states that planning and waging a war of aggression is a crime against peace; ill-treatment of prisoners of war, a war crime, and inhumane acts against the civilian population, a crime against humanity. Again David Kreider, “The implications of Lt. Watada being correct in his assessment of the war are extremely significant. Such a finding would mean that all offices and soliders have an obligation under the Nuremberg principles, the U.S. Army Field Manual and the U.S. Constitution to refuse orders to participate in this war.”

The military court assigned to Watada's case intends to focus only on whether or not the order was obeyed, rather than the legality of the order.

Retired Army Colonel and State Department official, Ann Wright, said with growing numbers of enlisted personnel now saying the US shouldn't be in Iraq, the Army could not allow Lt. Watada to resign or refuse to deploy. “If they all had the opportunity to say 'thank you very much, I'll just go home', well that's really what ought to happen, and that's the way the war would end.” Wright herself resigned from the State Department following the invasion of 2003.

Protest banner thanking Lt. Watada for his stand against the war

Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University was also called as an expert witness. He said: "It is our role as citizens to protect those who are brave enough in the military to refuse to participate in an illegal war." Falk also asked if a soldier, like Lt. Watada, believes the war is illegal and criminal under international law, the U.N. Charter and the U.S. Constitution, does he have a responsibility to refuse to follow an order to participate? Falk believes he does, justifying his answer by referencing the Army's Field Manual which states that soldiers have the right to refuse unlawful commands that violate international legal obligations.

Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers, the Pentagon's secret plans to escalate the Vietnam War, to the New York Times in 1971, also took the stand to support Lt. Watada in the citizens hearing. Ellsberg's primary concern is that the Iraq War will escalate into an unprovoked war with Iran. His concerns mirror those he held 40 years ago when another administration lied about the rationale for air attacks against the North Vietnamese in the Tonkin Gulf. The unprovoked attacks were manufactured to ensure a wider war. Ellsberg found the courage to release the papers after the bombing of North Vietnam began. His appeal today is to insiders within the administration who may have documentation of serious plans for war with Iran. “Docs that don't endanger American lives or reveal operational plans, but do reveal the cost and the dangers and the consequences of those plans from the point of an inside informed critique, so that the President can't claim if you knew what I know you'd trust my judgment and you'd follow my leadership.”

Lt. Ehren Watada, who remains on desk duty at Ft. Lewis before his court martial on February 5th, made an unexpected visit to the citizen hearings to thank those involved for bringing the truth to the American people. Watada said: "in this current situation under the current policies, a lot of times we don't have a choice. What's we're doing is inherently immoral or illegal because of the overarching policies and I think I just want to give people in the military pause–and to think about hey, you have to evaluate what you're being told and asked to do.”


Martha Baskin

Martha Baskin is a founding member of Free Speech Radio News which replaced Pacifica Network News in 2000. In addition she produces radio for the National Radio Project's Making Contact and writes for the online journal, The New Standard.

This report was produced for Free Speech Radio News, January 22, 2007.

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