OK, so Lt. Ehren Watada's hearing actually ended a few hours ago, but a decision has yet to be made about whether Watada, who refused deployment


Live From Fort Lewis

OK, so Lt. Ehren Watada's hearing actually ended a few hours ago, but a decision has yet to be made about whether Watada, who refused deployment to Iraq in June, will face punishment on three different charges; he was formally charged July 5 with three counts of contempt (toward George W. Bush in particular), three counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and one count of missing movement. Watada faces up to seven years of jail time for these alleged offenses.

Today's hearing began bright and early at 9 a.m. where the prosecution, led by Capt. Dan Kuecker, called but one witness to the stand: Capt. J.C. Caplan, who was responsible for the deployment of troops on June 22, 2006. His testimony affirmed that Watada was present that day but refused to board the plane with the rest of his troops. Caplan's swift testimony was followed by a series of video clips featuring Watada in local newscasts and giving a speech at a Veterans for Peace convention. The multimedia exhibit was evidence for the charges of contempt and conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman.

The prosecution's relatively brief presentation gave the defense, helmed by Hawaii-based lawyer Eric Seitz, almost the entire afternoon to present its case. The first of three witness (an impressive lineup, I might add) to be called was the knowledgable but long-winded Francis Boyle, a professer of law at the University of Illinois. Boyle also happens to be at the forefront of a movement to impeach President Bush. Certainly an expert in his field, Boyle stood firm in his belief that the Iraq War is a crime against peace. He also addressed Watada's belief that going to Iraq would make him a party to war crimes, a point Boyle attempted to clarify but instead it confused both the investigating officer and Kuecker. When asked by Kuecker whether the U.S. went through the proper procedures before engaging in war with Iraq, Boyle responded:

"Unfortunately the Bush administration did not. There was no authorization from the U.N. Security Council to invade Iraq, which is a crime against peace. The Bush administration procured [a war powers resolution] from Congress under fraud by lying to Congress about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and links between Saddam Hussein's regime and the 9/11 attacks. Neither were true at the time, and both have been proven untrue by public records since then."

After getting in a heated debate with Boyle about whether a 1990 U.N. resolution (which allowed the U.S. to use "any means necessary" to remove Iraqi troops from Kuwait during the Gulf War) was still applicable today, Kuecker subsequently objected to the overall relevance of Boyle's testimony.

Next up was former U.N. assistant secretary general Denis Halliday, whose testimony was regretfully cut short due to issues of relevancy. Halliday talked extensively about his firsthand observations on the state of Iraq and Iran shortly before the war began. Last but not least was retired Col. Ann Wright, who resigned from her job as an American diplomat to Mongolia in protest of the Iraq war. Wright's testimony reflected her deep knowledge of military training and international law; she gracefully handled some incisive questioning from prosecuter Kuecker and offered clear explanations of Watada's refusal to deploy:

"There's a proud history of military personnel who are told, 'You don't have to follow an illegal order.' We are to uphold the lawful orders of our superiors; implicit in that is if there is an unlawful order, you don't have to follow that. It's not too often that people say, 'I'm not going to do that because it's illegal,' but it's part of our history...We want military personnel to think about what they are doing."

In closing statements, the painfully inarticulate Kuecker described Watada's actions as "disgraceful" and "dangerous," citing the lieutenant's choice to appear on national television and make repeated public statements against the war as harmful for troop morale. I would have liked to post an extended quote from Kuecker's statement, but half of it was inaudible for those in the back row of the courtroom. On the other hand, Seitz's closing statement was verbose to the point of being gratuitous, but his points resonated clearly:

"We don't recommend that every soldier who goes into Iraq be prosecuted as a war criminal. We do wish that every soldier and participating service officer will think for themselves and raise questions about the propriety of what they are asked to do...You have to be an idiot to think that this war is a black-and-white situation...[Lt. Watada] had an obligation to inform himself, and he did...You do have the right to criticize, you do have the right to disagree in appropriate ways, and in this case the disagreement is with the president."

Now that both sides have had their say, the investigating officer will draft a recommendation to be handed over to his commanders. It should be noted that the investigating officer chosen for Watada's hearing had no experience with either Article 32 hearings (which is what took place this morning and is equivalent to a preliminary hearing) or courts martial; this perplexes me on a personal level, but I'm sure the military has its reasons for doing things a certain way.

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