News Release

The Watada Case: Blow to the Government?


The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is reporting today: “The Army court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, which ended in a mistrial Wednesday, may have stranger turns ahead: Prohibitions against double jeopardy may keep prosecutors from having a second trial, his lawyer and another legal expert say.”

Lt. Watada is the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse orders to deploy to Iraq. He has stated: “The war in Iraq is in fact illegal. It is my obligation and my duty to refuse any orders to participate in this war. … I best serve my soldiers by speaking out against unlawful orders of the highest levels of my chain of command, and making sure our leaders are held accountable.” Further information about Watada’s case, assembled by supporters, ishere.

The following have been closely monitoring Watada’s case and are available for interviews:

Mitchell, who is a lawyer, was one of a few dozen people allowed to watch the trial on closed-circuit TV yesterday at Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Wash. He said today: “I was a Vietnam draft resister and was sent to prison because of that 40 years ago this week. Like Watada, I am not a conscientious objector; I’m not a pacifist. But I believed then that my government was committing a war of aggression and war crimes in Vietnam, just as Watada believes we are committing in Iraq. The Supreme Court majority elected not to hear my case, but Justice William Douglas dissented, saying that such issues needed to be addressed, especially since all nations should be held to the Nuremberg standards against wars of aggression.”
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Professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Cohn’s most recent piece is “Watada Beats the Government,” in which she writes: “When the Army judge declared a mistrial over defense objection in 1st Lt. Ehren Watada’s court-martial, he probably didn’t realize jeopardy attached. That means that under the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Constitution, the government cannot retry Lt. Watada on the same charges of missing movement and conduct unbecoming an officer. …

“The judge refused to allow me and others to testify as expert defense witnesses on the illegality of the Iraq war and the war crimes the Bush administration is committing there. The Uniform Code of Military Justice sets forth the duty of military personnel to obey only lawful commands. Article 92 says: ‘A general order or regulation is lawful unless it is contrary to the Constitution, the law of the United States…'” Cohn is president of the National Lawyers Guild and author of the forthcoming book Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law.
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Sarah Olson is an independent journalist and radio producer who has covered Iraq war veterans since 2003. She interviewed Lt. Watada last May regarding his decision to refuse to deploy to Iraq. The government for a time attempted to force her to testify against Watada, but dropped that portion of its case last month.

She said today: “Lieutenant Watada has been forbidden to offer the alleged illegality of the Iraq war as a reason for his refusal to deploy to Iraq. At the same time, Lt. Watada has been charged with speaking about his reasons for refusing to deploy in public. Thus, the Army’s rather extreme measures to both prosecute and silence speech have put it in the untenable position of simultaneously forbidding and requiring discussion of the legality of the Iraq war.”
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Laufer is author of the book Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq and the piece “Not Shooting Our Heroes: It’s a Start,” about Watada and other resisters.

Laufer said today: “Lt. Watada and all the soldiers who are saying no to the war in Iraq are involved in the biggest struggle of their careers, and it’s incumbent upon those opposed to the war to support them. What they have to tell us about what they have seen and what they have done in Iraq is critical to pay attention to if we’re to put a stop to the horrors there.”
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Col. Ann Wright served in the U.S. Army for 13 years and in the U.S. Army Reserves for 16 years. She wrote the piece “To Refuse To Serve” about Watada and was among the people viewing the trial on closed-circuit TV.
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167