02-19-2017  8:09 pm      •     

A Fort Lewis lieutenant who challenged the Bush administration's reasons for going to war in Iraq and then refused to deploy to that country will face a military trial, the Army says.
The Fort Lewis commander, Lt. Gen. James Dubik, has recommended that the Army proceed with a general court-martial against 1st Lt. Ehren Watada.
No date has been set for the trial, Fort Lewis officials said.
Hoping for resolution before the case went to trial, Watada's civilian defense attorney Eric Seitz said he met with Dubik in September and had "indirect communication" with him throughout October. Seitz's last written offer was submitted earlier this week.
"I was hopeful, given the political climate and wide dissatisfaction with this war," he said. "I don't imagine ... that the Army gains anything by really trying to seriously punish Watada."
The public interest isn't served by having "a showcase trial" and making a martyr out of him, Seitz added.
Seitz said he expects trial to be set for sometime next year.
Watada was initially charged with missing troop movement, conduct unbecoming an officer and contempt toward officials for comments he made about President George W. Bush earlier this year. At the time he was a member of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, the Army's first Stryker Brigade Combat Team.
The Army later added another specification of conduct unbecoming an officer based on his comments in Seattle during the national convention of Veterans for Peace in August.
Only the charges of missing movement and conduct unbecoming an officer were referred, the Army said.
Dubik gave no reason for dismissing the charge of contempt toward officials, Fort Lewis spokesman Joseph Piek said.
"He has the statutory discretion to determine what charges to refer to trial," Piek said. "We can't discuss the particulars of the case because it is ongoing."
Seitz said he wasn't surprised.
"I think they made a determination that if they try and charge specific statements as disloyal, disrespectful or contemptuous, they're going to have more difficulty proving that those labels apply," he said.
He later added, "I think they're trying to dodge the First Amendment issues that we intended and are still intending to raise."
If convicted on the charges, Watada could serve six years' confinement and be dismissed from the service. He currently works with 1st Corps Headquarters staff at Fort Lewis and is not confined to post.
"He's completely free," Piek said.
The 28-year-old officer from Honolulu has said he believes the war is illegal. He was first charged after he refused to deploy to Iraq on June 22 with his Stryker unit.
Retired Army Col. Ann Wright testified that it is part of general Army training that military personnel are told they do not have to follow an unlawful or illegal order.
"It's in the spirit and ethos of the military that you have to distinguish between lawful and unlawful orders," said Wright, who served 29 years on active duty and in the reserves and is a former U.S. diplomat.
In late August, investigating officer Lt. Col. Mark Keith said it would be difficult for the Army to determine the legality of combat operations ordered by the commander in chief, "nor should they attempt to do so."
"I find that ... Watada's beliefs regarding the war in Iraq do not excuse his refusal to deploy or his public statements," Keith wrote.
Keith said he believed Watada was sincere in his beliefs, however, his refusal to obey a lawful order cannot be excused "and serves to embolden others to commit the same or similar misconduct."
—The Associated Press

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