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Officer who refused Iraq mission ‘at peace’

 (The Spokesman-Review)
Watada (The Spokesman-Review)

The nation’s first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq said he was disappointed by the Army’s decision last week to proceed with a court-martial against him but reiterated that he believed he did the right thing in opposing the war.

As the nation honored its military veterans Saturday, Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada said he believed his refusal to lead his soldiers into what he views as an illegal and immoral war was fulfilling his duty to them and the Constitution he pledged to uphold.

“I am at peace with my decision because I feel that from the beginning I made it according to my conscience and my duty as a soldier and officer,” said Watada, who is stationed at Ft. Lewis about 50 miles south of Seattle. “The reason I’m standing up is that no one else is speaking up for the troops dying every day – not to mention the 600,000 Iraqis who have died.

“I’m willing to accept the punishment, whatever it may be,” said Watada, whose case has sparked widespread debate over a soldier’s duty to follow orders versus conscience.

In phone interviews Friday and Saturday, Watada also said that recent events reinforced his belief that many Americans, including a growing number inside the military, shared his sentiments against the Bush administration’s conduct of the war. Those events include the midterm election results giving Democrats control of Congress, the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and a landmark editorial in four civilian military publications calling for the Pentagon chief’s ouster.

The Army announced Thursday that it would refer Watada’s case to a general court-martial for refusing to deploy to Iraq. Although that decision was expected, observers were closely watching whether Lt. Gen. James Dubik, the Ft. Lewis commanding general, would also refer to trial charges involving critical public statements Watada made about the administration’s war efforts.

Those comments include Watada’s statement at a June news conference that “the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law … The wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of Iraqis is not only a terrible and moral injustice, but it’s a contradiction to the Army’s own law of land warfare. My participation would make me party to war crimes.”

The Army contends that statement and others expressing shame over wearing the uniform to conduct a war “waged on misrepresentation and lies” brought dishonor to the military.

In his decision, Dubik dismissed two of the speech-related charges of “contempt toward officials” but referred to trial four others of “conduct unbecoming an officer.” The soldier faces a maximum of six years in prison.