SEATTLE – The Army refiled charges Friday against a Fort Lewis-based lieutenant who refused to serve in Iraq, pursuing the case about two weeks after the lieutenant’s first court-martial was declared a mistrial.
First Lt. Ehren Watada, 28, who refused to deploy with his unit last June because he believes the war is illegal, faces the same allegations he initially faced – missing movement and conduct unbecoming an officer – and could be sentenced to a dishonorable discharge and six years in prison if convicted. The Army has not set a date for a second court-martial.
Watada’s first trial began early this month but ended abruptly when the judge, Lt. Col. John Head, said he did not believe the soldier fully understood a pretrial agreement he signed admitting elements of the charges. As part of that agreement, the Army had dropped two of the charges against him, lowering his potential sentence to four years.
Watada’s attorney, Eric Seitz of Honolulu, blasted the military’s decision to refile charges and said he would seek to have them dismissed as a violation of the Constitution’s protection against double jeopardy. Seitz said the judge in the first court-martial had no grounds for declaring a mistrial.
“When it’s not going well for you, you can’t just call a mistrial and start over again,” Seitz said. “No matter how much lip service they give to wanting to protect my client’s rights, that just doesn’t exist in the military courts.”
“In the Army’s view, double jeopardy was not attached in this case because the first trial had not reached a position of finality,” Fort Lewis spokesman Joseph Piek said. “The government has the legal authority to bring the case anew.”
Watada faces one charge of missing movement, and another of conduct unbecoming. The latter charge accuses him in four instances of making public statements criticizing the war or President Bush.