FORT LEWIS, Wash. – A judge declared a mistrial Wednesday in the court-martial of an Army lieutenant who refused to deploy to Iraq, saying the soldier did not fully understand a document he signed admitting to elements of the charges.
Prosecutors said 1st Lt. Ehren Watada admitted in the document that he had a duty to go to Iraq with his fellow soldiers. Watada, however, said he admitted only that he did not go to Iraq with his unit, not that he had a duty to go.
Military judge Lt. Col. John Head set a March 12 date for a new trial and dismissed the jurors. Watada's defense lawyer objected to the mistrial and said a second trial would amount to double jeopardy — more than one prosecution for the same alleged crime.
Watada, 28, of Honolulu, had been expected to testify in his own defense Wednesday until Head and attorneys met in a closed meeting for much of the morning.
Watada is the first commissioned officer to be court-martialed for refusing to go to Iraq, said Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice in Washington, D.C.
In the 12-page stipulation of fact he signed last month, Watada acknowledged that he refused to deploy last June with his unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, and that he made public statements criticizing the Iraq war. Watada has said he refused to go to Iraq because he believes the war is illegal.
In exchange, prosecutors dropped two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer against him. He remains charged with missing movement — for his refusal to deploy — and two other allegations of conduct unbecoming an officer for comments made about the case. He could receive four years in prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted.
Watada's attorney, Eric Seitz, said he didn't think his client could be tried again because it would be the equivalent of double jeopardy. Should the Army proceed with a second trial, Seitz said he would seek dismissal of the charges with prejudice so they could not be refiled. Lt. Col. Robert Resnick of the Judge Advocate General's office at Fort Lewis said double jeopardy does not apply.
In their opening statements Tuesday, prosecutors said Watada abandoned his soldiers and brought disgrace upon himself and the service by accusing the Army of war crimes and denouncing the Bush administration.
Seitz countered that Watada acted in good conscience, based on his own convictions.