War Objector Who Refused Iraq Deployment to Take Stand in Court-Martial
FORT LEWIS, Wash. – A lieutenant accused by the U.S. Army of betraying his fellow soldiers by refusing to ship out to Iraq has a chance to explain himself at his court-martial on Wednesday.
First Lt. Ehren Watada was expected to be one of two defense witnesses called when his court-martial resumes Wednesday, as he fights charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and missing movement for refusing to leave in June with his unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
Watada's lawyer, Eric Seitz, said he also planned to call Army Capt. Scott Hulin, who has known Watada for roughly two years.
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In opening statements, prosecutors told a panel of seven officers that Watada abandoned his soldiers and brought disgrace upon himself and the service by accusing the Army of war crimes and denouncing the administration for conducting an illegal war founded on lies.
Seitz countered that Watada acted in good conscience, based on his own convictions.
Watada, 28, could receive four years in prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted of missing movement and conduct unbecoming an officer for his statements against the war.
Watada has already admitted his actions and statements, Seitz said in his opening statement Tuesday, contending the Army's charges were excessive.
"At most, he engaged in an act or form of civil disobedience," Seitz said. "No way does that add up to conduct unbecoming an officer."
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.
Earlier Tuesday, Seitz said Watada had no choice but to go public after the Army refused his offers to take a combat post in Afghanistan or elsewhere, and his request that he be allowed to resign.