A Victory for Ehren Watada -- and for Freedom of the Press

Ehren WatadaArmy First Lieutenant Ehren Watada saw his case move one step closer to resolution earlier this month when a federal court issued a preliminary injunction against a second court martial. The Army's prosecution of the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy to Iraq has been in legal limbo since a February court martial ended abruptly when the military judge threw out a stipulation agreement and declared a mistrial.

In June 2006, Lt. Watada held a press conference where he declared that the Iraq War was illegal, and that it was his duty to refuse orders to deploy. Lt. Watada was charged with violations of articles 87 and 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for refusing to deploy to Iraq, and publicly explaining his reasons for doing so. If convicted, he faced up to six and a half years in prison.

Following February's mistrial, the Army refiled charges against Lt. Watada, and prepared for a second court martial. The defense argued Fifth Amendment protection against being tried for the same crime twice, and filed appeals with every level of military court. Lt. Watada's claims to constitutional protections were not heard in court until the case reached the civilian, federal district court, in Tacoma, Washington.

Lt. Watada's refusal to deploy to Iraq launched him into the public spotlight. His refusal to obey direct orders made him the center of controversy, and he drew sharp criticism from many fellow members of the officer corps. At the same time, many active duty soldiers expressed gratitude to the Lieutenant for giving voice to the rising opposition to the war among those being asked to fight it.

Prior to the beginning of his first court martial, Lt. Watada faced four years in prison, for explaining his opposition to the Iraq War. In attempting to prove those charges, the Army subpoenaed two journalists and a number of peace activists. Sarah Olson interviewed Lt. Watada before his public announcement, and objected to the Army's attempted use of journalists to criminalize and prosecute speech.

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The Center for Media and Democracy joined numerous professional organizations, journalists and media outlets in supporting Olson's claims that hauling a journalist into military court to testify as a prosecution witness against their source creates a chilling effect on personal speech and dissenting political voices, and that subpoenaing journalists, especially in cases where speech itself is the crime in question, erodes the necessary separation between press and government, and encourages the public to see journalists as agents of government prosecution.

The Center for Media and Democracy formed the Defend the Press coalition that sent thousands of letters and emails to Ft. Lewis, demanding that the Army respect the spirit of the First Amendment requiring the press be free from government intimidation, and that the public have access to a vigorous debate on important issues -- including whether or when the military should go to war.

As the Army proceeded with plans for its second court martial, it subpoenaed all of its witnesses except the journalists involved, and as it becomes clear that Lt. Watada will have his Fifth Amendment rights upheld, it is also a victory that he will not be prosecuted for speaking about his opposition to the war. Members of the military are opposing the Iraq War in growing number. Many of them are acting on this opposition: The Army reported recently that the number of AWOL soldiers had grown 80 percent since the beginning of the Iraq War, and GI rights advocates say the Army's data still represents only a fraction of AWOL soldiers.

Without actually hearing from these men and women, public debate is dominated by the Bush Administration. A vigorous and free debate cannot be had on any issue when one side has all the power and access, and the other is barred from even speaking to the media. But, as Lt. Watada's case appears to be headed for what supporters call a victory, it's useful to remember that the original issues Lt. Watada raised -- those of the illegality of the war, and a soldier's obligation to refuse orders thought to be illegal -- have not yet had their day in court.

Comments

Please join Lt. Ehren Watada's father, Robrert Y. Watada, in his Appeal to Congress, requesting Congressional hearings on the Constitutional questions raised by the Watada case. To read his Appeal to Congress and sign the on-line petition, go to http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/watada Thank you.

Wow, PRIVATE Ehren Watada (HE DOESN'T DESERVE THE RIGHT WEAR THE BARS) who knew that acting like a 2 year old child and saying “NO I’M NOT GOING” could avoid someone from SERVING THEIR COUNTRY. THE SAYING “THE APPLE DOESN’T FALL FAR FROM THE TREE IS A DIRECT SAYING BECAUSE HIS FATHER DID THE SAME COWARDLY ACT WHEN HE REFUSED TO SERVE IN THE VET WAR..WHAT A FAMILY FULL OF SPINE-LESS WIMPS….HE SHOULD HAVE STAYED IN DAD’S SAAAC...He stated that he didn’t want to fight an illegal war well it is ILLEGAL TO STEAL MONEY FROM THE GOVERNMENT and the spine-less jellyfish should have thought about that before he stole the government’s money. SEND THEM ALL BACK TO WHERE THEY CAME FROM BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT TRUE AMERICANS. To all those who have empathy for this low life spine-less PUSS in any way or agree with his feelings your nothing but ungrateful HEARTLESS wimps and don’t have any honor or proud for your country nor yourselves. What a joke. Obviously you have never taken the oath or served your country, so why are you even here or commenting? You know nothing of honor, integrity or character. BEFORE GIVING THE SPINE-LESS COWARD A DISHONORABLE DISCHARGE DOG HIM OUT TO THE FULLEST. 1) BUST THE SCUM-BAG DOWN TO A PRIVATE “E” NOTHING WITH “NO PAY DUES” UNTIL HE IS KICKED OUT. 2) MAKE HIM PAY THE GOVERNMENT BACK ALL THE MONEY WITH INTEREST 3) STRIP HIM OF ALL THE RIGHTS TO BE CALLED A VETERAN BECAUSE THE COWARD WOULD HAVE HAD TO SERVE NOT JUST WEAR THE UNIFORM TO BE CONSIDERED ONE. 4) SEND HIS SORRY A** TO JAIL FOR DISOBEYING A DIRECT ORDER, VIOLATITING THE CODE OF THE UCMJ 5) TAKE HIS NUTZZZ SO HE CAN’T PRODUCE ANYMORE COWARDS LIKE HIMSELF. 6) MAKE SURE HE GETS A FELONY CONVICTION AND THE GOVERNMENT TURNS THEIR BACK ON HIM LIKE HE TURNED HIS BACK ON HIS COUNTRY. When he took this very oath: I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God. THERE IS NO WHERE IN THAT OATH DOES IT SAY “I CAN DISGRACE MY COUNTRY, THE UNIFORM AND PUSS OUT” WHEN CALLED TO DEFEND MY COUNTRY. I HAVE BEEN A REAL MILITARY ARMY SOLIDER WHO SERVED FROM 1988 TO 2009 AND HAVE BEEN ON MANY DEPLOYMENTS FROM OPERATION DESERT STORM TO THE PRESENT WARS MORE TIMES THEN I CARE TO COUNT, BUT I SIGNED THAT CONTRACT TO SERVE AND PROTECT MY COUNTRY AND I KNEW THAT I WOULD HAVE TO FIGHT FOR MY COUNTRY IF NEEDED. I’M WHAT YOU CALL A REAL TRUE AMERICAN/ VETERAN….NOT A PERSON TRYING TO GET A FREE RIDE FROM UNCLE SAM FOR A EDUCATION.

As a Vietnam Vet, a American Citizen, a person to be proud and honored to be living in the USA, I find this man deplorable, a coward, and he will pay the price when he gets this discharge, unless he opens his own business. yes, he has the right to say and do what he wants, but he is a coward.