Watada Court-Martial Ends in Mistrial


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

    Watada Court-Martial Ends in Mistrial
    By Scott Galindez and Geoffrey Millard
    t r u t h o u t | Report
    Wednesday 07 February 2007

Fort Lewis, Washington - The court-martial of First Lt. Ehren Watada, a 
commissioned US Army officer who refused deployment to Iraq on the basis that he
believed the war was illegal, has ended in a mistrial, a military court judge 
ruled Wednesday.

In a stunning defeat for military prosecutors, Lt. Col. John Head, the military 
judge presiding over Watada's court-martial, said he had no choice but to 
declare a mistrial because military prosecutors and Watada's defense attorney 
could not reach an agreement regarding the characterization of a stipulation 
agreement Watada signed before the start of his court-martial. The judge 
characterized the stipulation agreement as an admission of guilt by Watada for 
"missing movement" and making statements against the Iraq war.

Eric Seitz, Watada's attorney, said the stipulation Watada signed, however, was 
by no means an admission of guilt by his client. Rather, it was a statement of 
fact that his client believed the Iraq war was illegal, and that he refused to 
deploy to the region with his unit because of his beliefs.

Lt. Col. Head said he wanted to question Watada regarding the agreement to gain 
a better understanding of what Watada's state of mind was when he signed it, but
Seitz would not allow the judge to question his client unless he knew the 
questions in advance. Head said if he could not question Watada to ensure the 
accuracy of the document he signed prior to the start of the court-martial, he 
would have to throw out the agreement, meaning the charges against Watada would 
become null and void.

Seitz then asked for time to speak to his client. After a 30 minute recess Seitz
informed the court that he had advised his client to not answer the judge's 
questions, but Lt. Watada had agreed to answer against his legal advice.

Issues surrounding the stipulation agreement came up when military prosecutors 
asked the judge to provide the military panel (similar to a civilian jury) 
deciding Watada's fate with additional instructions before they returned a 

Head said the basis of the additional instructions could result in questions 
about the "stipulation of fact" regarding Watada's reasons for refusing to 
deploy to Iraq. The judge did not indicate the substance of the additional 
instructions the defense asked him to provide.

Head excoriated military prosecutors in open court for producing the stipulation
agreement hours before he declared the mistrial. He said he would allow the 
government to reopen the case against Watada, but it's unclear whether the 
military will do so. Even if the case is reopened, it could be months before it 
ends up in court.

Watada was charged with "missing movement" to Iraq and two counts of conduct 
unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. The latter two charges stem from public 
statements critical of the war Watada made at a Veterans for Peace rally at the 
University of Washington in August 2006, as filmed by Truthout and aired on the 
news organization's web site last year.

Watada was also charged with two separate counts of conduct unbecoming an 
officer and a gentleman based on exclusive interviews he gave to Truthout 
freelance reporters and a reporter from his hometown paper, the Honolulu 
Star-Bulletin. Those charges were dropped in exchange for Watada signing a 
stipulation agreement acknowledging that he gave the interviews. Moreover, 
Watada acknowledged in the stipulation agreement that he refused to accompany 
his Army unit to Iraq. However, Watada's admission did not amount to conceding 
guilt for the "missing movement" charge.

Last month, Watada discussed his decision to publicly oppose the war during a 
speech at the Church of the Crossroads in Moiliili, Hawaii. Speaking to a crowd 
of about 350, Watada said he struggled with leaving his fellow soldiers behind, 
but ultimately needed to take a stand because, as an officer, he could not 
consciously order soldiers under his command to die for a war he believes is 
wrong and illegal.

"I hated to leave my troops, but something had to be done to stop this 
insanity," he said. "How could I order men to die for something I believe is 
wrong? Wearing the uniform is not, and is never, an excuse."

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