VICTORY! AMERICAN HERO 1ST LT. EHREN WATADA UNITED STATES ARMY
First Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned military officer to refuse deployment to Iraq because he believed it was an illegal war, has won his three-year legal battle with the Army.
With little fanfare the Army at Fort Lewis, Wash., accepted the resignation of the 1996 Kalani High School graduate, and he will be discharged the first week in October.
Rather than seek a second court-martial against the artillery officer, the Army will grant Watada a discharge under "other than honorable conditions."
Joseph J. Piek, Fort Lewis spokesman, said, "This is an administrative discharge, and the characterization of Lt. Watada's discharge is not releasable under the privacy act."
Watada, 31, told the Star-Bulletin in a phone interview yesterday that he was "glad to finally bring this chapter to a close and to move on."
"The actual outcome is different from the outcome that I envisioned in the first place, but I am grateful of the outcome."
Watada said he was "thankful to the people from all walks of life that supported me and agreed with my stand."
In May, Watada won a significant legal victory when the U.S. Department of Justice dropped efforts to retry him. The Army had wanted to appeal U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle's decision last October that a second court-martial would violate Watada's constitutional protection against double jeopardy.
Following the Justice Department's decision, the Army made it clear the only course available to Watada is what the Army calls "resignation for the good of the service in lieu of general court-martial," Watada said yesterday.
Watada could either voluntarily resign or be forced out with a discharge "under other than honorable conditions."
Watada said the result would be the same, except it would take longer if he was forced out.
Ken Kagan, one of Watada's Seattle attorneys, said last night, "Lt. Watada had previously tendered his resignation on more than one occasion, and each time, it was rejected. This time, however, it was accepted, apparently only when the Army realized it could not defeat Lt. Watada in a courtroom."
Kagan described Watada as "a hero and a patriot. Lt. Watada took a lonely stand as a matter of conscience, never attempted to spread discord within the ranks and never sought to evangelize about his ethical convictions. More importantly, he never disparaged the service and the sacrifices made by countless other soldiers and officers who obeyed their orders. He realized that each member of the armed forces must make her or his own decision, according to the dictates of conscience, just as he did. He always understood it to be an intensely personal decision.
"It is our belief that history will treat Lt. Watada far more favorably than the United States Army sees fit to regard him now."
Watada said he turned in his resignation papers in July, and they were approved by the commanding general at Fort Lewis and sent to his higher headquarters. Watada learned of the Army's final approval on Sept. 16.
Watada said that he does not know whether he will stay in the Pacific Northwest, where he attended Whitworth College, or return to the islands.
Before he was charged, Watada, an artillery officer, had requested to be assigned to Afghanistan instead of Iraq and even offered to resign from the Army. Both requests were denied.
Initially, Watada was charged with missing the 2nd Infantry Division's 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team's deployment on June 22, 2006, considered by the Army as the most serious charge, and conduct unbec- oming an officer.
Watada participated in anti-war rallies here and on the mainland and held numerous interviews denouncing Bush. Two of those activities were the basis of the charges of conduct unbecoming an officer. Conviction on all counts would have meant six years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.
One of his biggest supporters was his father, Bob Watada, who retired to farm in Eugene, Ore.
"I am very happy he is getting out," the elder Watada said, "and getting on with his life.
"I firmly believe he did the right thing. I supported him all the way, and I continue to support him."
Watada's first court-martial ended in a mistrial in February 2007 when military judge Lt. Col. John Head believed that Watada did not understand the terms of a plea agreement. He had been charged with denouncing President George W. Bush and the Iraq war and refusing to join his Stryker brigade unit when it deployed.
The mistrial occurred before Watada's attorney could put on a defense.
To block a second court-martial, Watada's attorneys sued in U.S. District Court.
The Army had been contemplating prosecuting Watada for his anti-war sentiments, citing statements against the war and Bush that were not part of the original court-martial. Watada could have been court-martialed for conduct unbecoming an officer for making those statements.
However, Piek said yesterday, the last two remaining specifications under Article 133, conduct unbecoming an officer, have been dismissed.
Watada, who has been working a desk job since the mistrial, was supposed to have been discharged on December 2006, but his legal proceedings have kept him at Fort Lewis' I Corps.
The 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team served three combat tours in Iraq.