US Army 1st. Lt Ehren
Watada is facing an eight-year term in military prison for just doing his duty:
.serving our country and protecting the Constitution.
The charges against Lt. Watada are conduct unbecoming an
officer, missing movement, and contempt toward President Bush. But they boil
down to the �crimes� of thinking, speaking and following his conscience.
2006, Ehren Watada refused
to deploy to Iraq
on the grounds that the Iraq war is illegal. The Army filed charges, held a
hearing, and recommended a court martial.
This impending trial will be a test of our president�s
authority to wage preemptive war. Lt. Watada argues, on our behalf, that
President Bush has abused his authority; President Bush argues that Watada is
contemptuous for saying so.
The architects of the Iraq War want to punish Ehren Watada
for �unbecoming conduct,� but Lt. Watada has only done what any soldier is
supposed to do upon receiving an order: exercise moral judgment, determine if
the order is lawful, and only then obey it.
As we learned at the Nuremberg trials after the genocide
of World War II, an officer is not merely permitted to disobey an illegal
order; she or he has a solemn duty to do so, and must not take legality for
How then is a soldier
supposed to make the �moral choice� required by the Nuremberg Principles? What
28-year-old Ehren Watada did was educate himself about the conflict and turn to
recognized experts in ethics and international law. His subsequent decision not
to participate in the Iraq war was pro-Constitution, pro-international law,
pro-human rights, and anti-abuse of authority.
Watada stated, �My participation would make me party to
war crimes. The Iraq war is not legal according to domestic and international
Many distinguished world leaders and international law
experts agree that the war is illegal. They include Secretary General of the UN
Kofi Annan, who in 2004 declared that the US invasion was
"not in conformity with the UN Charter, and from our point of view,
Three experts testified for Ehren Watada at his Article 32
preliminary hearing: University of
Illinois Law Professor Francis Boyle, former
United Nations Undersecretary Denis Halliday, and
retired Army Col. Ann Wright.
They all supported Watada�s claim that the Iraq war is illegal.
Marjorie Cohn, president-elect of the National Lawyer�s
Guild and a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, made a similar
case at the sentencing hearing in 2004 for Pablo Paredes, a sailor and
conscientious objector who refused to board his Iraq-bound ship.
Professor Cohn noted that the Uniform Code of Military
Justice establishes that orders, to be lawful, must not be contrary to the
Constitution and the laws of the United States. Furthermore, the Army Field
Manual establishes an explicit duty to disobey unlawful orders: "Following
superior orders" is not a defense to the commission of war crimes, unless
the accused "did not know and could not reasonably have been expected to
know that the act ordered was unlawful."
Cohn argued that the United States has not only endorsed the
Nuremberg Principles, but also has ratified both the UN Charter and the Geneva
Conventions, making them legally binding according to Article 6 of the
Constitution: �All Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority
of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.�
As Ehren Watada puts it, �As the order to take part in an
illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must, as an officer of honor and
integrity, refuse that order."
As citizens of honor and integrity, we must support Ehren
Howard of Ojai (DavidHoward@aol.com)
is a member of the Board of Directors of Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions.