- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2007

FORT LEWIS, Wash. (AP) — An Army lieutenant abandoned his soldiers and disgraced himself and the service by refusing deployment to Iraq, prosecutors said yesterday at his court-martial.

Soldiers in 1st Lt. Ehren Watada’s unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, left for Iraq “absent a leader they had trained with. Absent a leader they had trusted,” prosecutor Capt. Scott Van Sweringen told the seven-member panel of officers hearing the case.

An attorney for Lt. Watada, however, argued that his client was acting in good conscience, based on his understanding of the war and military law.

“At most, he engaged in an act or form of civil disobedience,” defense attorney Eric Seitz said in opening remarks. “No way does that add up to conduct unbecoming an officer.”

The military accuses Lt. Watada, 28, of Honolulu, of refusing to ship out with his unit and conduct unbecoming an officer for accusing the Army of war crimes and for attacking the Bush administration’s handling of the war.

Although other officers have refused to deploy to Iraq, Lt. Watada is the first to be court-martialed.

Capt. Van Sweringen told the court that by Jan. 1, 2006, Lt. Watada had concluded that the war was illegal and that he could not deploy.

Lt. Watada’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Bruce Antonia, testified that he learned of Lt. Watada’s concerns soon after that and urged Lt. Watada not to make any public statements. Instead, Lt. Watada released a video statement at a June press conference in Tacoma, Wash.

“The wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of Iraqis is not only a terrible and moral injustice, but it’s a contradiction to the Army’s own law of land warfare. My participation would make me a party to war crimes,” Lt. Watada said in the video, which was played in court yesterday.

“I was dismayed, probably a little bit betrayed,” Col. Antonia said. “I believe what he said was that the commander in chief made decisions based on lies, that he specifically deceived the American people. That is nowhere in the realm of a lieutenant in the United States Army.”

Lt. Col. William James, Lt. Watada’s former brigade commander, said he counseled Lt. Watada against making “a young man’s mistake, not making a decision based solely on emotion.”

Col. James said he wanted Lt. Watada to understand his responsibilities both as a citizen and as an officer who would lead soldiers.

“An officer at any level … you are oftentimes the point of reference soldiers use for their moral compass,” Col. James testified.

Mr. Seitz argued that the young officer had no choice but to go public after the Army refused his attempts for a solution other than going to Iraq.

Lt. Watada has admitted that he didn’t get on the plane and that he made the statements in question, Mr. Seitz told the panel.

“The question is … why? What was his intent? How did he comport himself when he made those statements and took action?” Mr. Seitz asked.

Testimony was to resume today at Fort Lewis, an Army base south of Tacoma.

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