Army Lieutenant Becomes
First Commissioned Officer to Refuse Deployment to Iraq
On Wednesday U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Ehren Watada announced his
intention to disobey what he says are illegal orders to deploy
to Iraq. We speak with 1st Lieutenant Watada and his lawyer,
AMY GOODMAN: First Lieutenant Watada joins us now on
the phone from Washington State. We welcome you to Democracy
EHREN WATADA: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: We are also joined by the phone by your
lawyer in Washington State, Legrand Jones. We welcome you as
LEGRAND JONES: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, First Lieutenant Ehren Watada, can
you talk about how you arrived at this decision -- when did you
join the army?
EHREN WATADA: I signed the papers to join the military
in March 2003.
AMY GOODMAN: Right at the time of the invasion.
EHREN WATADA: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And what was your understanding at the
time of what would happen?
EHREN WATADA: In terms of the war, I knew that it was
probable, more than likely, that I would be deployed to Iraq. At
the time I didn't believe that the war was fully justified. But
I think, like millions of people out there, I believed it when
the President and many of his deputies told the world, told the
U.S., that weapons of mass destruction did exist, that Saddam
had ties to 9/11, he had ties to Al Qaeda, and that he had the
willingness to use his weapons to attack his neighbors and also
the U.S. And so at that time I had no reason to believe that the
President would betray the trust of his people, and so I said
that we should give him the benefit of the doubt.
AMY GOODMAN: How have you changed over this three
EHREN WATADA: When I learned that I was going to be
deployed last year, I thought it was my responsibility as an
officer to learn everything I could about war in general. Its
effects on people, its effects on the soldiers. And also
specifically why we were there, what was occurring at that time,
what had occurred in the past. In order to get a better
understanding, as was my job. And the more I read different
articles by international and Constitutional law experts, and
reports coming out from government agencies and non-governmental
agencies, and the reports and the revelations from independent
journalists and the Iraqi people themselves and the soldiers
coming home, I came to the conclusion that the war and what
we're doing over there is illegal. And so, being so, I felt it
was my duty to morally and also legally refuse any orders to
participate in it.
AMY GOODMAN: What has been the response now of the
army? This week at Fort Lewis, right before your news
conference, they started to crack down. They called you into a
EHREN WATADA: Right, I think as soon as they got word
that I was going to make a public statement. That was the first
time the Brigade Commander came out here to talk to me. Since I
had submitted a letter of resignation citing my beliefs and my
intent to refuse any orders to participate in an illegal war,
they wanted basically to talk to me and see how strongly I held
my beliefs. He said that he was fairly convinced. Also he wanted
to talk to me about making a public statement and that he
advised strongly against it. But if I was going to do it, then
he had to lay out certain rules. So that was the first time that
he had talked to me, first time I was giving out any kind of
orders concerning making a public statement.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the penalty you face right now?
EHREN WATADA: Probably the maximum penalty I face,
when I refuse orders to board the plane to go to Iraq, would be
anywhere from two to five years, maybe more, in a military
stockade. Dishonorable discharge and loss of all pay and
allowances. There could be other punishment.
AMY GOODMAN: I was wondering, Army Lieutenant Ehren
Watada, what your response was to the protest that resulted in I
think something like 22 arrests in Olympia, Washington this past
week as peace activists tried to stop a ship from moving out of
port with striker vehicles and troops.
EHREN WATADA: I think that we all have a duty as
American citizens for civil disobedience, and to do anything we
can within the law to stop an illegal war.
AMY GOODMAN: Legrand Jones, you are First Lieutenant
Ehren Watada's lawyer. What happens next? What does he face?
What does he have to watch out for?
LEGRAND JONES: First off, I would like to clarify that
Eric Seitz of Honolulu, Hawaii is Lieutenant Watada's primary
counsel. We are with a firm in Olympia, Washington, near Fort
Lewis. We're offering to assist in any way we can while his
lawyer is not in town.
AMY GOODMAN: And so what are the stakes right now?
LEGRAND JONES: As Mr. Watada said, he's looking at a
potential incarceration. That period of time is kind of up in
the air. At this point the ball has been put in the Army's
court. We hope that a meeting of the minds can occur. If not, I
know that Mr. Seitz and my firm are ready, willing and able to
defend him in this fight and we're honored to assist him.
AMY GOODMAN: How much support are you getting,
Lieutenant Ehren Watada, in your unit?
EHREN WATADA: Very little. Of course, as you can
probably understand, anybody who supports me personally would
probably not voice that out loud. The majority of people I think
within my unit and maybe within the military as a whole do not
support my beliefs. Even if they did, they would probably not
voice it publicly if they were still on active duty.
AMY GOODMAN: Your father, Robert Watada, is a retired
Hawaii state official?
EHREN WATADA: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: News conference held simultaneously in
Hawaii as well as Washington State yesterday?
EHREN WATADA: Yes. Well, there was a time to hold it
simultaneously in which I would be able to call in and answer
some questions through my lawyer, Eric Seitz. But I was informed
that I would not be -- I was not allowed to talk to any
reporters during duty hours.
AMY GOODMAN: Your father opposed the war in Vietnam
and was able to do alternative service in the Peace Corps in
EHREN WATADA: That's correct.
AMY GOODMAN: What kind of alternative service would
you like to do?
EHREN WATADA: You know, there's just so many problems
that we have within our own country. Instead of trying to fix
the problems of other countries, I’ll be willing to do anything
I can. If they wanted to send me down to help the victims of
Hurricane Katrina, I'll do that in a heartbeat. I'm willing to
do anything it takes to help the people of America, defend the
laws of America.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you consider yourself patriotic?
EHREN WATADA: I do. I love my country. And I believe
in our principles of democracy – we’re ruled by the people and
equality for all. And I think -- I know would I do anything it
takes to ensure that prevails.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us. We
hope to talk to you again as we follow your case. First
Lieutenant Ehren Watada speaking to us from Washington as well
as his attorney Legrand Jones from Washington State as well.
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