Friday, February 09, 2007

Update: Judge Declares Mistrial in Watada Case

On Wednesday, presiding judge, Lt. Col. John Head declared a mistrial, in the court-martial of First Lt. Watada, over a technicality. Beginning the court-martial, Judge Lt. Col. Head had Watada sign an agreement admitting that he failed to deploy to Iraq, and that he had given several antiwar speeches, for which he was charged with 'conduct unbecoming of an officer'. During exchanges in the trial, however, Watada disagreed.

“Your Honour,” he said. “I have always believed that I have a legal and moral defence. I realise that the government can make arguments and you can make rulings contrary to that, but that does not negate my belief that I have a defence.”

“To me,” Watada told the court, leading soldiers into battle in Iraq “means to participate in a war that I believe to be illegal.”

Aaron Glantz (GNN) reports that Col. Head had ruled that Watada’s claim—that the war is immoral and illegal—would not be a permissible defence at trial, and that Watada had hoped to argue under the so-called Nuremberg Principals which arose from trials of Nazi war criminals after World War II.

Lt. Watada's attorney, Eric Seitz, had this to say about the trial; “Every time the government has tried to prevent political speech, which they are attempting to punish, from infusing the trial proceedings it has created a major mess and many of those cases resulted in mistrials.”

“The government tried in artificial ways to prevent the defendants from explaining in their own way why they were there and why they did what they did,” Seitz said. “But there is a contradiction, because they are the core issues of what led the defendant from being there in the first place.”

Many antiwar activists cheered for the mistrial declaration. Mike Wong, a San Francisco social worker who deserted the Army rather than fight in the Vietnam War, stated that A GI Rights hotline has been set up for the men and women fighting the war, who want to get out of Iraq. Wong says that the army is now receiving 2000 calls a month.

“The military doesn’t want the American public to know that soldiers are talking about this in the barracks. Some soldiers think he’s a disgrace and others think he’s a frickin’ hero. But what it’s causing is for soldiers to discuss, to debate, and what’s really frightening to this administration is that soldiers are thinking. They don’t want soldiers to think. They want soldiers to follow orders.” -Geoff Millard (about the court-martial)

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