The Case of Lt. Watada


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“This is a war, not out of self-defense, but of choice; for profit and imperialistic domination.”

– Lt. Ehren K. Watada 

Lt. WatadaAs the first commissioned officer in the US military to refuse re-deployment to Iraq, 1st Lieutenant Ehren Watada has shown through his example that the now overwhelming opposition to the war among the broader population is spreading right into the heart of the U.S. military machine. Facing expulsion from the military, which in turn meant the end of a successful career, and up to 6 years imprisonment, Watada has stood firm in his convictions and in protest against imperialism and war. 

A court martial was opened on February 5, wherein Watada was charged with “missing movement” (i.e., not showing up for his deployment to Iraq) as well as two counts of actions unbecoming of an officer. The court martial was declared a mistrial two days later by military law judge Lt. Col. John Head. 

The declaration of a mistrial was most likely an intended a maneuver by the judge, to ensure Watada could be found guilty at a later date. He was forced to make this judgement based on a dispute over a stipulation agreement signed by Watada. The judge attempted to characterize this agreement as an admission of guilt by the Lieutenant in regards to the charge of “missing movement”. 

Watada’s attorney, Eric Seitz, argued against this characterization. Seitz explained that the undersigned admitted only that he felt the war was illegal in the document and, therefore, that he was in fact not guilty, but refused to deploy based on his beliefs. International law protects such actions under both the Geneva Convention and the decisions of the Nuremberg Trials. 

The military’s entire case against Watada was based around this document. If the judge had ruled the evidence inadmissible, the entire trial would have fallen apart for the prosecution. After declaring a mistrial, the judge ruled that he would allow the military to retry Watada at a later date. 

It is the duty of all class-conscious workers and youth to support those in the military opposed to this war of conquest and exploitation. Lt. Watada is not the first soldier to resist this war, nor will he be the last. Given the character of this war, the surge in troop levels, and the growing threats against Iran, refusals to deploy and outright desertions and will prove all the more common in the coming period. 

Already 15 soldiers have faced prison time for such resistance. Two more are scheduled to face courts martial in the near future. There is also a growing community of soldiers in self-imposed exile abroad, who have refused to re-join the war, many of whom are quite vocal about it as well. 

To date, most of the soldiers who have defected have been mainly privates and non-commissioned officers. These ranks are mainly reserved for the children of workers who enter the military: the “grunts”. They are the most exploited section of the entire military apparatus. More and more soldiers are seeing the grim reality – that this is a war on other workers like themselves – and many will be sure to follow in the footsteps of Lt. Watada and those before him. 

The actions of these soldiers must be supported. Let’s not forget that during the Vietnam War, the widespread opposition to the war spread to the military itself. It could no longer be used to continue the imperialist slaughter. As King Frederick of Prussia once remarked: “When the bayonets begin to think, we are lost.”


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