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War resister Watada faces lower sentence

A Fort Lewis officer who refused to go to Iraq and serve in what he considers an illegal war will face a lesser prison sentence when his military trial begins Monday.

Prosecutors agreed to drop two counts against 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, reducing his maximum prison sentence if convicted on all remaining counts from six to four years.

The Army had charged Watada with missing movement and four counts of conduct unbecoming an officer stemming from comments he made critical of the Bush administration. Two of the counts were based on comments he made to journalists.

On Monday, prosecutors dropped those counts in exchange for Watada's written acknowledgement of other public statements he made, Fort Lewis spokesman Joseph Piek said.

Comments he made at a June 7 news conference and at an Aug. 12 Veterans for Peace convention serve as the basis for the remaining two counts.

The Army will no longer call two reporters to the stand to authenticate what Watada told them during interviews. One of the journalists, Sarah Olson, a radio producer and independent journalist based in Oakland, Calif., raised public concerns about her ability to gain the trust of sources if she participated in the prosecution of one of them.

In a statement, Watada's civilian attorney, Eric Seitz, said his client "shielded these journalists from the heavy handedness of the government."

"While we don't think any charges should have (been) filed at all for simply exercising free speech, we are pleased with the government's willingness to reduce Lt. Watada's potential sentence by two years."

Piek said prosecutors agreed to drop the charges as a result of weeks of pretrial negotiations with Seitz and not because of any hesitancy to call reporters to the stand.

Watada will be tried by a military panel of at least five officers

He requested to deploy to Afghanistan or serve in some other military capacity when he learned he was headed to Iraq in late 2005. He offered to resign his commission, but the Army refused to accept it.

Watada, a native of Hawaii, was a fire-support officer for 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, but since has been transferred to a desk job with another unit.

The brigade is now serving in Baghdad and soon will be joined by another Fort Lewis unit, the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. The 4th Brigade is being sent to Iraq a month early as part of the new military strategy Bush announced this month to curb violence in the capital city and elsewhere. Coming up

1st Lt. Ehren Watada will speak at South Puget Sound Community College on Wednesday. He will discuss why he believes the Iraq War and occupation is illegal and immoral, and how to build a mass movement to bring the troops home. He also will talk about his court-martial that begins Monday. He will speak from 7 to 9 p.m. in Building 21 of the Minneart Center for the Arts.

The student group BRICK is sponsoring Wednesday's event. Admission is free.

1st Lt. Ehren Watada will speak at South Puget Sound Community College Wednesday.

He will discuss why he thinks the war and occupation is illegal and immoral, and how to build a mass movement to bring the troops home. He also will talk about his court-martial that begins Monday.

He will speak from 7 to 9 p.m. in Building 21 of the new Minneart Center for the Arts on campus.

Watada refused to board a plane bound for the Middle East June 22 as his former unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, began its deployment.

He's charged with missing movement and two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer for his critical statements of the Bush administration during speeches and interviews.

If convicted of all counts, Watada faces up to four years in prison and dismissal from the military.

A military judge recently ruled Watada can't base his defense on the illegality of the war, saying that is a political issue and not one for the courts to decide.

The student group BRICK (Building Revolution by Increasing Community Knowledge) is sponsoring Wednesday's event. Admission is free.

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