Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What If They Gave A War, And No One Came?

In June of 2006, Ehren Watada, a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, stationed right near here at Fort Lewis, WA, made headlines when he became the first commissioned officer in the U.S. armed forces to refuse deployment to Iraq. His first court-martial began February 5, 2007 and ended today, two days later, with a mistrial declared.

Lt. Watada has said he's willing to deploy to Afghanistan, which he considers an "unambiguous war linked to the Sept. 11 attacks". His request to be deployed to Afghanistan was denied, as was his attempt to resign his commission. He has added that he is not a conscientious objector, as he is not opposed to all wars as a matter of principle, and that he believes this war (the war in Iraq) is an illegal war, based on the War Powers Act of 1973, requiring the President to receive congressional approval for military operations within 60 days, as well as the the basic charters from the United Nations, the Geneva Convention, and the Nuremberg Principles, all of which bar "wars of aggression." Lt. Watada contends that any approval obtained by President Bush was based on incorrect information regarding weapons of mass destruction and the ties of al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein.

It is further Lt. Watada's position that based on the doctrine of "Command Responsibility", he could be tried as a war criminal. Interestingly enough, the Command Responsibility Doctrine is sometimes referred to as the "Medina Standard", based on the "My Lai Massacre" in Vietnam, which Capt. Ernest Medina failed to prevent. It holds that a commanding officer, being aware of a human rights or war crime violation, will be criminally held responsible if he does not take action to stop it.

With the Army charges, Lt. Watada is facing up to four years in prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted (a charge of "contempt for officials" was dropped at the outset of the court martial). And before the mistrial today (one of the papers Watada signed earlier was apparently in error, so they have to start again) , it looked like a very quick trial and conviction for the Lieutenant. The bulk of Lt. Watada's defense was based on the illegality of the war, and with it the war crimes liability connection. But on January 16th, the presiding judge in the pre-court-martial hearing ruled that Watada would not be allowed to present evidence regarding the Nuremberg Principles or the legality of the war, because the legality of a war is a "nonjusticable political question", and consequently ruling that the order Watada received to deploy was legal. Let the butt-kicking contest begin, Mr. One-Leg.

Anyways, to the point of this blog. I don't know Lt. Watada at all, and can only hope his sincerity is real. Because he's probably going to be a sacrificial lamb for his beliefs. I suspect that when all is said and done, he'll face very little (if any) jail time, but he's got to be looking at a dishonorable discharge, and he's going to be about as popular as a Dixie Chick at a NASCAR race with a sizable crossection of the U.S. armed forces and their veterans.

The reality is, there's no way the government can do anything but win this case. If they somehow lose it, precedence is set for every single soldier, sailor, marine, and flyboy to pack it up and go home. AND, if that weren't enough, the rest of the world that aren't coalition-ing suddenly has a whole wing set aside in the Hague for American war criminals.

So no, Lt. Watada, you ain't gonna win. What you might accomplish is an eventual resumption of that time-honored tradition of going to war when we actually have a country to go to war against, not to finish up the First Dad's missions. I'm hoping it will help define what war is really, and that war really is hell, and that the reasons for undertaking it should never be based on "U.S. interests." Only on U.S. freedom and survival.