05 January 2007

Lieutenant Ehren Watada: war hero?

Ehren Watada was perfect officer material for the US army. A top student at university, he enlisted after September 11th, and served with distinction in Korea. Realizing he would eventually be deployed to Iraq, he did something almost unheard of for a young soldier: he researched the legality of the war he was expected enter.

He concluded it was both illegal and unconstitutional. He volunteered to serve in Afghanistan, but refused to go to Iraq, even though he was offered a non-combat role. He now faces a court-martial both for his refusal to accept an assignment and for comments to a Veterans for Peace convention. In the lieutenant's words:
First, the war was based on false pretenses. If the president tells us we are there to destroy Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, and there are none, why are we there? Then the president said Saddam had ties to al-Qaeda and 9/11. That allegation has been proven to be false, too. So why are we going there? The president says we're there to promote democracy, and to liberate the Iraqi people. That isn't happening either.

Second, the Iraq war is not legal according to domestic and international law. It violates the Constitution and the War Powers Act, which limits the president in his role as commander in chief from using the armed forces in any way he sees fit. The UN Charter, the Geneva Convention, and the Nuremberg principles all bar wars of aggression.

Finally, the occupation itself is illegal. If you look at the Army Field Manual, 27-10, which governs the laws of land warfare, it states certain responsibilities for the occupying power. As the occupying power, we have failed to follow a lot of those regulations. There is no justification for why we are there or what we are doing.

Ultimately, Lt. Watada may not be the only one in the dock. His supporters intend to use his court-martial to put the war itself on trial. And it's about time. Given the hesitance of the new Democratic Congress toward dealing firmly with the president's more egregious sins, it may be up to citizens of conscience to bring this U.S. administration to account.

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