The court-martial trial for Army Lt. Ehren Watada, who refused to deploy to Iraq, is under way at Fort Lewis in Washington state. Watada faces up to four years in the stockade.
Watada joined the Army in 2003. He says he supported U.S. policy — until he did some reading, and decided the invasion had been illegal. Last year, when the order to deploy to Iraq came down, he resisted.
"I view what we're doing in Iraq, in conduct and inception, as in clear violation of my oath. If I'm forced to go in there, I have no other choice, I have to refuse," he said.
This has given him rock-star status among war protestors. At a rally in Seattle, Watada accepted the crowd's adoration politely. In many ways, this young Japanese-American man is a hero straight out of central casting: besides being bright and well-spoken, he dresses — and looks - like he belongs on the cover of G.Q.
But there are those who are not so taken with him — or his opposition to the war. Terry Glotfelty is married to an Army officer who's spent a year in Iraq, and is about to go back. They live in Hawaii — Watada's home state — and she writes letters to the editor complaining about the locals' support for him.
"Well, he should have thought about that before he signed up to join the Army," she said. "I just wanted to get the point across that the heroes are the ones who served and served honorably, the ones who aren't going to be home with their families."
The court-martial he faces isn't just for refusing to go — it's also for his public dissent, under a charge called "Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman."
Essentially, the Army wants to punish him for bad-mouthing the war in public, such as in this recent speech at a community college:
"We have all been deceived over this war, and as a result, the will of all of you — the will of the people — has been ignored," Watada said.
Watada has been giving a lot of speeches lately, so many that he's beginning to sound as fluid as a political candidate. He admits that every time he steps in front of a lectern, it could turn into another count against him in his court-martial. But he insists he has the right, even the obligation, to criticize the war.
"A powerful standing army that does not have the opportunity to question and dissent indeed threatens the existence of a democratic society," he said. "It undermines the very essence of freedom."
But you'll get just the opposite opinion from others in the Army, such as Lt. Col. Robert Resnick. He's a Judge Advocate at Fort Lewis, and not part of Watada's prosecution.
"One of the things that's important in the success of our democracy is civilian control of the military, and that means that we as officers, we do not challenge the authority of our civilian leadership. We have chain of command to raise issues and concerns, but we don't publicly challenge the civilian leadership."
Watada has been careful about how he speaks out. For instance, he doesn't wear his uniform to his speeches, and, although he often talks about deception, he never actually calls President Bush a liar.
He has already admitted his public statements and his refusal to deploy. Add to that the fact that the judge has barred him from making the argument that the war is illegal, and there's not much left for this court martial to do but determine his punishment.