Refusing to serve in an illegal, unjust war

At 28, the Honolulu-born and raised Lt. Watada is the highest ranking U.S. officer to decline a commission in Iraq. A First Lieutenant with over three years’ service, Watada is currently being court-martialed by the U.S. government.

How did you come to the final decision to decline your commission?
First: the truth. You have to read and read and read to really find out the horrors of what people we have entrusted to govern and protect us are doing behind closed doors. I had to decide what I really believed and what I was willing to sacrifice for those beliefs. I believe our country is in danger from within. Our most basic rights are in peril from those we entrusted to govern us. Our soldiers are being sent to die in a war that violates every tenet of international law, humanity and peace. An estimated 655,000 Iraqis have died because of our invasion. More than 2,800 troops have lost their lives, over 20,000 wounded, half of those maimed for life. When is someone going to stand up and put a stop to all of this? When is someone going to hold the people who perpetrated this unlawful war accountable? I didn’t stand much of a chance. But before I could expect others to act, I had to do something myself–no matter what the costs.

How will the outcome of your case affect others, in particular vocal opponents of the war in Iraq?
The military justice system is not the same as a civilian court. For the most part, the military will do what it wants to do unless the people care and show their concern. The vocal opponents can yell all they want, the politicians simply close their windows and turn up the TV. Only when the vast mainstream of America shows their willingness to be involved will anything change.

What are the penalties you’re facing? What comes next if you are found guilty or innocent?
The seven charges carry a maximum penalty of eight and a half years confinement, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and dismissal (dishonorable discharge).

The unfortunate aspect of these charges is that it doesn’t matter what rationale prevented you from doing what you were supposed to do–it only matters whether you did or did not do your job. The ACLU has presented an amicus brief that is very supportive of what I specifically said and, in general, the free speech rights of service members. For the military to punish me for those actions would establish a dangerous precedent.

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