Agence France-Presse – 2007-02-07 23:41:41
Mistrial in Case of US Officer Who Refused to Fight in Iraq
(February 7, 2007) — The court martial of a US army officer who refused to fight in Iraq was ruled a mistrial here after a dispute over a pre-trial agreement.
Military judge Lieutenant Colonel John Head halted the case involving First Lieutenant Ehren Watada following possible inconsistencies concerning a “stipulation of fact” agreed before the hearing.
A date for a new court martial has been set for March 19.
Watada, 28, had pleaded not guilty on charges relating to his refusal to join his unit as it left for Iraq in June last year on the grounds that the US-led invasion was illegal and immoral.
Watada had been expected to testify Wednesday but the case ground to a halt after defense lawyers requested that the judge give a special instruction to military panel members hearing the court martial.
The judge said the instructions requested by the defense, which were not immediately clear, could conflict with a pre-trial agreement between prosecution and defense concerning Watada’s motives for not deploying to Iraq.
Prosecutors on Tuesday told the court Watada had brought disgrace upon himself after and the services by deciding to abandon his soldiers and accusing the army of committing war crimes in Iraq.
Although the US Army insists that a soldier has to respect the chain of command and cannot choose which war to fight in, Watada has said that under the US constitution he has the right to refuse an illegal order.
Watada joined the army in 2003 and was posted in South Korea until 2005, when he was transferred to Fort Lewis to prepare for deployment to Iraq.
Instead he requested to be transferred to another unit and proposed that he be deployed to Afghanistan. That was turned down.
Head ruled on Monday that the issue of the legality of the war in Iraq will not be raised during the court martial, saying the proceeding has no authority to rule on the question.
Watada’s case has attracted widespread international support with several prominent figures and celebrities voicing approval for his stance.
“I admire your courageous and moral stand,” South African Nobel peace prize laureate Desmond Tutu wrote on a website set up by supporters of the soldier.
Movie stars such as Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon have also spoken out on Watada’s behalf.
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