Soldier willing to face prison

TACOMA – An Army lieutenant says he’s prepared to face the consequences of his decision not to deploy to Iraq with his Fort Lewis Stryker brigade.

First Lt. Ehren Watada, who turns 28 today, could face at least two years in prison for failing to obey an order to deploy, the officer said Wednesday evening during an Associated Press interview.

“I know that my case has brought a lot of attention and scrutiny on me by my superiors. Also, I’m probably very unpopular, if not the most unpopular person on Fort Lewis. But I know out there, there are people who believe in what I’m saying,” Watada said.

Watada is a member of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, the Army’s first Stryker Brigade Combat Team. The unit is set to begin leaving later this month for a second mission in Iraq. This would be Watada’s first deployment to Iraq.

Watada, a native of Honolulu, joined the Army in March 2003, he says, out of patriotism, love of his country and a willingness to serve others.

In fall 2005, he learned he would be sent to Iraq. On the advice from a commander who he said told him that a soldier should know “everything you can about war,” Watada began researching the reasons for U.S. involvement in Iraq.

Based on his study of papers by international and constitutional law experts, as well as documents from governmental and nongovernmental agencies, he said he concluded that the war in Iraq is illegal and immoral.

“We have violated American law,” Watada said, adding that he believes that with respect to the question of whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, intelligence was manipulated “to fit a policy that was already implemented prior to 9-11 and prior to the invasion.”

“We can’t break laws in order to fight terrorism,” he said.

Watada has come under intense public scrutiny in recent days after he announced he would not leave for Iraq with his brigade.

“I certainly feel like I’m taking an enormous risk, sacrificing an enormous amount, and I have little to gain personally. But I’m doing what I feel is the right thing,” he said. “It is a sacrifice I’m willing to make on behalf of the soldiers whom I was sworn to protect and serve,” in hopes they soon will no longer be forced to participate in the Iraq war.

Peace activists, some veterans and some clergy have come out in support of Watada, whose commanders barred him from attending a scheduled noon news conference Wednesday because it occurred during his duty hours – 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

In a video played at the news conference, he said it was his “duty as a commissioned officer of the United States Army to speak out against grave injustices. My moral and legal obligation is to the Constitution and not those who would issue unlawful orders.”

Watada said the “war in Iraq is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law.”

In a letter to his command in January, Watada said he had reservations about the Iraq war and felt he could not participate, his lawyer, Eric Seitz, said Tuesday from his office in Honolulu.

A couple months later, at the Army’s suggestion, Watada resubmitted his request to resign, Seitz said. The lieutenant was told last month that his request had been denied.

The Army said Wednesday his request was denied because Watada’s current unit is in a stop-loss category, and he has not fulfilled his service obligation. His commission requires him to serve as an active-duty Army officer for three years ending this Dec. 3, his lawyer said.

Watada’s decision to declare his intent to disobey orders “is a serious matter and could subject him to adverse action,” Army officials said in a statement Wednesday. “No decision regarding personnel actions involving 1st Lieutenant Watada will be made until a thorough review by his commander occurs in accordance with military law.”

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