The case against Lt. Ehren Watada
First Lt. Ehren Watada of the Stryker Brigade, U.S. Army, Fort Lewis, refused to obey orders to deploy to Iraq, becoming the first commissioned officer to do so. He says he opposes the war — not all wars, but this one. So do we, but we cannot support his request to be excused from a posting to Iraq.
Soldiers have to go where they are ordered. That is the rule here and everywhere, and for reasons of military necessity. Watada was a volunteer, and knew that when he signed up. He knew about the Iraq war, as well: He signed up in 2003, the year of the U.S. invasion. He also should have known that once one joins the military, one loses the freedom to speak in ways that could damage soldiers' morale — a restriction that includes political criticism of the military's mission. We have seen this apply to generals, which is why their criticism of the war has come from retirees. The rule also applies to lieutenants.
Watada will soon face a general court-martial in front of a military judge and jury. The judge is now deciding whether to include four charges of "conduct unbecoming an officer," which rise out of Watada's political statements, or to try him only on the charge of refusing to go to Iraq. The possible sentence for refusing to deploy is two years; for the political statements, another four years.
The Army has to resolve this matter in a way that accurately recognizes what Watada has done and that upholds its institutional interests. In our view, the answer is to convict him of both charges and issue a dishonorable discharge.
The conviction upholds the interests of the Army; the light sentence keeps him from being a martyr. Keep him to the stockade and protesters will demonstrate for him to get out. Besides, this war is not going to last six years.
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