Father backs son's refusal to fight in Iraq
Hawaii man stops in SR as part of tour to drum up support for Army officer's cause
By JEREMY HAY - THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The father of an Army officer who is refusing to serve in Iraq because he believes the war is illegal spoke Tuesday in Santa Rosa as part of a tour to drum up support for his son's cause.
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"He's taken a stand and he's saying 'I'll go to jail before I let this Constitution be trampled on,'" Robert Watada of Hawaii told about 30 people at the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County.Watada's son, 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, faces charges that include conduct unbecoming an officer, missing a troop movement and contempt toward officials, a charge based on his public criticism of the war and President Bush.The military has refused Watada's requests to resign his commission or be deployed instead to Afghanistan, a war he believes in, his attorney said.The case has become a cause celebre for those who say the Iraq war is illegal because Congress never declared war, the United States never got U.N. Security Council authorization for the invasion and the Constitution makes international treaties - in this case the U.N. charter - the "supreme law of the land.""I believe it has the potential to motivate soldiers who perhaps have not yet decided to refuse to go, let alone to publicly refuse to go," said Peter Laufer, a Sonoma Coast author whose book "Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq" profiles soldiers who refused to return to Iraq duty.But retired Brig. Gen. Keith Kerr of Santa Rosa said "most men and women in uniform realize they have made a commitment and they are going to go to Iraq and follow orders."Kerr, who spent 43 years in the Army and the Reserve, said Watada is obligated to serve and "they're making an example of him" to discourage other soldiers from refusing orders to deploy to Iraq.Watada, 28, joined the Army in March 2003 - the month of the U.S. invasion - and is thought to be the first officer to face a potential court-martial for refusing to go to Iraq.Robert Watada said his son, who also served a year in Korea, was ready to go - "He thought, 'Well, that's our enemy,'" - until he spoke to soldiers returning from Iraq and researched the war's history.Watada said his son came to believe the Bush administration "was just outright lying to the people" about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction and its connection to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and that that made the congressional resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq baseless."The best way I can support my follow soldiers and those under me is by helping to oppose an illegal war and helping to end it," Watada says in a video posted on a Web site set up by his supporters.Arguments that the war is illegal were heard - over prosecutors' objections - at a military court hearing last week at Fort Lewis in Washington. A decision about whether Watada should face a court martial is pending.Watada faces a potential sentence of 7½ years and a dishonorable discharge.Experts differ about Watada's argument that the war is illegal and its use as a basis for his refusal to serve.USC law professor Edwin Smith, an expert on the United Nations and the law of war, said the October 2002 congressional resolution authorizing the president to use military force against Iraq was "for all practical purposes ... the equivalent of a declaration of war."And because the resolution wasn't a formal declaration of war, said Smith - who opposed the war - the invasion and occupation don't violate the U.N. Charter, which outlaws wars not carried out in self-defense or that don't have Security Council approval.But Francis Boyle, a University of Illinois law professor who is a recognized authority on international law - and a defense witness at Watada's hearing last week - said "the moment the government uses military force, the laws of war are triggered no matter what Congress does."That, he said, means the war, lacking Security Council authorization, is defined by the U.N. Charter as "crime against peace." He said that under military law, Watada "certainly has the right ... not to facilitate or aid and abet" the crime.