Why the Case of Lieutenant Watada Matters
by Joey King
24 Aug 2006
One of the most important cases to wind its way through the military justice system since the Nuremburg trials at the end of World War II began in mid-August at Fort Lewis Washington. It involves the case of Honolulu-native First Lieutenant (1LT) Ehren Watada. In June 2006, he refused to deploy (known in the military as “missing movement”) to Iraq on the basis that doing so would be a war crime. He insists the war itself is illegal. He is the first officer to miss movement in this conflict. It is important to note that 1LT Watada agreed to deploy to Afghanistan.
One of the most important legal principles established at the Nuremburg trials is that no one in the military can use the, “I was just following orders” defense. The top ranking Nazis tried that and it failed. In other words, an order issued by a superior must first-and-foremost be lawful. Subordinates who follow an unlawful order can be just as guilty of war crimes as the superior who issued the illegal order.The Army conducted an Article 32 hearing into the Watada matter and found enough evidence to charge him with 3 crimes carrying a maximum jail time of 7 years. An Article 32 hearing is the equivalent of a grand jury in the civilian world. Next, the case goes to a court-martial. If the court-martial proceedings find him guilty, as I imagine they probably will, the case will most likely be appealed all the way to the US Supreme Court (USSC). There is where it gets interesting, but it is worth observing that the Bush Administration will be out of office by the time the Watada case gets to the Supreme Court. If the USSC refuses to hear the case, Watada will likely spend a couple of years in jail for his actions. If the USSC hears the case and rules that the war is legal, Watada will go to jail too. But the most interesting scenario emerges if the USSC agrees with Watada’s contention that the Iraqi war is illegal and that he was right to refuse deployment. The war would have to end quickly. It does not stop there; it could also mean war-crimes tribunals for Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld and some top military officers. The USSC recently held that Bush violated both the US Constitution and the Geneva Conventions in the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. In other words, they said that the President is constitutionally bound (under Article VI) to honor the treaties--like the Geneva Conventions--that the US enters into. That is of interest because the Geneva Conventions also specify what constitutes a legal war. Since we will probably never see war formally declared by Congress in my lifetime, the Geneva Conventions are all we have left to define legal military action. The Watada case could be historic if high-profile Americans are found guilty of war crimes. Future Presidents will be far less imperialistic if they know a single Lieutenant can land them in front of a war crimes tribunal. Paradigm shifts happen gradually. One reason that we don’t have the half-million troops in Iraq right now is because the Vietnam-era draft was so unpopular. In other words, Presidential imperialism has been limited by the all-volunteer military. The Watada case could have a similar effect if the court finds that George Bush started an illegal war. Wouldn’t it be a strange turn of events if the very people who are prosecuting Watada are found to be guilty of war crimes?
For more information on the Watada case visit: http://www.thankyoult.org/