Hail, Hail Ehren Watada

On November 9 in San Francisco’s Chinatown, supporters of Iraq war resister Lt. Ehren Watada made a presentation to community press and local activists that included good news for their cause. On November 8, Judge Benjamin Settle of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington issued a grant of a preliminary injunction in favor of Lt. Watada, the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse deployment to the Iraq War.

As people gathered in Portsmouth Square in Chinatown, Watada Support Group member Ying Lee told me, “At the time that we called the news conference we did not know that the judge was going to give his decision yesterday.” Lee went on, “The decision was due by today, so he was early (…) we are very appreciative of a United States Federal judge respecting the constitution and saying the trial cannot proceed.”

Lee described Watada as “a young man who out of a patriotic sense of duty after 9/11 enlisted. (…) And he was such a good officer that when he was stationed in Korea, his commanding officer told him to prepare to be sent to Iraq, because that was going to be his next station.”

Watada studied the background of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Lee continued, and “he said this war is based upon lies, it’s illegal, it’s unconstiutional, it’s a violation of the human rights charter, it’s a violation of the Nuremberg Principles which we’ve adopted, and my oath of alliegance is to the country and the constitution, and not to one man. So he tried to resign three times, they wouldn’t accept his resignation, the President wouldn’t accept his resignation. He asked to be sent to Afghanistan, he’s not a conscienscious objector, and they refused that, so he felt he had no choice because he couldn’t tell his men to go into a war that he thought was so wrong that he then took the step of saying I will not fight in Iraq. He’s the first U.S. army officer to do so. And since then the military has charged him, through a series of court martials, with refusing to be sent to Iraq and behavior unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman. And when the court martial occurred, he was not allowed any witnesses. (…) But the army, as the prosecution, had six or seven witnesses. Each one of them spoke to what a wonderful young man he was, responsible, perfect officer, and very promotable. (…) The judge decided the trial was not going the way he had wanted it to, and so, he called a mistrial. In other words, he aborted the trial, and that was in February of 2007. Since then, the military has been trying to prosecute him again.”

Opening the press conference, Chinatown community activist Reverend Norman Fong set an appropriately upbeat tone in his remarks about the injunction. Fong enthused, “we’re here to keep hope alive, it’s going very good!”

The Reverend’s comments were translated into Cantonese by a young woman who also translated other speakers, including three poets. Local activist Peter Yamamoto, read a poem describing Watada as

“So serious.

A patriot.

Young, Asian, and articulate–

Athletic, good-looking, with short military-cut hair—“

Local Attorney David Chiu followed Yamamoto. Chiu said, “As a former prosecutor, [I would] remind the current prosecutors of their ethical obligations. Contrary to what you might see on television crime television shows, the ethical obligation of a prosecutor is not simply to prosecute, it’s not to put people in jail.”

Chiu continued, “The ethical obligation is very simple. A prosecutor is supposed to do justice. And justice in this case is not about putting this man in jail. (…) Justice in this case is about letting a man who’s already gone through a first trial, who’s about to be pushed through a second trial that’s unconstitutional, to let Watada go free.”

Several rowdy old men playing cards nearby quieted down as San Francisco poet laureate and radical gadfly Jack Hirschman came to the microphone. Flanked by activists holding signs which read “Refuse Illegal War/ Thank You Lt Ehren Watada,” Hirschman read a poem he had written for Watada. That poem, and another read by the city’s former poet laureate Janice Mirikitani, can be heard at Courage to Resist , “In the past few years, tens of thousands of service members have resisted illegal war and occupation in a number of different ways—by going AWOL, seeking conscientious objector status and/or a discharge, asserting the right to speak out against injustice from within the military, and for a relative few, publicly refusing to fight.”

Ben Terrall is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, In These Times, Counterpunch, Lip Magazine, and other publications. He can be reached at: bterrall@igc.org. Read other articles by Ben, or visit Ben's website.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Hatuxka said on November 15th, 2007 at 3:57pm #

    Should be an open-and-shut case. The war’s illegal and as in any illegal enterprise, other crimes followed.

    One of the most vituperative attacks against Watada I have heard was on liberal radio talk show, delivered by Paul Hackett, the Dem from Ohio and former uniformed P. R. flack for the Army in the first round of U. S. atrocities against Faluja.

  2. Erroll said on November 15th, 2007 at 6:25pm #


    Well said. I would like to add to that another name to those who have maligned Watada, and that would be another Paul, specifically Paul Rieckhoff, whom quasi-liberal Keith Olbermann loves to put on his show because of his criticism of Bush’s handling of the war/occupation. Even though Rieckhoff looks unfavorably upon Iraq, he is adamantly opposed to the immediate withdrawal of the troops from that abattoir in Iraq, claiming that the troops need more time to get the job done, what that may mean. As I indicated earlier, the macho Rieckhoff has in the past ripped into Watada, without acknowledging that those troops are being used as cannon fodder to justify the lies that they are told by this administration and that they are taking part in the continued occupation of Iraq. It also seems to be a forlorn hope of mine that Olbermann, the new icon of the left, will actually see fit to finally mention Watada and the fact that he is still the only commissioned officer to speak out against the occupation while still in the military. Yet Olbermann refuses to admit that Watada or his attorneys even exist. So much for more evidence of our liberal media at work.