Mistrial declared in Lt. Watada war resister case Thursday, February 8, 2007
By: Kaz Suzat
Supporters rally at Ft. Lewis
On Mon. Feb. 5, over 1,000 anti-war activists came to Ft. Lewis, Wash., to support Lt. Ehren Watada on the first day of his military court-martial. Watada has been charged with refusing orders to deploy to Iraq and "conduct unbecoming an officer."
Watada has defended his actions by asserting his right to refuse illegal orders, calling the U.S. war in Iraq an illegal
Lt. Ehren Watada
In a sudden development on Feb. 7, the third day of the court-martial, a mistrial was declared. A retrial has been scheduled tentatively for March 19, the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But Watada's lawyer, Eric Seitz, believes the case may be over.
In a Feb. 7 press conference, Seitz said, "The mistrial is very likely to have the consequence of ending this case because double jeopardy may prevent the government from proceeding with a retrial."
Watada's case has become a focal point of anti-war activism in the Puget Sound/Pacific Northwest and across the United States. On Jan. 20-21, hundreds of activists gathered in Tacoma for a "Citizen's Tribunal" on U.S. war crimes in Iraq. Support for Lt. Watada was a major focal point of the gathering.
And hundreds of people marched through the Little Tokyo neighborhood of Los Angeles to support Watada on Feb. 3. Dozens of similar actions took place last week across the country.
In mid-January, the military judge presiding over Watada's case ruled that Watada and his lawyers could not raise the Iraq war's illegality in his defense at the court-martial.
Then, last week, Watada signed a stipulation to certain facts in the case, in exchange for some of the charges being dropped and a reduction in the maximum possible sentence from six to four years. In addition, the military prosecutor dropped a plan to subpoena several journalists who had interviewed Watada about his anti-war views.
Massive rally on first day of trial
The court-martial began on Feb. 5 with the selection of a panel of seven officers to serve as a jury.
At the same time, Watada supporters gathered at the military base's main gate and lined the I-5 freeway overpass. Rallies, cultural performances and a massive puppet show took place at a nearby park. Organizers with the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) and the Party for Socialism and Liberation mobilized for the action.
Supporters also applied for passes to attend the legal proceedings against Watada. Eventually, 20 people, including
Watada's mother Carolyn Ho, were allowed on base to witness the court-martial in person. A few dozen others were admitted to a room with a video feed from the court room.
Outside at the park, many current and former war resisters urged the movement to support soldiers’ resistance. Randy Rowling, a Vietnam War resister and member of the Presidio 23—featured in the documentary “Sir, No Sir!" —spoke about his decision to resist military service.
Sara Rich, mother of G.I. war resister Suzanne Swift, gave an impassioned call to help the many resisters who are AWOL, underground and often homeless.
Helga Aguayo, accompanied by her two daughters and mother-in-law, spoke about her husband, Agustin. He is currently in jail in Germany, facing eight years in prison for refusing to return to Iraq.
Ricky Clousing, who served three months in prison for desertion, summed up the political mood of the day. He said that "the politicians are not going to stop the war; it will be the soldiers who will stop it." He called on the anti-war movement to create the political and material support to make that happen. “I’m done talking to politicians; I want to talk to soldiers,” Clousing concluded.
Supporters were visible outside the base throughout Watada’s trial. This reporter observed dozens of car loads of active duty soldiers entering the base on Feb. 5. The response to the protesters was overwhelmingly positive.
Watada's trial proceeded as expected until the judge declared a mistrial on Feb. 7.
The mistrial declaration was related to the factual stipulation signed last week. Immediately after the judge's stunning announcement, Watada’s attorney held a press conference to explain the ruling.
At the conference, attorney Seitz said that to retry Watada would violate the U.S. Constitution. He stated that Watada would file a motion to dismiss all charges on the basis of double jeopardy if the government continued to prosecute Watada. The Double Jeopardy clause of the Constitution states that a person cannot be tried for the same alleged crimes twice.
The anti-war movement and all Watada supporters have pledged to remain vigilant in the coming period and to continue to demand that the charges against Watada be dropped.
The next and best opportunity to raise support for Watada before the retrial date is the March 17 march on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., initiated by the ANSWER Coalition and endorsed by more than 1,500 organizations and individuals. On March 17, tens of thousands of people, including many military resisters, veterans and family members, will demonstrate at the Pentagon and in cities across the United States against the occupation of Iraq.