SEATTLE, June 7, 2007 -- An Army officer due to ship out to Iraq later this month would rather go to jail than serve and complete the assignment.
"It is my duty as a commissioned officer of the United States Army to speak out against grave injustices." said 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, a member of the Stryker unit, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. "My moral and legal obligation is to the Constitution and not those who would issue unlawful orders. It is my conclusion as an officer of the armed forces that the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong, but a horrible breach of American law."
Watada is a 28-year-old Hawaii native who said he twice tried to resign his Army commission as an officer because of his opposition to the Iraq War.
He has not previously served in Iraq but is scheduled to deploy to the city of Mosul with his unit.
Watada joined the Army in 2003 and said he supported the war at the outset because he believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Since then, he said he has become convinced the Bush administration "intentionally manipulated intelligence" in order to go to war.
In an interview with The Seattle Times he said: "I feel that we have been lied to and betrayed by this administration. It is the duty, the obligation of every soldier, and specifically the officers, to evaluate the legality, the truth behind every order -- including the order to go to war."
Highest Ranking Protest to Date
Watada is the most senior officer to go public and challenge his orders to go to Iraq.
Others have filed for conscientious objector status, which is an objection to all war. Watada, however, said he is not filing as a conscientious objector because he does not oppose all war -- just this one.
"The wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of the Iraqi people with only limited accountability is not only a terrible moral injustice but a contradiction to the Army's own law of land warfare," Watada said.
Military lawyers said he is putting himself in substantial jeopardy. "He could face a charge of 'Missing Movement by Design,'" said military lawyer Eugene Fidel. In that case he could face dismissal -- the officer's equivalent of a dishonorable discharge -- and jail time.
In a statement released by Fort Lewis, where Lt. Watada is currently assigned, military officials said no decision had been made yet regarding his future.
"For a commissioned officer to publicly declare an apparent intent to violate military law by refusing to obey orders is a serious matter and could subject him to adverse action," the statement said. "No decision regarding personnel actions involving 1st Lt. Watada will be made until a thorough review by his commander occurs in accordance with military law."