A Mother Fights for a Soldier Who Said No to War

Carolyn Ho, Phoebe Jones and others lobbying in support of Ho's son, an officer who refused to go to Iraq.
Carolyn Ho, Phoebe Jones and others lobbying in support of Ho's son, an officer who refused to go to Iraq. (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 4, 2007

Carolyn Ho is a mother on a mission.

She came to Washington in mid-December to build support for her son, Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq.

Barring some kind of miracle, he will be court-martialed on Feb. 5 at Fort Lewis, about 45 miles south of Seattle. If convicted, he could be sent to military prison for six years. There's going to be a pretrial hearing today.

Like many Americans, she believed she could come to the capital city and change the world. Or at least her small part of it.

She was acting purely on instinct, wanting to do everything in a mother's power to protect her son. "I'm here to get what I can," said Ho, who is from Honolulu. Dark hair pulled back. Dark eyes that moisten when she speaks of her son. Soft voice. "I'm going to put it out there."

At the very least, she hoped for some kind of letter of support before today's hearing. Late yesterday afternoon, a letter arrived. After a lot of worry and work.

Lobbying Congress is no day at the spa.

During her Capitol Hill quest, she was accompanied by several seasoned lobbyists, but they let her do the talking. She moved along the halls, sitting down with staffers in the offices of Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and aides from the offices of Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

In closed-door meetings, Ho told the same story. She sees her efforts as part of a larger, multifaceted wave that is challenging the Bush administration from every angle. At the same time the president is advocating an increase in the number of soldiers in Iraq, there is on the home front an increase in the number of vocal opponents of the war. "I believe my son is part of this movement," Ho said.

Phoebe Jones of Global Women's Strike, an international antiwar network that supports Ho and Watada, was at Ho's side on Capitol Hill. "The work of mothers is protecting life, beginning with their children," Jones explained. "And that is really the opposite of the obscenity of war."

On the Hill, Ho handed out information packets. She passed around photos of Watada, who is taller, fuller of face than his mother, but shares her smile.

Her son "based his decision on facts," she said. He studied the war in Iraq and decided it was illegal. He tried to resign and leave the service with dignity, but the Army wouldn't let him. He asked to be shipped to Afghanistan; his request was denied. He was offered a noncombat position in Iraq; he said no thanks.

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