Mistrial Called In Lieutenant's Court-Martial

Associated Press
Thursday, February 8, 2007

FORT LEWIS, Wash., Feb. 7 -- A military judge declared a mistrial Wednesday in the court-martial of an Army lieutenant who refused to deploy to Iraq, saying the soldier did not fully understand a document he signed admitting to elements of the charges.

Prosecutors said 1st Lt. Ehren Watada admitted in the document that he had a duty to go to Iraq with his fellow soldiers. Watada, however, said he admitted only that he did not go to Iraq with his unit, not that he had a duty to go.

The judge, Lt. Col. John Head, granted prosecutors' request for a mistrial, which Watada's lawyer opposed. He set a March 19 date for a new trial and dismissed the jurors.

Watada, 28, of Honolulu, had been expected to testify in his own defense until Head and attorneys convened a closed meeting.

Watada is the first commissioned officer to be court-martialed for refusing to go to Iraq, said Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice in the District.

In the 12-page stipulation of fact he signed last month, Watada acknowledged that he refused to deploy last June with his unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, and that he made public statements criticizing the Iraq war. Watada has said he refused to go to Iraq because he believes the war is illegal.

In exchange, prosecutors dropped two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer. He remains charged with missing movement -- for his refusal to deploy -- and two other allegations of conduct unbecoming an officer for comments made on the case. He could get four years in prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted.

In their opening statements Tuesday, prosecutors said Watada abandoned his soldiers and brought disgrace upon himself and the service by accusing the Army of war crimes and denouncing the Bush administration.

Watada's attorney, Eric Seitz, countered that Watada acted in good conscience.

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