Iraq Objector Obtains Delay of Court-Martial

Lawyers for 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, above, asked a federal judge to consider whether a second court-martial constitutes double jeopardy under U.S. law. (By Steven M. Herppich -- Associated Press)
Associated Press
Sunday, October 7, 2007

TACOMA, Wash. -- A federal judge has temporarily blocked a court-martial scheduled for an Army first lieutenant who has objected to deploying to Iraq.

The second court-martial of Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada had been scheduled to start Tuesday. The first ended in a mistrial in February when the judge said he did not believe that Watada fully understood a pretrial agreement he had signed.

Watada is charged with missing his unit's deployment to Iraq in June 2006 and with conduct unbecoming an officer for denouncing President Bush and the Iraq war.

Watada's attorneys argue the Army is violating his constitutional rights by trying him twice for the same crime. After an Army court disagreed, the defense filed an emergency motion to block the court-martial in federal court.

U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma has decided that his court has jurisdiction to issue the stay and that Watada's double-jeopardy claim is not frivolous. Settle has asked for more briefs from both sides on the issue.

In a statement issued Friday night, the Army said: "Every soldier is entitled to due process in answering charges made against him, and this case is no different. 1st Lt. Watada has always been, and will continue to be, treated fairly and according to law and military justice procedures."

Jim Lobsenz, one of Watada's attorneys, said Watada had been informed of the stay and "he's very happy."

"I'm very happy, too," Lobsenz added.

Watada contends that the war is illegal and that he would be party to war crimes if he served in Iraq. The Army refused his request to be posted in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

The Army Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled that Watada can be court-martialed again, but Watada appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, which has not ruled, his attorneys wrote.

Watada lives in Olympia, Wash., and continues to perform administrative duties at Fort Lewis, south of Seattle. His term of service ended in December, but the pending legal proceedings have prevented his discharge.

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