The people running the Iraq war are eager to
make an example of Ehren Watada. They've convened a kangaroo court-martial.
But the man on trial is setting a profound example of conscience – helping
to undermine the war that the Pentagon's top officials are so eager to protect.
"The judge in the case against the first U.S. officer court-martialed
for refusing to ship out for Iraq barred several experts in
international and constitutional law from testifying Monday about the
legality of the war," the Associated Press reported.
While the judge was hopping through the military's hoops at Fort
Lewis in Washington state, an outpouring of support for Watada at the
gates reflected just how broad and deep the opposition to this war
The AP dispatch merely stated that "outside the base, a small group
that included actor Sean Penn demonstrated in support of Watada." But
several hundred people maintained an antiwar presence Monday at the
gates, where a vigil and rally – led by Iraq war veterans and
parents of those sent to kill and be killed in this horrific war –
mirrored what is happening in communities across the United States.
Many of the most compelling voices against the Iraq war come from the
men and women who were ordered into a conflagration that should never
have begun. Opinions may be debatable, but experiences are
irrefutable. And the devastating slaughter that the U.S. war effort
continues to inflict on Iraqi people has a counterpoint in the
suffering of Americans who are left with unspeakable grief.
In direct resistance to the depravity of the Bush administration as
it escalates this war, Lieutenant Watada is taking a clear and
uplifting position. Citing international law and the U.S.
Constitution, he points out that the Iraq war is "manifestly
illegal." And he adds: "As the order to take part in an illegal act
is ultimately unlawful as well, I must as an officer of honor and
integrity refuse that order. It is my duty not to follow unlawful
orders and not to participate in things I find morally
Watada says: "My participation would make me party to war crimes."
Outside the fence at Fort Lewis – while the grim farce of Watada's
court-martial proceeded with virtually all substance ruled out of
order – the criminality of the war and the pain it has brought were
heavy in the air.
Darrell Anderson was a U.S. soldier in Iraq. He received a Purple
Heart. Later, he refused orders to return for a second tour of duty.
Now, he gives firsthand accounts of the routine killing of Iraqi
civilians. He speaks as an eyewitness and a participant in a war that
is one long war crime. And he makes a convincing case that "the GI
resistance" is emerging and pivotal: "You can't call yourself antiwar
if you're not supporting the resistance."
At Fort Lewis, outside the gates, I met Carlos Arredondo. He's
traveling the country in a long black hearse-like station wagon, with
big photos and letters from his son Alexander plastered on the sides
of the vehicle. At age 20, more than two years ago, Alexander died in
Iraq. Now, a conversation with Carlos Arredondo is likely to leave
you in tears, feeling his grief and his rage against this war.
"When the Marines came to inform Arredondo of his son's death and stayed
after he asked them to leave, he set their van on fire, burning over a quarter
of his body in the process," the Boston Globe has reported. Carlos
and his wife Melida Arredondo are now members of Military Families Speak Out.
Among the speakers at a nearby event the night before Watada's
court-martial began was Helga Aguayo, whose husband Agustin Aguayo is
a U.S. Army medic now charged with desertion. After deployment to
Iraq in 2004, he applied for recognition as a conscientious objector,
without success. During a year in the war zone, he refused to put
ammunition in his weapon. Today, he is looking at the prospect of up
to seven years in prison.
Many others in uniform are struggling to extricate themselves from the war
machine. Information about some of them is available here.
Soldiers have to choose from options forced upon them by the
commander in chief and Congress. Those who resist this war deserve
our gratitude and our support. And our willingness to resist as well.
Ehren Watada faces four years in prison. Half of that potential
sentence has to do with the fact that he made public statements
against the war. The war-makers want such honest courage to stop. But
it is growing every day.