No court-martial for Watada on refusal to deploy
By VANESSA HO
First Lt. Ehren Watada will not face a second court-martial for his decision to refuse deployment to Iraq, after a federal appeals court judge allowed the U.S. Army to drop its appeal in the case Wednesday.
"We are cautiously optimistic that perhaps we've had enough litigation," said Watada's attorney, James Lobsenz.
Watada was court-martialed in 2007 on five criminal counts after his high-profile refusal of deployment. The case ended in a mistrial, when the military judge declared that Watada did not fully understand a stipulation he had signed before the trial.
The case then went to the civilian U.S. District Court, where Judge Benjamin Settle ruled that a second court-martial on three of the five counts -- including refusal of deployment, the most serious charge -- would constitute double jeopardy.
Settle set aside two specifications of the same charge -- conduct unbecoming an officer -- which stemmed from public statements Watada made against the war and President Bush.
Settle left the door open for the United States to pursue those charges later. Fort Lewis spokesman Joseph Piek said he did not know if the Department of Justice intended to refile those charges. Lobsenz said no charges are currently pending.
Piek said the Army is now considering administrative forms of punishment for Watada, who is working a desk job at the base. He said the punishment options include extra duty, forfeiture of pay, or being discharged from the military.
"The one element that concerns us the most is that this case has always been and will forever be about a soldier -- in this case, a lieutenant, a commissioned officer -- who refused orders to deploy," Piek said.
"Because of a legal technicality, that charge is never going to see its day in court. For the hundreds of thousands of soldiers Army- wide, and for the many thousands of soldiers at Ft . Lewis, that is very disturbing."
Lobsenz said Watada -- who had become a hero among anti-war protesters -- is anticipating that he will be released soon from active duty. The case has extended his military service beyond what would have been his normal release date.
"He plans to return to civilian life and attend law school," Lobsenz said.