Global, Politics

1st US officer refusenik?

Yesterday, at join press conferences in Tacoma, Washington and Honalulu, Hawaii, US Army First Lieutenant Ehren Watada announced he was refusing deployment to Iraq. His refusal comes in the face of possible court-marshall charges if he is not allowed to resign his commission. If not the first, this is one of the very first cases of a commissioned officer refusing deployment to Iraq. He’s making a really incredible statement. Lt Watada joined after September 11th, gave the President the benefit of the doubt, but then began to see the truth on the wmds, the non links to Al Qaeda, and the real reasons the US is in Iraq. Instead of accepting a non fighting deployment, Lt. Watada decided the best way he could help his fellow soldiers is to speak out. It’s going to take more brave women and men like Lt. Watada to help bring the message, and the troops, home.
From a statement prepared by his lawyer, Eric A. Seitz:

Lt. Watada was stationed at Ft. Lewis in January, 2006, when he first asked for permission to resign his commission because “I am whole-heartedly opposed to the continued war in Iraq, the deception used to wage this was, and the lawlessness that has pervaded every aspect of our civilian leadership.” After his initial request and a second formal application to resign were denied by the Army, Lt. Watada informed his superiors that he will refuse to deploy with his unit when it is scheduled to leave Ft. Lewis for Iraq later this month.

Sarah Olson of truthout interviewed Lt. Watada in late May. It’s a really fantastic interview from a guy who’s really thought it all through. They’re going to swiftboat him, no doubt, and call him a traitor. Go to Thank You, Lt Watada and see what people are saying. One key moment from the Olson interview is this one:

SO: You’ve mentioned your sense of betrayal. Can you explain this?
Watada: The president is the commander in chief, and although he is our leader, there must be a strong relationship of trust. Anybody who’s been in the military knows that in order to have a cohesive and effective fighting force, you need to have a certain level of trust between leaders and soldiers. And when you don’t, things start to break down.
I signed a contract saying I will follow orders, and do what I’m told to do. There are times when I won’t be able to question it and evaluate the legality of these orders, so I have to have the ultimate trust in my leader. I have to trust the president’s word, and trust him to do what’s right. I have to trust him to sacrifice our lives only for justified and moral reasons. Realizing the president is taking us into a war that he misled us about has broken that bond of trust that we had. If the president can betray my trust, it’s time for me to evaluate what he’s telling me to do. I’ve realized that going to this war is the wrong thing to do.

Thank you, Lt. Watada.

15 thoughts on “1st US officer refusenik?

  1. I’d believe that he’s the first commissioned officer, but I’m fairly sure that there have been many other soldiers who’ve gone AWOL or refused deployment orders. Anyone happen to know numbers?

  2. There are several US soldiers (now in Canada) who have gone public as war resisters over the last couple of years. They say there are many more in the same situation who are staying underground, making it difficult to get numbers. Check out

  3. “Since the invasion began, 1,785 American soldiers have died in Iraq, 348 of them since the 31 January elections. About 5,500 US troops have gone absent without leave since the beginning of operations in 2003.” according to Patrick Cockburn
    also….1,000 AWOL British troops….in case you were wondering….

  4. Hi Miss Yaicha,
    I’m sure those awol numbers are higher, considering how much the death toll has increased since that article came out.
    What’s significant is this: he hasn’t tried to switch to conscientous objector status. he hasn’t split. he’s ready to go to jail for his beliefs. That’s not a judgement on those that have split, I do not presume to know their position or situation. And some may disagree with Lt. Watada’s tactics, but I think this is one more way to put the pressure on Bushco to end this war.

  5. I agree. I think it’s great, actually. My ex is in the military and I know how doing something like completly refusing orders can ruin your life. You don’t want to mess with the military-they can make you disappear. That’s why going public is smart. I really respect what he’s doing. And I’m also very glad I decided against enlisting last year.

  6. Yossele-Um…”Jewschool- Alternative views and culture” am I missing something? I don’t think it reads; “Jewschool-for Jew news only, Jew!” Does news about a soldier rebelling against our douchebag president offend you?

  7. And what the hell does this have to do with Judaism?
    Nothing. On the other hand, it has a great deal to do with Jews, particularly with the miilions of us that are patriotic citizens of the United States, and are disgusted that a vicious, lying imbecile is exploiting this warmongering adventure to shit all over the U.S. Constitution. Just curious: Do you think the site’s editorial policy should exclude this story? And if so, what should that policy be?

  8. And while it’s by no means unique to Jews, I have to wonder if a story about someone standing up to authorityat personal risks has a particular resonance for us Jews…

  9. I do not support this guy.
    It’s the same reason I have problems with the “refusenik” officers in the IDF (of which I know and respect several personally) who refuse to serve in the Territories.
    If you are an objector and abhor war and military service of any kind – great. You should be exempted if your beliefs are genuine.
    What I have a problem with is individuals who would like to pick and choose their military engagements. Voluntary enlisters have no right/power to dictate where/when we fight.
    Now if there were a draft, I might feel differently. Sure, as a citizen I have some power over where and when we go to war. But I lack the confidence in the democratic institutions of the US that would ensure that US military engagements reflect the popular will. For that reason only I might support selective refusal in the context of a draft.
    But selective refusal in the context of a volunteer army? I am against this.

  10. rootlesscosmo,
    I disagree with your conclusion about this matter. But that fact strikes me as trivial. What is vital, I think, is the evident fact that your conclusion was the product of thoughtfulness, introspection, and a recognition that moral decisions are often complex and ambiguous. For me, THAT is what determines whose “side” I am on, not support for or opposition to any particular policy or position.

  11. Hi Rootlesscosmo,
    you said:
    What I have a problem with is individuals who would like to pick and choose their military engagements. Voluntary enlisters have no right/power to dictate where/when we fight.
    Now if there were a draft, I might feel differently. Sure, as a citizen I have some power over where and when we go to war. But I lack the confidence in the democratic institutions of the US that would ensure that US military engagements reflect the popular will. For that reason only I might support selective refusal in the context of a draft.

    I’m not sure I understand your point here (maybe I’m up to early after being out too late); it sounds like you’re saying that you might support selective refusal (during a draft) in cases where you felt the government was failing to reflect the popular will.
    now I’m not sure where you’re from, but in New York (and certainly across the country) the drum beat up to war and the swelling of false patriotism as the evidence was manipulated and the message was carefully crafted to completely switch targets to another side of the world, people who wouldn’t have enlisted before felt the need to enlist. They were sold on this service based on a stack of lies. If you believe the chain of command is faulty, if you believe the Constitution is what should rule at the end of the day, why wouldn’t you support someone’s decision to take that over an illegal and immoral action?
    I’m not a military guy, but there’s a reason the Armed Forces is now no longer hitting its recruitment numbers- now that the truth is slowly unraveling, like the fact that, before the war began, US intelligence had Zarqawi in their sights ever day for over a year but they didn’t do anything despite our pre-empting terrorists strategy because they were afraid it would mess with our case for war against Saddam, now that the truth is coming, people don’t want to go. They know Bush and CO. lied, and the women and men over there now certainly know about the lies of the whole march to war.
    So if a military person sees and believes something is wrong after she has volunteered, what is her recourse? Should she do the wrong thing the whole time? I’m sorry but I don’t buy that.

  12. Ruby,
    The short answer is yes. They should follow orders until discharged, and then fight for a different policy from their position as a civilian.
    The problem with refusing to follow orders selectively is the longterm effects. It’s a serious breakdown in discipline that has the potential to threaten our military preparedness (should we actually need it one day).
    When a soldier can pick and choose which orders to follow, we create a situation in which personal whim and political position determine what a soldier does – regardless of the orders given.
    Now you may happen to agree with this particular soldier’s refusal (as I do on a certain gut level). But this is an easy case: the Iraq war was wrong. How about a more nuanced situation?
    War against Iran, perhaps? Sure the threat is realer than it was in Iraq, but maybe it’s just another “war for Israel.” Forget it, I’m not going. France is attacked and the NATO treaty invoked? Nah, never liked those spineless French. I’m staying home. Jordanian monarchy overthrown by coup, thousands of innocents massacred? Forget the corrupt towelheads; they weren’t real allies anyway, etc.
    Allow one soldier to “opt out” of a military engagement on the basis of political opposition — no matter how strong an argument he may have for doing so — and the slope could get pretty slippery in a hurry.

  13. rootlesscosmo:
    You’ve almost got a really good point. The military, as a system that is based on discipline and is only able to coordinate the joint efforts of thousands of men and women through that discipline, has to be careful to preserve the integrity of the chain of command.
    But as the good Lt. sees it, he’s not breaking the chain of command; it’s already broken.
    From Abu Gharaib to George Tenet, this administration has seen an overwhelming number of procedural breaches in military and intelligence organizations (And yes, the CIA is relevant to the discussion; its construction apes that of a military organization).
    The people giving the orders — the people violating the Geneva conventions, providing misleading motives for action even to the troops themselves, not just the hapless voters — are not being held accountable. Instead, we get fall guys, in the form of “dumb kids who made a mistake” or lifers who think a thorough investigation is “a good time to retire.”
    Furthermore, when an illegal order is given, a soldier is allowed by current statutes to refuse while preserving the integrity of the system.
    A good example, that of a Vietnam-era instance of what happens when you value CoC over right and wrong, can be found here (find the text Griffen).
    And lastly, your argument seems to rely on the belief that we really have a volunteer military — as you say, things would be different in the case of a draft. We can, I suppose, skip the argument that poverty and poor education pressure many without particularly patriotic leanings to join the military, but how’s this: When Lt. Watada signed up, it was certainly a volunteer organization. When they institued their stop-loss policies and refused to allow him to resign his commission, it became much less of a volunteer organization. And he’s not seeking to pick and choose his orders; he’s trying to leave — to abandon his chosen career and start over. I’d say that’s based on legitimate conviction, not a flight of fancy.

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