An Army lieutenant based at Fort Lewis has such grave objections to the war in Iraq, he’s refusing to deploy, the soldier’s attorney said Tuesday.
First Lt. Ehren Watada submitted a letter to his command in January stating he had serious reservations about the Iraq war and felt he could not participate in it, Watada’s lawyer, Eric A. Seitz, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
A couple months later, at the Army’s suggestion, Watada resubmitted his request to resign, Seitz said.
“They took their time but then they informed him in early May that they were not going to let him resign,” Seitz said in a phone interview from his office in Honolulu.
Seitz said Watada, who turns 28 on Thursday, has planned a Wednesday news conference to explain his reasons for defying the Army.
Joe Hitt, a civilian spokesman at Fort Lewis, an Army post about 40 miles south of Seattle, confirmed that Watada is a member of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, the Army’s first Stryker Brigade Combat Team. The unit held a deployment ceremony Friday and will begin leaving later this month for its second mission in Iraq.
Hitt said the Army is aware of Watada’s plans but had no comment. “We have nothing to say about it because nothing has happened, and we’re not going to speculate on anything,” Hitt said.
Watada, a native of Honolulu, is the son of Bob Watada, former executive director of Hawaii’s campaign spending commission. The younger Watada enlisted in the Army in 2003 after graduating from Hawaii Pacific University. He reported for boot camp in June of that year and began officer candidate school two months later.
Watada’s commission required that he serve as an active-duty Army officer for a three-year term ending Dec. 3, 2006, Seitz said.
“By his refusal to participate in the ongoing war, Lt. Watada joins a growing number of high-ranking military officers, West Point graduates and current and former members of the armed services who have expressed their opposition to the actions of the United States in Iraq,” Seitz said in a statement released Tuesday.
Watada could be court martialed if he refuses to serve as ordered, unless the Army allows him to resign his commission or assigns him to duties that are not directly connected to the Iraq war, Seitz said.
Watada did not apply for conscientious objector status. “In order to qualify as a conscientious objector you have to be opposed to war in any form, and he is not. He’s just opposed to this war,” Seitz told The AP.
Paul Boyce, a spokesman in the Army’s national public affairs office, said Watada is “not the first officer, not the first enlisted, nor the first soldier” to refuse to deploy.
An Army fact sheet dated Sept. 21, 2005, the most recent one available, said the Army had approved 87 conscientious objector applications and denied 101 since January 2003.
Army regulations define conscientious objection as a “firm, fixed and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms, because of religious training and belief.”
Boyce said the Army does not grant conscientious objector status to those who claim political, philosophical or sociological objections. ELIZABETH M. GILLESPIE, AP