Army Charges Lt. Watada

1st Lt. Ehren Watada
1st Lt. Ehren Watada

July 5, 2006 10:13 PM

HONOLULU (KHNL)- Hawaii residents react to what's shaping up to be a controversial international case, centered around a Hawaii-born soldier.

The Army filed three charges today against First Lieutenant Ehren Watada who refused to deploy to Iraq last month because he believes the war is illegal. The charges are conduct unbecoming an officer, missing movement and contempt toward officials.

Defense attorney Eric Seitz says military lawyers calculated 28-year-old Watada could face seven and a half years in prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted.

Watada is reportedly in good spirits tonight, just hours after the army read the charges against him. His father Bob Watada says, "I'm very concerned for my son but when you do the right thing you feel ok, you feel good. He did the right thing and I'm very proud of him."

Seitz is not surprised Watada is charged with missing movement but-- "we were flabbergasted the army made charges that he was disrespectful in some of the statements he's made to the media."

Seitz expects a battle about first amendment rights. "Obviously those charges are being used to muzzle opposition in a way that I think is very unprincipled."

Opponents, like veteran Jack Schneider, say Watada deserves prison time. "I don't think it's enough. Being a veteran I know what it's like to be in a combat zone where people are saying things that are detrimental to the mission."

Watada's father says his son is ready to pay for his beliefs. "If that's the price to pay for him standing up then he's going to go to jail. He's prepared for it."

Seitz expects Watada's first military hearing - called an Article 32 - at the end of this month, and his court marital to start in the fall.

Watada is a member of the Army's first Stryker Brigade Combat Team. He refused to go to Iraq after researching the war and determining it to be illegal. He said he would be willing to serve in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

The Army refused to allow him to resign his commission because his unit is covered by a stop-loss policy and he has not fulfilled his service obligation, which ends in December.