Watada Case Sparks Freedom Of Speech Debate

Lieutenant Ehren Watada
Lieutenant Ehren Watada
Sergeant Vanessa Upshaw
Sergeant Vanessa Upshaw
Corporal Jason Johnson
Corporal Jason Johnson

Jan 5, 2007 12:38 AM

By Mary Simms

(KHNL) - A pre-trial hearing began Thursday for the Hawaii-born Soldier who refused to deploy to Iraq with his unit.

By refusing to deploy, Lt. Ehren Watada upset Soldiers, and many members of the community.

Regardless of your opinion of Watada, his trial has sparked an interesting debate.

Do the service members who defend our nation's First Amendment give up that right once they put on the uniform?

Watada is facing up to two years in prison for not deploying to Iraq. He is also facing four more years for 'conduct unbecoming an officer and gentlemen.'

Some of those charges stem from Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice; because he is an officer, and not enlisted, he could face charges for speaking out against the war and exercising his own free speech.

"Really, the issues that we're focusing on right now are mainly focused on issues of free speech," said David Forman, President of the Japanese American's Citizens League.

In addition to missing troop movement, Lt. Watada is being charged with, with conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman. And that's based on statements he has made to explain his position.

In basic training, one of the first things soldiers are told by their drill sergeants, is that they're there to defend democracy- not practice it. So, do the soldiers protecting freedom of speech feel free to practice it?

"I don't have a comment and I don't know anything about that ma'am," said a soldier refusing to speak as he headed into a restaurant in Wahiawa.

One woman who serves in uniform was egr to speak her mind.

"Oh, I've got something to say about that," US Army Specialist Demetira Pearson said emphatically. "You're own beliefs, you have to put those to the side. Because, you have to defend the country. He's wrong. And he should go to jail."

Others weren't so anxious to exercise their First Amendment rights

"Well, we all know that in the military you really can't say certain things," said US Army Sargent Vanessa Upshaw.

Another woman who has achieved one of the US Army's highest enlisted rank's felt free to express her views.

"He shouldn't have signed up if he wanted freedom of speech. In the military, we abide by rules, regulations, and polices. If you want freedom of speech, you shouldn't join the military," she said,

After the interview, she later called to request we not broadcast of publish her unit or name.

The Honolulu Chapter of the Japanese Americans Citizens League has declared their support for Lt. Watada.

"It's very ironic that the military essentially forced him to make these views. Also, as a soldier he is fighting to assert democratic values, but now he's being prosecuted for that," said Forman.

Freedom of speech is a big price to pay, but there are those willing to pay it.

"It's the price you have to pay for freedom," said US Army Soldier, Corporal Jason Johnson. "Somebody has to pay for other people's freedom because freedom is not free. I enlisted for a certain period of time. Once that's over, I'll be able to say 'Yeah, I served my time, I did my duty, and I earned my freedom.'"