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Army to discharge officer who refused to go to Iraq

1st Lt. Ehren Watada's court-martial ended in a mistrial, and the Army has decided not to attempt another prosecution. Watada had argued he would be participating in war crimes if he fought in Iraq.

September 29, 2009|Kim Murphy

SEATTLE — Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada will be discharged by the end of the week, concluding the fight over his refusal to deploy to Iraq, an Army spokesman said Monday.

After a court-martial proceeding that ended in a mistrial, the Army has elected not to attempt further prosecution and instead will discharge the first lieutenant, who argued he would be participating in war crimes if he fought in Iraq.

"What was approved was basically his request to resign in lieu of a general court-martial for the good of the service," said spokesman Joseph Piek at Ft. Lewis, Wash., where Watada has been working at a desk job.

The separation is classified as an administrative discharge. Watada's lawyers said it was granted under "other than honorable conditions."

The Army previously had refused Watada's offer to resign.

Watada, 31, a native of Honolulu, was court-martialed for refusing to join his unit on its deployment to Iraq in 2006. He also was accused of making statements critical of former President George W. Bush and the war that the military deemed "conduct unbecoming an officer."

The proceedings ended in a mistrial, and a judge ruled that the Army could not retry Watada on most of the counts because of double jeopardy. Military prosecutors could have tried him on two charges stemming from statements Watada made that had been conditionally dismissed prior to trial.

Defense attorney Kenneth Kagan said the decision not to pursue further appeals was made by Solicitor General Elena Kagan, who is not related to Watada's lawyer.

"I think the Army came to the conclusion that it was not going to be able to prevail in a prosecution," defense attorney Kagan said. "And I think when the new solicitor general came in, her office had a fresh look at it, and as it was not bound by any of the decisions that had been made previously, they saw fit to put a stop to the appellate process."

In a statement, Watada's lawyers described him as "a hero and a patriot . . . [who] took a lonely stand as a matter of conscience, never attempted to spread discord within the ranks, and never sought to evangelize about his ethical convictions. . . . It is our belief that history will treat Lt. Watada far more favorably than the United States Army sees fit to regard him now."

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kim.murphy@latimes.com

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