Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Why I Can't Take My Eyes Off of Ehren Watada

I've been following the case of Army Lt. Ehren Watada for a while now, with anticipation, fear, and yes, yes, coming from the most colonized place left in the world, Guam, yes, jealousy. I'll explain the jealousy comment in a moment.
As you can read below, Watada made alot of people relieved and nervous in 2004 when he refused to deploy to Iraq, claiming that the war was immoral and illegal. Alot of people in lower ranks have made similar claims or attempted to make claims such as this, but their attempts, except in a few cases such as Camilio Meija never receive this sort of national attention.
Why the buzz? One reason is simply that Watada is an officer. He isn't part of the rank and file, he's part of the management class of the military. It is understandable if the grunts make noises or try to escape fighting. After all, they aren't getting the material support they need for the war, are fighting next to private contractors who are making ten times as much, and as was recently reported in the Washington Post, but has been common knowledge for anyone who doesn't have an American flag stuffed up their noses, the services for veterans were not expanded in anticipation of the Iraq War, and are therefore struggling to meet the needs of the deluge of returning catastrophically wounded soldiers.
But Watada is an officer, who in exchange, for slightly more freedom, slightly more money and more opportunity is supposed to help manage the rabble. His objection to the war is dangerous to the military which is struggling to convince an underpaid and overworked, all volunteer military whose belief that the Iraq war was or is necessary is slowly eroding, to stay the course.
Second, Watada, as a straight A, college student, who volunteered to join the military after 9/11 is not someone who can be dismissed as a crazy, leftist loon or peacnik.
Third, Watada in his public statements is not someone who can be dismissed as "scared." This has been the typical right wing response, that "lu'han este na popble na lahi, ai na'ma'a'se." But what is going on in his head or heart isn't necessarily important or relevant here, since the statements and the arguments he is standing upon are rock solid. Soldiers are being asked to violate the Constitution in Iraq, as they are often required to do in wars. War is the space where the law is meant to be violated, where it is meant to be trampled upon, a space where each man is supposedly sovereign, because of the exceptionalism that pushes soldiers to kill each other and raze each other's lives and homes.
Samuel Huntington's thesis on The Clash of Civilizations, is this violent exceptionalist discourse consolidated and theorized for the public, but you can feel it in the simplest speech on Musliums today, and Vietnamese, Germans, Japanese before. In the space of war, you are meant to encounter an enemy who is beyond rehablitation, whose very existence is supposed to threaten your very core. There is no possibility for negotiation, for dialogue here. But because this enemy takes this radical position, beyond the desire to speak, to follow any law except their propensity for violence and wish for your death, you are relieved of the obligation to follow the law. Your release from this obligation, will be justified for different reasons, but ultimately is focused around the belief that the enemy follows no law and cannot understand the law, and can therefore be reduced to an object of violence, rather than a subject of violence.
The fact that there has been a perpetually shortage of translators in the war in Iraq, may not simply be due to incompetence, it might well be connected to this need to have the enemy or in this case the Iraqi be beyond communication, its speech, ranting gibberish, which cannot be translated into rational words, which cannot be translated into an understanding of peace, order or the law.
With Watada's refusal to fight, and rooting his objection in international law, the Constitution, the immorality of a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis, he is asserting the importance of a higher law to respect and to adhere to than the command of the sovereign.
In times of war, as Bush administration shill John Yoo has argued, the balance of power becomes tipped to privilege the authority of the President. "We are used to a peacetime system in which Congress enacts the laws, the president enforces them, and the courts interpret them. In wartime, the gravity shifts to the executive branch." With the Bush Administration's assertion that we are indeed in locked in a very real, but very different "war on terror" right now, he is attempted to elevate its rule, its interests, its demands above that of "the law." He is attempting to occupy the place of the law, to fill it, and make it the place from which his wishes become law. His biggest wish after all is not that he be the educator in chielf, but "the decider."
What Watada is reminding us is that, the simple assertion of the existence of a state of war, does not necessarily suspend the primacy of our laws. The sovereign dreams of war, because it is what infuses him with authority, what makes his words fall and form with the force of law. The laws which the President tells us are insufficient, irrelevant, or in the words of Alberto Gonzalez "quaint" do not disappear or cease to have any meaning because the President says so. What makes Watada so dangerous to those who wish to make more war, is that he is reminding us that laws such as the Geneva Convention or even the Constitution continue to persist, continue to have meaning and relevance, and only dissipate in authority because we treat the sovereign's words and needs as law. It is important to remember that that the sovereign is only sovereign, because he is treated as such, not because of any pre-existing condition or essence that makes it so.
So, why in the world would I be jealous of Lt. Ehren Watada? First of all he is from Hawai'i, which although being in a comparable place in terms of historical and contemporary military importance and colonization with Guam, at least Hawai'i has some sort of an anti-war movement, Lt. Watada, and can boast that its state senate took steps to bring back their Army and Air National Guard troops in 2006.
In Guam, military service comes heavily laden with not just the narratives of economic mobility, civic duty and exceptionalism, reinvigorated masculinity, but also the extra dimension of repayment to the United States for liberation from the Japanese in 1944. The idea of a young Chamorro officer protesting the war in Iraq is almost unthinkable in Guam. This is not because Chamorros aren't against the war or don't want to fight, but largely for the same reason that Bush had gained such dominance over public law and life in the United States, because everyone else assumes in a similar way, that everyone supports this, or no one in their right mind would contest or question that. Remember, or merely feel around you the closedness of public discourse after 9/11. Think about the ways that people could not speak out against the war in Afghanistan or the war in Iraq, or the erosion of civil liberties, because they were too busy defending themselves from attacks on their patriotism, and their critiques were lost because they were tripping over themselves trying to prove that they were just as war-like or just as America loving as the worst right winger.
This is what life is like in Guam all the time. Any critique of the United States, in particular the military or its right to wage war across the world is demolished by the rigid public assumptions that everyone supports whatever the United States military wants or says, because, due to the insane levels of Chamorro participation in the armed forces, we literally are the military, or because of our small island, non-modern culture and lack of natural resources, we need that military money to survive.
I dream daily of a Chamorro Lt. Watada. That young Chamorros who feel Guam's colonial status, and are tired of serving a nation that rejects their island as American regularly, but also prevents them from following their own self-determined path, and want to resist, want to speak out, will find a way of doing so. I receive emails regularly from Chamorros who are either serving, or who profess to speak on behalf of those serving which claim I am insane, unpatriotic, dangerous or way off base. This is my reality. But I am pushed forward by my dream, which I get hints of in the stand of Lt. Watada. My dream is that out there, whether in South Korea, Okinawa, Iraq, Afghanistan, Fort Lewis, Camp Pendelton, Chamorros serving in the armed forces will begin to find the space to speak their critiques from, and that in some way I can help them.
For now, you can go to the website his mother made to learn more about Lt. Watada's case, which was recently dismissed, but for which charges have once again been filed by the army. The website is http://www.thankyoult.org
Click here to sign a petition in support for his cause.


Lieutenant Watada's War Against the War
Jeremy Brecher & Brendan Smith

In a remarkable protest from inside the ranks of the military, First Lieut. Ehren Watada has become the Army's first commissioned officer to publicly refuse orders to fight in Iraq on grounds that the war is illegal. The 28-year-old announced his decision not to obey orders to deploy to Iraq in a video press conference June 7, saying, "My participation would make me party to war crimes."

An artillery officer stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, Watada wore a business suit rather than his military uniform when making his statement. "It is my conclusion as an officer of the armed forces that the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law," he said. "Although I have tried to resign out of protest, I am forced to participate in a war that is manifestly illegal. As the order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must as an officer of honor and integrity refuse that order."

A native of Hawaii who enlisted in the Army after graduating from college in 2003, Watada differs from other military personnel who have sought conscientious-objector status to avoid deployment to Iraq.

Watada told Truthout's Sarah Olson that at first he gave the Bush Administration the benefit of the doubt as it built the case for war. But when he discovered he was being sent to Iraq, he began reading everything he could, such as James Bamford's Pretext for War. He concluded that the war was based on false pretenses, ranging from the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction to the claim that Saddam had ties to Al Qaeda and 9/11 to the idea that the United States is in Iraq to promote democracy.

His investigation led him to question the very legality of the war. In an interview with Democracy Now!, he explained that as he read articles by experts on international and constitutional law, reports from governmental and nongovernmental agencies, revelations from independent journalists, writings by the Iraqi people and the words of soldiers coming home, "I came to the conclusion that the war and what we're doing over there is illegal."

First, he concluded that the war violates the Constitution and War Powers Act, which, he said, "limits the President in his role as commander in chief from using the armed forces in any way he sees fit." Watada also concluded that "my moral and legal obligation is to the Constitution and not to those who would issue unlawful orders."
Second, he claims the war is illegal under international law. He discovered that "the UN Charter, the Geneva Convention and the Nuremberg principles all bar wars of aggression." The Constitution makes such treaties part of American law as well.
These are not wild legal claims. Watada's conclusions are supported by mountains of evidence and experts, including the judgment of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who in 2004 declared that the US invasion was "not in conformity with the UN Charter, and from our point of view...was illegal."
Watada said he came to recognize that the military conduct of the occupation is also illegal: "If you look at the Army Field Manual, 27-10, which governs the laws of land warfare, it states certain responsibilities for the occupying power. As the occupying power, we have failed to follow a lot of those regulations." He told ABC News that the "wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of the Iraqi people" is "a contradiction to the Army's own law of land warfare."
While ongoing media coverage of the protest debates whether Watada's action is one of cowardice or conscience, so far the seriousness of his legal claims have been largely ignored. Watada's position is different from that of conscientious objectors, who oppose all wars. "I'm not just against bearing arms or fighting people. I am against an unjustified war," he said.
Can such a claim be heard in a military court? In 2004, Petty Officer Pablo Paredes refused to board his Iraq-bound ship in San Diego Harbor, claiming to be a conscientious objector. At his court-martial, Paredes testified that he was convinced that the Iraq War was illegal. National Lawyers Guild president-elect Marjorie Cohn presented evidence to support his claim. The military judge, Lieut. Cmdr. Robert Klant, accepted Paredes's war-crimes defense and refused to send him to jail. The government prosecutor's case was so weak that Cohn, in a report published on Truthout.org, noted that Klant declared ironically, "I believe the government has just successfully proved that any seaman recruit has reasonable cause to believe that the wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq were illegal."
One of Germany's highest courts heard a case last year regarding a German soldier who refused to participate in military activities as part of the US-led coalition in Iraq. The Federal Administrative Court issued a long and detailed decision in his favor, saying, "There were and still are serious legal objections to the war against Iraq...relating to the UN Charter's prohibition of the use of violence and other provisions of international law."
Watada's case comes amid a growing questioning of the Iraq War in all levels of the military. A February Zogby poll found that 72 percent of American troops serving in Iraq think the United States should leave the country within the next year, and more than one in four say the United States should leave immediately. While the "generals' revolt" against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld didn't challenge the legality of the war per se, many retired military leaders have strongly condemned the use of torture and other violations of international and military law.
According to USA Today, at least 8,000 service members have deserted since the Iraq War began. The Guardian reports that there are an estimated 400 Iraq War deserters in Canada, of whom at least twenty have applied for asylum. An Army spokesman says that ten other servicemen besides Watada have refused to go to Iraq.
Resistance in the military played a critical role in ending the French war in Algeria, the Israeli occupation of Lebanon and the American war in Vietnam. Such resistance not only undermines the capacity of a government to conduct wars; it also challenges the moral claims that are used to justify them and inspires others to examine their own responsibilities.
Watada's action comes as the issue of US war crimes in Iraq is inexorably creeping into the public spotlight. Senator John Warner has promised to hold hearings on the alleged Haditha massacre. The UN Committee Against Torture has declared that the United States is engaging in illegal torture at Guantánamo and elsewhere. An investigation by the European Union has found overwhelming evidence of the rendition of prisoners to other countries for torture.
Watada's highly publicized stand will no doubt lead others to ask what they are doing to halt such crimes. Unless the Army assigns him somewhere besides Iraq or permits him to resign his commission, he will now face court-martial for refusing to serve as ordered and possibly years in prison.
According to an ominous statement released by the Army commanders at Fort Lewis in response to Watada's press conference: "For a commissioned officer to publicly declare an apparent intent to violate military law by refusing to obey orders is a serious matter and could subject him to adverse action."
Watada's decision to hold a press conference and post his statements online puts him at serious risk. In theory, if the Army construes his public statements as an attempt to encourage other soldiers to resist, he could be charged with mutiny under Article 94 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which considers those who act "with intent to usurp or override lawful military authority, refuses, in concert with any other person, to obey orders or otherwise do his duty or creates any violence or disturbance is guilty of mutiny." The conservative group Military Families Voice of Victory is already "demanding the Army prosecute Lt. Watada to the fullest extent under the Uniform Code of Military Justice."
Watada told Truthout's Olson that when he started to question the war, he he felt, like so many in and out of the military, that "there was nothing to be done, and this administration was just continually violating the law to serve their purpose, and there was nothing to stop them." But he realized that there was something he personally could do: "It is my duty not to follow unlawful orders and not to participate in things I find morally reprehensible."
"The one God-given freedom and right that we really have is freedom of choice," Watada says, echoing the profound message of Mohandas Gandhi. "I just want to tell everybody, especially people who doubt the war, that you do have that one freedom. And that's something that they can never take away. Yes, they will imprison you. They'll throw the book at you. They'll try to make an example out of you, but you do have that choice."
Even facing prison time, Watada is firm. "When you are looking your children in the eye in the future, or when you are at the end of your life, you want to look back on your life and know that at a very important moment, when I had the opportunity to make the right decisions, I did so, even knowing there were negative consequences."
Watada's recognition of his duty provides a challenge not only to those in the military but to all Americans: "We all have a duty as American citizens for civil disobedience, and to do anything we can within the law to stop an illegal war."

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