Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Watada Trial and Personal Responsibility

I was struck by this collumn in the Seattle Post Intelligencer today regarding the actions of Lt. Ehren Watada. The author Robert Jamieson explores the difference between Lt. Watada and Sgt. Mickel David Garrigus who recently died in Iraq, asking which one should be treated as a hero. Before I get deeper into this I believe that Mr. Jamieson forces a false choice upon his readers, playing on every emotional connection that one can to portray Sgt. Garrigus well and Lt. Watada poorly. Undoubtedly we should mourn for Sgt. Garrigus just as we should morn for every one of the more than 3,000 American soldiers and countless Iraqis who have died in this terrible war. Jamieson acts as though one cant think highly of both at the same time, as though respecting the fight that Mr. Watada is putting up somehow diminishes the life of Sgt. Garrigus, it doesnt. The crux of Jamieson's argument however lies below.
They've talked about values they hold dear: patriotism and honor and duty.

Both have anguished over the implosion of Iraq.

But as soldiers they've long known -- or damn well should have known -- that an imperfect military machine works because men and women sign up to follow orders. They are contracted to abide by the rules. You break these rules -- even if you question, as I do, those at the top who are now enforcing them -- and you face the consequences. Period.

This is a deeply flawed moral philosophy that Jamieson presents his readers with, and one that needs to be examined. Jamieson even quotes the right source but fails to engage with the weight of its words, I refer to Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham City Jail."
"One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."

This is not about whether Lt. Watada will face consequences (though I was sure he would until today) this is about the responsibility that an individual holds to others. Watata feels that the war is unjust and has made the determination that if one feels the war is unjust one should not participate in it. Jamieson's argument is precisely the one that was rightly rejected at Nuremburg, that individual's following orders bears no responsibility for what he has done. The Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann merely decided to do his job rather than to stop and question the fact that he was playing an active part in the slaughter of millions of innocent people. Watada has broken the law and should be confined to prison, but that misses the point, the point is that Watada has acted in good faith with his conscious, he has made the determination that he cannot bear to live knowing that he played a part in this war. Those who say that soldiers should not question the conflicts for which they fight merely return to the nuremburg defense. Watada is as King put it "showing the highest respect for law" but refusing to participate in this war and willingly accepting the penalty for it. But recent events undermine this.
The Army court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, which ended in a mistrial Wednesday, may have stranger turns ahead: Prohibitions against double jeopardy may keep prosecutors from having a second trial, his lawyer and another legal expert say.

The opposition of Watada and his defense team to the mistrial, declared by the military judge and eventually endorsed by prosecutors after their case fell apart, opens the door for a double-jeopardy defense, said John Junker, a University of Washington law professor.
The dramatic turn of events hinged on a stipulation of fact that Watada signed in a plea agreement more than a week ago. Under the plea deal, prosecutors dropped two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer against Watada. He was being tried this week on two other charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and one count of missing movement when his Stryker Brigade deployed to Iraq in June.

Head questioned Watada while the jury was out of the courtroom, which Seitz objected to but allowed, and legal experts such as Junker said they would consider that questioning "very unusual" in a civilian trial.

Head concluded that he could not accept Watada's statement. Although Watada had admitted to failing to deploy with his unit, it was not the same as admitting guilt, which prosecutors considered it to be, Head said.

Watada should in fact have admitted guilt, he should have said "yes! I refused to get on that plane, if that is a crime than I guess I'm guilty!" But he didnt, If Watada truly wants to take the moral high ground he should not be pleading his innocence but rather admitting his guilt. I have a deep respect for Watada's refusal to participate in more killing, he can not participate in this war if he truly believes that it is wrong. However, he should plead guilty and accept the consequences of doing so. The moral high ground rarely comes without consequences, and it seems as though Lt. Watada is trying to have it both ways, which is a shame.


Daniel Kirkdorffer said...

Watada admitted he missed deployment. To that he does not dispute the facts. To that he pleads guilty. However, he not guilty plea is based on his utter belief that what he has done is the only correct course of action he could take. There is no guilt in that.

Anonymous said...

Wtada is a traitor and deserve nothing less than the firing squad. You candy asses who have never served have no idea what you are talking about.

Gus' wife said...

Why was my husbands name mentioned at all in this? My husband died defending our freedoms and rights. Watada joined the military promising to do the same, but didn't. My husband died with honor and pride for his country. So please don't comapare him to some coward.