Military drops two charges against Watada; withdraws journalist subpoenas

by Mike Barber, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

A week before the court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada is to begin, the Army has dropped two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer, Fort Lewis officials and Watada's supporters said Monday.

The dismissal means Watada now could face a maximum of four years in prison if convicted instead of six. It also means two reporters subpoenaed to testify about statements Watada made in interviews with them will not be called.

Watada, 28, an artillery officer, is facing a court-martial as the only military officer to refuse deployment to Iraq with Fort Lewis' 4,000member Stryker Brigade last summer. Watada has called the war illegal and immoral and says international conventions and Army policies require him as an officer to refuse unlawful orders.

Watada has refused conscientious-objector status, saying he is not against war in general. He has said he would fight in Afghanistan.

Joe Piek, a Fort Lewis press spokesman, said Watada signed a stipulation-of-fact to the authenticity of statements he has made in exchange for the government's agreeing to dismiss two counts of conduct unbecoming. Each carried a maximum term of one-year confinement.

By signing the stipulation, Army prosecutors no longer had to subpoena the reporters, Piek said.

Watada faces one count of missing movement with his unit to Iraq and two of conduct unbecoming an officer for public statements he made to the media and at a Veterans for Peace national convention in Seattle last summer.

In a news release, Watada's lead lawyer, Eric Seitz of Hawaii said, "By agreeing beforehand to all of the facts the government would ask of the subpoenaed reporters, Lieutenant Watada shielded these journalists from the heavy-handedness of the government."

Seitz said, "While we don't think any charges should have been filed at all for simply exercising free speech, we are pleased with the government's willingness to reduce Lieutenant Watada's potential sentence by two years."

Watada, meanwhile, has become a focus for the anti-war movement as activists prepare for his court-martial, which is scheduled to begin Monday. Demonstrators are expected to gather outside Fort Lewis during the proceedings.

Watada made an appearance over the weekend at several peace events in and around Seattle. A week before, after Watada lost in a military court several free-speech inspired motions to put the legality of the war on trial in his defense, a "citizens panel" at The Evergreen State College's Tacoma campus convened over that issue.

article originally published at http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/301650_watada30.html.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey