The people running the Iraq war are eager to make an example of Ehren Watada. They’ve convened a kangaroo court-martial. But the man on trial is setting a profound example of conscience — helping to undermine the war that the Pentagon’s top officials are so eager to protect.
“The judge in the case against the first U.S. officer court-martialed for refusing to ship out for Iraq barred several experts in international and constitutional law from testifying Monday about the legality of the war,” the Associated Press reported.
While the judge was hopping through the military’s hoops at Fort Lewis in Washington state, an outpouring of support for Watada at the gates reflected just how broad and deep the opposition to this war has become.
The AP dispatch merely stated that “outside the base, a small group that included actor Sean Penn demonstrated in support of Watada.” But several hundred people maintained an antiwar presence Monday at the gates, where a vigil and rally — led by Iraq war veterans and parents of those sent to kill and be killed in this horrific war — mirrored what is happening in communities across the United States.
Many of the most compelling voices against the Iraq war come from the men and women who were ordered into a conflagration that should never have begun. Opinions may be debatable, but experiences are irrefutable. And the devastating slaughter that the U.S. war effort continues to inflict on Iraqi people has a counterpoint in the suffering of Americans who are left with unspeakable grief.
In direct resistance to the depravity of the Bush administration as it escalates this war, Lieutenant Watada is taking a clear and uplifting position. Citing international law and the U.S. Constitution, he points out that the Iraq war is “manifestly illegal.” And he adds: “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. It is my duty not to follow unlawful orders and not to participate in things I find morally reprehensible.”
Watada says: “My participation would make me party to war crimes.”
Outside the fence at Fort Lewis — while the grim farce of Watada’s court-martial proceeded with virtually all substance ruled out of order — the criminality of the war and the pain it has brought were heavy in the air.
Darrell Anderson was a U.S. soldier in Iraq. He received a Purple Heart. Later, he refused orders to return for a second tour of duty. Now, he gives firsthand accounts of the routine killing of Iraqi civilians. He speaks as an eyewitness and a participant in a war that is one long war crime. And he makes a convincing case that “the GI resistance” is emerging and pivotal: “You can’t call yourself antiwar if you’re not supporting the resistance.”
At Fort Lewis, outside the gates, I met Carlos Arredondo. He’s traveling the country in a long black hearse-like station wagon, with big photos and letters from his son Alexander plastered on the sides of the vehicle. At age 20, more than two years ago, Alexander died in Iraq. Now, a conversation with Carlos Arredondo is likely to leave you in tears, feeling his grief and his rage against this war.
“When the Marines came to inform Arredondo of his son’s death and stayed after he asked them to leave, he set their van on fire, burning over a quarter of his body in the process,” the Boston Globe has reported. Carlos and his wife Melida Arredondo are now members of Military Families Speak Out.
Among the speakers at a nearby event the night before Watada’s court-martial began was Helga Aguayo, whose husband Agustin Aguayo is a U.S. Army medic now charged with desertion. After deployment to Iraq in 2004, he applied for recognition as a conscientious objector, without success. During a year in the war zone, he refused to put ammunition in his weapon. Today, he is looking at the prospect of up to seven years in prison.
Many others in uniform are struggling to extricate themselves from the war machine. Information about some of them is available at: <www.couragetoresist.org>.
Soldiers have to choose from options forced upon them by the commander in chief and Congress. Those who resist this war deserve our gratitude and our support. And our willingness to resist as well.
Ehren Watada faces four years in prison. Half of that potential sentence has to do with the fact that he made public statements against the war. The war-makers want such honest courage to stop. But it is growing every day.
NORMAN SOLOMON is the author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.