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US Army officer charged for refusing deployment to 'unlawful' Iraq war

[JURIST] US Army prosecutors charged [charge sheet, PDF; Army press release, PDF] 1st Lt. Ehren Watada [advocacy website; Wikipedia profile] late Wednesday in connection with his refusal to deploy to Iraq with the rest of his unit last week. Watada announced in early June that he would not deploy because he believes the Iraq war is unlawful [JURIST report], adding that he would go to Afghanistan if called to do so. The 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, arrived in Iraq last week without Watada [Seattle Times report; Army press release, PDF], though senior officials remained hopeful that Watada would join his unit on one of its flights.

The military charged Watada with missing his unit's movement on June 22, contempt toward officials because of statements made about President Bush and others, and conduct unbecoming an officer [IMCM backgrounders] because of statements referring to the war as "morally wrong" and a "breach of American law." An Army statement said that "officers are held to a high moral and legal standard," making his comments, including one that he would be "party to war crimes," subject to the conduct unbecoming an officer charge under Article 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice [text] because it brings dishonor to the armed services. The military will begin an Article 32 [Navy JAG backgrounder] hearing to determine if the charges against Watada will proceed to court-martial. If convicted, Watada could face several years in prison, a dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of pay. Watada's lawyer said he was surprised at the contempt and conduct unbecoming an officer charges, noting that Watada exercised his First Amendment free speech rights when he made public comments denouncing the war. Reuters has more. The Seattle Times has local coverage.

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