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Mistrial declared in court-martial of US Army officer opposing Iraq war

[JURIST] The military judge overseeing the court-martial [JURIST report] of US Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] declared a mistrial Wednesday after throwing out a pretrial agreement in which Watada admitted that he failed to deploy to Iraq [JURIST report] with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division [official website] in June. Watada was initially charged [charge sheet, PDF; JURIST report] with missing troop movement, contempt toward officials, and multiple specifications [JURIST report] of conduct unbecoming. The judge, Lt. Col. John Head, stated that the agreement was enough to find Watada guilty, and prosecutors moved for a mistrial because the jury had already seen the pretrial agreement. Head granted a new trial, which is tentatively scheduled for March.

Watada, a 28-year-old Honolulu native who is the first commissioned officer in the US military to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq, refuses to be classified as a conscientious objector because he does not object to war in general, just to the "illegal" war in Iraq. He offered to serve in Afghanistan, but the US Army refused. His vocal protests and participation in rallies by Veterans for Peace [advocacy website] and Courage to Resist [advocacy website] led to the charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and the original charge of contempt toward officials. Last month, Head ruled that Watada could not argue the legality of the war [JURIST report] as part of his defense during his court-martial, and on Monday on the opening day of the trial Head directly barred [JURIST report] international and constitutional law scholars from testifying on the point. The Seattle Times has more.

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