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US Army officer opposing Iraq war asks federal court to stay court-martial

[JURIST] Lawyers for US Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] filed an emergency motion with the US District Court for the Western District of Washington on Wednesday, requesting that his court-martial, scheduled to begin next Tuesday [press release], be stayed pending the outcome of his appeal. Watada, a 28-year-old Honolulu native, publicly refused deployment to Iraq [JURIST report] in July 2006, and was charged by the Army with with four counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and one count of missing movements. His first court-martial was declared a mistrial [JURIST report], but the Army refiled charges [JURIST report] over Watada's argument that the constitutional principle of double jeopardy [FindLaw backgrounder] should prevent the army from refiling charges, as the mistrial was the result of prosecutorial misconduct. In July, a military judge disagreed with Watada and ruled the second court-martial would not constitute double jeopardy [JURIST report]. His case is now before the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, but that court has not yet issued a decision, prompting Watada to ask the federal district court for relief. AP has more.

If convicted at court-martial, Watada could be sentenced up to six years in prison and receive a dishonorable discharge from the Army. Watada has refused 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 an initial charge of contempt towards officials.

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