U.S. Army Officer Refuses to Return to Iraq, Saying He’s “Shocked and Disgusted” at the Busheviks’ Deception
"Simply put, I am wholeheartedly opposed to the continued war in Iraq, the deception used to wage this war, and the lawlessness that has pervaded every aspect of our civilian leadership." These were the impassioned, defiant words of Army First Lt. Ehren K. Watada, 28, in a letter he sent in January "with deep regret" to his brigade commander, Col. Stephen J. Townsend, asking to be allowed to leave the army "with honor and dignity" on Constitutional grounds. The Army's charged him under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with one count of missing movement, for not deploying, two counts of contempt towards officials and three counts of conduct unbecoming an officer. For taking this rare stand, he faces an Article 32 hearing and possible court-martial this Fall. He would be the first Army officer to be court-martialed for refusing to serve in Iraq.
To be sure, Lt. Watada is no coward, and he is fundamentally not opposed to war. To the contrary, after the attacks on 9/11 he enlisted in the Army "out of a desire to protect our country," even paying $800 of his own funds for a medical test to prove he qualified for duty despite having asthma as a child. He served in South Korea, and has been lauded by fellow officers and commanders with praise of his "exemplary" service and "unlimited potential."
So what happened? The young officer, whose military reports cited his "insatiable appetite for knowledge," started reading. He read books by James Bamford ("A Pretext for War"), Seymour M. Hirsch ("Chain of Command") and anything else he could get his hands on about the run-up to war, the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and the Bush administration's campaign of deception. He was particularly outraged by Britain's now-infamous July 2002 Downing Street Memo, which pointed to the Busheviks' early intent to overthrow Saddam by misusing and abusing intelligence to justify the March 2003 invasion.
"When I learned the awful truth that we had been deceived, I was shocked and disgusted," Lt. Watada said. Attempts between the Army and Lt. Watada to resolve the matter failed, with the Army refusing his request to serve in Afghanistan, a justifiable mission he fully supports as being directly connected to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. The Army instead offered him a staff job in Iraq, which he refused. It's the war, not the job, he is opposed to, he said.
Sentiment over the war is at its lowest point in the United States, as civil war rages on in Iraq with 100 Iraqis being killed daily and American soldiers entrenched in a quagmire that's spiraling out of control with no end in sight. Two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the war, of Bush's handling of it, and with a solid majority now believing they were deceived by the administration. Lt. Watada is clearly not alone. And his stand proves that knowledge is power; how outraged people can get when they start learning the truth. For Lt. Watada, it's unfortunate that he's serving in the military, since the military is not very forgiving of those it accuses of desertion. Soldiers have few choices when they oppose the actions of their government, even when that government commits the ultimate act of treason by cherry-picking evidence and manipulating intelligence, and then lying about it, to send its loyal soldiers to die in an unjust, unplanned and ill-fated and utterly avoidable war.
As Michael Moore so eloquently said in the closing minutes of his powerful documentary "Fahrenheit 911,", an indictment of the Bush administration's reckless war policies, "I've always been amazed that the very people forced to live in the worst parts of town, go to the worst schools, and who have it the hardest, are always the first to step up, to defend that very system. They serve so that we don't have to. They offer to give up their lives so that we can be free. It is remarkable, their gift to us. And all they ask for in return, is that we never send them into harm's way unless it's absolutely necessary. Will they ever trust us again?"