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Mistrial in Watada resister court martial

Published Feb 15, 2007 9:09 PM

Ehren Watada

After making its case badly at the Ft. Lewis, Wash., court-martial of war resister Lt. Ehren Watada, the Army prosecution team requested and was granted a mistrial. The unorthodox handing of this case has raised the possibility that the U.S. Army might have to free Watada, who had faced four years in prison.

Watada is the first officer to refuse duty in Iraq. Since his announcement last spring that he would refuse, the lieutenant has been a strong spokesperson for anti-war sentiment. He participated in a conference of anti-war veterans in the summer and made a speech that has been played all over the country at meetings large and small.

Both his parents have been supportive of Watada’s action, and they both have been speaking around the country on his behalf. For the Jan. 27 protests, his father spoke in Washington to over 100,000 people while his mother spoke on the West Coast.

Hundreds of people, many of them veterans, and including actor Sean Penn and other military war resisters, with a large contingent from Iraq Veterans Against the War, had come to Watada’s court-martial to show their support at the Feb. 5 opening and throughout the trial. The judge made all decisions in the first days of the trial to prevent the lieutenant from bringing up his principled opposition to the Iraq war as part of his defense.

Nevertheless, the prosecution apparently believed they failed to make a strong case against Watada, so lead prosecutor Capt. Scott Van Sweringen asked for the mistrial. The defense objected, but Lt. Col. Judge John Head granted the prosecution the ability to re-present their case at a different time in the future.

Eric Seitz is Lt. Watada’s civilian lawyer. Seitz said, “The mistrial is very likely to have the consequence of ending this case because a retrial would be a case of double jeopardy based on the military rules for courts martial and applicable case law.” Seitz added that if the Army attempted to try Watada again, he would ask for dismissal of the charges with prejudice so they could not be filed again. “I do not expect a retrial to ever occur,” stated Seitz.

Watada’s military defense lawyer—appointed by the Army—Capt. Mark Kim, said that he agreed with Seitz’s interpretation of military law.

E-mail: jcat@workers.org