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Watada Court Martial Ends in Mistrial
By David Swanson
Is the Army incompetent or fed-up with Bush? If you said both, you win the grand prize. And Lt. Ehren Watada may just have won his freedom. Barbara Cummings just phoned me from outside the court to say they'd ended in a mistrial and scheduled a new trial for March 19th at 4 p.m. The mistrial is the result, she was told, of the Army closing its case yesterday and then trying to introduce something new today. There's a prevalent rumor, she said, that the Army will not go through with the new trial. But a rumor is only a rumor, and it's possible the Army fully intends to press its case and try to do a better job of it.
This fits with reports of how well the trial has been going for Watada, but the question remains: did the Army cause a mistrial on purpose? The reports are that the prosecutors requested a mistrial. So, the question is really: why?
In any event, Watada has already set an example for others, and it seems reasonable to hope that this result will help boost the number of men and women who find the nerve to follow his example.
The AP and Reuters stories below give a slightly different account of the mistrial from Barbara's. The News Tribune article below sheds some light. It appears Watada's case has been strengthened and the Army's key evidence thrown out. That would appear to give some plausibility to the rumor that the Army will drop the case.
Mistrial declared in Watada case
By Associated Press
FORT LEWIS, Wash. (AP) - The judge overseeing the court martial of an Army lieutenant who refused to deploy to Iraq declared a mistrial today, saying the soldier did not fully understand a document he signed admitting to elements of the charges.
Military judge Lt. Col. John Head announced the decision after 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, of Honolulu, said he never intended to admit he had a duty to go to Iraq with his fellow soldiers one element of the crime of missing troop movement.
First Lt. Ehren Watada was fighting charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and missing movement for refusing to leave last June with his unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
Mistrial declared in US war objector court-martial
FORT LEWIS, Wash., Feb 7 (Reuters) - A military judge declared on Wednesday a mistrial in the court-martial of a U.S. Army officer, who publicly refused to fight in Iraq and criticized the war.
First Lt. Ehren Watada faces up to four years in prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted on a charge of missing movements for not deploying to Iraq and two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer for his criticism of the war.
Lt. Col. John Head, the military judge, declared a mistrial after throwing out a "stipulation of fact" -- an agreement over the facts of the trial -- that forced the government to ask the judge for a mistrial instead of reargue its case.
The judge also set a new trial date for the week of March 19, but agreed that the timing could be subject to change.
Mistrial declared in Watada court martial
By ADAM LYNN; The News Tribune (Tacoma)
The military judge presiding over the court-martial of Lt. Ehren Watada declared a mistrial early this afternoon after prosecutors huddled and agreed they wanted one.
Lt. Col. John Head, who is presiding over the proceedings at Fort Lewis, set a new date of March 19. But Watada's civilian attorney, Eric Seitz of Honolulu, said that he had other commitments around that time.
It could be summer before charges are refiled and court action resumes.
Head threw out the basis for the Army's case right after lunch and asked prosecutors if they wanted him to declare a mistrial. Prosecutors took 30 minutes and decided they did.
At issue was a stipulation of facts that Watada signed earlier this week. In it, he admitted to a set of facts, including that he had a duty to board the plane that carried his unit to Iraq last June but that he intentionally missed the flight.
Questions over the "duty" portion arose this morning, causing Head to question Watada about the stipulation.
Under direct questioning from Head, Watada said he did not believe he had a legal duty to board the plane because he thinks the war is illegal.
"No, I did not believe I had that duty," Watada said.
Head then ruled over the arguments of prosecutors that Watada's statement today invalidated the earlier stipulation of facts upon which the case is based. Head said he had no choice but to throw it out.
"I don't see how I can continue to accept (the stipulation) as we stand here now," said the judge, who had called Watada's original agreement a tacit confession to missing movement.
"You have to treat it essentially like a guilty plea because he admits to all the facts surrounding the offense," the judge said.
He then threw out the stipulation.
Army prosecutor Capt. Scott Van Sweringen asked Head whether the panel of seven officers sitting in judgment of Watada would be able to consider any other facts from the stipulation, including Watada's statements to the media and a Seattle veterans group in which he criticized the war.
Head said no.
"They would disregard it in its entirety. That's the problem with this. How do we unring this bell?" the judge said.
Van Sweringen then asked for 30 minutes to decide whether he would like to request a mistrial.
The issue over the stipulation came to the forefront this morning after all parties in the case, including Head, met to discuss instructions that would be given to the panel of officers when testimony ended.
Seitz objected to Head questioning his client, saying it was too far along in the process to reopen the stipulation.
Head responded that unless he was satisfied that Watada knew what he had signed, he would be forced to declare a mistrial.
The defense attorney said in open court this morning that it was Watada's intent to avoid the entire Iraq war when he refused to board the plane, not just to miss that specific flight. He is charged only with missing that plane.
"That is why we did not plead guilty to that charge (of missing movement," Seitz said.
In pretrial rulings last month, Head decided that Watada could not call witnesses to bolster his claims that the war is illegal.
Watada is charged with three violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for refusing to deploy with his unit to Iraq in June and public statements he made about what he sees as the illegality of the war in Iraq.
He faces up to four years in confinement and a discharge from the Army if found guilty of missing movement and two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer.
The 28-year-old Stryker Brigade officer contends he had a duty to refuse orders to deploy because he believes the war violates U.S. and international law and that his participation would make him party to war crimes. He has said he would fight in Afghanistan and potentially other conflicts.
Here's a longer AP article:
Fort Lewis judge declares mistrial in Watada's court martial
By MELANTHIA MITCHELL / Associated Press
The judge overseeing the court martial of an Army lieutenant who refused to deploy to Iraq declared a mistrial Wednesday, saying the soldier did not fully understand a document he signed admitting to elements of the charges.
Military judge Lt. Col. John Head announced the decision after 1st Lt. Ehren Watada said he never intended to admit he had a duty to go to Iraq with his fellow soldiers — one element of the crime of missing troop movement. Head set a March 12 date for a new trial and dismissed the jurors.
Last month, Watada signed a 12-page stipulation of fact in which he acknowledged he did not go to Iraq with his unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, last June. He also acknowledged making public statements criticizing the Iraq war, which he believes to be illegal.
In exchange, prosecutors dropped two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer charges against him, and agreed to proceed to trial on the remaining charges: missing movement — for his refusal to deploy last June — and two other allegations of conduct unbecoming an officer for comments made about the case.
To prove a charge of missing movement, the prosecutors need to show that Watada did not report when he had a duty to do so. The disagreement that prompted the mistrial was about whether Watada admitted missing troop movement and having a duty to report, or only missing troop movement.
"I see there is an inconsistency in the stipulation of fact," the judge said Wednesday. "I don't know how I can accept (it) as we stand here now."
Because much of the Army's evidence was laid out in the document, rejecting it would hurt its case, Head acknowledged. He granted the prosecutors' request for a mistrial, which Watada's lawyer opposed.
Watada, 28, of Honolulu, was expected to testify in his own defense Wednesday until Head and attorneys met in a closed meeting for much of the morning.
In their opening statements Tuesday, prosecutors said Watada abandoned his soldiers and brought disgrace upon himself and the service by accusing the Army of war crimes and denouncing the Bush administration for conducting an illegal war founded on lies.
Watada's attorney, Eric Seitz, countered that Watada acted in good conscience, based on his own convictions.
Watada could receive four years in prison and a dishonorable discharge if convicted of missing movement and conduct unbecoming an officer for his statements against the war.
Watada is the first commissioned officer to be court-martialed for refusing to go to Iraq, said Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice in Washington, D.C.
After concluding the Iraq war was illegal, Watada asked to take a combat post in Afghanistan or elsewhere. The Army refused those requests, along with Watada's request that he be allowed to resign.
Watada then made several public appearances to denounce the war.