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(DV) Zingh: Worlds Collide at the Watada Court Martial







Standing at the Gates of Fort Lewis
Worlds Collide at the Watada Court Martial 

by Zbignew Zingh
February 8, 2007

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More than a thousand of us appeared at the gates of Fort Lewis to attend Lt. Ehren Watada's court martial on the morning of February 5, 2007. Only a handful got in. By 0615 hours, military time, the Army had already distributed the few dozen admission tickets. The rest of us, denied access to the court martial proceeding itself, gathered at the freeway bridge to stand vigil outside the military base. 

Later in the morning, busloads of Watada supporters arrived from Portland, Oregon, joining car-pools of anti-war demonstrators from San Francisco, Seattle, Tacoma, Vashon Island and various towns and communities in the Northwest. By 1100 hours the crowd was approaching two thousand, bannering the bridge over Interstate 5 and waving pennants in support of the 28 year old Army officer who has faced down all of the Pentagon Brass, the supine Congress and the Bush Administration bullies. By 1200 hours, the rally was in full force with celebrity and Iraq War veterans speaking to the crowd. By 1300 hours, the Tacoma Puppetistas, an enthusiastic troupe of street theater performers, commenced their own trial. Giant puppets represented the defendants, the judge and jury, with the war crime charges posted on tall placards read out by the crowd. Accompanied by a lone sorrowful saxophone and snare drum on the sidelines, the Puppetistas put the Congress and the Bush Administration on trial outside Fort Lewis while the Army put Lt. Watada on trial inside Fort Lewis. 
The fog, cold and dampness never lifted all day. It was a metaphor for the court martial itself where everyone, including Lt. Watada, knew that the Army, having practically foreclosed the presentation of a defense, would find this principled young man guilty, as charged, with disobeying orders to go fight in Iraq.  
Indeed, disobeying orders is what it is all about. Lt. Watada is not a conscientious objector. He is not opposed to all war, only war that is unlawful. Having read the Constitution, read the international conventions that apply to warfare, and re-read his officer's oath of office, this gentleman correctly concluded that he simply cannot obey an order to participate in an unlawful, unconstitutional war. From the Army's perspective, however, disobedience to a superior officer's order is tantamount to treason. 
Those imperfect, slave-holding founders of the United States -- at least those anti-federalists who did not harbor the desire to establish another empire in the "new world" -- contemplated a people's army, a militia of armed citizens that would be called together in defense of the nation when and as necessary. Regardless what one thinks of the Second Amendment, there is a symmetry in the First and Second Amendments to the Constitution, the threatening, revolutionary tone of the Declaration of Independence, the Congress's exclusive Constitutional power to declare war and the Constitutional limitation on appropriating money in support of an army for longer than two years. The founders of this imperfect nation, though still racist, class-oriented and sexist, favored the principle of a non-professional citizen's army of thinking people. They favored the non-professional army precisely because everyone at that time was scarred by collective memories of Europe's devastation during the 17th Century's Thirty Years War. In the Thirty Years War, armies of mercenary soldiers of fortune ravaged central Europe, burning, raping, plundering, killing men, women and children indiscriminately in the name of feudalism, empire, God and religion. Imagine Iraq today and you will get the picture. 
Armies generally became "professional" after Otto von Bismarck's crushing victory in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War and his subsequent defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. America's generals, as well as the generals of all "civilized" countries of the world, poured onto the European battlefields to study and learn and admire how tightly-disciplined, highly trained armies of professional soldiers could win the laurels of modern warfare. The hallmark of the Prussian Army was obedience to orders, and since its successes on the battlefields, so, too, has obedience to orders been the religion of all armies everywhere. So when Lt. Watada challenges the constitutionality of his superior officer's orders he has, unwittingly, challenged the religious dogma of the US military establishment for the past 150 years. For that heresy alone, the Army will burn him at the stake. 
I commend people, however, to watch the actual videotaped testimony of the trial of Adolph Eichmann in the French documentary by Eyal Sivian, The Specialist, and to read Hannah Arendt's classic book about his trial, A Report on the Banality of Evil. Eichmann, a low ranking transportation officer in the German army during the Second World War, was responsible for coordinating train traffic throughout the German Reich so that Jews could be sent to death camps. After the War, he was kidnapped by Israeli operatives in Argentina and put on trial in Israel for his life in 1961. His defense was that he did not make the policies of war or genocide, he was merely following orders that he was duty bound not to disobey. Eichmann protested that he had merely had a desk job. He denied having personally killed anybody. He had not gassed anyone nor burned any bodies in any oven. He explained that orders could not be disobeyed in the Third Reich and that conscience played no role in the matter. Eichmann explained that passing along an order from Hitler to the lowest level officer was a matter of absolute duty, an obligation that no one could even contemplate questioning. Eichmann was a pathetic, bureaucratic little man. And he was a war criminal who merely followed orders. He was hanged. He was hanged like the other war criminals previously convicted at Nuremberg whose defense of "merely following orders" garnered no sympathy from the world or the judges of their war crimes. 
I do not loathe soldiers. It is an unfair world populated by mean and avaricious people. Some of these mean and avaricious people live in foreign countries and some of them live in our nation's capital. Some of them live among us in our own states and cities. So long as there are conflicts, there will be soldiers. The most courageous, the most intelligent, the soldiers with the strongest mettle, the ones with the greatest moral and social integrity we absolutely want to stand with their fellow citizens because we may need them one day as a bulwark against domestic tyranny. 
The Army brass is frightened by the specter of a twenty-something junior officer like Lt. Watada who has questioned the legality of an order to fight an unlawful war. It pretends that the legality of the war is a "political" issue that a court of law cannot decide even though the courts are precisely the venue to decide what is legal or unconstitutional. The Army is wrong to be frightened. It should give him a commendation. Even though he threatens the Bismarckian system that has reigned in the American military since the days of the Franco-Prussian War, the lieutenant is, in the finest tradition of the United States, upholding the principles that formed the foundation of the nation. 
Gentlemen of the US Army: good soldiers do not blindly follow orders. Those that do risk committing war crimes. Officers who themselves prosecute another officer for disobeying an illegal order may themselves be complicit in the order's illegality.  
Gentlemen of the US Army: you can imprison Ehren Watada, but you cannot imprison the spirit that he has rekindled among those of us who stood outside the gates of Fort Lewis where worlds collide. 
Gentlemen of the US Army: you can punish Lt. Watada for doing what others among you have not yet had the courage or insight to do. We salute him. 
The Army's first attempt to try Lt. Watada ended on February 7th with Lt. Col. John Head, the presiding judge, granting the prosecution's motion for a mistrial. Over strong defense objections, the judge tossed out a stipulation that Lt. Watada had entered into to protect certain journalists and laypersons from being subpoenaed. Lt. Col. Head asserted that Ehren Watada had misunderstood the gravamen of the stipulation in that he steadfastly maintained his right to challenge the legality of the war notwithstanding the stipulation. Rather, it appears as though the prosecutors misunderstood the stipulation and the trial judge granted the government's motion for a mistrial in order to protect the government's case. Now, unless a new stipulation can be crafted, old charges once dropped may be reinstated along with the risk of lengthier imprisonment. A new trial date will be set, a new jury of army officers impaneled and more money spent to start the trial all over again. It is a trial by ordeal. It is not just a mistrial but a trial misbegotten.

Zbignew Zingh can be reached at: Zbig@ersarts.com. This article is CopyLeft, and free to distribute, reprint, repost, sing at a recital, spray paint, scribble in a toilet stall, etc. to your heart's content, with proper author citation. Find out more about Copyleft and read other great articles at: www.ersarts.com. copyleft 2007.

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