Watada was court martialed by the U.S. Army and faces charges for missing a military movement and conduct unbecoming an officer. He may face up to six years in prison.
This is the official Watada website that has updates and ways others can take action. His father, Bob Watada, who was a Vietnam war resister himself, says some interesting things in an interview here.
One of the most interesting parts of this story is the way the Japanese American Citizens League is reacting to Watada's decision. Ever since his court martial, they have been debating whether or not to support him. There has been a series of articles in the Pacific Citizen about the debate:
With various JACL chapter members present to argue the pros and cons of the divisive issue — including members of the Berkeley and Honolulu chapters who have already gone on record in full support of Watada — the NCWNP district presented a resolution to support the Sansei officer’s First Amendment right to free speech. But in the end, the national JACL board quickly voted to defeat the motion 3-7, with 2 abstentions. Thus, its July statement of concern over some of the charges, including conduct unbecoming an officer, will stand.
“The national board action … was a statement that [it] was satisfied with the current JACL statement, that there was not a need for revision,” said Larry Oda, JACL national president. “This particular board takes its responsibility seriously, and as a group, is sometimes called on to make difficult and unpopular decisions, but it does so in a thoughtful and considered manner through careful and thorough deliberation.”
Five months after Watada, 28, announced his decision to refuse deployment to Iraq because he believes the war is illegal and immoral, the JACL — an organization that has long revered its heroic World War II veterans — continues to struggle over the issue. Some chapters believe that although the current JACL statement of concern is a good start, the organization needs to increase its support for Watada, the first officer to refuse to deploy.
“Lt. Watada is sticking up for the provisions in the U.S. Constitution. Watada took his oath to the Constitution very seriously and he decided he could not go to this War and participate,” said David Forman, Honolulu chapter president. He also noted that Watada chose to risk his career and future by his actions. “Lt. Watada … is putting himself at risk now.”
JACL’s statement “is not strong enough,” said Jim Duff of the Berkeley chapter. “The tendency of the executive branch is to punish those who speak out. The attack on Lt. Watada is just one of those incidents. We need to step up and support Watada.”
But others believe JACL’s statement of concern over some of the charges without taking any position on the Iraq war is a prudent and well-thought out stance for an organization that has a long history with the WWII veterans.
“We commend national JACL for its excellent statement … the balance it struck is incredible,” said Chip Larouche of the Portland chapter and a veteran of 20 years. He noted that he is against any move to change the JACL’s current stance. “It would jeopardize that stance … it will only hurt JACL’s statement.”
Larouche noted that non-military folks who discuss the Watada issue inevitably present an unbalanced argument, especially in terms of the Military Code. “[Watada] took an oath which includes defending the Constitution but also an oath to obey the president and to obey the Uniform Code of Justice. He is not living up to those portions of the oath.”
The U.S. Army announced Nov. 9 that it will go forward with a court martial for Watada on the charges of missing a military movement and conduct unbecoming an officer but has dismissed the charge of contempt towards officials. Watada will likely have a court martial sometime early next year and could face up to six years in prison.
Watada currently works in an administrative position at Fort Lewis, Washington. Prior to making his decision to refuse deployment to Iraq he offered his resignation on two occasions and has offered to serve in other parts of the world including Afghanistan.
The national JACL board first took up the Watada issue at its September board meeting where it was decided that the districts would go back to discuss with its members whether the organization should increase its support for the officer. In the months since then the Midwest, Central California, Pacific Northwest and Intermountain districts all voted to reinforce the current JACL statement of concern and will not increase their support for Watada.
The NWCNP district voted to support Watada’s right to free speech thus taking the furthest steps of any of the districts to support the officer. The PSW district recommended that national JACL take a more aggressive posture in two areas: “protecting his right to a hearing in accordance with military law” and “ensuring fair and equal treatment in regards to his comments” although this motion was not taken up by the national board.
“PSW’s primary concern was to ensure that Lt. Watada was treated equally as others who had spoken in a similar fashion and that he not receive undue punishment just to be made an example,” said Alayne Yonemoto, PSW governor, who noted that her district did not vote on the First Amendment issue.
John Tateishi, JACL executive director, had advised the national board to increase its support for Watada noting that their decision would continue to have ramifications on the organization for years to come.
“Personally, I’m disappointed in the board’s action on the motion to support Watada’s right to free speech. As I stated during the discussion, I honestly think the decision made by the board will define who and what the JACL is for younger generations, just as the decision in 1942 defined the JACL and left a cloud hanging over the organization,” he said. “But it’s not because of this that I urged the board to support Watada’s right to express his moral convictions — it’s simply because it’s a fundamental right of an American, whether he’s in uniform or not.”
What Tateishi says about who the JACL will be as we move forward is really interesting. This issue seems especially powerful as it is a Japanese American -- just a few generations removed from those soldiers who left internment camps to fight for the U.S. -- is the first soldier to really stand up and question the War in Iraq.