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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

May 11, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Watada objects to Iraq

Officers can’t choose their wars

Bert Sacks demonstrates abject ignorance of American government and of military law in supporting 1st Lt. Ehren Watada’s refusal to serve in Iraq [“Refusal to deploy: a crime to participate in war of aggression,” Opinion, Northwest Voices, May 8]. The Times didn’t do much better with its suggestion to drop the rest of the Watada case [“Time for Army, Watada to part company,” Opinion, editorial, May 8].

The United States is not Nazi Germany. U.S. soldiers have been prosecuted for misconduct in Iraq and Afghanistan, as were Lt. William Calley and others for the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

In our democracy, the president and Congress determine whether a war is legal. Officers and senior enlisted leaders are entrusted with ensuring that the conduct of soldiers conforms to the law and military directives.

Obviously, the system isn’t perfect. But allowing American military officers to choose their wars and to violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice without fear of prosecution undermines discipline and subverts the chain of command. The flip side of this slippery slope is that senior officers could say, “Oh, by the way, Mr. President … we’ve started a war without you.”

I bear no malice toward Watada, who seems like a sincere, though naive, young man. But the legal machinery of his court-martial should continue until its legal conclusion.

— Phillip Johnson, Seattle

A leader of uncommon courage

The Seattle Times editorial board states that 1st Lt. Ehren Watada is not a fit military leader and should receive less than an honorable discharge. What he did, in calling attention to U.S. war crimes in Iraq, makes him a military leader of uncommon courage that exceeded that of most other military leaders, the media, Congress and the public.

The editorial failed to note that Watada did agree to deploy to Afghanistan. The Army could have let it go at that, but decided punish him for exercising his right not to participate in a war crime.

Watada was right that President Bush committed a war crime by initiating a war of aggression against Iraq. His resistance was not just in accord with military law, as noted by letter writer Bert Sacks in the same edition; it was in full accord with the U.N. Charter and the findings of the Nuremberg Court. That court defined “aggressor” as that state which is the first to declare war, invade, attack or support armed aggression in another state. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, a Nuremberg prosecutor, stated that a war of aggression is not only an international war crime is the ultimate war crime.

The editorial board should be embarrassed to ignore the crimes of the powerful and focus its wrath on lower-ranking officers and enlisted people. This is a disservice to the country, to our military and to Watada.

— Malcolm D. McPhee, Sequim

Why join Army in the first place?

In regard to Bert Sacks’ letter on May 8, I was thinking that perhaps 1st Lt. Ehren Watada should have thought of all that before he joined the military. What was Watada thinking he would do in the Army –get paid to sit around and philosophize?

Saddam Hussein told the United States he would “crush us.” He said he would “make the streets of the United States of America run with blood.” He said that in the first war and he promised it in the second.

It doesn’t sound peaceful to me, and I am puzzled why so many seem so disappointed that he wasn’t able to make good on his threat. Whether he had more weapons than they found or not, he certainly threatened to engage us in the “mother of all wars.” It’s not up to a lieutenant, or event a military judge, to decide what the U.S. should do. You don’t get to vote on following orders.

I am also surprised that so many focus on Iraq, but ignore that we’re having a war in Afghanistan. Iraq’s leader threatened us. Didn’t we go into Afghanistan just to find Osama bin Laden? Now we’re escalating the conflict and having a war. How can you rage about one and ignore the other?

Even so, nobody is refusing deployment there and only one publicly refused to go to Iraq. All the hundreds of thousands of others have followed orders like they agreed to do when they joined the military in the first place.

— Paula Heinrichs, Seattle

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