Format: video with audio
Running time: 38 min 35 sec.
Summary: U.S. Army Lieutenant Ehren Watada speaks about his decision to refuse orders to deploy to Iraq. Various points discussed include: historical precedents; the concept of 'wars of aggression' in international law; misinformation, coercion, and the public imagination; the responsibility of the individual regarding matters of war and peace.
Pinky: This is Ehren Watada, he's a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He immediately became a very controversial figure when in June 2006 he became the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse to be deployed to Iraq.
To put it simply, Lieutenant Watada refused to be deployed to Iraq because by standards of both international and domestic law, the war in Iraq is an illegal war. Under international law, 'wars of aggression' are not only a war crime, but also the supreme example among all crimes against humanity. For refusing to participate in a war crime, Lt. Watada is currently awaiting trial in military court and faces up to 6 years imprisonment.
The following excerpts were taken from a talk recorded in December 2006. I hope you listen to the whole thing, because what Lieutenant Watada is saying is not so simple that it can be contained in a 15 second sound bite. His rationale for refusing orders to fight in Iraq is based on a careful analysis of documented facts, official U.S. military codes of conduct, international law, domestic law, and essentially, the U.S. constitution itself. It is not based on personal opinions or emotional responses to stereotypes, misinformation, or assumptions (no matter how fashionable, popular, or widely held they may be).
The possibility, therefore, that he may be sent to prison by his own government for acting upon these principled beliefs, is an indication that I think we are all living in very disturbing times.
[ video: Ehren Watada speaking at Church of the Crossroads, Honolulu, Hawaii, December 19, 2006. ]
Ehren Watada:  ...In World War II we fought against tyranny, aggression, and inhumanity. We helped put an end to the utter cruelty of Auschwitz and Dachau, Nanking and Bataan, but in doing so we saw first hand the devastation, degredations, and eternal sorrow that war brings to everyone. Because of what we and what everyone else in the world witnessed and experienced, the world with the United States at the forefront vowed to never again allow this to happen. It was determined after Nuremberg and the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunals that the greatest threat to international peace, the greatest crime against humanity, was and is engaging in a war of aggression. Wars of aggression are started for plain reasons - profit, control, and power. A war of aggression was codified as the international crime against the peace because it enabled all other war crimes to take place, including genocide. Thus wars, and especially wars of aggression, were strictly prohibited by the United Nations charter so that no member nation could ever again start a war with another country that was not out of imminent self-defense or authorized by the United Nations.
Now I tell this to you to explain the lesson the children and grandchildren of World War II vets have learned through their sacrifice - it was to prohibit, condemn, and hold responsible those who wage aggressive war. To hold responsible all those who have a responsibility to stop it - from the civilian, to the generals, to the government officials. Make no doubt about it, the war in Iraq is a war of aggression. And what have we done to stop it?
To be sure, Saddam Hussein was a brutal and murderous tyrant. He put down rebellions and uprisings with mass executions. He used chemical weapons on the Kurds and Iranians, munitions that were outlawed but supplied by Western nations, including the United States. Let us not forget that Saddam the tyrant, was financed, armed, and assisted by the United States government. When the Iranians were attacked with chemical weapons they appealed to the international community for help. And in return they received silence. Some of us remember but many of us will never know the full death count imposed on Central and South America by the Reagan administration's 'proxy' or 'dirty' wars of the 1980s. The Iran-Contra Affair is only the most well-known secret war in which Nicaraguan Contras were funded, trained, and armed by the United States unbeknownst to Congress. In their quest to overthrow the popular Sandinista government the United States' trained Contras went on a brutal terror campaign against innocent civilians. Thousands were murdered, including foreign nurses, priests, and nuns who were providing humanitarian aid. Senator Inouye condemned the now-pardoned Col. Oliver North for his role in the scandal. He reminded the colonel that he had a duty to disobey illegal orders, even those of the President.
But for all that Saddam was, and was doing, in March of 2003, or since
1991 for that matter, he was not engaged in a war of aggression. He was,
as Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice said in 2001, "contained and not a
threat". A man named Hermann Goring once said,
"...Naturally the common people don't want war, neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But after all it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy. And it is always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them that they are being attacked. And denounce the peace-makers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country."And as pointed out by Hitler's second in command, it is not the people of a country who yearn for war, or aggressive war - after all, what does the common person gain from war, but the loss of their life or that of a loved one. It is usually the leaders or those with power who thirst for war because it is power, control, and greed that fuels wars of aggression in the first place. Since the common person never desires war, it then becomes the prerogative of the government to deceive the people. Though the leaders may desire war, they can never be carried out without the will of the people. And this is why the Nuremberg Principles hold everyone, every soldier regardless of rank, every citizen regardless of station, responsible for their government's actions. They are bound by international law to prevent and to stop an illegal war. And ignorance, denial, and apathy are rarely excuses. But once you become aware that your country has committed a war of aggression, you have become a witness, and possibly an accomplice to a crime. You are obligated to do whatever it takes to stop it, or you are equally as culpable.
Perhaps you are thinking that this is not a war of aggression; after
all, we were attacked on 9/11. Perhaps you are thinking that this is
simply the nature of war and that no crime has been committed here.
Perhaps I am wrong and time will tell. But the facts as they stand now
speak for themselves.
Fact number one: We were attacked on 9/11 by a group of international criminals who still, after utilizing the vast resources of the American military, roam free.These are the facts and they are undisputeable. Saddam Hussein was indeed a brutal, murderous tyrant in a long line of brutal, murderous tyrants propped up and supported by the U.S. government to fit the needs and ideology of a select few within our society. And removed by force when they became an inconvenience. But Saddam's treatment of his people was not the reason we went to war. It was not the reason Congress authorized force. It was not the reason many Americans supported this war in the first place. Instead it was fear. It was intentionally manipulated fear. We were told by our government that we trusted, that Saddam would use his stockpiles of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons on us at any time, and because of his ties to Al-Qaeda, this threat was imminent. I know now that this is entirely untrue, as many of us do. And it was a manipulation of the American people, and a betrayal of our trust. The soldiers dying in Iraq today are the consequence of that betrayal.
Fact number two: President Bush himself declared that there was no connection between Iraq and 9/11, and that no one in the administration ever suggested that link.
Fact number three: As concluded by the bipartisan 9/11 commission, there was no collaborative ties between Saddam and Al-Qaeda.
Fact number four: As concluded by the Iraq Survey Group, there were no WMD (weapons of mass destruction) produced in Iraq after 1991 and none present in 2003.
Fact number five: Retired veteran CIA officers and analysts have come out publicly to state that intelligence was manipulated to fit a policy of regime change [in Iraq].
Face number six: In the most recent declassified National Intelligence Estimate Report, 10 of our intelligence agencies concluded that the presence of occupation troops in Iraq is fueling Islamic extremism all over the world.
Fact number seven: A 2004 Center for Strategic and International Studies Report [states that] the U.S. and Iraqi governments have vastly overstated the number of foreign fighters in Iraq. And most of them don't come from Saudi Arabia. While the foreign fighters may stoke the insurgency flames, they make up only about 4 to 10% of the estimated 30,000 insurgents. The vast majority of Saudi militants who have entered Iraq were not terrorists sympathizers before the war and were radicalized almost exclusively by the coalition invasion.
Fact number eight: 80% of the Iraqi people when polled earlier this year believe the American occupation is worsening the sectarian violence. And they want the troops out of their country immediately and within six months.
Allow me to read back some of the public statements made by members of our government prior to, and after the invasion of Iraq.
"Iraq has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons and is rebuilding the facilities used to make more of those weapons. Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised. We have satellite photos that indicate banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi WMD facilities. There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce much, much more."And in a letter to Congress, it reads,
"When I think about Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, they're both risks. They're both dangerous. Both of them need to be dealt with. The war on terror - you can't distinguish Al-Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror. There's no question in my mind that Saddam had Al-Qaeda ties."
"Dear Mr. Speaker, Acting pursuant to the Constitution and the authorization of force against Iraq, it's consistent with the United States continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorists organizations including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. Signed, George W. Bush, March 17, 2003"You have heard the words of members of our administration. It is my opinion that a crime has been committed. A crime has been committed against the constitution. We pride ourselves on having a unique democracy of checks and balances, separation of powers, three separate but equal branches of government. All to prevent that which is hated and feared the most - tyranny, authoritarianism, and oppression by those who hold power. When one branch of government intentionally deceives another branch to gain an authorization for an illegal war, that is a flagrant violation of the constitution. It is a base violation of our democracy. It is the beginning of the end of freedom.
As Hermann Goring admits, all the government has to do is to instill fear among the people, cast doubt on the detractors, and they will have any war they want. It is my personal belief that we have been lied to, deceived, and betrayed. And every day that we allow this, every day that we allow this deception to continue, more and more of our sons and daughters will pay the price. More and more of our hard earned tax-dollars go down the drain, when they could be used for far more noble purposes like health care, education, and providing for disadvantaged Americans. Ask yourself what 8 billion dollars a week could buy. There are those within our society who have the most to gain by deception, the most to profit. Just as the oil companies paid for fake studies to cast doubt on global warming, so have those who have cast doubt over the issue of Iraq. There were never were any WMDs, there was never any ties to international terrorists. But for those who have something to gain from war, that is not what they would like us to believe.
So of course, I fell for it. Along with many, many Americans. I believed in our leaders. And like many other Americans, I asked "What could I do for my country?" I volunteered, as did disproportionate amount of service members who have no other choice because they lack a good paying job and opportunities for education. We were used and defrauded, manipulated through fear and poverty, to fight a war not out of necessity, not of defending our loved ones, but for a war of choice, profit, and aggression for the wealthy few.
When I finally learned the hard truth, I began to see the world in a different light than how I had viewed it three years ago. The facts as I have just pointed out to you are not difficult to find, but it does take a little willingness and a little self-interest to find it. A little self-interest, in a war the vast majority of Americans have been encouraged to take little interest in.
A recent poll shows 50% of Americans still believe there are WMD in Iraq. 74% of the soldiers serving in Iraq believe they are there because Saddam had a role in 9/11. Why the vast difference in perception and reality? Especially when that reality and those truths, are 'out there'...
...Now, I'm not the same person I was 3 1/2 years ago. But I would not have had to stand up and speak out if others whose responsibility it is would have done so for the troops. Our government has become that which we fought against in World War II.
Yet, we are appallingly silent. We have been silent to the crimes that have been committed in our name. Our country is no longer admired around the world, and in fact, hated for our government's arrogance and aggression. Yet we stand silent. Very few were willing to stand up for what is right and just, thus it became necessary for me to do what soldiers are not normally expected to do.
Can you imagine standing in the middle of the Washington desert, finally realizing the truth, while those around you are for the most part oblivious or uncaring. Can you imagine how it feels to realize you have been betrayed. That what you thought would be an honorable profession has been used for ill gain. That you are about to be a willing and knowing participant in the most tragic event of the 21st century. For my part, I was shocked, dismayed, saddened, and ashamed all at the same time. I felt hopeless, and I felt helpless. To be without the power or will to change your life for the better is the worst feeling one can have. I felt I had no choice. And for months I was in turmoil over my duty to my soldiers, and the Army. And my duty to conscience, my soul, and the greater good of our country. I looked at the consequences for both. To challenge the system was to stand up against insurmountable odds. What little could I do all alone against the might of the United States military and government, but to be smashed against the wall, and forgotten.
But at yet I found one truth during this time. There are many unalienable rights that supposedly we have in this country, but regardless of race, country, or religion, we are all endowed with only one right, one freedom. And that is the freedom to choose. Only we can deny ourselves that right. And when we do, we have lost. We have lost the meaning of life, and we have placed ourselves in a prison of our own creation. Only when I realized that I still had a choice - sure, I could go to prison - but I still had that choice. And after what seemed an eternity, I saw my freedom and I took it back.
My choices became clear. One - do my tour, come back in one piece (in which there was relatively good chance), receive a couple medals, get out of the army, land a good paying job, and get on with my life. Or two - do what I felt in my heart was right, live with a clear conscience, and open myself up to danger and an uncertain future. I chose the latter because it was not only morality, but certainly my sworn duty as well. As leaders, as an officer, we must stick our necks out and take that first step. In ancient times officers always stood at the front of their armies. It was time to do what soldiers swear an oath to do. And that wasn't simply to go off and fight wars, but it was to defend this country from all threats, foreign and domestic.
We have leaders within our government who have broken the law. Not only in the creation and conduct of this war but in many other facets of governance. And they still as of yet have not been held accountable. If this continues they would feel emboldened to create the disasters of Iraq again and again. I saw the arrogance, the hubris of those who have not learned the lessons of their mistakes. I saw those who initiated this tragedy, unwilling to admit the truth, correct their mistakes, or listen to the will of the people. Instead dissent was labeled as unpatriotic and disloyal. I saw the pain of agony etched opon the faces of those who have lost their loved ones. It began to be too much for me to take. Though many soldiers are strangers to me, the anguish of their families still brings me sorrow today. I had had enough. I hated to leave my troops, but something had to be done to stop this insanity. I could help my soldiers best by not going along with this stupidity but by actively standing against it. It was a long shot but I would try. I would try for the soldiers who had been lost and those still trying to stay alive.
When a man called on a radio show, he was close to tears as he explained how his brother was being sent to Iraq for a second time. I remember he said in desperation, "Why aren't people doing anything? Where are the protests? Where is the anger?" I agreed, as I thought to myself, "Yes, where is everyone? Why aren't people speaking for me, and for all of us soldiers?" Then it hit me like the proverbial freight train. Soldiers remain silent because we expect others to speak and act on our behalf. Well what happens when those we expect to serve us ignore their responsibility? Then what do we do? Should we sit down and call it a day? So then I asked myself, "Aren't you someone? Are you not a person who has the ability to do something, no matter how insignificant or how futile? Are you not capable of changing things for the better? Ehren, before you expect others to act, you must act first."
So I made the decision. In my resignation letter I stated that I could no longer condone or enable the lawlessness of the highest levels of my leadership. I realized in refusing I would be in essence be serving the will of the people whose trust had been placed upon me. I was doing what I could non-violently and in accordance with my oath. I was upholding our moral values and our democratic principles. We do not torture. We do not unilaterally invade, occupy, and exploit sovereign nations. And we do not allow the power of [governance?] to be corrupted and consolidated into the hands of a privileged few.
It's not whether I simply agree or disagree with the war, or with the administration for that matter. I can very well enjoy going to war and believe our leaders to be superstars. But that is not the point. A crime against the Constitution and the people has been committed. And it is my constitutional and ethical duty to disobey any order to further this crime and hold those responsible and accountable to the people. Anything else would be a disservice to the people.
Let there be no mistake, I stand here today because the Army wants me to be here. They could have reassigned me or separated me quietly without incident and little notice. Several officers were released from deployment with rumors spread that they were incompetent. Yet incompetent I was not. Only, in their eyes, a little misguided. You may have never known my name, the army would have barely missed a beat. After all I was told that out of 4,000 soldiers, I was the only one to approach my commanders with an objection to the war.
I believe there's a zealotry, an arrogance, and a culture of conformity
that pervades the military. I tell you this because in the military
there is no room for the minority opinion and there is no room for
dissent. That, in any organization, is dangerous. And that, in the army
of a free nation, can be catastrophic. There is a famous quote from
General John M. Schofield in his 1879 address to West Point.
"The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them regard for himself. While he who feels and hence manifests disrespect towards otheres, especially his inferiors, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself."Do soldiers question? Do Soldiers dissent? Absolutely, and all the time. The people of this country, the people of a democracy should demand a military that questions. Would you have a military that turns on its own people when ordered, and does so without question? We as leaders and officers explain to our soldiers during training why they are doing what we tell them to do. Because belief in your task makes a better soldier. But in this war, I could no longer explain to my soldiers why we were fighting and be telling them the truth. How could I order men do die for something I believe to be absolutely wrong?
Lieutenant General, ret. Gregory Newbold wrote in an open letter to Time magazine earlier this year,
"We have been fooled again. I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat. But I've been silent long enough. The service members must be absolutely sure that the commitment is for a cause as honorable as the sacrifice. I offer a challenge to those still in uniform. A leader's responsibility is to give voice to those who can't, or don't, have the opportunity to speak. An officer swears an oath not to a person, but to the Constitution. The distinction is important."And so I have answered the general's challenge. In no uncertain terms I have challenged an illegal and immoral policy on behalf of those who cannot, or are unwilling to speak. This is the responsibility of a leader, and I assure you I am not alone. Several times a week, from the time I have spoken out, I have been approached in person and by correspondence, those within the active duty army and their dependents, with support and respect for my decision. Now the military demands good order and discipline. Yet I promise you that it will not be the single actions of a junior officer that destroys the army, but that of a failed, immoral, and an illegal policy in which we as the people did not put an end to.
There have been some who have said that it is not my right, nor place, nor responsibility to resist the illegal orders of our government. I wish these people could have stood at Auschwitz, then at Nuremburg, and tried to defend the Germans with that argument. Three million people of one single race perished because many believed it was not their right, their place, or their responsibility.
So I ask you, whose responsibility is it to stop an illegal and immoral war? Should we rely on the good grace and conscience for those who started the war for profit and control? Should we rely on our elected officials who ignore their constituents and simply condone and enable our corrupt leaders? Should we rely on the people, who in a democracy hold the ultimate power for change?
Well what happens if the people become so apathetic, so cynical, and so disinterested with politics that the war just seems too far off to affect them personally? There is little at stake for the vast majority of the American population today to take action. How many of you tonight, if you or your loved ones could be sent off to Iraq would not be on the streets protesting day and night?
But the fact of the matter is today there is no draft. And there are far more pressing concerns than a far away war that kills 'only' three to four Americans a day, and 'only' one hundred Iraqis a day. After all, they volunteered for it. But they volunteered for you. And when the people are unwilling to stand up and speak out against the grave injustice, whose responsibility does it become? And my answer to you, it becomes the responsibility of anyone who is willing to do something about it. And wearing the uniform is not, and it is never, an excuse.
Thank you very much.
speaker: Lt. Ehren Watada
video location/date: Church of the Crossroads, Honolulu, Hawaii, December 19, 2006
event primary sponsor: World Can't Wait-Hawaii
other images: titles by Pinky
video credits: Special thanks to Daisy for recording the event and sending us the videotape.
[ image credits ]