Army Lieutenant Hamstrung In His Defense

USMC Super Duper ParatrooperI’d really rather let Janie write this up, but SleepyBelle was up pretty late. She writes better than me, and knows the best way to phrase stuff and this is important. But I’m letting her sleep because she’s been stressing so bad over this whole WordPress thing. Plus, I think I want her well rested for a little later today. 😉 So you’re stuck with me. Grin and bare it, baby. 🙂

I’ll cross post it at both of our blogs.

1Lt. Ehren Watada, 28, of Honolulu refused an order. He was ordered to ship out for Iraq, but didn’t.

That’s a court martial. You have to obey all the legal orders given to you by your superior officers in the military, and I get why that is. It’s important. You can’t run a military where nobody obeys orders. Shit would just break down.

But here’s the thing. 1Lt. Watada believes the order was illegal. That’s a whole ‘nuther thing.

Watada, who joined the Army in March 2003, has called the Iraq war “a horrible breach of American law” and said he has a duty to refuse illegal orders.

Watada, a member of the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, requested that his case be heard by a military panel of officers, the equivalent of a jury. A panel of seven officers was selected Monday.

He’s right. And he has the right to argue that at court martial. It’s a valid defense at a court martial. You are not required to obey illegal orders. In fact, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ – it’s the book of military law) specifically gives a Marine, Sailor, Soldier, or Airman the right and responsibility to refuse to obey illegal orders.

That’s so that when things like the My Lai massacre happen, everyone involved is held responsible. If an officer, no matter what rank he has, orders you to kill an innocent civilian or shoot a Prisoner, you are not only allowed but required to disobey that order. And the UCMJ says that you will not be punished for disobeying that order. “My Lt. made me do it” is not a good excuse.

But 1Lt. Watada is being court martialed for disobeying what he believes is an illegal order, and now the military judge in the case, Lt. Col. John Head has hamstrung his defense. Not only is the judge excluding most of the witnesses he needs to properly defend himself, but he has ruled that 1Lt. Watada can’t debate the legality of the war.

Here’s why this is a really bad thing – what happens the next time some whack job officer orders his platoon to wipe out a village of civilians? I’ll tell you what. Nobody speaks up and disobeys the order, because they know that disobeying an order in a combat theatre can be a death-penalty offense. So innocent people die, and United States military personell stand around in a circle jerk saying “My Lt. made me do it”.

Nothing good can come from this.


  1. I agree with the “do not follow illegal orders”, however this was an order from the highest authority. There was no possible way this order could ever be considered illegal.

    Of course being a member of the rest of the world I also wish the USA would get out of Iraq.

  2. Patrick, the Commander In Chief’s orders are just as subject to the UCMJ as any other commander’s. If the POTUS orders a genocide, it’s an illegal order.

    Besides that, the point is that the Lt. in this case is specifically given the right to make that argument in his own defense. Whether he succeeds or not isn’t what I’m bitching about, but whether he’s allowed to present that argument, if that makes any sense.

  3. Yes he should be allowed to make his case.

    In S.A. we have a similar rule except it works differently. Here you must obey all orders however if you believe an order is against the law you then, after obeying, have a right to go above the chain of command to report such.

    If you are in the field and you are given a command, you should obey immediately because if you stop to think if it is legal or not, by the time you react, it is too late, someone is dead, most likely you and your team.

    The whole reason about learning to march as a group is to train you to instantly act as a whole.

    If the CIC’s orders are illegal, then it is up to the machine to bring him to book, not the private at the bottom or the rung.

    But for the sake of argument, let us say that the orders are indeed illegal and wrong, why did the gut not say so until he was shipped out, from my understanding, he had more than enough time to indicate his displeasure before his orders were ever given.

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