Citizens' Tribunal Finds Watada Acted Legally
By David Krieger
On January 20-21, 2007, a Citizens' Hearing on the Legality of US
Actions in Iraq was held in Tacoma, Washington, in the belief that when
government fails to act responsibly and legally it is the duty of
citizens in a democracy to act. The Citizens' Hearing was organized in
response to US Army Lieutenant Ehren Watada's refusal to deploy to Iraq
on grounds that the war is illegal.
Lt. Watada faces a court martial on February 5, 2007 at Fort Lewis,
Washington for failing to deploy with his Stryker Brigade to Iraq and
for "conduct unbecoming of an officer." The military judge has refused
to allow Lt. Watada to raise a Nuremberg defense, the basis of which is
his contention that the war in Iraq is illegal and therefore orders to
deploy to the war are illegal.
The Citizens' Hearing Panel was composed of twelve citizens, who heard
testimony on the issue of the illegality of the war - testimony that
would have been introduced at Lt. Watada's court martial if the
military judge had allowed it. A majority of the Panel consisted of US
military veterans going back to World War II, as well as a military
family member, a Gold Star family member, a government leader, a
religious leader, a union member and a high school student. I was
privileged to serve as chair of this Panel of committed citizens.
The Panel heard testimony on four principal issues: whether the war in
Iraq was an illegal war of aggression and thus a crime against peace;
whether a systematic pattern of war crimes had been committed by US
forces in Iraq; whether crimes against humanity had been committed; and
whether a US military officer had a duty to refuse illegal orders.
Testimony was presented by Iraq War veterans, experts in international
law and diplomats.
The testimony of the experts in international law was clear that the
war in Iraq was initiated illegally. The US invasion of Iraq did not
comply with the United Nations Charter in that it was not required for
immediate self-defense and it was not authorized by the UN Security
Council. It was, therefore, a war of aggression, violating
international law and the United States Constitution. Article 6,
Section 2 of the Constitution makes the United Nations Charter, a
treaty duly signed and ratified by the US government, a part of the
"supreme Law of the Land."
The most powerful testimony presented came from five Iraq War veterans.
They described a military training process in which the dehumanization
of Iraqis was pervasive, creating an unhealthy environment conducive to
the commission of war crimes. The veterans described the constant
reference to Iraqis, at all levels of the chain of command, as hajis,
ragheads and worse. Some described orders to shoot and kill children.
One veteran described an instance in which he witnessed a frightened
mother and daughter being shot in the back as they ran away from US
troops. There was also testimony on the beating and killing of
prisoners. The soldiers testified that the atmosphere of targeting
civilians did not come simply from the individual soldiers, but from
far higher in the command structure.
The consistent testimony of the Iraq War veterans (similar to that of
Vietnam veterans from a generation ago) was that the lives of Iraqis
were devalued and that war crimes were systematically committed as a
result of the rules of engagement in Iraq. The Panel also received
testimony on the systematic torture of Iraqi prisoners and on the use
of heavy US weaponry in a manner that failed to discriminate between
soldiers and civilians. Former Assistant Secretary General of the
United Nations Denis Halliday described the "shock and awe" initiation
of the war as "a terrorist act."
Colonel Ann Wright testified that the United States had not met its
obligations as an occupying power, and that grave breeches of the
Geneva Conventions were occurring regularly in the treatment and
torture of prisoners. Colonel Wright and other expert witnesses urged
that US leaders be held accountable for their criminal actions.
There was also testimony on crimes against humanity. Prominent in this
testimony was discussion of the systematic destruction of Iraq's
infrastructure, including water facilities, sewage treatment facilities
and electric power facilities. One expert, Antonia Juhasz, testified
that all the US orders to change Iraq's laws to provide economic
advantage to the US, particularly in relation to Iraq's oil, were in
violation of international law. Thus, all contracts created in this way
must be rescinded and the profits returned to the Iraqi people.
On the critical question regarding Lt. Watada's refusal of orders,
there was strong testimony that soldiers and officers are only required
to obey lawful orders. In accord with the Nuremberg Charter and
Principles, the US Constitution and US Army Field Manual 27-10, an
officer has a duty to act lawfully by refusing to follow illegal
orders. Insofar as the war in Iraq is an illegal aggressive war in
which war crimes and crimes against humanity are being systematically
committed, Lt. Watada acted lawfully in refusing orders to deploy to
Iraq. Professor Richard Falk testified that the military judge's order
preventing Watada from presenting evidence on the illegality of the war
was "criminally disallowing him from obeying the law."
The full report of the Panel of the Citizens' Hearing will be released
soon; some of the testimony is now available on the website
www.wartribunal.org . The preliminary, but unanimous, finding of the
Panel is that the US has committed crimes against peace, war crimes and
crimes against humanity in Iraq. Further, Lt. Watada acted legally and
honorably in refusing orders to deploy to Iraq, and his actions are in
accord with the oath he took to uphold the Constitution of the United
David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
(www.wagingpeace.org ). He was a member of the Jury of Conscience of
the World Tribunal on Iraq in Istanbul, Turkey in 2005, and Panel Chair
of the Citizens' Hearing on the Legality of the Iraq War in January
2007 (www.wartribunal.org ).