The retrial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, the first Army officer to face a court-martial for refusing to deploy to Iraq, was put on hold Friday by an Army appeals court.
That trial was scheduled for July 23 at Fort Lewis, but it's now unclear whether it will proceed on schedule.
In a motion filed with the Army Court of Appeals, Watada's defense attorney argued that the initial February trial, which ended with the judge declaring a mistrial, created a double-jeopardy situation in which a second trial would violate Watada's constitutional rights.
"There can be no question that the military judge acted precipitously and abused his discretion," attorney James E. Lobsenz wrote.
Army prosecutors have consistently said a mistrial did not create double jeopardy. They have pushed for a speedy retrial for Watada, who believes the war illegal and refused to deploy last June with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
Watada has been charged for missing a troop movement to the war, and four counts of conduct unbecoming an officer for statements critical of the war. If convicted on all counts, he faces a maximum of six years in prison.
The Army Court of Criminal Appeals in Arlington, Va., granted a partial stay of the defense motion. It has given Fort Lewis prosecutors 10 days to respond to the defense arguments, and also extended to the defense the option of filing a second round of briefs.
Fort Lewis officials on Friday said they were not surprised by the order.
"This is all part of the normal procedures," said Joseph Piek, a spokesman for the base south of Tacoma. "The Army expected the defense would file the double-jeopardy motion."
He added: "The court-martial itself is still more than two months away. Even with this motion ... we still expect the court-martial to occur on July 23."
According to Lobsenz, once the briefs are filed, the appeals court could: dissolve the stay and allow the case to proceed; hear oral arguments and then issue a ruling; or issue a ruling based on a review of the briefs.
In February, military judge Lt. Col. John Head declared a mistrial, saying he didn't believe Watada fully understood a pretrial agreement he'd signed.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or firstname.lastname@example.org
To understand the case for First Lt. Ehren Watada, please link to his website, Thank You Lt.org
Please take the time to add your name to the petition in support of Ehren which is gathering more and more names.
The party’s central committee also decided to continue the Democrats’ tradition of ignoring results of the state’s presidential primary election. That means Washington Democrats will instead use caucuses next year to decide who the state supports in the race among Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and others for the party’s nomination for president.
The decision to disregard the 2008 presidential primary came on a 119-42 vote at the state party central committee meeting in Bellingham. The resolution supporting Watada passed easily, although it was by show of hands so there wasn’t an exact vote count.
“We support and commend Lt. Ehren Watada for his courage, moral leadership, and commitment to duty demonstrated by his act of resistance to the continued costly, destructive and immoral U.S. military occupation of Iraq,” the resolution said.
Mike Carnahan, a Democratic Central Committee member from Clark County, spoke against the Watada resolution. It’s an all-volunteer military, he said. “I find it offensive as, a veteran, to have him doing what he’s doing,” Carnahan said.
But other veterans on the committee said that, particularly as an officer, Watada shouldn’t just blindly follow.
“To say he’s required to follow all orders would be to negate the Nuremberg trials,” said Mike Mosbarger, a Mason County Democrat.
Those were the war crimes trials of Nazis after World War II, some of whom offered the unsuccessful defense that they were just following orders.
State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz said in an interview that officers at Abu Ghraib prison or Guantanamo Bay might have done well to take an action such as Watada.
Watada is awaiting a court-martial in July. The central committee’s resolution calls on Washington Democrats in Congress to help him.
Much of Saturday’s meeting focused over whether to ignore the primary election for caucuses.
The state presidential primary election was created in 1989 through a citizen initiative to the Legislature. But the state Democratic Party has always declined to use it in favor of a caucus system to decide which presidential hopeful the state’s delegates ought to support at the national party convention.
A 2008 presidential primary election in Washington, at a cost to the state of $9.7 million, will still happen, despite the party’s decision to ignore it. The Democratic-controlled Legislature considered canceling the primary to save money but decided against it. Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire and some legislative leaders pushed for their party to pay some attention to the primary election, but Pelz lobbied hard for the caucuses
The state Republican Party hasn’t decided whether to pay any attention to the 2008 primary.
A caucus is a multistep process in which party supporters gather in neighborhood settings to discuss and select candidates. Supporters said caucuses build a stronger state Democratic Party, and allow the party to gather names of people who want to be involved.
“Grass-roots organizing at its best happens through caucuses,” said Janet Miller of Seattle.
Others said a primary is just about big-money ads.
Party supporters of the primary election argued that it would let more people participate in choosing who will be the Democratic nominee for president. They said members of the active-duty military, and others, might not be able to attend a party caucus.
“The issue, it seems to me, is one of openness,” said John Pollock of Clallam County.
Sean Cockerham: 360-754-6093