You thought it meant you could speak your mind and share your opinions, didn't you? Well, to some extent it does mean that. Unless, of course, you are an American soldier. Then you're not entitled to an opinion anymore.
In June 2005, Ehren Watada, First Lieutenant in the US Army, was told he was to go to Iraq. He read up on the war and the reasons behind it, talked to soldiers who had been there, and decided he couldn't be a part of it. Seeing as the war itself is illegal according to UN treaties, and the rules of the US Army say wars are to be waged according to the UN treaties, one could say this soldier simply refused to break the law.
Ehren Watadas court-martial starts today, February 5th.
- conduct unbecoming an officer (for statements made in speeches and interviews)
- missing movement (for refusing to deploy to Iraq on June 22)
- contempt toward officials (in this case, President Bush)
Watadas defense lawyer, Eric Seitz, says if the war itself is against the laws and rules of the United States and the United States Army, then this should be a brought up during the trial. His client refused to go because he felt it wasn't right to fight a war built on lies.
However, in January Lieutenant Colonel John Head, the judge in the case, ruled that whether the war was legal or not was a "nonjusticiable political question". He also decided that Watada was forbidden to 'present a First Amendment defense'. Meaning he has no way to defend his statements.
We now have a soldier who refused to go to Iraq two years after the war started, because he'd seen the politicians' and military's story change too many times. He clearly didn't refuse because he was scared to go - he had just got back from Korea when he got his orders to go to Iraq. He then offered to go to Afghanistan instead, a suggestion the Army refused.
When he is asked questions about why he refused to go, he explains his reasons which only results in additional charges - an American soldier is not supposed to argue with orders. They shouldn't think, they should follow orders. A soldier once told me that.
One thing is what will happen to this guy. Another is what it does to other American soldiers. When it's so obvious, so publicly broadcast that "if you speak up against the US, the Army or the war, if you criticize your superior officers or doubt your President, it might be you next time."
Watada himself is ready to accept whatever consequences his decision will have. He said two things I felt it necessary to add to this. We can only hope these didn't result in additional charges.
"When you are looking your children in the eye in the future, or when you are at the end of your life, you want to look back on your life and know that at a very important moment, when I had the opportunity to make the right decisions, I did so, even knowing there were negative consequences."
"It is my duty as a commissioned officer in the United States army to speak out against grave injustices. My moral and legal obligation is to the constitution. Not to those who issue unlawful orders. I stand before you today because it is my job to serve and protect American soldiers and innocent Iraqis who have no voice. It is my conclusion that the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong, but also a breach of American law."