Criminalizing the war

By ELI SANDERS  |  August 30, 2006

On the question of whether the war itself was illegal, however, prosecutor Keith could only point out that no legal or international body — not the UN, not the US Congress, and not the US court system — has yet declared the war to be a violation of international law. Boyle agreed that this was so. But he and other witnesses also pointed out that the UN’s structure makes it nearly impossible to sanction the world’s sole superpower, that no American civilian court has yet been asked to rule on the legality of the Iraq war, and that the Bush administration was able to procure its war authorization from the current US Congress “by means of fraud — they lied to Congress that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and they lied to Congress that Iraq had connections to 9/11.”

Watada, sitting slightly slouched, was all but silent during the proceedings, speaking only to tell the military investigator that he didn’t wish to make a statement. Prosecutors, however, played a number of clips of Watada speaking in public about his reasons for not deploying. In one clip, shot at a recent Veterans for Peace conference in Seattle, Watada is seen explaining what he hopes to accomplish. “Today I speak with you about a radical idea,” he says. “The idea is this: that to stop an illegal and unjust war, the soldiers and service members can choose to stop fighting it.” The prosecutors’ use of this clip seemed intended to hammer home how dangerous it might be to military morale and discipline if Watada’s example were followed.

It doesn’t seem, however, that a huge mass of soldiers is yet following Watada’s lead. In fact, Watada is believed to be the only officer so far to have refused duty in Iraq, and while prosecutors worried during the hearing that his example would hurt army morale and discipline, after the hearing, Lieutenant Colonel Dan Williams, spokesman for Fort Lewis, told reporters that Watada’s actions were doing no such thing. “My morale is just as high as it was yesterday,” Williams said. “This is an anomaly.”

The military speaks out of both sides of its mouth on this score — arguing during the hearing that Watada is a threat to order and discipline and arguing to the media that he is not — but the fact remains that Watada has not inspired a large number of soldiers to throw their weapons down. His impact, at this point, appears to be mainly as another piece of the steady legal assault that is taking apart the grand narrative by which the Iraq war was sold and conducted.

A war of words
There are signs that the administration is increasingly worried about the unraveling of its war narrative — especially with the midterm congressional elections just 60 days away — and recently, the nation’s courts have given the administration even more cause for concern. In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that the administration’s attempt to ignore the Geneva Conventions for prisoners in the war on terror was illegal. On August 17, a federal judge in Detroit ruled that the administration’s domestic spying program was unconstitutional, with the judge, Anna Diggs Taylor, using her ruling to remind Bush that he is not allowed “unfettered control,” particularly when his actions “disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights” (that ruling is now being appealed). And a CNN poll released on August 21 showed opposition to the Iraq war now at its highest level ever, 61 percent.

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