Criminalizing the war

By ELI SANDERS  |  August 30, 2006

The tide seems to be shifting, and in a sign of the concern this is generating within the administration, officials representing Bush are currently circulating proposed amendments to the federal war-crimes law, apparently hoping to give themselves a way out should they someday be charged under that statute. That’s not the tactic of a group of people who feel they are on the right side of the law, or public-opinion trends.

In this context, it seems impossible that the army will be allowed to go easy on Watada. In all likelihood, he will go to jail for refusing to deploy. He has said he is at peace with his decision, and with his possible punishment. As one of his own witnesses at the hearing, retired army colonel Ann Wright, put it: “If you challenge an order, you do it at your own jeopardy.”

Still, Wright added, army commanders, and their civilian leaders, suffer from being unable to convincingly explain, to Watada or anyone else, why the Iraq war shouldn’t be seen as illegal under international law. This failure probably shouldn’t be surprising, given how often the rationale for the war has shifted — from WMDs to spreading democracy to the self-justifying notion that we can’t leave because we’re now there. But the absence of such an explanation, Wright said, hurts military order and discipline more than anything else.

“Good order and discipline,” she told the army investigator, “is based on the fact that good leaders can explain things to their soldiers.”

This story, which first ran in Seattle’s The Stranger, is published here with the permission of the author. Eli Sanders is a Seattle-based writer. He can be reached

On the Web
Ehren Watada:
Watada's video:
Fort Lewis:
CNN poll on Iraq:

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