Well, it’s happened. The US Army has preferred charges against “The Lieutenant.” The Lt (according to the Seattle Times) enlisted in June of 2003, to go to Officer Candidate School, receiving his commission following completion of that school. His enlistment, and subsequent commissioning, were all contemporary with the start of the war with Iraq in March of 2003. Despite having a family history of war protesters and resisters, the Lt says that he believed Iraq had WMDs and thus he supported the war.
Now, he believes that the President lied to us, and thus he should not be required to participate in what the Lt believes is an illegal war. That’s all well and good, except he apparently didn’t pay attention during any of his schooling. Let’s lay out a few things.
1. Lying involves knowing the truth at the time of the statement, but saying something else (lie of commission, as opposed to omission). The charges against Bush made by the “Bashists” tend to be that the President took us to war to stop Hussein’s development of WMD’s and there were none, therefore he lied. Let’s ignore, for the moment, that Bush enumerated many reasons for toppling Saddam, and focus on this one aspect. How do we determine, given that the intelligence agencies of every major world power at the time concluded Iraq had WMDs, that Bush somehow knew Saddam didn’t and acted anyway? That is what is required to support the charge of “lying.”
2. Determination of “illegality” is not the Lt’s call. Officers take an oath at commissioning. In that oath officers swear to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” which of course can lead a few to think that they then are the final arbiter of determining what is, or is not, Constitutional. Of course, as I have recently written elsewhere, if we allow everyone to determine what is or is not legal/constitutional, then ultimately we have anarchy. Last time I checked, the US was still operating in Iraq under UN resolutions. The Hague (The International Court) has not issued and rulings condemning the resolutions, or the actions of the coalition. The US Congress has not passed any law ordering the removal of US Troops. The Supreme Court, the final arbiter in the only branch of Government with the authority to determine what is and is not constitutional, has not delivered any verdict that would lead one to conclude the US involvement in Iraq is unconstitutional. The authority of the Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court are constitutionally granted authorities. It is not the Lt’s place to usurp the authority of the US Supreme Court, Congress, and the President.
3. Military service is a commitment of life. That same oath also has the officer state “that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.” It would appear from much of the stories written about the Lt and his decision to enlist, and then receive a commission, that he had reservations about the US military. The fact that, of all the reasons given for US involvement in Iraq, he was able to convince himself he could support the action based on only one of the reasons given at the time, could lead one to question whether he actually had some significant “mental reservation(s)” at the time of commissioning. In fact, quoting from the article in the Seattle Times the Lt made it clear he had reservations apparently at the time of commissioning:
“I had my doubts,” he said. “But I felt like the president is our leader, and he won’t betray our trust, and he would know what he was talking about, and let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.”
And apparently, he also made it clear that there existed conditions upon which he would or would not engage in combat.
In January, Watada told his commanders that he believed that the war was unlawful, and therefore, so were his deployment orders. He did not, however, consider himself a conscientious objector, since he was willing to fight in wars that were justified, legal and in defense of the nation.
These do not appear to me to be statements from a man who, at the time of commissioning, accepted his office “without mental reservation.”
4. Actions have consequences. I can understand, and even admire, someone who stands up for what they believe and are willing to pay the cost. Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood the repercussions of his actions. Our founding fathers understood the possible repercussions of their actions. “Give me liberty, or give me death” was not a jingoistic attempt at PR by Patrick Henry, it was a recognition of the demise that awaited him upon failure. A courageous man accepts the consequences.
5. Military Officers are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Manual for Courts Martial. The Lt, and his lawyer, seem to think that his remarks about the President are a First Amendment issue, and that the Lt was exercising his right to free speech, when he spoke out against the Commander in Chief. In fact, the lawyer is quoted as saying “‘What’s going to happen is there’s going to be a major First Amendment litigation, which I think they’re really crazy to invite,’ Seitz said.” Alas, this shows that the counsel sought by the Lt is unfamiliar with the military justice system. There are protections established for the military, but the nature of military service requires a different way of understanding and acting with regards to the US Constitution. In fact according to Findlaw.com the Supreme Court has recognized that “while constitutional guarantees apply, ‘the different character of the military community and of the military mission requires a different application of those protections.’1455.” Perhaps the Lt should hire a military lawyer?
The US Army has done the right thing. They have refused to let one Lieutenant interpret national and international law, and told him that he cannot sit as judge and jury over the actions of this government. To do that would overstep his bounds as an officer in the US Military.