Fri, Feb 09, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Judge declares mistrial in case against lieutenant who refused to join Iraq war

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE AND AFP , SEATTLE

A military judge on Wednesday declared a mistrial in the court martial of the Army officer who called the war in Iraq illegal and refused to join his unit when it deployed there last June.

The mistrial means that the officer, 1st Lieutenant Ehren Watada, could be retried next month, a spokesman for the base said.

Lieutenant Colonel John Head, the military judge presiding over the case, declared the mistrial after he rejected an agreement Watada had reached with prosecutors before the trial began on Monday.

Under the pretrial deal, known as a stipulation agreement, Watada, 28, who is assigned to a Stryker brigade at Fort Lewis, about 70km south of Seattle, acknowledged refusing to deploy and speaking out against the war. In turn, prosecutors dropped two charges related to comments Watada made in interviews.

Eric Seitz, Watada's lead civilian attorney, has maintained that there is no dispute over what Watada did, only over why he did it. He has said Watada's actions amounted to free speech and civil disobedience protected by the Constitution.

Head has repeatedly refused to allow Watada to center his defense on the argument that the war is illegal.

On Wednesday, after Seitz proposed that the judge require jurors to consider that Watada acted out of a mistaken belief that his actions were legal, Head declared the mistrial, citing confusion over the stipulation.

The judge, according to a statement released by Fort Lewis, became "concerned that the stipulation amounted to a confession by Lieutenant Watada to an offense to which he intended to plead not guilty."

Seitz said his team hoped the ruling would mark the end of proceedings.

"The mistrial is very likely to have the consequence of ending this case because double jeopardy may prevent the government from proceeding with a retrial," he said.

"I do not believe [the case] will ever be resurrected or can be resur-rected. Our hope is the army will realize this case is a hopeless mess," he said.

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