updated 1/5/2007 3:36:54 AM ET 2007-01-05T08:36:54

An Army lieutenant who called the Iraq war illegal and refused to deploy has a constitutional right to debate such political issues, his attorney said during a pretrial hearing Thursday.

1st Lt. Ehren Watada, 28, is charged with missing troop movement. He is also accused of conduct unbecoming an officer for statements he made to journalists and at a veterans convention.

His attorney, Eric Seitz, said the latter charge should be dropped.

"He should not face another four years of penalties because he chose to explain his reasons for opposing the war," Seitz told Lt. Col. John Head, the military judge overseeing Watada's case at this post south of Tacoma.

Army prosecutors argued that Watada's statements were offensive to the military and must be looked at in the context they were made and the danger they present to the military's mission.

"The dividing line and what makes it more disgraceful is the fact that he made it to more than one person," Capt. Daniel Kuecker said.

Watada refused to go to Iraq on June 22 with his unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, after conducting research and deciding the war was illegal. He said he would be willing to serve in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

"We're very hopeful the charges will be dropped," said Bob Watada, the lieutenant's father.

If convicted of all charges, Watada could serve six years in confinement and be dismissed from the service. His court-martial is scheduled for Feb. 5.

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