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Judge declares mistrial in war objector case

The judge overseeing the court-martial of an Army lieutenant who refused to deploy to Iraq has declared a mistrial.
Ehren Watada
Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada speaks to reporters and supporters in June in Tacoma, Wash.Ted S. Warren / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The judge overseeing the court-martial of an Army lieutenant who refused to deploy to Iraq declared a mistrial Wednesday, saying the soldier did not fully understand a document he signed admitting to elements of the charges.

First Lt. Ehren Watada was fighting charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and missing movement for refusing to leave last June with his unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Earlier Wednesday, before his declaration, Lt. Col. John Head, the military judge, said the case could end in a mistrial if Watada’s lawyers refused to let the defendant answer the judge’s questions about potential inconsistencies with a “stipulation of fact” that Watada agreed to before the trial began.

Before Head's ruling, an Army official said that if a mistrial was declared, it could be “months” before a new trial.

At the center of the dispute between the judge and the defense is Watada’s intent when he did not deploy with his unit to Iraq. The defense has consistently tried to call into question the legality of the war, because Watada said the war is illegal and a command to fight in Iraq is also illegal. But the judge has said the argument over the legality of the war is not a matter that can be settled in military court.

Watada's civilian defense attorney said he would invoke the protection against double jeopardy if the government followed through with plans to retry his client.

Eric Seitz said he will seek dismissal of the charges with prejudice, meaning they could not be refiled. The Army's judge advocate general at Fort Lewis said double jeopardy does not apply in this case.