Watada mistrial looms
The judge, Lt. Col. John Head, said he was concerned that Watada did not understand portions of a "stipulation of fact" he signed earlier in the week. Head, who is presiding over the court-martial at Fort Lewis, said he wants to question Watada about what he signed.
Civilian defense attorney Eric Seitz objected to Head questioning his client, saying it was too far along in the process to reopen the stipulation.
Head responded that unless he was satisfied that Watada knew what he had signed, he would be forced to declare a mistrial.
The arguments came after Seitz, Army prosecutors and Head met behind closed doors for nearly 1 1/2 hours to discuss instructions that would be provided to the panel of military officers sitting in judgment of Watada when witness testimony ends.
Seitz apparently wants to include something in the instructions regarding Watada's reasons for missing his unit's flight to Iraq last June.
The defense attorney said in open court Wednesday that it was Watada's intent to avoid the entire Iraq war when he refused to board the plane, not just to miss that specific flight. He is charged only with missing that plane.
"That is why we did not plead guilty to that charge (of missing movement," Seitz said.
Head previously ruled that Watada could not call witnesses to bolster his claims that the war is illegal.
On Wednesday, the judge said he sees a contradiction between the proposed instruction and the stipulation and demanded to question Watada about that. If he could not resolve the contradiction to his satisfaction, or if Watada refused to answer questions, Head said he would throw out the stipulation. That would essentially halt the case and require Army prosecutors to refile charges
Seitz then asked for some time to consult with his client, and Head granted permission.
Court is scheduled to resume after lunch.
Watada is charged with three violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for refusing to deploy with his unit to Iraq in June and public statements he made about what he sees as the illegality of the war in Iraq.
He faces up to four years in confinement and a discharge from the Army if found guilty of missing movement and two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer.
The 28-year-old officer contends he had a duty to refuse orders to deploy because he believes the war violates U.S. and international law and that his participation would make him party to war crimes. He has said he would fight in Afghanistan and potentially other conflicts.
At least five members of the panel must vote to convict him in order for him to be found guilty.
If he's found guilty, the court-martial would move into a sentencing phase, where prosecutors and defense attorneys could call more witnesses.
At least five panel members must also agree on a sentence.
Watada would have the right to fight a conviction in the Army's appellate court system and could possibly take his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
His attorney wants to be able instruct the jury that Watada's intent wasn't specifically to miss a movement, but rather to avoid a war he said would make him party to war crimes. The judge now says he has to ask Watada about that, to see just exactly what his intentions were.
The trouble is, Watada's attorney is objecting to that. So now the judge says he may not be able to accept Watada's earlier stipulation.
This means the army may have to retry this case from the beginning. But now the question is: what did Watada intend to do when he missed the movement?