Just Saying No

Delivered at a press conference at the King Center, Atlanta, Georgia, June 27, 2006.

It is my great honor and duty to be here today to share with others my support for the action of First Lieutenant Ehren Watada in disobeying an unlawful order to serve in a war that is both immoral and illegal, as well as to show my support for all military service members and their families who are now resisting this war.

Lt. Watada's refusal to obey orders to deploy to Iraq with his unit was not made lightly. It came about through much soul-searching and research that led him to the irreversible conclusion that to participate in this unlawful war of aggression would make him an accomplice to a criminal act.

Lt. Watada is the first commissioned officer to refuse orders to Iraq and is also the first soldier to do so who is not a conscientious objector. His decision is based on legal grounds as well as moral, with the recognition that a soldier has not only the duty to obey all lawful orders, but also has the moral and legal obligation to disobey any unlawful order.

Lt. Watada's mother described her son as having "an unflinching commitment to his men and to democratic ideals" and said that he believes that he can best serve them by taking a stand against the war.

"In so doing," she said, "he demonstrates that one does not relinquish the freedom to choose what is right, even in the military, and that the freedom to choose what is right transcends the allegiance to man and institutions."

Lt. Watada is doing the right thing. As a US Army veteran myself of eight years active duty, with five years in the military police and three years as a special agent in the US Army Criminal Investigation Command; as a former soldier who remembers very well being explicitly trained by the Army that it is the duty of a soldier to disobey any unlawful order and to comply with the Geneva Convention, I honor Lt. Watada for the courage to be true to his conscience and true to his oath of office as a commissioned officer to support and defend the Constitution and bear true faith and allegiance to the same.

Refusing to participate in an unjust and illegal war is an act of conscience that is also an affirmation of the rule of law. No soldier owes absolute allegiance to any military system.  The legal authority of military command is grounded in the rule of law, which is based on the Constitution and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The Constitution has requirements for what branch of government has the power to declare war and for what purpose — which is specified as being for the defense of the United States – and also makes any treaties adopted by the United States the law of the land.

There is a point at which one's conscience and understanding of the US Constitution, the United Nations Charter, the Nuremberg Principles, and the Geneva Conventions, requires an individual to make the conscious decision to obey or not to obey what he believes to be an unlawful order.

With great courage, Lt. Watada made that decision.

There is one veteran who was not able to be here today to show his support for Lt. Watada, but who would have liked to. He is a veteran of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, now retired, US Air Force Major Kelley G. Culver, of Augusta, GA.

Major Culver has provided a statement in support of Lt. Watada, which I will relay on his behalf:

In 1990, I was commander of an Air Force Combat Communication Squadron deployed to the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. At the time of the deployment, I was opposed to the war because it was obvious that the true reason was not the liberation of Kuwait from Iraq, but the protection of American oil interests in the Persian Gulf.

The true purpose of this war was obvious. The US had been a supporter of Saddam Hussein's government in the years prior to the war, and had previously turned a blind eye to Hussein's activities. Suddenly in 1990, the United States was outraged at his actions. We went to war on a tapestry of lies.

The current war in Iraq was also started on a tapestry of lies. Neither the situation in 1990 nor the situation today justifies the loss of American military men and women.

In 1990, I opposed the war in the Persian Gulf, but I deployed and served in spite of my objections. My reasons, simply put, were that I had a career at stake. To refuse to deploy would have ended that career. I was not willing to pay that price.

Today, we assemble in support of Lt. Ehren Watada, who realizing the illegal nature of the war in Iraq, has chosen to do what I could not do 16 years ago. People will call him a coward for his actions, but I can assure you, this is the action of a brave man.

Today I add my support to the cause of Lt. Watada and I thank him for taking the stand that I was unable to take myself.

Kelley G. Culver, Major, USAF (Retired)

Military veterans can especially understand how hard of a path it is that Lt. Watada has taken, because, whether we served in war or during peacetime, we know what it means to live and serve under military authority.

But however hard it may be to stand up, any active duty service member today, whose conscience has been moved by what he or she knows in their heart to be wrong, can also take strength in knowing that the very same military authority that requires them to obey all lawful orders, also, if it is true to its own code, imposes upon them the obligation to disobey all unlawful orders.

January 28, 2006