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BOB WATADA speaks on behalf of his son, Lt. Ehren Watada, at Buena Vista United Methodist Church on Tuesday evening in Alameda. The younger Watada is the first commissioned military officer to publicly resist deployment to Iraq and faces up to seven years in prison.
ALAMEDA — The father of the first commissioned Army officer to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq is telling his son's story to Bay Area residents in a whirlwind speaking tour this week.

Earlier this week, members of the Buena Vista United Methodist Church gathered in the sanctuary to listen to Bob Watada, father of Lt. Ehren Watada.

"Ehren is not doing this for himself," Watada told the audience of mostly Japanese Americans. "He is doing this for every American who believes in democracy and the Constitution. ... And I am very proud of him."

The lieutenant, who announced his refusal to be deployed to Iraq in June, also was charged with contempt of officials and conduct unbecoming of an officer. He faces seven years in prison. He is from Honolulu, where his parents and stepmother live, and is stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington state. He has been reassigned to a desk job and likely will face a court-martial in November.

The senior Watada is in the Bay Area theweek making 25 speaking engagements in Berkeley, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Sacramento and San Jose, sponsored by peace and faith-based organizations.

"(We recognize) his actions as those of civil disobedience and a decision of moral and ethical conscience," said the Rev. Michael Yoshii of the Alameda church in support of Watada.

"It is my conclusion as an officer of the Armed Forces that the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law. ..." Ehren Watada stated June 7 at a press conference near Tacoma.

That quote is one among many cited on his official charge sheet as evidence of his show of contempt toward President Bush and for conduct unbecoming of an officer.

Jeff Paterson of Oakland-based Not in Our Name was at Watada's Article 32 pretrial hearing in Fort Lewis last week, where several expert witnesses testified in support of Watada, including former U.N. Undersecretary Denis Halliday.

"In a very unique way, we are going to put the war in Iraq on trial in a military courtroom," said Paterson, a former U.S. Marine who resisted the first Gulf War in 1990.

Ehren Watada, 28, joined the Army in 2003 and is being charged with refusing deployment, which could lead to two years in prison.

The other charges add five counts and up to five years in prison — and freedom of speech seems to be the issue at hand.

"We expected the missing movement charge but we are somewhat astounded by the contempt and conduct unbecoming of an officer charges," said Watada's lawyer, Eric Seitz, in a statement. Seitz defended Paterson in the early 1990s. "These additional charges open up the substance of Lt. Watada's statements for review and raise important First Amendment issues."

Two journalists are listed as potential witnesses in the case and may be subpoenaed and asked to turn over their notes: Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter Gregg Kakesako and Oakland-based independent journalist Sarah Olson.

Olson wrote a piece published on the alternative news portal Truthout.org.

"It's not my job as a journalist to help the Army to prosecute Lt. Watada," said Olson, who declined to comment on whether she will show up if subpoenaed.

The senior Watada said he made it clear to his son that he did not want him to join the military, but that it was up to the younger Watada to decide for himself.

Bob Watada, former executive director of the Campaign Spending Commission in Hawaii, was drafted for the Vietnam war, resisted and was allowed to serve in the Peace Corps in Peru instead. His brother served and died in the Korean War.

Ehren Watada, like many young people, heeded the call after Sept. 11, 2001 to serve his country, said his father.

After much research and after hearing about alleged crimes committed by fellow soldiers, the younger Watada began to doubt the legitimacy of the war.

He has not tried to get conscientious objector status because he is not morally against all wars — just this war in particular, which he calls illegal. Paterson said many in the military find ways to quietly refuse deployment, including purposefully failing drug tests or going AWOL and living in Canada.

Instead, Watada went public and may go to prison for speaking out. He tried three times to resign but the Army denied his requests, Paterson said.

While people have called him a "coward," including several Japanese-American war veterans groups, Watada's case — and cause — has garnered support.

"What he was surprised at was the number of soldiers who said, 'Thanks for standing up,'" Bob Watada, who speaks to his son every day, told the audience. More than 8,000 U.S. soldiers have gone AWOL and at least

2,400 U.S. soldiers have died in the invasion of Iraq, he said.

Several faith-based organizations have written statements supporting Watada, including bishops from the United Methodist Church.

Watada's wife, Rosa Sakanishi, is accompanying him. Watada's mother, Carolyn Ho, has also been speaking out on his behalf.

From noon to 3 p.m. today, World Can't Wait — Youth & Students Conference, San Francisco, (415) 286-3408; 7 p.m. today, Newman Center, 5900 Newman Court, Sacramento, (916) 448-7157; 10-11:30 a.m. Friday, Berkeley Methodist United Church chapel, 1710 Carleton St., Berkeley, (510) 848-3614; 7-10 p.m. Friday, Santa Cruz Veterans Building, (650) 799-1070; 7-9 p.m. Saturday, Berkeley Friends Church, 1600 Sacramento St., Berkeley, (510) 684-0239; 4-6 p.m. Sunday, AFSC building, 65 Ninth St., San Francisco, (415) 647-1119. For more information, visit http://www.thankyoult.org. Contact Momo Chang at mchang@angnewspapers.com.