Less than a month before his court-martial begins, Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada turned to the public Friday, urging it to get involved in the discussion about the Iraq war.
Seven months ago, Watada made headlines when he refused to deploy to Iraq with a Fort Lewis-based Stryker Brigade, saying the war was illegal. His decision drew the attention of the anti-war movement, and eventually charges for conduct unbecoming an officer and missing a troop movement.
On Friday, Watada continued to talk, wondering about the lack of public outrage over the nearly four-year-old war.
"Could it be that ... many people don't care about the illegality of this war?" Watada asked students and others who packed a hall at Seattle Central Community College. "It is my belief that the American people have relinquished their responsibility."
He also blamed elected officials.
Watada, 28, said initial reasons offered to justify the Iraq war -- the presence of weapons of mass destruction and Iraq's purported ties to terrorists -- turned out to be unsubstantiated.
"We have all been deceived," Watada told the audience. The "American people have the power to end this war."
Officials at Fort Lewis were unavailable for comment Friday.
Watada compared the Iraqi engagement to the Vietnam War. "The arguments used against me are the same ones they used 30 years ago," Watada said. "Vietnam is now Iraq."
Watada's public stance and looming trial have spurred Seattle-area students and others to rally outside Fort Lewis and call for student walkouts Feb. 5, the day his court-martial is scheduled to begin.
Even though the Democratically controlled Congress is questioning the war and President Bush's plan to deploy more troops, Watada doesn't expect the shift to play a role in his case. Watada could face up to six years in prison if found guilty of one count of missing a troop movement and four counts of disobeying an order.
"No, I don't think it will have any bearing on my case," Watada said. "Knowing you will probably lose is no excuse not to take a course of action."