Very simply, he feels the U.S. did not have legal cause to invade Iraq and pursuant to the well-known Nüremburg defense, "I was just following orders", felt it was his duty as an officer and as an American to disobey orders he judged to be illegal.
His hopes to testify as to why the invasion of Iraq was illegal were dashed by military judge Lt. Col. John Head, who would not permit into evidence questioning of the legality of the deployment. This has already drawn criticism from judicial scholars as the judge summarily decided Lt. Watada's motive is "irrelevant".
Clearly the judge is in a precarious position - letting Lt. Watada off the hook could very well open the flood gates for thousands of other soldiers to follow suit, inviting political pandemonium, just what the Bush administration wants to avoid.
Would allowing Watada's defense give precedent for any wild-eyed disgruntled GI to question future presidential orders to deploy? Perhaps, if he is willing to risk imprisonment to make his point. But in this case I believe close consideration of the evidence will show Lt. Watada is the one observing Constitutional law and proper military conduct and Bush is the madman.
Judge Head's curt, confusing explanation in denying the defense witnesses dismissed the question altogether as a "political issue" beyond the jurisdiction of the court.
In short, the judge is missing out on an opportunity to right a historical wrong, to use his gavel to strike a blow for justice and send shockwaves through a nation. Instead, he chooses to be the bus driver who told Rosa Parks to give up her seat - or the driver of the tank in Tiananmen Square.
Lt. Watada is willing to be the first domino to get all the others dropping. This is why directing wide international scrutiny to this trial is the best thing that can happen now.
Many have made donations to Watada's defense fund, but money alone cannot do it. In fact, recent complaints have highlighted the unwanted consequence of funds donated to MoveOn campaigns which simply enrich TV stations and media conglomerates.
A large, daily protest outside the courtroom may serve to publicize the trial, but may not reach a national or international audience. Extensive coverage of the trial has been noticably sparse.
I noticed frontline celeb activist Sean Penn made it to the protest this week, but when I learned that Bishop Desmond Tutu had issued a statement in support of Lt. Watada, lending his Nobel Peace Prize cred to the debate, it struck me as the key to making this issue blow up.
I am therefore making a public call (yes, right here from OpEdNews) to the biggest and brightest names in politics, entertainment, literature and pop culture - especially any Nobel Peace Prize winners. Please issue your press releases now in support of Lt. Watada. This is greater then fighting for the sentencing of one soldier, this is fighting for the right to argue the legality of this war in court, something that could affect over 150,000 soldiers.
Citizen petitions are also encouraged, but the time to act is now. I'd say this was even more pressing then surge-opposition activism. If Watada is sentenced, he will be silenced - use this window to draw coverage and scrutiny to this trial and how it is being conducted.
During the anti-Communist hysteria of the early 50s, there were worldwide protests in defense of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg who were executed for spying. Their trial had been greatly flawed - the main witness himself admitted on 60 Minutes decades later that he had lied to protect himself and his wife. The attention almost stayed the executions, when Albert Einstein, Pope Pius and other notable authors, artists, entertainers and luminaries lent their name to the Rosenbergs' cause. We know now that due to public pressure, the judge in the case had secretly written President Truman, unsuccessfully asking for his intervention. Judge Kaufman was looking for an out badly, but couldn't stop what had already been set in motion.
Today we see the same type of pressure - with the overwhelming majority of the population opposed to this war and looking for an end, and on the other side a rogue White House looking to maintain it's dictatorial hand and not be undermined.
A much greater increase in the publicity of this case therefore would compel the judge to follow the law as closely as possible. If we've voted in the mid-term elections, donated to Watada's defense fund, contacted our representatives and written the military commission, the best we can do now is make noise. I would hope the A-listers will come forward and make their clarion call for justice before Lt. Watada disappears into obscurity like the courageous Vietnam resisters who were suppressed, silenced and sentenced.