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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 February 2007, 23:32 GMT
Mistrial in US war objector case
First Lt Ehren Watada at his home 2/2/2007
Lt Watada refused to deploy with his unit to Iraq in 2006
A US military judge has declared a mistrial in the court martial of an officer who refused to fight in Iraq.

The judge, Lt Col John Head, said the soldier did not fully understand a document he signed admitting to elements of the charges.

First Lt Ehren Watada is charged with missing movements and two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer for publicly criticising the Iraq war.

He has pleaded not guilty. A new court martial has been set for 19 March.

Lt Col Head halted the court martial on its third day after he threw out a pre-trial agreement between the prosecution and the defence on the facts of the case.

Hollywood support

Lt Watada has said that the order for him to ship out to Iraq last June was illegal because the war itself was illegal.

He joined the army in 2003, after the invasion of Iraq.

He has said he would have served in Afghanistan, but not Iraq.

Lt Col Head has ruled that Lt Watada cannot base his defence on the war's legality.

He also ruled that Lt Watada's statements are not protected by the right to free speech under the US constitution.

Lt Watada has been supported by Hollywood actors Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon and South African Nobel peace prize laureate Desmond Tutu.

His critics say soldiers cannot choose which war they will fight in.

Lt Watada faces up to four years in prison if he is found guilty on all charges.


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