Sunday, January 07, 2007

Editorial: Ehren Watada stands and independent media heads for the bathrooms

Ehren Watada, the first officer to publicly refuse to serve in Iraq, faces a court-martial on February 5th. His mother, Carolyn Ho, attempted to get Congress to excercise the oversight they refused to do in the lead up to the illegal war, but, despite Jake Tappers' report for ABC News that, if they had it all to do over again today, the Senate wouldn't vote in favor of the blank check Bully Boy cashed to start the illegal war, they refused to do anything about today..

By ABC's count, 57 would vote against it if they could now and "only 43 -- at most" would vote in favor it. They realize, now, that they made a mistake. Ehren Watada grasped that the war was a mistake a little bit quicker than they did and apparently he's to be punished for being ahead of the curve.

He's charged with missing movement (his refusal to deploy) and "conduct unbecoming an officer" for statements he made explaining why he wouldn't participate in an illegal war. The US military wants to take away his right to defend himself for missing movement but still wants to charge him with "conduct unbecoming an officer" for points he made and refuse to let his attorney, Eric Seitz, argue the points in the court-martial.

They want to selectively present, the military prosecution, what he said but they don't want his defense to be allowed to make similar arguments.

If that mockery of justice doesn't get you, wait for it, he faces six years in prison if convicted of all charges.

Yet, the US military says he should not be allowed to explain how he arrived at his decision. In fact, they don't even want his attorney to argue his decision. They want a "yes" and "no" limitation where his attorney and he would be able to say "Yes" that happened and "no" that didn't happen but never explain why.

That's stripping him of his right to argue motive.

That's not justice.

This was all argued Thursday in the pre-trial hearing. Lt. Col. John Head is the judge presiding and he's expected to render a decision outlining the paremeters this week.

You might think independent media would be all over this case. After all, doesn't Ehren Watada's awakening to the realities of the illegal war demonstrate the power of dissent, the power of independent media which called out the war when the mainstream gladly marched along?

But independent media had some other things to do. They usually do when it comes to war resisters. Which must explain why, when The Nation magazine finally notes Watada in 2007, months after he went public in June of 2006, they do say by printing a slam against him that depicts him as a coward. No one owns The Nation? More and more these days, the response shouted back is, "Who the hell would want to?"

The infamous 2005 editorial that they would not support any candidate for office in the 2006 election that couldn't call out the illegal war didn't really bear out in 2006 because "support" can translate as coverage and many candidates who went down in the primaries, anti-war candidates, did so without any support from The Nation. Hillary Clinton's anti-war candidate for the Senate received no favorable coverage, no coverage at all. Harold Ford Junior did manage to get a story, the pro-war, pro-Bully Boy, centrist Harold Ford Junior.

If The Nation really meant that they wouldn't support a candidate who supported the war, we had a hard time telling that in 2006. More importantly, Ehren Watada's not supporting the illegal war and his stand puts him at risk. Where's the bravery from The Nation? Where's the support?

Though it would be hard for some readers today to believe, The Nation hasn't always acted as a tip-sheet for the Democratic Party. It has taken brave stands in the past. It was, in fact, created around the belief that slavery could be ended. Today, it seems far less interested in ending anything and far more interested in offering to serve as the spiritual advisor (if not confessor) of the Democratic Party. (Some would even arguing, it seems more interested in providing cover for the Democratic Party.)

Exactly when did the left, non-partisan magazine decide that it's main role was in providing non-stop bulletins for the Democratic Party? Michael Ratner has rightly pointed out (on Law and Disorder) how the Democratic Party washed their hands of their Guantamo. We'd take that further and argue that The Nation did so as well, returning to the topic only when it was time to scare up votes (emphasis on "scare") for the Democratic Party -- a party that, as Ratner noted, refused to oppose Guantanamo, refused to address it, and continues to refuse to address it.

The Nation used to take stands and follow them up. These days they touch on an issue (when they touch on one) lightly and then drop it. Not unlike what passes for a fiery speech from an elected official and is then quickly disowned by said official. (Think Dick Durbin and Guantanamo.) When the magazine had a sense of purpose, issues could be addressed, these days it's all about what happens on the Hill and root-root-root for the home team.

If that doesn't depress the hell out of you -- that after becoming the largest circulated left magazine, it then opts for irrelevancy -- think about Ehren Watada. He's standing up for what he believes in.

He's done that with very little support. Until 2007, the only independent magazine that ran a story on him was LeftTurn. (If you consider the former counter-culture weekly Rolling Stone independent media, they hailed him as a hero for 2006 in their year-end issue.) The silence has been actually rather loud and it is registering with people. A new publicity director for the magazine, though needed, isn't going to stem the bad image the magazine's created for itself in 2006. But hey, Tori Clark's always up for a good spin challenge, maybe she'd take on the job?

Ehren Watada needs support. He's not getting it. There's no other way to put it. We're tired of hinting and we're tired of waiting. He will be court-martialed February 5th. Possibly, as with Lynne Stewart, the magazine prefers to sit this one out? They've sat a lot out lately and you can only sit out so many games before people lose all faith in you.

The Nation's far from the only offender. Democracy Now! didn't make time to cover the August Article 32 hearing of Ehren Watada. Last week, they presented a journalist whose plight was that she might have to testify before his court-martial. There should be no plight. You don't testify if you're a journalist. She refused to make that statement. She said she couldn't discuss the legal strategy. She could, however, offer that she's a journalist and she covers many stories she doesn't support because that's what journalists do. Talk about an inspiration to journalists everywhere.

For those confused, Sarah Olson is a footnote to Ehren Watada's court-martial. She is not the story. While his stand is ignored, her non-stand gets explored when a non-stand is best left to philosophical explorations in trade journals.

Today, Laura Flanders will include her in the media roundtable. If nothing's changed since she appeared on Democracy Now!, Olson will continue to talk about herself. "Never explain, never complain," said Katharine Hepburn, but she was an actress and not overly fond of journalism.

It's all the more amazing when you grasp that Olson's getting more attention than Josh Wolf who actually took a stand. (And remains imprisoned.)

Sara Rich will be on Flanders as well. She's the mother of Suzanne Swift who was not a war resister but that didn't stop independent media from portraying her as such. In the end, it destroyed Swift's chances of justice. Swift went AWOL because she was sexually abused and harassed in the US military by service members. She did not resist the war in Iraq. She never made any statement that she had.

But some 'genuis' decided to present her as a war resister. Had they focused on reality, it would have been very hard for Congress to ignore Swift. Even the military's own whitewash investigation backed some of her claims. (As C.I. has stated, "I believe her." We all do.) Presenting her case based on what it actually was would have (a) frightened off the military (the last thing they wanted was Swift doing a sit down with Diane Sawyer that would inflame the nation) and (b) would have given her standing with members of the public who don't give a damn about war resisters but do take sexual harassment seriously.

Now someone's sold Olson on the idea that refusing to announce a stand and eating print space and air time with her tales of how this is a difficult choice and she shouldn't have to make it is going to lead to angry editorials of support. People support stands, they don't support dismay over being forced to make a decision. (Again, a decision that should be very clear to anyone who wants to continue as a journalist.)

In Swift's case, we think she got very bad legal advice. In Olson's case, she's an active participant in her own public embarrassment (and in journalism's public embarrassment).

Meanwhile, Ehren Watada has taken a stand against the war. It's just not really registering with most indepent media. One exception? Truthdig which posted "Truthdiggers of the Week: The Conscientious Objectors" last week.

This as The Nation's in downgrade mode on the war, penning, last week: "The 'thumping' taken by the Republican Congress on election day was not just a rejection of K Street corruption and the catastrophe in Iraq. It was a call to action on issues that are more immediately relevant to people's lives." You know, it's only the ones who didn't note the 3,000 mark that continue to see the illegal war as not "immediately revelevant to people's lives." We'd argue it's relevant to many American people's lives and we'd argue it's relevant to Iraqi people's lives too but then we see Iraqis as people and as revelant.

But as long as you refuse to note the 3,000 mark, as long as you refuse to note war resisters, as long as you refuse to note Abeer or any of the many other Iraqi victims of the war, we guess the war isn't "releveant" to some people's lives. For instance, it's possibly not relevant to people who don't think the American people find it relevant.

In the real world, the number one reason cited in polls wasn't "K Street corruption." It was Iraq. But continue to downgrade the importance of an illegal war if it allows you to feel better about the magazine's abysmal job of covering it.
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