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Backstory: Dissent of an officer

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Carolyn Ho was at her apartment that overlooks Kaneohe Bay on the windward side of Oahu, on another enviable evening of silk-shirt temperatures, when the phone rang. It was New Year's Day 2006. Her son, Ehren, was calling from Fort Lewis, near Tacoma, Wash., where he was stationed as an artillery officer in the US Army.

She assumed he was calling to wish her a happy New Year. He had something else on his mind. He told her he was opposed to the war in Iraq and was going to refuse to deploy there. "I was surprised and pretty much went ballistic over it," recalls Ms. Ho. "I tried to talk him out of it."

A week later, Ho – with the help of a Kahlil Gibran poem reminding her that we don't really own our children – changed her mind and has supported her son ever since. Proudly. Fiercely.

On Monday she will be doing it again as 1st Lt. Ehren Watada goes on trial in a military court as the nation's first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq.

It's a trial with significance beyond Lieutenant Watada. The case will provide a test of how far officers can go in resisting an order and how much they can criticize their superiors – notably the commander in chief. Over time, Watada came to believe that the Bush administration lied about the reasons for invading Iraq and concluded its actions were "illegal and immoral."

The Pentagon, however, argues that no soldier can pick and choose assignments, something that would undermine a core tenet of the military – the command structure. It also says that when people join the Army, they lose some of the free-speech rights of a civilian.

Thus Watada faces two charges of conduct unbecoming an officer, for his suggestion that President Bush "deceived" Americans, and one count of "missing movement." Two other charges were dropped. He could get a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

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