A small but telling legal battle between the Army and a Brooklyn doctor whose anti-war “epiphany” led him to petition for conscientious objector status ended yesterday when a federal appeals court ruled that the doctor can stay home.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals (think: Sotomayor) decided that the Army had “no factual
basis” for rejecting Dr. Timothy D. Watson’s petition.
In 1998, Watson received an Army scholarship to complete medical school at George Washington University. In exchange for the scholarship, which funded his nearly eight years of medical training, Watson would serve as an Army physician for three years.
But in 2004 and 2005, following the invasion of Fallujah, Watson became increasingly concerned about the war and eventually turned against it. He even marched in United for Peace and Justice anti-war protest in Washington. In January 2006, during his last year of residency, he applied to become a conscientious objector.
In his extensive application, which regards multiple testimony from character witnesses, he wrote, “The tragedy of September 11, 2001 and our subsequent response in Afghanistan and Iraq have been profound catalysts for introspection, and constitute a radical turning point in my life… These ongoing wars, and the mass death and
destruction resulting from them, have led me to more fully comprehend the immorality, cruelty and arbitrariness of violence in general, and particularly the futility of violent retaliation. They have led me to detest violence and reject it completely.”
The first Army officer who read his petition and interviewed him recommended that he be discharged due to his anti-war sentiment and his refusal to treat soldiers injured in combat. But six commanding officers rejected that officer’s recommendation.
These were their stated reasons: 1.) His moral rationale for conscientious objection was “vague and insincere,” and more indicative of of a “general personal philosophy than a code by which Watson lived his life”; 2.) He was more opposed to the War on Terror than to war in general; 3.) His refusal to treat soldiers in battle contradicted the Hippocratic oath and his obligation to preserve the sanctity of life; 4.) He had cribbed from prior conscientious objector opinions in his application (We’re not sure why this made it invalid, and neither were the courts).
When Watson appealed the decision, the army wrote that he “failed to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that he has a firm, fixed and sincere objection to participation in war in any form.”
Soon after, Watson was called up to active duty at a hospital in Georgia. Instead, Watson went to court. The case went up through the district courts (which sided with him) and finally to the court of appeals. Both courts agreed that the Army’s reasons just weren’t good enough.
For you legal minds: An Army discharge for reasons of conscientious objection is legally considered to be a privilege granted by the executive branch — not a constitutional right.