BOSTON—Bright, thoughtful, compassionate, committed, aware, articulate, gutsy—these are all apt descriptions of Mari Oye, Yale-bound Wellesley High senior and Presidential Scholar who many are calling a national hero because of her bold act at the White House on June 25.

The Presidential Scholar program, now in its 43rd year, honors two graduating high school seniors from each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and in the arts on the basis of outstanding scholarship, service, leadership and creativity through a rigorous selection process overseen by the U.S. Department of Education.

To be selected a Presidential Scholar is considered one of the most distinguished honors for a graduating American high school student. For the most part, however, annual Presidential Scholar meetings with the president at the White House have become a routine photo op and little else. This year was different.

Oye, 18, persuaded 41 of her fellow honorees to cosign a handwritten note composed by her and a dozen others calling on President Bush to reject torture and treat terrorism suspects humanely. Prior to the obligatory photo shoot Oye stepped forward and handed the president the note.

The daughter of Kenneth Oye, 57, a professor at M.I.T., and Willa Michener, 55, a lawyer and herself a Presidential Scholar in 1968, Mari was raised a Quaker. Her grandfather George Oye, who died earlier this year, was interned in a U.S. government internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II.

Sixty-three years ago, 63 Japanese American men, some of them no older than Mari Oye and her friends, defied the government edict that Japanese Americans interned in American concentration camps during WWII should accept conscription into the U.S. military.

But there were no laudatory stories in the hometown paper or national TV coverage or Ivy League university honors-at-entrance for the draft-resisting “No-No Boys” who would become known as the “Heart Mountain 63.” Instead, after what is still the largest mass trial of draft resisters in U.S. history, they were sentenced to hard time in federal penitentiaries.

Finally, we come to Messrs. Shinseki, Taguba and Watada—two generals and a lieutenant—Asian American military men whose lives changed because of America’s war on terror.

Four-Star General Eric K. Shinseki, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, product of West Point, Armor Officer Advanced Course, the United States Army Command and General Staff College and the National War College—doesn’t get any more hardcore military than that. Got his foot blown off in Vietnam. He told former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz what they didn’t want to hear and got fired for it. Every knows “Ric was right.” History will show Shinseki was right. Rumsfeld is a footnote. Wolfowitz turned out to be a sleaze bag.

So, now we come full-circle back to torture. Major General Antonio Taguba told the truth and the Bush Administration lied about the policies at Iraq’s infamous Abu Ghraib prison. Like, Shinseki, Taguba was fired by the Bush Administration.

Said Gen. Taguba: “From the moment a soldier enlists, we inculcate loyalty, duty, honor, integrity, and selfless service,” Taguba said. “And yet when we get to the senior-officer level we forget those values. I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable.”

U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Ehren Watada publicly refused to deploy to Iraq for his unit’s assigned rotation to Operation Iraqi Freedom last June. Watada, 29, said he believed the war to be illegal and that, under the doctrine of command responsibility, it would make him party to war crimes.

Watada is the first commissioned officer in the U.S. armed forces to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq. His court-martial ended in a mistrial on Feb. 7, 2007. The mistrial was declared after three days when the judge said the soldier didn’t fully understand a pretrial agreement. That deal would have cut his sentence to four years.

A second court-martial was scheduled to begin July 23, but it’s unclear whether it will proceed on schedule. Watada’s defense team asserts another trial would be tantamount to double jeopardy.

Watada’s cause has been aided by anti-war groups, critics of the Bush Administration and Iraq war veterans. His own community, however, is somewhat split on his case. But wait. One Japanese American group has rallied behind the young officer. Ironically, it’s the remnant of the “Heart Mountain 63” and the Fair Play Committee of Nisei draft resisters from World War II. The ones that are still alive, they’re all in their 80s now. But the No-No Boys can still mount up and ride.

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