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Sheehan Vows Her Cause Is Just Beginning


August 26, 2005 latimes.com : National News Print
Sheehan Vows Her Cause Is Just Beginning

The mother of a soldier killed in Iraq plans a national bus tour next month to protest the war, as emotions run high at 'Camp Casey.'

By Peter Wallsten, Times Staff Writer

CRAWFORD, Texas — The mother who pitched a tent near President Bush's property three weeks ago and watched her antiwar campaign gain momentum said Thursday that her efforts would not end, even if Bush granted her the face-to-face meeting she has been seeking.

Cindy Sheehan, whose 24-year-old son died in Iraq last year, said she would lead a national bus tour beginning Sept. 1 and ending Sept. 24, when the group she co-founded, Gold Star Families for Peace, and other antiwar organizations would settle on a more permanent site in Washington.

A 48-year-old from Vacaville, Calif., Sheehan laid our her plans before a crush of photographers and reporters from around the world who have converged on her expanded protest encampment.

Dubbed Camp Casey II after Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, it features a large tent rising from the grassy plains and buffet dinners for activists. She was speaking upon her emotional return after a five-day absence to care for her ailing mother in the Los Angeles area.

Her comments came the day after Bush returned to Texas following a three-day Western swing in which he aggressively responded to Sheehan's protests, asserting that she does not speak for other military moms and that her call for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq "would only embolden the terrorists."

Sheehan said, "I'm just so honored that the universe chose me to be the spark that has set off a raging inferno.

"And when I had to leave," she added, "it proved that you don't need the spark anymore, because the fire is burning. And it's not going to go out. If George Bush came out and spoke with me today and we went home, this wouldn't end."

But a White House spokesman said withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq would encourage terrorists. Spokesman Trent Duffy cited the Sept. 11 commission report to bolster administration statements that the effort in Iraq is part of a broader war on terrorism.

"The name of that chapter is called, 'The Foundation of the New Terrorism,' " Duffy said. "And the bipartisan commission members wrote about the U.S. reaction to terrorist acts overseas in the years leading up to 9/11. They reached a fundamental conclusion: When America takes a single step backwards in the face of terrorism overseas, it brings the terrorists 50 steps closer to our own shores."

Still, Duffy declined to rule out a potential meeting between Bush and Sheehan. "If there's anything to announce on the president's schedule, we'll let you know," Duffy said, noting that Bush had met privately with nearly 300 families of fallen soldiers. Among them were 19 families that met with the president and his wife, Laura Bush, this week near Boise, Idaho.

In 2004, Sheehan was part of a group of military families that met with Bush at Ft. Lewis, Wash., near Seattle. But she has since said that she was offended by how the president handled the meeting and that her opposition to the war had intensified.

Shortly after the 2004 meeting, Patrick Sheehan, her husband, was quoted in the Reporter of Vacaville as saying, "We have a lot of respect for the office of the president, and I have a new respect for [Bush] because he was sincere and he didn't have to take the time to meet with us."

The paper reported that the Sheehans were unhappy with Bush's conduct of the war and his explanations for invading Iraq, but that they decided not to share those feelings with the president during the meeting.

"I now know he's sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis," Cindy Sheehan told the Vacaville paper after the meeting. "I know he's sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he's a man of faith."

Thursday's scene at Camp Casey illustrated how Sheehan's once apparently Quixote-like protest has ballooned, giving war opponents a champion that had been lacking since former Democratic Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont stumbled in his efforts to win the White House on a largely antiwar platform.

A television ad in which Sheehan challenges Bush began appearing Thursday on CNN and Fox News Channel. In the ad, Sheehan looks into the camera and says, "Mr. President, I want to tell you face to face how much this hurts."

She also says he lied about the need for going to war with Iraq, and asks that Bush bring home troops now.

Recently, the ad was broadcast on a number of local stations to coincide with public appearances by the president, but two stations — one in Idaho and one in Utah — declined to air it.

At times, hundreds of people sympathetic to Sheehan's cause have gathered at Camp Casey, including folk singer and antiVietnam War activist Joan Baez. Professional public relations consultants, funded by liberal groups such as MoveOn.org and TrueMajority, are staging media events designed to produce emotion-laden images.

On Thursday, the director of a Quaker pacifist group presented Sheehan with her dead son's boots, which she tearfully placed near a wooden cross.

Emotions were running high, with Sheehan's backers chastising reporters for asking her challenging questions at her news conference. As Sheehan placed the boots in the sea of white crosses, a muscular Iraq war veteran, Jeff Key of Hollywood, shoved a TV cameraman away, accusing him of trampling sacred ground.

Over the weekend, Bush supporters are expected to gather at a camp of their own with the theme, "Cindy doesn't speak for me." On Thursday, the narrow, winding roads that lead to Camp Casey were lined with signs supporting the president and dozens of left-over Bush-Cheney campaign placards.

At the news conference, Sheehan was asked about the potential danger to Iraqi children should the U.S. withdrawal lead to chaos in that country. "I'm sorry that there are so many of them dead already because of our illegal, immoral invasion," she said.

Asked about the military families who say she does not represent them, Sheehan replied: "I never said I did."

Instead, she said, she simply speaks for herself and her son, who she said would support what she is doing. Some of Sheehan's relatives had been quoted earlier as saying they disagreed with her actions.

"I know that when I get up to greet him, when it's my time, he's going to say, 'Good job, Mom.' He's not going to accuse me of dishonoring his memory," she said.

Bush is planning a final trip from Crawford before he heads back to Washington, this one to San Diego and Arizona. Duffy said Bush would talk in San Diego about the anniversary of the end of World War II.

Times staff writer Scott Collins in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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