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Hundreds join Sheehan in rally against Iraq war

Hundreds join Sheehan in rally against Iraq war
Monday, September 12, 2005

By Nate Guidry, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Shielded from the sun by a large tarpaulin, Cindy Sheehan walked to the microphone dressed in blue denim shorts and no shoes, then blasted the policies of President Bush.

"Every time Bush talks he should be removed from office," Sheehan screamed into the microphone. "None of the chicken hawks have served our country the way our children have," she continued, referring to Bush and members of his administration who support the Iraq war but did not fight in previous conflicts.

Sheehan, co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace, and more than 300 others gathered yesterday for a memorial service at Flagstaff Hill in Schenley Park. That was followed by a candlelight march to Soldiers & Sailors National Military Museum & Memorial in Oakland.

The event was part of the national "Bring the Troops Home Now" campaign to take the message of Sheehan's 26-day vigil in Crawford, Texas, to people across the country.

Sheehan, of Vacaville, Calif., camped out near Bush's ranch in August, attempting to get the president to talk to her about her son's death and the war. Others joined her at "Camp Casey," named after her son. She is now on the national tour, which is making its way to Washington, D.C., for a Sept. 24 rally.

The Thomas Merton Center helped organize the event and re-created Sheehan's encampment on Flagstaff, including crosses representing troops killed. It was called "Camp Neil" in honor of Lt. Neil Anthony Santoriello, a Penn Hills native who died in August 2004 while serving in Iraq.

Santoriello's mother, Diane Davis Santoriello, told the crowd that her son died for a lie.

"The Pentagon has failed our troops," she said. "My son died for people who are worse off now than before we got there."

Santoriello said she was outraged at the callousness of the Bush administration.

"They betray our troops by not having an exit strategy, not having proper equipment, and not planning for an insurgency that had been predicted," she said. "It seems this administration never plans for a worst-case scenario."

For her, that worst-case scenario was the detonation of IEDs -- improvised explosive devices -- that killed Neil Santoriello. After his death, Santoriello said she saw photographs of Neil surrounded by Iraqi children.

"Those pictures haunt me," she said. "I wonder how many of those children or their families are still alive?

"The Army has a slogan, 'Mission First, People Always!' I am certain Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld have not comprehended this slogan. Neil did. He told me, 'Mom I can't think about politics while I am here. I just have to take care of my guys.' And he did. All of his men came home, except him."

Beatriz Saldivar of Fort Worth, Texas, provided an emotional account of the death in February of her nephew, Sgt. Daniel Torres, in Iraq.

"He was on his second tour in Iraq due to stop-loss orders when an improvised explosive device exploded and hit his unarmored Humvee," said Saldivar.

Bill Mitchell, whose son Sgt. Michael Mitchell was killed in Sadr City with Sheehan's son, Spc. Casey Sheehan, encouraged people to continue to support the cause.

"This [war] is illegal and immoral," he said. "We support the troops. We are the true American patriots."

Sheehan has clearly become the face of the movement.

"Our boys were killed by the failed policies of this administration," she said. "There have been four failures of this administration: Sept. 11, Afghanistan, Iraq and now Hurricane Katrina. We have to force our leaders to listen to us."



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