[photo by Tonia Young shows Jeff Norman being detained by Secret Service after questioning Donald Rumsfeld]
Gold Star mom Nadia McCaffrey wound up her Southern California visit yesterday by attending Donald Rumsfeld's speech at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. The Secretary of Defense spoke before a capacity audience at a luncheon presented by the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.
Rumsfeld continued to dismiss reports that prisoner abuse by American military personnel is widespread. He praised his subordinates for "conducting investigations," and claimed the torture problem has been solved. Rumsfeld insisted recent news coverage of prior incidents only makes it seem "like it's new allegations."
Nadia, whose son Patrick was killed in Iraq in June of 2004, attempted to approach Rumsfeld to ask him about what she believes are his various inconsistent statements, but was blocked by security. In an interview after the event, she told me the military leadership has failed to protect troops with adequate equipment that is readily available.
"We have thousands of M113 armored vehicles sitting in storage," Nadia complained. "Why has Rumsfeld decided only recently to ship them to Iraq?" (Although Stars and Stripes reported on January 4 that M113 personnel carriers would finally be transported to Iraq, it has not been confirmed that the vehicles have actually arrived and are in use.)
Dana and Frances from CODEPINK interrupted Rumsfeld's speech and tried to unfurl a banner while telling the Secretary that he had "lied" to the American people. They were immediately dragged out of the ballroom.
As Rumsfeld was leaving the event after his speech, I took a few steps out of the media area where I had been sitting, and said to him, "Mr. Secretary, military families think you're lying to them. Why won't you meet with them?" The Secretary ignored me as two men who appeared to be Secret Service agents aggressively removed me from the premises. I know of no other instance in which government agents have been used to physically assault a reporter for mildly questioning a public servant. None of my media brethren have so far come to my defense, despite the possibility they could be similarly bullied merely for doing their jobs.
The strategy of intimidating journalists is futile, because even hawks now recognize Rumsfeld lacks credibility. On his Fox News TV show Wednesday night, Bill O'Reilly revealed, "I don't have any confidence in Donald Rumsfeld at this point...I don't think he's leveling with the American people."
The effort to hold the Bush administration accountable continues tomorrow in Cawford, Texas at the vacation home of President Bush. Members of Gold Star Families for Peace plan to confront the President about why U.S. forces are still occupyng Iraq, and ask him to explain exactly why he believes the mission is a "noble cause." According to Gold Star founder Cindy Sheehan, the families will stay "until we are arrested or satisfied with the answers."