By Marjorie Cohn
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Friday 12 August 2005
For seven days, Cindy Sheehan has been camped down the road from George Bush's Crawford ranch where the President is on a five-week vacation. Cindy says she will never enjoy a vacation again. Her heart is broken. Her precious son Casey was murdered in George Bush's war on Iraq.
Cindy Sheehan is a patient woman. She will wait until Bush comes out and talks to her. She will wait until the man who ordered the invasion of a country that posed no threat to us explains why Casey did not die in vain.
Her skin parched by the blazing sun, her throat inflamed from the intermittent rains and the 200 interviews she has given, Cindy will wait.
I first met Cindy at a support rally in San Diego for Pablo Paredes, who was on trial for refusing to deploy with a ship that was loaded with 300 Marines and bound for Iraq. "I was told my son was killed in the war on terror," Cindy told the crowd. "He was killed by George Bush's war of terror on the world." People wept quietly as they viewed Casey's baby picture. Cindy always carries it with her.
Camilo Mejia also came to support Pablo at his court-martial. The son of the famed Sandinista troubadour Carlos Mejia Godoy, Camilo had lived in three countries in two years before coming to the United States. He joined the US Army because he was promised an education, a community, camaraderie, and friendship. But after five months in Iraq, where he witnessed the killing of innocent civilians as well as his own comrades, in a war he came to believe was illegal, Camilo refused to return to Iraq. He was court-martialed, convicted of desertion with intent to avoid hazardous duty, and served nine months in prison.
Camilo accompanied Cindy and nine other veterans to Crawford on the Impeachment Tour bus. The harassment started as soon as they arrived, Camilo told me. The sheriffs warned Cindy she would be arrested if she didn't walk in the 3-foot ditch on the side of the road. "It was horrible," Camilo said. "It was right next to a barbed wire fence; the terrain was uneven." The cops and the reporters walked on the road, but Cindy and her supporters had to walk in the ditch.
Some of the vets gave speeches. They talked about conscientious objection and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). "It was very emotional because the war is still going on," said Camilo. "We are still dealing with our demons." One-quarter of American soldiers who return from Iraq will likely develop PTSD. Some experts believe 100,000 will suffer from mental problems.
Camilo was moved by Cindy's courage. "She is an ordinary person who did something really extraordinary."
Bill Mitchell's son Mike was killed in Iraq in the same battle with Casey Sheehan. Bill is in Crawford with Cindy. "My life's been devastated," Bill told the editor of the Iconoclast. "It's been turned upside down. Very few aspects of my life have a similarity to the past. It just kind of churns you up, shakes you out, and drops you off. I'm doing much better than I have been."
"The death of any child is a devastating event for a parent," Bill said. "A piece of your heart dies when your child dies. So I just want to stop this. I don't want to hear about anybody else dying, American or Iraqi."
It is coming together with other families of the slain that empowers Bill. "I met Cindy shortly after our sons' deaths," he said. "We did some military speak-out events together. I realized there was a power in her speaking and in her stories."
Cindy Sheehan wants to ask Bush, "Why did you kill my son? What did my son die for? Last week, he said my son died for a 'noble cause' and I want to ask him what that noble cause is."
Cindy's grief is still raw. She visits the Defense Department web site each morning to see who else died in Bush's war while she was sleeping. "And that rips my heart open, because I know there is another mother whose life is going to be ruined that day. So we can't even begin to heal."
Bush claims we must stay in Iraq to honor the sacrifices of those who have fallen. Cindy says, "Why should I want one more mother to go through what I've gone through, because my son is dead ... the only way he can honor my son's sacrifice is to bring the rest of the troops home - to make my son's death count for peace and love, and not war and hatred like he stands for."
Cindy challenges Bush to level with her: "You tell me the truth. You tell me that my son died for oil. You tell me that my son died to make your friends rich. You tell me my son died to spread the cancer of Pax Americana, imperialism in the Middle East. You tell me that, you don't tell me my son died for freedom and democracy."
When questioned about the war, Bush invokes his mantra of September 11. "Yeah, but were any of those people in Iraq?" Cindy asks. "And the people who flew those planes into the Trade Center, were they from Iraq?"
"I don't believe [Bush's] phony excuses for the war," Cindy told a CBS reporter. "I want him to tell me why my son died." She said, "If he gave the real answer, people in this country would be outraged - if he told people it was to make his buddies rich, that it was about oil."
Many members of Gold Star Families for Peace, a group Cindy co-founded, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), and Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) are in Crawford with Cindy. Both IVAW and MFSO are calling for the United States to immediately and unilaterally withdraw from Iraq.
Only 38 percent of Americans approve of Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, according to a recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll. That number could decrease as Cindy's patient protest continues.
Marjorie Cohn, a contributing editor to t r u t h o u t, is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, and the US representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists.
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