By RON HUTCHESON
August 13, 2005
FORT WORTH: George W. Bush could no longer ignore the grieving, angry mother camped outside his Texas ranch yesterday.
Californian Cindy Sheehan set up her tent beside the road leading to Mr Bush's ranch last week, demanding to talk to the President about her son's death in Iraq.
She has endured blistering heat, drenching rains, an earth-shaking thunderstorm and an army of fire ants. But she's also set off a storm of her own.
With the death toll in Iraq mounting, her efforts to shame the President have won praise from the Left, condemnation from the Right and divided her family.
She has been looking for answers since April 4, 2004, when her son, Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, died in Sadr City, a notorious Baghdad slum.
The 24-year-old humvee mechanic had only been in Iraq for a week.
After intense media attention, Mr Bush yesterday addressed the problem on his own doorstep.
"I sympathise with Mrs Sheehan," he said.
"I've thought long and hard about her position. I've heard her position from others, which is, 'Get out of Iraq now'.
"It would be a mistake for the security of this country."
His answer didn't satisfy Mrs Sheehan, who vowed to continue her vigil for the duration of Mr Bush's five-week visit to Texas.
"The President says he feels compassion for me, but the best way to show that compassion is by meeting with me and the other mothers and families who are here," she said. "Our sons made the ultimate sacrifice and we want answers."
Mrs Sheehan said she had always opposed the war "in a vague way," but her son's death hardened her view.
Now she believes her son died in an immoral and unnecessary war, and no words of consolation from Mr Bush can change her mind.
Now the war that divides Americans has split the Sheehan family.
"I was proud of Casey. I am pro-Bush," Angela Caspary, Casey's aunt, said. "He didn't kill my nephew. Even on the day we found out about Casey, we had no bad feelings toward George Bush."
Mrs Sheehan and the President met two months after Casey's death, when she and her husband Patrick joined other grieving parents for a private meeting with Mr Bush at Fort Lewis in Washington.
The Sheehans debated before the meeting whether to confront Mr Bush with their criticism but decided it would be inappropriate.
"I now know he's sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis," she said then.
"I know he's sorry and feels some pain for our loss.
"And I know he's a man of deep faith."
But Mrs Sheehan now says Mr Bush treated the meeting like "a tea party" and behaved inappropriately by referring to her as "mum".
In an interview at her Crawford roadside campsite, she said her initial reaction to Mr Bush reflected her grief and shock over her son's recent death.
Her anger toward the President increased with the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and the release of a British memo questioning the White House's rationale for war.
Mrs Sheehan's does have her supporters.
About three dozen allies have joined her at the campsite and a steady stream of well-wishers, from local residents to passing truck drivers, stop by to offer her encouragement.
Down the road at the western White House, Mr Bush said: "She has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America."
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