ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Thursday, August 11, 2005
BUSH: Listen, I sympathize with Mrs. Sheehan. She feels strongly about her position. And I -- she has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America. She has a right to her position. And I've thought long and hard about her position. I've heard her position from others, which is, get out of Iraq now. And it would be a -- it would be a mistake for the security of this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, that was President Bush earlier today talking about Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq. Now, she's been camped for days near the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, demanding to ask him in person why her son died. It's a personal story that's become very political as well.
We're going to talk to Cindy Sheehan in a moment. But first, the man behind her mission, her son, Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, killed in Iraq. Here's CNN's Rusty Dornin.
RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Casey's family saw these images in April of 2004, their hearts sank.
CINDY SHEEHAN, MOTHER: I saw the news report about the ambush, I knew, I knew my son was one of them. I just knew it in my heart.
DORNIN: It was, 24-year-old Army Specialist Casey Sheehan was one of eight U.S. troops killed in that ambush. Sheehan spent most of his teen years in Vacaville, California, about 50 miles northeast of San Francisco.
A quiet boy, friends say he came alive on stage in the drama club at Vacaville High School. An alter boy at St. Mary's Catholic Church, he also taught Bible classes and was an Eagle Scout.
Bob Balmer, a scouting mentor, remembers him planting more than 1,000 trees for a project.
BOB BALMER, FORMER SCOUT LEADER: He just took charge. He was a great leader. He taught them a lot about the outdoors.
DORNIN: That love of the outdoors sent Sheehan to Camp Pendolla, a Catholic retreat first as a camper, then a counselor. Director Stephen Tholke remember a young man always anxious to lend a hand.
STEPHEN THOLKE, CAMP DIRECTOR: Casey would be on the service team, which meant long hours, never out in front, but the ones who would set the stage, break down the stage.
DORNIN (on camera): It doesn't sound like he went into the military for combat, certainly. What would he have gotten out of military service?
THOLKE: He had gotten an opportunity to serve people. Casey was about serving people. And so as a humvee mechanic, or as a mechanic, he would be able to work on things to help other people.
DORNIN (voice-over): He joined the army at age 21 with hopes of becoming an officer. He also wanted to finish college and become a teacher. He re-enlisted three years later and was sent to Iraq. Two weeks later, he was dead.
Back up at Camp Pendolla, volunteers are creating the Casey Sheehan Memorial Grove.
Did Casey Sheehan believe the war to be a noble cause? No one we spoke to seemed to know. His family and friends say he was a gentle person who loved peace, but one dedicated to helping others, and to the job at hand.
Rusty Dornin, CNN, Vacaville, California.
COOPER: Well Casey's mother, Cindy Sheehan, wants to ask the president why her son died. She joined me earlier from Crawford, Texas.
COOPER: You did have the opportunity to meet with President Bush back in June of 2004. From your perspective, how did that meeting go?
SHEEHAN: Well, it didn't going really well, but it was a different kind of meeting. I had buried Casey about nine weeks before. I was still in a deep state of shock and a deep state of grief. I'm still in a deep state of grief, but my shock has worn off. And so many proofs and evidences have come out that this war was based on lies and deceptions. And my son should still be alive. And over 1800 brave Americans should still be alive. And tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis should be alive.
COOPER: You've entered the realm of politics, and therefore, as I'm sure as you knew when you entered this realm, that you were going to come under some criticism from people of different political factions. Some people have criticized you for changing your account of that original meeting you had with President Bush. Back then a local newspaper quoted you as saying, "I know he's sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he's a man of faith. That was the gift the president gave us, the gift of happiness of being together."
After the meeting with Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagen in Texas this past weekend, you said something apparently different. You said, quote, "Joe Hagan, the deputy chief of staff said that, quote, I can tell you the president really cares. And I said, you can't tell me that because I've met with him and I know that he doesn't care."
Are those different versions?
SHEEHAN: Actually, that wasn't the first time I've said that. I've been speaking about my meeting with the president since August of 2004, after the Republican National Convention. Because one of the reasons I didn't speak strongly about it afterwards was, No. 1, I was still trying to live my day, my daily life without my son. And No. 2, at the end of our meeting, I asked George Bush, I said, why are we here? We didn't vote for you in 2000. We're not going to vote for you in 2004. And we've been life-long Democrats, why did we get invited? And he said, mom, it's not about politics.
And then he talked about it at the RNC, and he talked about it all through the campaigns, that he meets with the families, and the families say, I'm praying for you, and the families say to not let their loved ones die in vain. And that's wrong. That's not what happens at those meetings.
COOPER: Do you think the president feels some pain for your loss?
SHEEHAN: I don't think so. If he does, what am I doing standing out here?
COOPER: You think he doesn't feel any pain for it at all?
SHEEHAN: I don't know. Why -- I don't know, I can't speak for him, but I think he should come out and speak for himself.
COOPER: Do you wish you were more vocal with the president you first time you met with him?
SHEEHAN: No. Because we decided we weren't going to use that forum at that time, because we wanted him to see Casey's pictures. We wanted him to hear about Casey. We wanted him to know what an indispensable part of the Sheehan family that he took from us.
But he wouldn't look at Casey's pictures. He wouldn't let us tell him about Casey. Every time we tried to, he changed the subject. He didn't know our names. He wouldn't say our names. He called me mom. He called Casey "the loved one" the whole time. He wanted to de-personalize it as much as possible.
COOPER: There are other families who have lost loved ones who have said that they believe you are using your son's death. SHEEHAN: I'm using my son's death to bring the troops home. I don't want any other mother to go through what I'm going through Iraqi or American.
COOPER: Casey Sheehan.
The White House issued this statement to 360 regarding Cindy Sheehan. "We don't think anyone can imagine how painful and difficult it is to lose a child. Each one died for a noble cause."
"The president says he feels compassion for me, but the best way to show that compassion," this is a statement from Cindy Sheehan, she made it earlier today, "compassion is by meeting with me and the other mothers and families who are here." Sheehan said, "all we're asking is that he sacrifice an hour out of his five week vacation to talk to us before the next mother loses her son in Iraq." That was the statement she made today.