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October 21, 2005

Don't Play Innocent, Democrats


by Gary Ashbeck

On Sept. 24, Washington, D.C., saw a huge rally calling for an end to the war in Iraq and for bringing the troops home. I marched with a contingent of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, Gold Star Families, and Military Families Speak Out, the group that has become family for me. I noticed the large number of signs targeting Bush, ranging from impeachment to extradition to The Hague.

Bush is an easy target; but let's not be shortsighted and limit our actions to Bush. We will soon reach 2,000 U.S. soldiers dead, more of a millstone than a milestone on the road this quagmire has traveled. I hope we can hold those responsible accountable for the senseless deaths of both U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians. I want to make it clear: George Bush did not send our families to Iraq by himself; Congress allowed George Bush to send our families to Iraq. Congress continues to give money to keep our families there.

Let us not forget the road's beginning, which is sometimes easy to do. The House passed Joint Resolution 114 authorizing the use of the United States armed forces against Iraq on Oct. 10, 2002, by a vote of 296-133 (note: 81 Democrats voted for authorization, six Republicans voted against). On Oct. 11, it passed the Senate by a vote of 77-23 (again: 28 Democrats voted to give authorization, one Republican against). It was signed by the president and became law on Oct. 16, 2002. To those who think Congress moves slowly, all of this transpired in two weeks. Three hundred seventy-three representatives, including 109 from the so-called opposition party, such as presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, sent our family members off to war.

The road is getting not only rocky but quite nearly impassable. What makes this situation even worse is that it was all too obvious from the beginning that the claims against Iraq were untrue. In 1997, the International Atomic Energy Administration issued a report that declared, "[T]here are no indications that there remains in Iraq any physical capability for the production of weapon-usable nuclear material of any practical significance." In February 2002, Joseph Wilson made his trip to Africa to investigate a story about Iraq buying uranium from Niger. No uranium was actually available to buy; it had all been sold already. The story proved to be false. Elisabetta Burba, an Italian reporter, investigated the story as well and came to the same conclusions.

Meanwhile, former Marine, weapons inspector, and professed Republican Scott Ritter was traveling around the country, testifying that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction. Said Ritter, "[T]he UN never once found evidence that Iraq had either retained biological weapons or associated production equipment, or was continuing work in the field." During this time, Iraq was allowing access to weapons inspectors, and the only link between Iraq and al-Qaeda was the constant rhetoric spewed out by all those invested in going to war. How could Congress authorize an attack?

I have come to understand that one of the biggest causes of apathy in this country is the assumption that elected officials have more information than we do and we should trust them. But the events of the last few years have shown that the information they have is either not based in reality, or is skewered by secret agendas. In light of what we know now, I have to assume that those elected officials were not working in our interests, but in their own.

It's no secret that war is big business. When individual missiles run in the tens of thousands of dollars, aircraft in the millions, and special allotments to the war in Iraq in the billions, someone must be making a buck. In the 2002 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the defense industry gave almost $16 million to congressional candidates and parties. Sixty-five percent went to Republicans. That still leaves 35 percent to Democrats. Almost $25 million came from oil and gas interests, 80 percent of which went to Republicans. Although unequal, both sides were still liberally greased. So did they vote out of fear, or did they vote out of political convenience?

Lawmakers have a responsibility to act in good faith on behalf of those they represent. It seems that some in both parties are acting in good faith only on behalf of their financial backers. Both parties are equally responsible for the deaths of our family members. Enough "Impeach Bush" signs – where are the signs that say "Impeach Kerry" or "Recall Clinton"?

I would like to see some truth. What's done is done; we cannot bring back the dead or make whole the maimed. But I would respect a senator who can admit his or her mistakes and take responsibility. I would like to see Senator Dianne Feinstein say, "I was wrong." That is true leadership. If one wants to attach the term "Honorable" to his or her name, he or she needs to act honorably.

Find out how your representatives voted; write letters; camp out at their offices; question them when they speak. Start discussion groups with your neighbors or in your church. Pressure those representatives who voted against the resolution but continue to pump money into Iraq for the war effort. The only Iraq spending bill to pass should be the one that provides the money to bring the troops home.

Listen up Congress: not one more death, not one more dollar!

 

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Gary Ashbeck is a member of Military Families Speak Out and lives at Jonah House, a faith-based peace community in Baltimore, Md., founded in 1973 by peace activists including Liz McAlister and Philip Berrigan. His brother was deployed in Iraq.

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