Thanksgiving at Camp Casey

Seismic shifts on the war?

U.S. public opinion has shifted dramatically against the Iraq war. A Sept. 16 New York Times/CBS News poll reported that 52 percent of people interviewed favored immediate withdrawal. Last month, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), known as a pro-war Democrat, introduced a resolution calling for a speedy withdrawal of troops. The Murtha resolution shook the administration and GOP-dominated Congress, and they immediately released a “Swift Boat” attack campaign against the retired Marine colonel and 30-year congressman.

Murtha’s shift from supporting the war to calling for an end to it is widely seen as representing the generals’ position that the war is unwinnable. Murtha said, “The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq. We cannot continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interest of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf Region.

“It’s a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public is way ahead of the members of Congress.”

At press time, reactions to President Bush’s Nov. 30 speech about his so-called Plan for Victory in Iraq were pouring in. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “What we heard today was a commitment to the status quo — a status quo that is not working.” Instead, she said, “We should follow the lead of Congressman John Murtha, who has put forth a plan to make America safer, to make our military stronger, and to make Iraq more stable. That is what the American people and our troops deserve.”Outside Bush ranch, fight is for son’s buddies

CRAWFORD, Texas — The rainy weather forecasts didn’t deter the hundreds of antiwar protestors from showing up here Thanksgiving weekend. Gold Star Families for Peace co-founder Cindy Sheehan joined her sister, Dede Miller, veterans, military families and others at Camp Casey II for a Nov. 26 rally, just outside of President George W. Bush’s ranch, to demand an immediate end to the U.S. occupation and war in Iraq.

Events earlier in the week included civil disobedience and a Thanksgiving meal of Iraqi food as an expression of solidarity with the Iraqi people.

Camp Casey was named after Sheehan’s son Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004. It was the scene of a peace upsurge in August after Sheehan demanded to meet with the president. Some 12,000 people joined Sheehan during her 26-day vigil, galvanizing the peace sentiments across the country and around the world to ask “For what noble cause?”

Sheehan said Casey went to Iraq because of “his loyalty to his buddies.” That’s the reason I still protest, she said, “to fight for Casey’s buddies.”

The Thanksgiving holiday events, while smaller than the August vigil, kept the struggle to end the Iraq war in the public eye.

Hadi Jawad, co-founder of Crawford Peace House, frequently finds himself acting as an unofficial tour guide as rally-goers are shuttled from the Peace House to Camp Casey.

“Coming up on the left is where he [Bush] goes to church — for photo ops!” said Hadi, pointing to a white church in the middle of a field.

Hadi, who has been at the Peace House since it opened in 2003, said, “The United States wants one thing, and that is to control Iraq’s resources. Those resources include the people.” He bristles at any notion that U.S. forces are needed to keep order. “Iraq can take care of its own.”

Inside the large canvass tent, the walls were draped with hand-sewn panels dedicated to Iraqi citizens and U.S. personnel who have died in Iraq. More than 2,070 soldiers have perished and an estimated 30,000-100,000 Iraqis have died since the U.S. invasion.

Exuding a sense of peace and grace, Sheehan beamed warmly toward all who approached her. Throughout the event her eyes frequently filled with tears. Sheehan is a woman still grieving. She listened to many personal stories and offered hugs and comfort.

Sheehan’s speech was passionate. She talked about having people express to her that she should get over her grief — that Casey would want her to be happy. She said, “Well, sister, I am happy. And I’m not happy because I can buy a Nintendo at half-price at Wal-Mart, but my happiness comes from within.”

Her joy, she said, comes from being with the families and friends who are working so hard to stop the killing, so that not one more death is used to justify the lives already lost.

Sheehan said she and the others arrested in front of the White House would not pay any fines. “We weren’t breaking any laws. I was there to petition my government for a redress of grievances!”

Other members of the Gold Star Families for Peace spoke in a moving tribute to their fallen family members. They each spoke of their resolve to end the war and expressed anger that U.S. young people are “being recycled like garbage,” in the words of one speaker, through stop-loss orders or second and third deployments. Stop-loss orders mean soldiers who could otherwise leave the military when their commitments expire are forced to remain in the service.

Retired Army Col. Ann Wright, who made news in 2003 when she resigned from her State Department post in opposition to the decision to go to war in Iraq, emceed the rally. Vietnam-era Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, Elliot Adams of Veterans for Peace, and Navy Officer Charlie Anderson, an Iraq war veteran, all spoke.

Both Adams and Anderson charged the Bush administration with neglecting veterans and soldiers.

Anderson said a nearby VA hospital in Waco, Texas, is threatened with closure due to insufficient funding. “Health care for veterans is not a benefit,” he said. Veterans have a right “to get back what they’ve lost!”

The Waco facility has a reputation as having the best post-traumatic stress disorder syndrome treatment in the nation. An estimated 50,000 Iraq war soldiers will suffer from this debilitating disorder.

At the end of the rally, participants released blue and white balloons. Each balloon in the “Balloons not Bombs” action included the name of a fallen soldier and a handwritten antiwar message for the president. Happily, the wind cooperated and blew the missives straight toward Camp Casey’s secluded neighbor.

perry5 at swbell.net