Fonda Anti-Iraq War Demonstration, Senate Resolutions Pressures President Bush

While Saturday’s demonstration outside the US Capitol building in Washington attracted a number of celebrity activists, the day belonged to tens of thousands of Americans who travelled from around the country to voice their opposition to the war in Iraq.

Chanting “bring our troops home”, the grass-roots gathering stepped up pressure on the US Congress to bring an end to the war and indicated the continuing groundswell of anti-war sentiment that has gained momentum since the November mid-term elections, when American voters expressed a vote of no confidence in the Bush administration’s conduct of the war and delivered control of both houses of Congress to the Democrats.

Prior to the mid-term elections, the Bush administration had insisted that the US was ‘winning’ in Iraq and would ‘stay the course’.

Jane Fonda, a much-maligned peace activist since her ‘Hanoi Jane’ days during the Vietnam War, addressed the gathering from a stage where a coffin stood draped in the American flag, symbolizing the deaths of more than 3,000 US troops in Iraq. The platform also bore a large bin filled with shoes tagged with the names of Iraqi civilians known to have died since the US invasion, and details of their fatal injuries.

Ms Fonda blasted the Bush administration for their “blindness to realities on the ground, hubris and thoughtlessness in our approach to rebuilding a country we’ve destroyed.” She also said that, while the parallels to the Vietnam war are increasingly obvious, the current anti-war movement in the US significantly includes veterans and their families.

In the crowd, families of soldiers killed in Iraq displayed pictures of their loved ones, including one photo of a soldier lying in a coffin, dressed in full military uniform.

Liam Madden, who served in Iraq as a US Marine sergeant, said, “No one wants to die for a lie. You don’t volunteer to throw your life away. You don’t say ‘I’m serving for nothing’. The occupation hasn’t benefited the Iraqi people at all. It doesn’t benefit the American people and certainly doesn’t benefit American service members.” Mr Madden co-founded the organization Appeal for Redress, which unites 1,200 active-duty personnel and veterans who favor a US withdrawal from Iraq.

The organization’s other co-founder, Iraq war veteran Navy Petty Officer Jonathan Hutto, said that many of his colleagues “see a separation between the global war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. They don’t see the connection.”

Garett Reppenhagen, who also served in Iraq as a sniper, told the crowd, “When I served in the war, I thought I was serving honorably. Instead, I was sent to war for causes that have proved fraudulent. We need to put pressure on our elected government and force them to bring the troops home.”

Twelve year-old Moriah Arnold, a sixth-grader from Harvard, Massachusetts stood on her toes to speak into the microphone, “Now we know our leaders either lied to us or hid the truth. Because of our actions, the rest of the world sees us as a bully and a liar.” Ms Arnold has organized a petition at her school to enable students to express their opposition to the war.

Barbara Struna, who travelled from Brewster, Massachusetts to take part in the demonstration, said in an interview, “We see many things that we feel helpless about. But this is like a united force. This is something I can do.”

Although most Americans do not support President Bush’s plan to send another 21,500 troops to Iraq, the ability of Congress to thwart those plans is currently the subject of extensive debate.

House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), bolstered the crowd’s spirits when he said Congress may withhold funding to stop the war. “George Bush has a habit of firing military leaders who tell him the Iraq war is failing,” he said. “He can’t fire you. He can’t fire us,” referring to members of the US Congress.

President Bush has so far been defiant. In his radio address on Saturday, Mr Bush accused the Democrats of being “reflexively partisan” and challenged them to come up with an alternative to achieve victory in Iraq.

Meanwhile, two non-binding resolutions expressing disapproval for sending more troops to Iraq will soon be put to the vote in the US Senate. One resolution is authored by Democrat Senators Joe Biden (Delaware), Carl Levin (Michigan) and Chuck Hagel (Nebraska). The other resolution is authored by Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia.

Senator Warner’s resolution is considered the favorite to unite a higher number of Congressional Republicans with Democrats against the surge in troops to Iraq, and would be a major embarrassment for an increasingly beleaguered and isolated President Bush.


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