By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
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By Jon Campbell
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Cindy Sheehan and the other members of the Bring Them Home Now tour hit the halls of Congress on Thursday, knocking on the doors of more than a dozen legislators to demand their position on the warincluding Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, and Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.
The activists were bringing Camp Casey, named for the 24-year-old son Sheehan lost in Iraq, to Capitol Hill. The first Camp Casey was set up this summer outside President Bushs ranch in Crawford, Texas.
On Thursday, Sheehan sat down with Clinton and Reid, two of the highest-profile Democrats, to pose the same question she has posed to President Bush: What noble cause are our loved ones fighting and dying for?"
On Thursday, the anti-war activists with Bring Them Home Now also succeeded in ambushing Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, who was downstairs in the Senate office building for a photo shoot.
“This is my nephew, and we really need to know from you what he died for,” announced Beatriz Saldivar of Fort Worth, Texas, holding up an enlarged picture of Dennis Torres, who was killed in February when his unarmored Humvee was blown up outside of Baghdad. In her other hand, she held a photo of his pregnant fiancée weeping over the coffin.
“My heart goes out to you and everyone who’s lost somebody in the war,” said the former presidential hopeful, doing his best to smile kindly.
Noting that he had traveled to Iraq three times, Lieberman said: “I have supported this war and I still do. I’m not a big fan of Bush’s foreign policy and believe we could have done much more to win the support of other countries before we went in. But I do think the world is safer without Saddam Hussein.”
Lieberman pointed out that in 1988, he and Senator John McCain called for the overthrow of Saddam after Iraqi troops massacred more than 100,000 Kurds and attacked Iran with chemical weapons,
“But the evidence? The whole reason we went over there?” demanded Hart Viges, a 29-year old Army specialist who filed for conscientious objector status after serving a year in Iraq. “We never found any weapons of mass destruction. The whole reason we went was a lie.”
Lieberman said he thought the idea that Saddam possessed WMD’s had been “overplayed” by the Bush administration and wasn’t the only reason for invading in any case. Sounding very much like Bush, who defended the war again Thursday, Lieberman said: “If it doesn’t end well, that country will go into a civil war and the whole Middle East will be destabilized. And the terrorists who are there now … they’ll claim it as a big victory and then they’ll go on to the next country.”
“But you know they’re only there because we’re there,” Viges pressed, speaking of the foreign insurgents who have flocked to Iraq since the U.S. invaded.
“I believe these people have given their lives in a cause that will make your lives and your children’s lives safer,” Lieberman insisted.
Saldivar wasn’t having it. “My nephew will never see his daughter, who was born just 72 hours ago.”
Noting that the next time Lieberman travels to Iraq, his Humvee will likely be fully armored, she demanded: “What makes your life—or Donald Rumsfeld’s life—more valuable?”
To which the senator could only respond: “I’m glad you’re doing it, and I respectfully disagree.”
I asked them, Are you going to be willing to lead us out of Iraq? Because if you do, the rest of the nation will follow you, Sheehan said.
Neither Clinton or Reid, who both voted for the war, were willing to reverse tracks and push for a U.S. withdrawal now. Nevertheless, Sheehan reported feeling fabulous coming out of the meeting.
I know their offices are going to be working with us; all we have to do is keep up the pressure on them, Sheehan said, adding, Now its up to the people of New York to put pressure on Clinton.
New Yorkers who oppose the war might not feel so encouraged, given the hawkish stance our junior senator has taken thus far.
Asked afterward about the meeting, Clinton noted that she had met earlier in the day with about 20 moms from American Gold Star Mothers, the pro-military group that President Bush has glommed onto in an effort to deflect the criticism by Sheehan and other military families. Bush has proclaimed this Sunday National Gold Star Mothers' Day to honor Americas fallen heroesjust a day after Sheehan and other military families are to speak out at Saturdays anti-war demonstration.
Clinton noted that those moms have voiced different positions on the war from the one held by Sheehans group, Gold Star Families for Peace.
Its just a painful experience because of their loss, Clinton said of her meeting with Sheehan, who was accompanied by her sister Dede and by Lynn Bradach, whose 21-year-old son, Corporal Travis Bradach-Nall, was killed clearing a minefield outside Karbala two years ago.
But Clinton added: My bottom line is that I dont want their sons to die in vain.
Asked when she thought those soldiers mission might be complete, Clinton responded: I dont believe its smart to set a date for withdrawal. I dont think you should ever telegraph your intentions to the enemy so they can await you.
Ive been very critical of the presidents policies and also supportive of the Iraqis who are trying to move forward and form a new government, Clinton told the Voice.
I think it is a much more complicated situation, she continued. I dont think its the right time to withdraw, but we also have to stand up and send a message that were not going to be there indefinitely. We need to tell the Sunnis that they have to do their job and that we wont be there forever. Because if you dont, then what incentive is there for them to ever participate in the political process?
Clinton cited two key upcoming moments: October 15, when the Iraqis are slated to vote on their new constitution, and December 15, when Iraqis are expected to elect a new government.
Responding to a question of whether Sheehan and the anti-war crowd are premature in demanding an immediate withdrawal of troops now, the presidential hopeful was nothing if not diplomatic.
No, I think theyre playing a very important role, Clinton said. This is a democracy, thank God, and people should be speaking out. It helps keep the debate flowing and creates the conditions for better decision-making, which makes for better policies, so its very important.
Nobody has a greater right to make that criticism, Clinton said of Sheehan and the other military families who feel betrayed by the war. But I happen to think that fighting for freedom is a noble cause. There are lots of things wrong with how Bush did it. I believe we should have gone through with the inspection process and acted through the UN. But I believe that standing up against someone as dangerous as Saddam was a good goal.
Clinton was noncommittal when asked whether she still supports sending more troops to Iraq. Well see, she said, then disappeared into the Russell Senate office building.
At least Clinton was willing to hear Sheehan and the other military family members plea. Republican representative Bill Thomas of Bakersfield, California, wouldnt let them in the door, while Senate Majority Leader Bill Frists staff told the group they would have to fill out a written form if they wanted a meeting. When told they had already called and e-mailed several times, Frists chief of staff relented and spent about 15 minutes with the group, which included Iraq war veterans and members of Military Families Speak Out.