WASHINGTON – George W. Bush praised the “fierce courage” of U.S. soldiers as he laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Memorial Day. The same weekend, he dedicated the World War II memorial, posing as the “war president” in his bid for a second term.
But a Quaker vigil on Capitol Hill, May 25-27, featured hundreds of pairs of black combat boots symbolizing the 813 GIs who have died in a needless, immoral war in Iraq, and the demand that U.S. troops be brought home alive.
The empty boots were arrayed neatly on the grass in Upper Senate Park May 25 with the name and rank of a dead soldier pinned to each pair. Nearby was a paper “wall” listing the names of 10,000 Iraqi civilians killed so far.
Kneeling in grief beside one pair of boots was Ivan Medina of Middletown, N.Y., whose twin brother, Irving, died in Iraq Nov. 14, 2003. A roadside bomb exploded as his unit, the First Armored Division, rolled past.
Medina told the World, “My message is that this war has a human side to it. Somebody’s brother, son, or sister is dying. I want the American people to know what a wonderful person my brother was. He wanted to study, to be an accountant. He wanted to make a difference for the Iraqi people.”
Ivan Medina, too, is an Iraq combat veteran.
“I was with the Third Infantry Division and went into Iraq on the first wave,” he said. “I never was in favor of this war. The death of my brother has only gotten me more involved, speaking out. Many soldiers are not happy with the president and I’m here to speak on behalf of those who can’t speak for themselves. Bring our soldiers home alive.”
Mary Ellen McNish, general secretary of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), told the World, “The human cost of this war is rising every day. There is no military solution, only political solutions. The U.S. occupation of Iraq has become the problem, not the solution.”
Asked about the widespread demands that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld be fired for the atrocities at the Abu Ghraib prison, McNish replied, “AFSC has not taken a formal position. But my personal opinion is Rumsfeld should go.”
This unique AFSC vigil has traveled across the country to Los Angeles since the group displayed 500 pairs of boots in Chicago’s Federal Plaza in January. The roster of U.S. war dead passed a grim milestone, 800, just before Memorial Day. At least 4,750 Americans have been wounded. Bush and his minions have toiled to divert attention from the rising casualties as Bush’s approval ratings plunge.
The boots vigil, titled “Eyes Wide Open: The Human Cost of War in Iraq,” will travel to Boston, Madison and LaCrosse, Wisc., Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Providence, RI, and three cities in Ohio. It opened here the day after Bush delivered his “stay the course” speech at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. “It was more platitudes,” McNish said. “Our hope is that this exhibit will give the American people a picture of the true cost of this war, that they will hold the politicians accountable.”
Fernando Suarez del Solar of Escondido, Calif., whose son Jesus, a Marine, died in Iraq, knelt beside a pair of boots with his son’s name tied to them. He had just come from Georgia, where he attended the court martial of Florida National Guardsman Camilo Mejia, who was sentenced to one year in prison for refusing to return to Iraq.
Suarez told the World, “Camilo saw the abuse of Iraqis with his own eyes. He refused to participate in torture and he gets the same prison sentence as the soldier who admitted he abused Iraqi detainees. It’s ridiculous! Camilo told me his opposition to this war is based on two principled reasons. First, it is a war for petroleum. And second, he would not participate in the abuse of the Iraqi people. It is impossible that they will put in jail someone who said no to this abuse but leave free the big commanders who ordered the torture.”
Suarez noted that Amnesty International has designated Camilo Mejia a “prisoner of conscience” and Veterans for Peace is campaigning for his release. Suarez said he is crisscrossing the country speaking out against the war and demanding freedom for Mejia.
Asked about Bush’s War College speech, Suarez retorted, “It’s only lies. He says he will restore Iraqi sovereignty. Yet the U.S. will remain in control. What kind of democracy is that?”
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