SAN FRANCISCO — It was a night of tumultuous applause and repeated standing ovations, from the introduction of war resister First Lieutenant Ehren Watada’s mother, Carolyn Ho, by San Francisco Labor Council head Tim Paulson, to the evening’s main presentation by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), now running for his party’s presidential nomination.
“Today, when I spoke from that stage in the Mall in Washington, D.C., I could see and hear America, I could see and hear a new nation emerging,” Kucinich told the crowd that overflowed the sanctuary at the First Unitarian Universalist Church on Jan. 27.
Of the overwhelming opposition to the Iraq war and occupation shown in last November’s election, he said, “This is a democracy, and in a democracy the people are sovereign and they decide. The Congress has the responsibility to stand up for the American people.”
Pointing to the billions still in the pipeline for the war, Kucinich challenged the view that continued appropriations are needed to support the troops. “Congress needs to tell the president, we’re not going to fund this any more,” he said.
He then outlined his 12-point plan to end the war, which includes a regional conference to develop an international security and peacekeeping force, ending the occupation, closing military bases, bringing all troops and contractors home, providing reparations and helping Iraqis to rebuild their economy and sovereignty without structural adjustments or privatization of oil resources.
It is time to “take a new direction,” Kucinich said, “and reach out to Iran, to Syria, to countries in the region. The American people have the right to expect their president has the capacity to talk with anyone, anywhere in the world.”
Carolyn Ho told the crowd, “What is happening now calls for concentrated effort to bring our troops home and to support them when they get here, as well as to provide reparations to the Iraqi people.
“Lt. Watada speaks for the troops, he speaks as the conscience of the American people,” she said. “I ask you to put pressure on those who have the power to make the military drop the charges and accept his resignation, and allow him to do what his conscience dictates.”
Watada faces court-martial at Fort Lewis, Wash., on Feb. 5 on charges of failing to obey a movement order and conduct unbecoming an officer — the latter for his public criticism of the war and the Bush administration.
Ho challenged the conduct charges, saying the last time such charges were brought was during the Vietnam War and noting that “conduct unbecoming” usually applies to offenses such as adultery, rape or drunken behavior.
“He has spoken the truth that has been confirmed over and over by international law experts, by people in high levels of government, by people inside and outside the military,” she said. “Officers and generals have criticized the conduct of the war. Why does the military consistently charge people at the bottom of the pecking order?”
(At press time, Army prosecutors announced they dropped two misconduct charges against Watada and dismissed subpoenas of two journalists they had wanted to testify against him. He still faces several years in prison if he is convicted of the remaining charges.)
Other speakers included Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who introduced Kucinich, calling him “a man of vision and a true patriot”; Grace Morizawa of the Watada Support Committee; and Lowell High School student Daniel Johengen.
mbechtel @ pww.org