LOS ANGELES – “Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld must resign or be fired,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) to a May 22 meeting with constituents from the Lincoln Heights neighborhood, part of his congressional district here. Becerra told the more than 100 residents, primarily Latino and Asian Pacific American, at the “Coffee With Your Congressman” gathering that he opposed a military draft and that he would not vote for the $25 billion “blank check” of additional funding for the Iraq war.

Becerra was responding to the questions raised by peace activists in his district who were dismayed at statements he made in an April 30 Spanish language television interview where he indicated he was considering supporting a universal military draft.

“I am opposed to the draft,” declared Becerra, who stressed that he had opposed the Iraq war from the beginning because “it should only have been pursued as a last resort” and there was “no exit strategy.”

He went on to outline four reasons for calling for the removal of Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. First, the “information given for the Iraq war was false.” Second, Rumsfeld was responsible, as revealed by the 9-11 Commission, for the illegal use of funds for the war in Afghanistan to secretly prepare for war with Iraq, said the congressman, who is the senior Latino representative from California. Third, “Rumsfeld knew” far in advance of news stories about the torture of innocent imprisoned Iraqis by U.S. troops and said or did nothing, continued Becerra. “I am sure it is not just 6-8 prison guards involved,” he said.

Finally, Rumsfeld was responsible for the administration’s failure to list any expenditure for the Iraq war in this year’s federal budget so that Congress wouldn’t vote on war spending until after the Nov. 2 elections, Becerra said.

The Bush administration is now requesting $25 billion more for the Iraq war, the congressman said, yet the result of the previous $167 billion was “nothing but more deaths.”

The current $25 billion proposal does not specify what the funds are for and contains no exit strategy, Becerra said, so he will oppose it.

Though strongly critical of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy, Becerra did qualify his positions. He said if the war continues it would require far higher troop levels and far higher expenditures to adequately supply the troops in order to carry out their orders safely. Any more troops “cannot be reservists,” he said, and low-income people are suffering the brunt of the casualties, so the issue of who fights in the war needs further debate.

The congressman indicated his support for a community forum on Iraq where differing points of view would be presented. Lincoln Heights resident Rosalio Munoz, who raised the war issue at the meeting on behalf of the Chicana/Chicano Peace Committee, stated “Such a meeting could be a great way of alerting our community to the destructive consequences of Bush’s war presidency on our district and the need for bringing our troops home as key.”