Religious leaders arrested in protest of Iraq war

WASHINGTON — As President George W. Bush fended off new charges that the war in Iraq has recruited more terrorists and spread terrorism, scores of religious leaders were arrested on Capitol Hill during sit-ins demanding that lawmakers join in a “Declaration of Peace” to end the war. A total of 71 protesters were arrested on the Senate side and more than 25 on the House side Sept. 27. Nationwide, an additional 114 people were arrested in the civil disobedience actions.

One of the interfaith leaders was Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia. He told the World that a leaked report by 16 intelligence agencies that the war in Iraq has fueled a sharp increase in terrorism simply confirms the obvious.

“Before the war began, the Shalom Center placed a full page ad in The New York Times signed by hundreds of members of the Jewish community saying that we would spark more terrorism by invading Iraq,” Waskow said. “It took four years for these intelligence agencies to figure that out. This war has made us less safe.”

Bush was forced to release four pages of the highly classified 30-page report. Coming just six weeks before the midterm elections, the report debunks Bush’s main argument that the Iraq war has made the nation more secure against terrorist attack.

The sit-ins capped a week of antiwar protests in 375 cities and towns across the nation aimed at pressuring candidates in the Nov. 7 election to speak out against the war.

“We are here to visit the U.S. Senate and House to make sure that the voice of the American people opposing this war is heard,” said Gordon Clark, director of Pledge of Resistance, a direct action group that encourages nonviolent civil disobedience to the war. “When the U.S. Senate voted 98-0 to continue funding this war, it made it imperative that we protest. This is an election year and this is an election issue. People are looking for alternatives. They are looking for candidates who stand against the war.”

He cited the case of Donna Edwards, an African American woman who came within 2,000 votes of unseating seven-term incumbent Rep. Albert Wynn, one of only four Black Caucus members who voted to authorize the Iraq war in Maryland’s Sept. 12 primary.

The protesters urged support of Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern’s bill HR 4232 to end funding for the occupation of Iraq. Progressive Democrats of America, a participant in the protests, is urging election of an antiwar, Democratic majority House and Senate Nov. 7 to move forward legislation bottled up by the Republican majority.

Moya Atkinson, a resident of northern Virginia is active in the sharpening election campaign in Virginia. Especially hot is the race between incumbent Republican Sen. George Allen, an unwavering supporter of Bush’s war policy whose use of racist epithets has plunged his campaign into turmoil. His Democratic opponent is former Navy Secretary James Webb.

“Webb is conservative but at least he is against the war in Iraq,” Atkinson said. “We are also working to elect Andy Hurst in Virginia’s 11th CD.” Hurst is against the war and his Republican opponent Tom Davis supports the war, she said.

Among those arrested was the Rev. Rick Ufford-Chase, president of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and former moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA. “We can and must stand firmly on the rule of law to hold those who commit evil accountable in the world today,” he wrote in an open letter release at the protest. “Anything more is naked aggression and vigilantism that leaves the world community more afraid and more vulnerable than ever. Anything less is an invitation to extremists to continue to hold the world hostage to terror.”

He added, “Now is the time for all people of faith, especially Christians, Muslims and Jews, whose faith traditions are being used to fuel hatred rather than to sow the seeds of peace, to make a stand for peace.”

Yeadu Conteh, a staffworker for Peace Action, stood in the crowd wearing a placard around her neck that read, “In memory of Mina Mohammed Abid, age 8, Dora, Baghdad, June 1, 2005.” Conteh told the World, “My heart goes out to the families in Iraq and in the U.S. who have lost their loved ones in this war. They were young people like me who had their whole lives ahead of them. I don’t think there has been any progress in Iraq. The death toll is rising. To me, this war is neocolonialism disguised as bringing democracy to Iraq.”