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White House Extends Deployment of Troops in Iraq

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From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
http://www.btlonline.org
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Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release May 3, 2004
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White House Extends Deployment of Troops Serving in Iraq as Violence Shakes U.S. Occupation

Interview with Nancy Lessin and Charlie Richardson of the group Military Families Speak Out, conducted by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio: http://www.btlonline.org/lessin050704.ram

In the month of April, more than 115 U.S. soldiers were killed during intensifying combat across Iraq. Over a thousand Iraqis have also lost their lives during the same period in the two most conflicted areas of the country -- Fallujah and Najaf -- where standoffs between American troops and insurgents have continued for weeks.

As the White House sticks to its original schedule for the symbolic handover of sovereignty to an as-yet unknown provisional government in Iraq on June 30, the Pentagon is sending more troops to Iraq and extending the duty of American soldiers already deployed in the country. But even after the handover of sovereignty, Washington will remain firmly in control for years to come. Marc Grossman, under-secretary of state for political affairs affirmed recently that the U.S. will not tolerate any decisions made by a transitional Iraqi government, which are at variance with American foreign policy.

During the past year, when over 700 U.S. service men and women have died in Iraq, the White House has prevented the media from taking photos of the flag-draped coffins of soldiers returning to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. But through a Freedom of Information request made by www.thememoryhole.org website, the Pentagon was forced to release several hundred such photos. Shortly after, the Seattle Times published on their front page, a photo of coffins taken by Pentagon contractor Tami Silicio, who was later fired.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Nancy Lessin and Charlie Richardson of the group Military Families Speak Out, about the ongoing war in Iraq, the Pentagon's extension of combat duty for U.S. troops and the possibility of a military draft. The couple's son was, until last year, deployed with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq.

Nancy Lessin: One of the things that was so painful, among many that George Bush said in his latest press conference, was something about, "We can't let soldiers who have died thus far, to have died in vain."

We heard that very same thing 30-some odd years ago. At the point where they started saying that, we suggest that people go to the Vietnam Memorial, stand there and then look at the names that came after that. How many more died when they started saying, "We have to keep this war going so that those who have died, have not died in vain?" We're seeing the same thing.

We don't want bloodshed after blood all for no good reason and we really do believe that this was a war that was based on lies -- and it is about oil markets and empire building. None of our loved ones should have been sent there in the first place. And the only way to really move the situation in any good direction has to be to end the U.S. military occupation.

Between The Lines: There are many observers, politicians and even military people themselves who say, "even if the war was ill-founded and not a necessary war , a war we shouldn't be fighting, the fact is we're there now and we have to find some way to help the Iraqi people put things back together before we leave." How do you respond to that?

Charlie Richardson: Well, first it's ridiculous to say that the people who are making decisions right now about this war are doing anything in the interest of the Iraqi people.

And so the idea of keeping them making the decisions, keeping them with 130,000 or 150,000 troops over there is somehow going to solve the crisis in Iraq is ridiculous. I mean it outrages me that people can even say that. The people who caused the problem ,the people who sent us in there, cynically based on lies, are not the people that can solve this problem. The only way to take the first step to solving this problem is to end the occupation and remove the U.S. troops.

We've caused many, many deaths -- thousands of deaths. We've destroyed a lot of infrastructure. We've littered the landscape with depleted uranium. We have a responsibility, but it's not a military responsibility, and it can't be carried out under a military occupation.

Between The Lines: We've just had an episode where a newspaper in Seattle recently published the photos of flag-draped coffins coming back from Iraq. The first such photos that we've seen here in America, given that the White House has censored those photos for the past year since the war began. Tell us a little bit about your view of that issue as a family member of a serviceman.

Nancy Lessin: Well, I'll do a little more than that . We actually were down at the gates of Dover Air Force base on March 14, 2004. We were there with military families who have lost loved ones. We were there with military families whose loved ones are over there. We were there with veterans from a number of different wars from (the group) Veterans for Peace. And we were there with a lot of other organizations. And we were there to say to this administration, "Stop hiding the toll of this war. " We said, "Start telling the truth." We felt that the American people have the right to understand the human cost of this war.

We asked for two things at the gates of Dover Air Force Base on March 14th. One was that families who have lost loved ones be encouraged and be allowed to go to Dover or any other base that their loved ones are flown into, to be able to greet the coffins and greet their loved ones. For many of our members who have lost loved ones in Iraq, that has not been their experience and they have been strongly discouraged if not outright prevented from going to receive their loved ones.

The second thing that we asked for was for the media to be allowed in, to be able to film the caskets, film the coffins as they come off. We know that this administration is well aware of the power of those images. Certainly, back again in the Vietnam war, those images were very powerful in helping to galvanize a nation against another war that should not have happened.

Between The Lines: There's been a lot of talk on Capitol Hill recently about re-introducing a military draft in this country, given how our current military is stretched thin with the various engagements in Afghanistan, Iraq and at bases all around the world. I believe 114 bases total. Tell us your view. What do you think about the institution of a new draft to include those wealthier folks and their children who seemingly think that this is a war without cost to them personally?

Nancy Lessin: We don't think that we're probably going to see a draft until after the election, but may well see one then. This idea that it will be an equal opportunity draft we have grave doubts about. Because rich people and people with means, such as George Bush, have always found a way to get them and their loved ones out of it.

The idea to talk about, who goes over -- it's generally working and poor people fighting the rich man's war, that's since time immemorial and what can you do? If those who had to make the decision about going to war were putting up at risk their sons and daughters, their husbands and wives, perhaps that would make a difference. But the reality we believe is that right now we have to talk about ending this war now and ending the policies that allowed it to happen.

Visit the group's websites at http://www.mfso.org or http://www.bringthemhomenow.org

Related links on our website at http://www.btlonline.org/btl050704.html#1hed:

-"Editorials Back Release of Soldier Coffin Photos"

-"Bush Afraid to let American People See Deadly Reality of Needless War"

-"Troubled U.S. Timetable for Iraq's Transition to a Provisional Government Linked to Bush Re-Election Campaign"

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Scott Harris, is the executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( http://www.btlonline.org) for the week ending May 7, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.

PRINT INFORMATION: For reprint permission, please email betweenthelines@snet.net.


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