Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dispatch from Washington, D.C.

My friend Susan traveled to Washington, DC, this past Saturday for a march and rally that drew tens of thousands to the Capitol to protest the ongoing war in Iraq. She also observed a smaller pro-war rally that, according to the Associated Press, drew about 1,000 people.

I would have liked to have participated with Susan in Saturday’s anti-war march in Washington. As it was, I couldn’t even attend the local march and rally that took place in St. Paul as I was elsewhere in Minnesota facilitating part of a retreat for LGBT Catholics.

Accordingly, I asked Susan if she would take some photos and write about her experiences in the capital for The Wild Reed. Following is what she e-mailed me earlier this evening.


The pro-war rally was near the Capitol. There were over a hundred people – young and old – banded together by their common theme: “Freedom.” There were American flags everywhere. People were shouting “USA! USA!”

There were many speakers. One was a soldier who had had his arm blown off and his legs severely torn up. He stated that the doctors at the hospital had never seen such bad legs. He spoke about his “brothers” who were still in Iraq. He stated that he wanted to go back to be with his “brothers” and “fight for freedom.” Another speaker spoke about his experience on 9-11. He was on the 21st floor of one of the World Trade Center towers. It was hard to hear. Other speakers said that the anti-war supporters should go to another country and support the people there. They said that they were un-American and called them terrorists.

I found it depressing when fathers spoke about being part of the “Gold Club” as a result of their sons being killed in Iraq. On hearing these fathers speak, people would shout, “Thank you! Thank you!” and all I could think about was that the sons of these fathers were dead, and people say thank you. It was a powerful moment for me.

At the anti-war rally there were thousands of people – different groups, young and old – each speaking out against the war. All had the same message: “End the war now!” People were passing out t-shirts and buttons, pamphlets and newspapers. I saw people listening to speakers, sitting in tress holding the American flag and the peace flag. I saw prayer cloths and people sitting in a small group meditating, while others were staging a sit-in in the park. People were chanting different choruses as they prepared themselves for the march.

After I took a number of photographs I made my way back to Pennsylvania Ave. were the march was going to take place. There were media from all over the world. I had reporters from a French news team standing next to me. As the crowd marched, some people chanted “1-2-3-4! We don’t want your fucking war!” and “Fuck you W.” My favorite sign said “No one died when Clinton lied.” I didn’t get a picture of it, but I liked the message.

As the crowd continued to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, some supporters for the war were yelling, “Terrorists!” and “Leave America!” Some were quite verbal.

As the anti-war protesters made their way to the steps of the Capitol, people laid down on the ground so as to represent those killed in the war. Then people started jumping the barrier. That’s when the police started to arrest people. *

A special thank you to Susan for the great photos and commentary!

* According to Matthew Barakat of the Associated Press, more than 190 protesters were arrested. “Many were arrested without a struggle after they jumped over [a] waist-high barrier,” wrote Barakat. “But some grew angry as police with shields and riot gear attempted to push them back. At least two people were showered with chemical spray. Protesters responded by throwing signs and chanting: ‘Shame on you.’”

Recommended Off-site Link:
Iraq War: Unjust, Illegal and Immoral; Just War Theory Condemns Invasion by Paul Surlis.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Remembering 9/11 and Its Aftermath
Let’s Also Honor the “Expendables”
Praying for George W. Bush
An Unholy Alliance in Iraq
In Search of a “Global Ethic”
When Terror is the Foil
More Propaganda Than Plot?
John le Carré’s Dark Suspicions
A Reign of Ignorance and Fear in the U.S.
Tariq Ali Discusses Rudyard Kipling
Phyllis Bennis: A Voice of Reason
Irene Khan: Shaking Things Up Down Under
Richard Flanagan Wants a “Gentler, More Generous” Australia
John Pilger on Resisting Empire


Anonymous said...

I think it is important to make accurate statements and to be able to back up those statements with actual fact - not hysterical emotion. So my question is - what is illegal about the war (as one of the protester's sign says)?

The war was in fact authorized by the US Congress. If the US Congress feels that the President did an illegal act, then why does not the democratic majority in the house file articles of impeachment against the president and then have the president tried by the majority democrats in the senate? Why - because either 1) the war was not entered into illegally or 2) the democratic controlled congress is not doing their ethical obligation.

It absolutely fair to be critical of the management of the war in Iraq. However - one must temper that criticism with the fact that this is an ongoing war with our fellow citizens in an active war zone. As such, valid critics must be careful not to demoralize our fighting forces nor give any type of message that will embolden the enemy. It is one thing to criticize a war after the fact - quite another to criticize an ongoing conflict to make certain we do nothing in the criticism that harms the troops or enhances the enemy.

I think any discussion of a pull out must discuss the ramifications of such a pull out. To simply take the position that there must be a withdrawal without an acknowledgment as to the affect of that withdrawal is foolish. Will a withdrawal destabilize the mid east and if so, what does that mean with Iran, and the other areas? What of the citizens of Iraq - will there be mass killing of innocents - as in Vietnam when the US abruptly pulled out? Do we have a moral obligation to these Iraqi citizens to continue to stay?

Also - like it or not - oil is not a dirty word and oil drives the US and western economies. The US and western society do have legitimate interests to maintain stabilization of oil as a resource to the US. This affects every citizen - not only the "super-rich". In fact, if there is an limitation of oil tomorrow - the rich will be fine - it is the middle and lower economic classes that will immediately feel the pain of an oil shortage - meaning there will be real poverty, job layoffs, etc.

All of us that protest something (and we all do at some time) have an obligation to really understand the issues as well as the ramifications of those decisions that we are seeking.


Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Paul,

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was illegal under international law as it was not sanctioned by the UN security council or in accordance with the UN’s founding charter.

The Bush Administration was aware of this when a week before the invasion in March 2003, the then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned the US and its allies that military action would violate the UN charter.

You may want to check out the articles located here, here, and here.

Also, this article notes that: “Among the world’s foremost experts in the field of international law, the overwhelming jurisprudential consensus is that the Anglo-American invasion, conquest, and occupation of Iraq constitute three phases of one illegal war of aggression. Moreover, these experts in the international law of war deem both preventive wars and preemptive strikes to be euphemistic subcategories of outlawed wars of aggression.”

Further material related to the illegality of the Iraq War can be found here, here, and here.



Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Paul,

As to the subject of U.S. troops in Iraq, the perspective of Phyllis Bennis makes a lot of sense to me.



Anonymous said...

There is a significant difference of legal opinion as to the legality of the war



The war was also authorized by the United States Congress:

Authorization for Use of Military Force
September 18, 2001

Public Law 107-40 [S. J. RES. 23]



To authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States.

Whereas, on September 11, 2001, acts of treacherous violence were committed against the United States and its citizens; and

Whereas, such acts render it both necessary and appropriate that the United States exercise its rights to self-defense and to protect United States citizens both at home and abroad; and

Whereas, in light of the threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by these grave acts of violence; and

Whereas, such acts continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States; and

Whereas, the President has authority under the Constitution to take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This joint resolution may be cited as the `Authorization for Use of Military Force'.


(a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

(b) War Powers Resolution Requirements-

(1) SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION- Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.

(2) APPLICABILITY OF OTHER REQUIREMENTS- Nothing in this resolution supercedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution.

Approved September 18, 2001.


I do not think that Ms. Bennis makes any real sense - she admits that she has no idea what will happen - so we should pull out. Her premise that the effect of a pull out will now will have the same basis as a pull out in 5 years has no basis in fact. Time is necessary to change people (we have seen it in our own country - civil rights, desegregation, etc.) What is unbelievable is that we actually have good muslims willing to fight evil muslims - that is HUGE!


Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Paul,

I’m not sure why you’re bringing Congress’s authorization of 2001 into the debate about the legality of the Iraq War. This “authorization” was in response to 9/11 and its perpetrators. How exactly does Iraq fit into the equation?

Oh, for sure, George W. Bush and his cronies would like the world to believe that 9/11 and Iraq were somehow connected, but any informed person knows otherwise. There was no link. And I know of no credible evidence to suggest otherwise.

Accordingly, the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq is something quite separate from the powers authorized to the George W. Bush in September 2001.

As I noted in my previous comment: “Among the world’s foremost experts in the field of international law, the overwhelming jurisprudential consensus is that the Anglo-American invasion, conquest, and occupation of Iraq constitute three phases of one illegal war of aggression. Moreover, these experts in the international law of war deem both preventive wars and preemptive strikes to be euphemistic subcategories of outlawed wars of aggression.”

From the perspective of international law, the invasion of Iraq was illegal. And since I view myself as a planetary citizen first and foremost, this is the perspective that matters most to me.

In your earlier statement you declared: “It is one thing to criticize a war after the fact – quite another to criticize an ongoing conflict to make certain we do nothing in the criticism that harms the troops or enhances the enemy.”

Paul, this is a form of censorship and, as such, I’m surprised you don’t recognize and reject it as totally unAmerican. And who exactly gets to decide when criticism “harms the troops” or “enhances the enemy”?

Do you really expect informed adults who care about their nation, and the young men and women within its armed forces, to quietly sit like good little children while daddy president ruins the nation’s reputation, engages in an illegal war, and tramples on the Constitution? I don’t think so.

Also, within a democratic society critics of any war are often the only ones who can give voice to those serving within the military who similarly have concerns and doubts, yet who are unable to voice them because of the undemocratic nature of the military.

Finally, I think it’s important to note that the majority of American citizens oppose the Iraq War. Their message, as far as I can ascertain, is quite clear: “The war is wrong, it’s failed, and it’s not the fault of the troops – but rather the incompetent and corrupt leadership of the Bush Administration.