Tuesday, April 24, 2007

CODEPINK impacts 3 different hearings on hill in one day.

The first hearing of the morning that CODEPINK attended was the Senate Armed Services hearing to receive testimony on United States Pacific Command, United States Forces Korea, and United States Special Operations Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for fiscal year 2008 and the Futures Years Defense Program. This hearing was in the same room as the Gonzales hearing last week, but not nearly as well attended by the general public. Still, the testimony was heavy as Generals and Admirals spoke of the need to expand bases in South Korea and of the "growing threat" that China supposedly presents to U.S interests. There were only a couple of us in this hearing, but we were able to sit in the front row where we got quite a bit of attention from the video cameras in the press gallery. This was a classic CODEPINK protest where we held up pink signs and wore pink clothing with pertinent messages such as "NO $$$ $ WAR" and "STOP FUNDING WAR".

Most of us CODEPINKers, joined by a couple Iraq Veterans Against the War, started the day at the Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing of Cong. Henry Waxman. A progressive Democrat, Waxman has been doing terrific hearings into corporate war profiteering, government corruption and sordid deeds of our elected officials. Today’s hearing was designed to help uncover the truth about the rescue of Jessica Lynch in Iraq and the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan.

We almost didn’t get to attend this hearing! Waxman’s aides insisted that we sit in the back at the far side, despite the fact that there were plenty of seats in the middle. We refused, and they called the police to eject us. We shouted, “Is there an attorney in the room? Our rights are being violated. They want us to sit in the back of the bus.” The staff got embarrassed and finally backed off, but they kept harassing us whenever we tried to simply hold up a supportive sign like “No More Lies.”

Jessica Lynch’s story was simple and not very compelling. She talked about how the army and media had embellished her rescue for PR purposes, and said that the American people are smart enough to create their own heroes and didn’t need to be told elaborate tales.

The Tillman’s testimony, however, was heartbreaking and fascinating. Pat Tillman’s brother Kevin was the first to speak. He accused the military of “intentional falsehoods” and “deliberate and careful misrepresentations” in portraying his brother’s death in Afghanistan as the result of heroic engagement with the enemy instead of friendly fire. He said that this tale was invented to deceive not only the family but the American public.

He was angry that Pat had been used as a sales asset, and when they were finished with the PR, they wanted the family to sink quietly into their grief. But they miscalculated, and the family has been fighting ever since to uncover the truth.

Pat Tillman’s mother, Mary, spoke about how the family was appalled when they realized how they had been lied to. She also said she believed former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld knew that her son had died by friendly fire.

During the break between the family testimony and the military folks testifying, we thanked Kevin Tillman, the father (who was sitting quietly in the audience), and Pat’s mother Mary. We gave her a copy of our Mothers Day flyer and asked her to please consider joining us. She gave me a warm hug.


A few people stayed for the rest of the hearing and we went on to the hearing on the National Guard over in the Senate side, which was chaired by Patrick Leahy. It focused on a change made last year—quietly without public debate—to modify the Insurrection Act to make it easier for the President to “federalize” the National Guard without consulting governors.

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley testified on behalf of the National Governors Association that the change in the 2006 defense bill could put in jeopardy the governors’ ability to plan for disasters.

Another one who testified was the head of the National Guard, Lt. General Blum. I had a nice conversation before the hearing with him. I asked him about the Guard being mobilized to go to Iraq and Afghanistan and he certainly seemed concerned. He said the number of Guard serving in these wars had been reduced to about 50,000, but that Bush was calling up about another 25,000 guardsmen. He looked at my “Troops Home Now” shirt and commented, “Just make sure that let these troops know that you have nothing against them, just the war.” At that point, I showed him my “Love the troops, Hate the War” button, and he nodded in approval.

About the federalizing of the guard, he said that only 10 times since World War II has the National Guard been federalized under the Insurrection Act, mostly during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. All those who testified seemed to have similar perspective: they’d like to see more control over the Guard returned to the governors.

When the hearing ended, we shouted “Don’t send the Guard to fight foreign wars” and similar things. Afterwards we followed Leahy all through the halls, asking about what the Dems are going to do after Bush vetoes the supplemental. Exasperated, he finally said, “You ladies aught to go after the Republicans!”, to which we shouted, “We do, but we want YOU to do more to bring them home NOW.”

~ Written by Medea and Midge

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