Sunday, March 26, 2006

Americans share blame for war, speaker says - By Gwen Mickelson - Sentinel staff writer - March 26, 2006

Americans share blame for war, speaker says

By Gwen Mickelson

SANTA CRUZ — The American people share the blame for the war in Iraq.

That was one of the messages during the Iraqi Women Speak Out Tour, an anti-war event that drew hundreds of attendees to the Veterans Memorial Building.

"When you look at the lead-up to the war in Iraq, I blame President Bush, I blame Congress, I blame the media," said Scott Ritter, a former Marine, former United Nations chief weapons inspector for Iraq and contributor to the book "Neo-Conned Again!," a compilation of condemnations of the Iraq War. "But I'm not cutting any slack for the American people."

Americans, he said, have grown accustomed to a lifestyle they cannot sustain. Many Americans have failed to engage, he said, making the American government more of an oligarchy than a representative democracy.

"As a nation, we are mute, we are silent," Ritter thundered.

The event was part of a tour organized by San Francisco international human rights organization Global Exchange that is sending Iraqi women to speaking engagements across the country to talk about their experiences and the U.S. invasion.

But the Iraqi woman scheduled to speak at the Santa Cruz event, Faiza Al-Araji, could not make it because of exhaustion, said Medea Benjamin, founding director of Global Exchange.

Four Iraqi women are participating in the project, speaking at events, colleges, houses of worship and other places, giving local newspaper interviews and speaking on radio shows.

Al-Araji, said Benjamin, has mostly been sent to traditionally conservative parts of the country.

"We've found that people are hungry for information no matter where they are," said Benjamin.

Al-Araji, said Benjamin, maintains that Iraqis are capable of stopping civil war if the U.S. troops would leave. Others say their main hope is that their children will come home alive from school each day.

Such information was one of the things Jay Johnson, of Santa Cruz, came to hear.

"I'm interested in the war, and I want to learn any more information I can get about it," he said, "particularly the women's issues."

That search for information also drew Dina Scoppettoni of Aptos.

"I'm wanting to find out the truth, I guess, or a little more of it," she said.

Also speaking at the event was Ray McGovern, a former U.S. Army captain and a former CIA analyst. McGovern detailed how President Bush sidestepped the Geneva Conventions, leading to "our publicly acknowledged policy of torturing people.

"We've all heard it was a couple of bad apples at the bottom, but I have documentation that it was bad apples at the top of the barrel," said McGovern, producing a memorandum signed by President Bush that requires "that the detainees be treated humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva."

"That's a loophole you can drive a Mack truck through," said McGovern.

The organizers urged attendees to act by sending a postcard to Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, urging him to cut off funds for the war by signing Massachusetts Rep. James P. McGovern's End the War in Iraq Act of 2005.

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