‘I want to meet with Bush face-to-face’, says Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a US soldier killed in Iraq.
She vows to camp outside the White House next month if Bush refuses to see her at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where she is mounting a picket a kilometre from the US president’s ranch during his holiday there.
The 48-year-old mother, who began her picket two weeks ago to demand the withdrawal of all 138,000 US troops from Iraq, said Wednesday: ‘I don’t understand why he cannot spend ten minutes of his time to talk to somebody whose life he has devastated.
Sheehan, whose son, Casey, was killed in April 2004 five days after arriving in Iraq, wants to meet with Bush face-to-face to deliver her anti-war message.
‘I want Bush to stop using my son’s sacrifice to justify the killing,’ she told reporters, insisting that ‘he needs to bring the troops home now.’
After meeting at his ranch with his top foreign policy advisers, Bush said: ‘It’s very important for our citizens, no matter what side of the political aisle you’re on, to understand that the mission is a vital mission.’
‘Listen, I sympathise with Mrs Sheehan. She feels strongly about her position.
‘And she has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America. She has a right to her position,’ he added.
‘I thought long and hard about her position.
‘I’ve heard her position from others, which is: “Get out of Iraq now”.
‘And it would be a mistake for the security of this country and the ability to lay the foundations for peace in the long run if we were to do so,’ he claimed.
‘I met with a lot of families who lost relatives in Iraq’, said Bush.
He continued: ‘And I have done my best to bring comfort to the families and honour to the loved one.
‘You get different opinions when you meet with moms and dads and sons and daughters and the wives and husbands of those who have fallen.
‘One opinion I’ve come away with universally is that, you know, we should do everything we can to honour the fallen.
‘And one way to honour the fallen is to lay the foundation for peace.’
Nearly 140,000 US troops are in Iraq, where more than 1,830 have been killed since Bush ordered the March 2003 invasion to oust Saddam Hussein on grounds he possessed weapons of mass destruction that were known not to exist, and subsequently never found.
‘I don’t think aggression on a country that was no threat to the United States is noble,’ said Sheehan, who met with Bush previously in June 2004 along with other families who lost relatives in Iraq.
Afterwards, Sheehan told her local newspaper that she and her family ‘haven’t been happy with the way the war has been handled’ or with Bush’s changing justifications for the invasion.
But she had opted to stifle such criticisms in the meeting.
‘I now know he’s sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis,’ Cindy had told the Vacaville Reporter newspaper after their meeting.
‘I know he’s sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he’s a man of faith.’
While the White House has invoked that meeting to deny her another audience with Bush, Sheehan now says the president is ‘disrespectful and inappropriate’ and referred to her as ‘Mom’.
Several hundred people joined Sheehan’s protest near the Bush holiday ranch last Monday to demonstrate against the war in Iraq.
The protest organised by Cindy Sheehan was addressed by veterans of the military action in Iraq who now oppose the war.
‘I joined because of September 11.
‘I thought I was going to make a difference and help the situation, but after experiencing war, seeing the death and seeing that violence only begets more violence – an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind,’ war veteran Hart Vigus said.
A counter-protest by supporters of Bush has been held nearby.
‘They’re getting our troops killed because they make us look like a bunch of cowards over here, you see,’ said a Bush supporter.
‘I don’t want the enemy watching this thinking we’re ready to cut and run because America will fight these people.’
Standing outside the gates of Bush’s Prairie Chapel ranch, where he is taking a five-week break from Washington, Sheehan is demanding to see the President.
On Friday, the President was forced to run a gauntlet of demonstrators as he ventured from his ranch for a political fundraiser.
As Bush’s motorcade sped past, Sheehan clutched a sign that read, ‘Why Do You Make Time for Donors And Not For Me?’
The demonstrators planted some 500 white wooden crosses on the road to the ranch, each with the name of a US soldier killed in Iraq.
With a recent spike in US casualties in Iraq, support for the war is flagging in the United States.
As the number of US troops killed since the war began in March 2003 rose to over 1,800, about 61 per cent of Americans disapproved of how the President is handling Iraq, according to a recent Newsweek magazine survey.
Bush in his weekly radio address last Saturday argued that the situation was improving.
‘Iraqis are taking control of their country, building a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself,’ he claimed.
He made no direct mention of the protesters or the decline in support for his policies among Americans generally.