Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

A Tomdispatch Interview with Cindy Sheehan

Expand Messages
  • NHNE
    NHNE News List Current Members: 1371 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. ... A TOMDISPATCH INTERVIEW WITH CINDY SHEEHAN
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 30, 2005
      NHNE News List
      Current Members: 1371
      Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message.


      September 29, 2005


      My brief immersion in the almost unimaginable life of Cindy Sheehan begins
      on the Friday before the massive antiwar march past the White House. I take
      a cab to an address somewhere at the edge of Washington DC -- a city I don't
      know well -- where I'm to have a quiet hour with her. Finding myself on a
      porch filled with peace signs and vases of roses (assumedly sent for
      Sheehan), I ring the doorbell, only to be greeted by two barking dogs but no
      human beings. Checking my cell phone, I discover a message back in New York
      from someone helping Sheehan out. Good Morning America has just called;
      plans have changed. Can I make it to Constitution and 15th by five? I rush
      to the nearest major street and, from a bus stop, fruitlessly attempt to
      hail a cab. The only empty one passes me by and a young black man next to me
      offers an apologetic commentary: "I hate to say this, but they probably
      think you're hailing it for me and they don't want to pick me up." On his
      recommendation, I board a bus, leaping off (twenty blocks of crawl later) at
      the sight of a hotel with a cab stand.

      A few minutes before five, I'm finally standing under the Washington
      monument, beneath a cloud-dotted sky, in front of "Camp Casey," a white tent
      with a blazing red "Bring them home tour" banner. Behind the tent is a
      display of banged-up, empty soldiers' boots; and then, stretching almost as
      far as the eye can see or the heart can feel, a lawn of small white crosses,
      nearly two thousand of them, some with tiny American flags planted in the
      nearby ground. In front of the serried ranks of crosses is a battered
      looking metal map of the United States rising off a rusty base. Cut out of
      it are the letters, "America in Iraq, killed ___, wounded ___." (It's
      wrenching to note that, on this strange sculpture with eternal letters of
      air, only the figures of 1,910 dead and 14,700 wounded seem ephemeral,
      written as they are in white chalk over a smeared chalk background, evidence
      of numerous erasures.)

      This is, at the moment, Ground Zero for the singular movement of Cindy
      Sheehan, mother of Casey, who was killed in Sadr City, Baghdad on April 4,
      2004, only a few days after arriving in Iraq. Her movement began in the
      shadows and on the Internet, but burst out of a roadside ditch in Crawford,
      Texas, and, right now, actually seems capable of changing the political map
      of America. When I arrive, Sheehan is a distant figure, walking with a crew
      from Good Morning America amid the white crosses. I'm told by Jodie, a
      stalwart of Code Pink, the women's antiwar group, in a flamboyant
      pink-feathered hat, just to hang in there along with Joan Baez, assorted
      parents of soldiers, vets, admirers, tourists, press people, and who knows
      who else.

      As Sheehan approaches, she's mobbed. She hugs some of her greeters, poses
      for photos with others, listens briefly while people tell her they came all
      the way from California or Colorado just to see her, and accepts the literal
      T-shirt off the back of a man, possibly a vet, with a bandana around his
      forehead, who wants to give her "the shirt off my back." She is brief and
      utterly patient. She offers a word to everyone and anyone. At one point, a
      man shoves a camera in my hand so that he and his family can have proof of
      this moment -- as if Cindy Sheehan were already some kind of national
      monument, which in a way she is.

      But, of course, she's also one human being, even if she's on what the
      psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton would call a "survivor mission" for her son.
      Exhaustion visibly inhabits her face. (Later, she'll say to me, "Most
      people, if they came with me for a day, would be in a coma by eleven A.M.")
      She wears a tie-dyed, purple T-shirt with "Veterans for Peace" on the front
      and "waging peace" on the back. Her size surprises me. She's imposing, far
      taller than I expected, taller certainly than my modest five-foot, six
      inches. Perhaps I'm startled only because I'd filed her away -- despite
      every strong commentary I'd read by her ­ as a grieving mother and so,
      somehow, a diminished creature.

      And then, suddenly, a few minutes after five, Jodie is hustling me into the
      backseat of a car with Cindy Sheehan beside me, and Joan Baez beside her.
      Cindy's sister Dede, who wears an "Anything war can do, peace can do better"
      T-shirt and says to me later, "I'm the behind-the-scenes one, I'm the quiet
      one," climbs into the front seat. As soon as the car leaves the curb, Cindy
      turns to me: "We better get started."

      "Now?" I ask, flustered at the thought of interviewing her under such
      chaotic conditions. She offers a tired nod -- I'm surely the 900th person of
      this day -- and says, "It's the only way it'll happen." And so, with my
      notebook (tiny printed questions scattered across several pages) on my
      knees, clutching my two cheap tape recorders for dear life and shoving them
      towards her, we begin:

      Tomdispatch: You've said that the failed bookends of George Bush's
      presidency are Iraq and Katrina. And here we are with parts of New Orleans
      flooded again. Where exactly do you see us today?

      Cindy Sheehan: Well, the invasion of Iraq was a serious mistake, and the
      invasion and occupation have been seriously mismanaged. The troops don't
      have what they need. The money's being dropped into the pockets of war
      profiteers and not getting to our soldiers. It's a political war. Not only
      should we not be there, it's making our country very vulnerable. It's
      creating enemies for our children's children. Killing innocent Arabic
      Muslims, who had no animosity towards the United States and meant us no
      harm, is only creating more problems for us.

      Katrina was a natural disaster that nobody could help, but the man-made
      disaster afterwards was just horrible. I mean, number one, all our resources
      are in Iraq. Number two, what little resources we did have were deployed far
      too late. George Bush was golfing and eating birthday cake with John McCain
      while people were hanging off their houses praying to be rescued. He's so
      disconnected from this country -- and from reality. I heard a line yesterday
      that I thought was perfect. This man said he thinks Katrina will be Bush's
      Monica. Only worse.

      TD: It seems logical that the families of dead soldiers should lead an
      antiwar movement, but historically it's almost unique. I wondered if you had
      given some thought to why it happened here and now.

      CS: That's like people asking me, "Why didn't anybody ever think of going to
      George Bush's ranch to protest anything?"

      TD: I was going to ask you that tooŠ

      CS: [Laughs.] I don't know. I just thought of it and went down to do it. It
      was so serendipitous. I was supposed to go to England for a week in August
      to do Downing Street [Memo] events with [Congressman] John Conyers. That got
      cancelled. I was supposed to go to Arkansas for a four-day convention. That
      got cancelled. So I had my whole month free. I was going to be in Dallas for
      the Veteran's for Peace convention. The last straw was on Wednesday, August
      3 -- the fourteen Marines who were killed and George Bush saying that all of
      our soldiers had died for a noble cause and we had to honor the sacrifices
      of the fallen by continuing the mission. I had just had it. That was enough
      and I had this idea to go to Crawford.

      The first day we were there -- this is how unplanned it was -- we were
      sitting in lawn chairs, about six of us, underneath the stars with one
      flashlight between us, and we were going to the bathroom in a ten-gallon

      DeDe: Five-gallonŠ

      CS: A Five-gallon bucket, sorry. So that's how well planned this action was.
      We just planned it as we were going along and, for something so spontaneous,
      it turned out to be incredibly powerful and successful. It's hard for some
      people to believe how spontaneous it was.

      TD: You've written that George Bush refusing to meet with you was the spark
      that lit the prairie fire -- and that his not doing so reflected his
      cowardice. You also said that if he had met you that fatalŠ fateful dayŠ

      Joan Baez: Fatal dayŠ

      TD: Fatal -- it was fatal for him -- things might have turned out quite

      CS: If he had met with me, I know he would have lied to me. I would have
      called him on his lies and it wouldn't have been a good meeting, but I would
      have left Crawford. I would have written about it, probably done a few
      interviews, but it wouldn't have sparked this exciting, organic, huge peace
      movement. So he really did the peace movement a favor by not meeting with

      TD: I thought his fatal blunder was to send out [National Security Advisor
      Stephen] Hadley and [Deputy White House Chief of Staff Joe] Hagin as if you
      were the prime minister of Poland. [She laughs.] And it suddenly made you in
      terms of the mediaŠ

      CS: Šcredible.

      TD: So what did Hadley and Hagen say to you?

      CS: They said, "What do you want to tell the President?" I said, "I want to
      ask the President, what is the noble cause my son died for?" And they kept
      telling me: Keep America safe from terrorism for freedom and democracy.
      Blah-blah-blahŠ all the excuses I wasn't going to take, except from the
      President. Then we talked about weapons of mass destruction and the lack
      thereof, about how they had really believed it. I was: Well, really, Mr.
      Stephen (Yellowcake Uranium) HadleyŠ I finally said, "This is a waste of
      time. I might be a grieving mother, but I'm not stupid. I'm very well
      informed and I want to meet with the President." And so they said, "Okay,
      we'll pass on your concerns to the President."

      They said at one point, "We didn't come out here thinking we'd change your
      mind on policy." And I said, "Yes you did." They thought they were going to
      intimidate me, that they were going to impress me with the high level of
      administration official they had sent out, and after they explained
      everything to me, I was going to go [her voice becomes liltingly mocking],
      "Ohhhh, I really never saw it that way. Okay, let's go guys." You know,
      that's exactly what they thought they were going to do to me. And I believe
      it was a move that did backfire because, as you said, it gave me credibility
      and then, all of a sudden, the White House press corps thought this might be
      a story worth covering.

      TD: What was that like? I had been reading your stuff on the Internet for
      over a year, butŠ

      CS: I think in progressive circles I was very well known. But all of a
      sudden I was known all over the world. My daughters were in Europe when my
      mother had her stroke. My husband and I decided not to tell the girls. We
      didn't want to ruin their vacation, but they saw it on TV. So it really just
      spread like wildfire. And not only did it bring wanted attention, it brought
      unwanted attention from the right-wing media. But that didn't affect me,
      that didn't harm me at all.

      I'd been doing this a long time. I'd been on Wolf Blitzer, Chris Mathews,
      all those shows. I'd done press conferences. It was just the intensity that
      spiked up. But my message has always remained the same. I didn't just fall
      off some pumpkin truck on August 6th and start doing this. The media
      couldn't believe someone like me could be so articulate and intelligent and
      have my own message. Number one, I'm a woman; number two, I'm a grieving
      mother; so they had the urge to marginalize me, to pretend like somebody's
      pulling my strings. Our President's not even articulate and intelligent.
      Someone must be pulling his strings, so someone must be pulling Cindy
      Sheehan's too. That offended me. Oh my gosh, you think someone has to put
      words into my mouth! [She laughs.] Do some research!

      TD: Did you feel they were presenting you without some of your bluntness?

      CS: God forbid anybody speak bluntly or tell the truth. Teresa Heinz Kerry,
      they marginalized her too because she always spoke her mind.

      TD: Would you like to speak about your bluntness a little because words you
      use like "war crimes" aren't ones Americans hear often.

      CS: All you have to do is look at the Nuremberg Tribunal or the Geneva
      Conventions. Clearly they've committed war crimes. Clearly. It's black and
      white. It's not me coming up with this abstract idea. It's like, well, did
      you put a bullet in that person's head or didn't you? "Yes I did." Well,
      that's a crime. It's not shades of grey. They broke every treaty. They broke
      our own Constitution. They broke Nuremberg. They broke the Geneva
      Conventions. Everything. And if somebody doesn't say it, does it mean it
      didn't happen? Somebody has to say it, and I'll say it. I've called George
      Bush a terrorist. He says a terrorist is somebody who kills innocent people.
      That's his own definition. So, by George Bush's own definition, he is a
      terrorist, because there are almost 100,000 innocent Iraqis that have been
      killed. And innocent Afghanis that have been killed.

      And I think a lot of the mainstream opposition is glad I'm saying it,
      because they don't have to say it. They're not strong enough or brave enough
      or they think they have something politically at stake. We've had Congress
      members talk about impeachment and war crimes. I've heard them. But they're
      the usual suspects. They're marginalized too. They've always been against
      the war, so we can't listen to them.

      You know, I had always admired people like the woman who started Mothers
      Against Drunk Driving or John Walsh for starting the Adam Walsh Foundation
      after his son was killed. I thought I could never do anything like that to
      elevate my suffering or my tragedy, and then, when it happened to me, I
      found out I did have the strength.

      [It's about 5:30 when we pull up at a Hyatt Hotel. Cindy, Dede, and I
      proceed to the deserted recesses of the hotel's restaurant where Cindy has
      her first modest meal of the day. The rest of the interview takes place
      between spoonfuls of soup.]

      TD: I've read a lot of articles about you in which your son Casey is
      identified as an altar boy or an Eagle Scout, but would you be willing to
      tell me a little more about him?

      CS: He was very calm. He never got mad. He never got too wild. One way or
      the other, he didn't waver much. I have another son and two daughters. He
      was the oldest one and they just idolized him. He never gave anybody
      trouble, but he was a procrastinator, the kind of person who, if he had a
      big project at school, would wait until the day before to do it. But when he
      had a job -- he worked full time before he went into the Army and he was
      never late for work or missed a day in two years. I think that's pretty
      amazing. The reason we talk about him being an altar boy was that church was
      his number one priority, even when he was away from us in the Army. He
      helped at the chapel. He never missed Mass. He was an usher. He was a
      Eucharistic minister. When he was at home, he was heavily involved in my
      youth ministry.

      For eight years I was a youth minister at our parish and for three of those
      years in high school he was in my youth group; then for three of those years
      in college he helped me.

      TD: Tell me about his decision to join the Army.

      CS: A recruiter got hold of him, probably at a vulnerable point in his life,
      promised him a lot of things, and didn't fulfill one of the promises. It was
      May of 2000. There was no 9/11. George Bush hadn't even happened. When
      George Bush became his commander-and-chief, my son's doom was sealed. George
      Bush wanted to invade Iraq before he was even elected president. While he
      was still governor of Texas he was talking about: "If I was
      commander-and-chief, this is what I would do."

      Back then, my son was promised a twenty thousand dollar signing bonus. He
      only got four thousand dollars of that when he finished his advanced
      training. He was promised a laptop, so he could take classes from wherever
      he was deployed in the world. He never got that. They promised him he could
      finish college because he only had one year left when he went in the Army.
      They would never let him take a class. They promised him he could be a
      chaplain's assistant which was what he really wanted to do; but, when he got
      to boot camp, they said that was full and he could be a Humvee mechanic or a
      cook. So he chose Humvee mechanic. The most awful thing the recruiter
      promised him was: Even if there was a war, he wouldn't see combat because he
      scored so high on the ASVAB [Career Exploration] tests. He would only be in
      war in a support role. He was in Iraq for five days before he was killed in

      TD: Did you discuss Iraq with him at all?

      CS: Yes we did. He didn't agree with it. Nobody in our family agreed with
      it. He said, "I wish I didn't have to go, Mom, but I have to. It's my duty
      and my buddies are going." I believe we as Americans have every right to,
      and should be willing to, defend our country if we're in danger. But Iraq
      had nothing to do with keeping America safe. So that's why we disagreed with
      it. He reenlisted after the invasion of Iraq, because he was told if he
      didn't, he'd have to go to Iraq anyway -- he'd be stop-lossed -- but if he
      did, he'd get to choose a new MOS [military specialty] when he got home.

      TD: Can you tell me something about your own political background?

      CS: I've always been a pretty liberal democrat, but I don't think this issue
      is partisan. I think it's life and death. Nobody asked Casey what political
      party he belonged to before they sent him to die in an unjust and immoral

      TD: You met with Hillary Clinton yesterday, didn't you? What do you think
      generally of the Democratic... well, whatever it is?

      CS: They've been very weak. I think Kerry lost because he didn't come out
      strong against the war. He came out to be even more of a nightmare than
      George Bush. You know, we'll put more troops in; I'll hunt down terrorists;
      I'll kill them! That wasn't the right thing to say. The right thing to say
      was: This war was wrong; George Bush lied to us; people are dead because of
      it; they shouldn't be dead; and if I'm elected, I'll do everything to get
      our troops home as soon as possible. Then, instead of seeing the failure
      Kerry was with his middle-of-the-road, wishy-washy, cowardly policies, the
      rest of the Democrats have just kept saying the same things.

      Howard Dean came out and said he hopes that the President is successful in
      Iraq. What's that mean? How can somebody be successful when we have no goals
      or defined mission or objectives to achieve there? They've been very
      cowardly and spineless. What we did at Camp Casey was give them some spine.
      The doors are open to them, Democrats and Republicans alike. As [former
      Congressman and Win Without War Director] Tom Andrews said, if they won't
      see the light, they'll feel the heat. And I think they're feeling the heat.

      I can see it happening. I can see some Republicans like Chuck Hagel and
      Walter Jones breaking ranks with the party line. We met with a Republican
      yesterday -- I don't want to say his name because I don't want to scare him
      off -- but he seems to be somebody we can work with. Of course, as it gets
      closer to the congressional elections, we'll be letting his constituents
      know that he can be worked with.

      TD: So you're planning to go into the elections as a force?

      CS: It's totally about the war, about their position on the war. If people
      care about that issue, then that's what they should make it about too. We're
      starting a "Meet with the Moms" campaign. We're going to target every single
      congressman and senator to show their constituents exactly where they stand
      on the war. People in the state of New York, for instance, should look at
      their senators and say, if you don't come out for bringing our troops home
      as soon as possible, we're not going to reelect you.

      TD: Did Hillary give you any satisfaction at all?

      CS: Her position is still to send in more troops and honor the sacrifices of
      the fallen, which sounds like a Bush position, but the dialogue was open.

      TD: Don't you think it's strange, these politicians like [Senator] Joe
      Biden, for example, who talk about sending in more troops, even though we
      all know there are no more troops?

      CS: Yes... Where you gettin' Œem? Where you gettin' Œem? It's crazy. I mean
      we're going to send more troops in there and leave our country even more
      vulnerable? Leave us open for attack somewhere else, or to be attacked by
      natural and man-made disasters again?

      TD: You want the troops out now. Bush isn't about to do that, but have you
      thought about how you would proceed if you could?

      CS: When we say now, we don't mean that they can all come home tomorrow. I
      hope everybody knows that. We have to start by withdrawing our troops from
      the cities, bringing them to the borders and getting them out. We have to
      replace our military with something that looks Arabic, something that looks
      Iraqi, to rebuild their country. You know, they have the technology, they
      have the skills, but they don't have any jobs right now. How desperate for a
      job does one have to be to stand in line to apply to the Iraqi National
      Guard? I mean, they're killed just standing in line! Give the Iraqis as much
      help and support as they need to rebuild their country which is in chaos.
      When our military presence leaves, a lot of the violence and insurgency will
      die. There will be some regional struggles with the different communities in
      Iraq, but that's happening right now. The British put together a country
      that should never have been put together. Maybe it should be split into
      three different countries -- who knows? But that's up to them, not us.

      TD: And what do you actually expect? We have three and a half more years of
      this administrationŠ

      CS: No we don't! [She chuckles.] I think Katrina's going to be his Monica.
      It's not a matter of "if" any more, it's a matter of "when," because
      clearlyŠ clearly, they're criminals. I mean, look at the people who got the
      first no-bid contracts to clean-up and rebuild New Orleans. It's Halliburton
      again. It's crazy. One negative effect of Camp Casey was it took a lot of
      heat off Karl Rove for his hand in the [Valerie] Plame case. But I hear
      indictments are coming down soon. So that's one way it's going to come
      about. George Bush is getting ready to implode. I mean have you seen him
      lately? He's a man who's out of control.


















      SHEEHAN MEETS MCCAIN & DEAN (/28/2005):

      SHEEHAN ON HER ARREST (9/26/2005):

      CINDY SHEEHAN UPDATE 19 (9/26/2005):


      CINDY SHEEHAN UPDATE 18 (9/19/2005):

      CINDY SHEEHAN UPDATE 17 (9/2/2005):

      CINDY SHEEHAN UPDATE 16 (8/31/2005):

      CINDY SHEEHAN UPDATE 15 (8/30/2005):

      CINDY SHEEHAN UPDATE 14 (8/25/2005):

      CINDY SHEEHAN UPDATE 13 (8/24/2005):

      CINDY SHEEHAN UPDATE 12 (8/23/2005):

      CINDY SHEEHAN UPDATE 11 (8/22/2005):

      CINDY SHEEHAN UPDATE 10 (8/20/2005):

      CINDY SHEEHAN UPDATE 9 (8/18/2005):

      CINDY SHEEHAN UPDATE 8 (8/18/2005):

      CINDY SHEEHAN UPDATE 7 (8/17/2005):

      CINDY SHEEHAN UPDATE 6 (8/16/2005):

      CINDY SHEEHAN UPDATE 5 (8/16/2005):

      CINDY SHEEHAN UPDATE 4 (8/14/2005):

      CINDY SHEEHAN UPDATE 3 (8/14/2005):

      CINDY SHEEHAN UPDATE 2 (8/12/2005):

      CINDY SHEEHAN UPDATE 1 (8/12/2005):



      NHNE News List:

      To subscribe, send a message to:

      To unsubscribe, send a message to:

      To review current posts:

      Published by David Sunfellow
      NewHeavenNewEarth (NHNE)
      eMail: nhne@...
      NHNE Website: http://www.nhne.com/
      Phone: (928) 282-6120
      Fax: (815) 642-0117

      Appreciate what we are doing?
      You can say so with a tax-deductible donation:

      P.O. Box 2242
      Sedona, AZ 86339
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.