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2007-01-11

EXCLUSIVE..."I’m Scared Out of My Mind"–Live From Iraq, Active Duty Army Sgt. Speaks Out Against War Escalation

Topics

Guests

Sir Geoffrey Bindman, chairman of the British Institute of Human Rights. Bindman is also a Professor of Law at University College London. He has practiced law for over forty years. He has participated as a jurist on multiple international human rights missions around the world, including in Israel, Palestine, and South Africa.

Susie Orbach, Writer and psychotherapist. She is a prominent feminist and author of several books, including “Susie Orbach On Eating” and “Fat is a Feminist Issue.”

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In an Democracy Now! exclusive, we go to Iraq to speak with Army Sergeant Ronn Cantu who is serving his second tour in Iraq. Cantu recently signed a petition to Congress–known as an Appeal for Redress–calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. He says, "Everything we do here is on the defense. Any troops increase over here–they will just be more sitting ducks, more targets." [includes rush transcript]

The Appeal for Redress will be delivered to Capitol Hill next week. Sgt. Cantu is a member of the Iraq Veterans Against the War. He started the website forum soldiervoices.net to give soldiers a forum to speak about the Iraq war. He joins us on the phone from Iraq.

  • Sgt. Ronn Cantu, serving second tour of duty in Iraq.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We go first to Iraq. My next guest, Sergeant Ronn Cantu, is an Army sergeant serving his second tour of duty in Iraq right now. He recently signed a petition to Congress, known as an Appeal for Redress, calling for the withdrawal of US troops. The appeal will be delivered to Capitol Hill next week. Sergeant Cantu is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. He started the website forum, soldiervoices.net, to give soldiers a forum to speak about the Iraq war, now joining us on the line from Iraq. It is very brave of you to join us, Sergeant Cantu.

SGT. RONN CANTU: Yeah, but I’m scared out of my mind right now. [inaudible] over here.

AMY GOODMAN: Why are you scared?

SGT. RONN CANTU: I don’t really want to go into that. All I really want to say, because I shouldn’t be doing this — all I want to say is, right now American soldiers are dying in a Sunni-Shiite civil war, a sectarian civil war — that’s a fact, based on my personal observations. Soldiers’ hands are tied to defend themselves. Every time a soldier fires his weapon, he has to sign paperwork making sure it was justified. I want to stress that soldiers want to go on the offensive, but everything we’re doing here is on the defense. And it’s a belief of the soldiers I’ve talked to that any troop increase over here, it’s just going to be more sitting ducks, more targets.

Everything we’re doing is reactive. People go out on patrols, and they’re sitting ducks until somebody strikes first. There was a story relayed to me by somebody I know — I don’t want to give his name —- a soldier was shot in the face, and nobody fired back, because they couldn’t see where it was coming from. That’s what this has come down to, and that’s just plain fact. I’m sorry, [inaudible] -—

AMY GOODMAN: Sergeant Cantu, can you explain the Appeal for Redress that you’ve signed?

SGT. RONN CANTU: All it is is a — it’s just that one of the rights that soldiers have is the right to communicate unfettered with their elected member of Congress, and it’s just about a troop withdrawal. I mean, the Appeal for Redress website is pretty straightforward. If anybody’s in there, very straightforward.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you have support in Iraq, where you are, among your cavalry division?

SGT. RONN CANTU: I’m sorry?

AMY GOODMAN: Do you have support in the First Cavalry Division for your call for the troops to come home?

SGT. RONN CANTU: A lot of people still aren’t even aware of it, the appeal.

AMY GOODMAN: Sergeant Cantu, are you there?

SGT. RONN CANTU: I’m here.

AMY GOODMAN: And what are you demanding of the President, of the Congress right now? Sergeant Cantu? Sergeant Cantu, are you there?

You’re listening to an exclusive live broadcast with Sergeant Ronn Cantu. He is one of over 1,000 soldiers who have signed what is called an Appeal to Redress, which will be delivered on Capitol Hill on Martin Luther King’s birthday, calling for the troops to be called home. All of the uniformed endorsers are calling on Congress to bring the troops home.

We are turning now to another peace activist, joining us now from Washington D.C., who are calling for President Bush to pull the troops home, as well. Leslie Cagan joins us. She is the head of United for Peace and Justice. Your response, both to hearing Sergeant Ronn Cantu speaking to us from Iraq, as well as President Bush speaking last night from the library in the White House?

LESLIE CAGAN: Yes, hi. Good morning. Well, on one level, we’re not surprised by what the President said. He has been consistent for more than four years now about his commitment to this war. And last night he just reinforced his commitment to this war by actually escalating our involvement by announcing that he’s sending more troops.

I think, in terms of the brave, very brave people inside the military, including the person who we just spoke to in Iraq, who are speaking out against the war, this shows just how deeply the people of this country, including the people who wear the uniform of the United States military, how deeply people feel in their opposition to what the President has brought to us and to the people of Iraq.

This war has to end. It never should have started. It was a war totally based on lies. It has to end. It has to end now.

And really, you know, our message goes out not only to the President, but also to Congress. Congress is beginning — some members of Congress are now beginning to speak up, to make their voices heard. We want to reinforce that. We want the Congress to really speak to the President, in terms of explaining what the American people want. In November, on Election Day in November, there was a nationwide mandate, really, on the war. And I don’t think the pundits and the people who do the analysis of the elections — I don’t think anybody really understood just how deeply the feeling against the war is in this country until November 7. And now we have a new congress. We’re calling on Congress to stand up to the President and use their power and use their power swiftly, use it now to end this war and bring all of our troops home.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice. We’re going to break. Then we’ll return, and we’ll go back to Iraq to speak with an Iraqi activist in Najaf. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Najaf. Sami Rasouli is there. He is an Iraqi American currently living in Najaf. He grew up in Iraq, left in the late ’70s, eventually moved to the United States, lived in Minneapolis, where he opened a restaurant serving Middle Eastern cuisine. It was a watering hole for people particularly concerned about the war. In November 2004, nearly 30 years after leaving Iraq, Sami returned home to help rebuild his country. He is currently a member of and established the Muslim Peacemakers Team in Najaf. Sami, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you respond to President Bush calling for 20,000 more troops — apparently this has already begun — to be moved into Iraq?

SAMI RASOULI: Thank you, Amy, and good to hear your voice and part of your program here in Najaf. Actually, Amy, for the last four days, I couldn’t get a shower, because there is no electricity, there is no heating, so water’s so cold in this harsh winter in Iraq, because Iraq has a continental climate that’s very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. So as I speak to you, I really stink. And as the increasing prices in the economy that’s collapsing stink and the Iraqi government policy stinks, even the American policy, that so-called surge in Iraq, stinks, too, because, as you know and Iraqis know and the others, that the occupation is a form of war. So any escalation in this type of war, the resistance is going to escalate, too.

And I just want to remind you and remind whoever is listening that Alberto Fernandez is a senior official in the, I think, foreign affairs in Middle East in the State Department. Once, he was interviewed by Al Jazeera, and he stated that the American government exercised, in their occupation of Iraq and the policies, kind of stupidity and arrogance. And I would like to add the ignorance, too, because I don’t think who is leading in the White House understand the people, the culture, the history of the region.

Sending 20,000, as I understand and the Iraqis see it, is just a substitute for the losses of the US men and women in uniform who fell either dead or severely injured. If you remember, there were about 160,000 of American men and women when the occupation started, and now, before those 20,000, we have like almost 140,000. Margaret Beckett, out of London, the foreign minister, she declined to send any forces, British forces; neither, the Australian. So it’s the sole job of this occupation to be exercised in Iraq by the US forces, unfortunately.

And, as we know, how many people got killed? According to _Lancet_’s study, about 655,000 so far; Iraqis claim it’s over a million. That, added to the million-and-a-half of Iraqis got killed during the sanctions.

If you remember, when Baker III met Tariq Aziz back in 1991 and warned Tariq and his government, delivering him a letter to the president of Iraq at that time, Saddam Hussein, telling him, 'If you don't withdraw from Kuwait, we will bring about the country to stone age.’ And now, I’m experiencing, unfortunately, this stone age. We don’t have gasoline, we don’t have kerosene, to have our families warmed in this winter.

And if I understand from the President’s statement that he is sending this 20,000 to protect Saudis, Jordanians and the Egyptians and the Gulf States, who are the allies of the US for the last 30 years and so, so from whom to protect them? From the Iraqi resistance forces? This is another lie added to the White House policymakers, who keeps just sustaining their lies by another lies since the war started. And it seems to us and others that we forgot what’s the reason that the US sent its troops in the first place.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Sami Rasouli in Najaf. We also have Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice in Washington, D.C. Leslie Cagan, what are your plans right now, United for Peace and Justice? Just reading a piece in the Washington Post quoting Virginia Congressmember Jim Moran, saying today John Murtha, the Pennsylvania congress member, most known for his early call for troops to withdraw, will report back to the committee he now heads, which is the Subcommittee on Appropriations on Defense, reporting back about plans that could attach so many conditions and benchmarks to the funds that it would be all but impossible to spend the money without running afoul of Congress. This is talking about funding for the war. And House Majority Whip James Clyburn from South Carolina is quoted as saying, "21,500 troops ought to have 21,500 strings attached to them."

LESLIE CAGAN: Right. Well, we think it is critical at this moment to put the pressure — obviously, to keep the pressure on the Bush administration, but to expand pressure on the Congress. It is great that some of these members of Congress are now speaking out against the war, but they have a power that none of the rest of us has. And that is, they control the money, they control the budget. If the United States Congress was to say no more money for this war, either for the escalation of the war or for maintaining it at the present troop levels — no more money for this war — well, indeed, that would have a profound impact on their ability to carry out the war.

So let me just mention two things that are in motion. One is, today, all around the country, in at least 500 different places, there are activities, events, protests, vigils, calling on the President to back away from this insane plan to send more troops. That was a very quick turnaround to organize that, and we’re doing that with Win Without War, True Majority, a whole bunch of groups. And there’s a website, americasaysno.org, that everyone can go to and find where there’s a protest in your neighborhood, in your community.

And then, in just a few weeks, on Saturday, January 27th, people from every corner of the country are gathering here in Washington, where I am right now, to march around the Capitol, to deliver our message: it is time to end the war. The people spoke. The voters of this country had their opportunity in November to make their voices heard. Now we’re saying to Congress, "You need to act on the will of the people of this country." So on Saturday, January 27th, people will be getting on buses and trains and carpools and every other manner of transportation and gathering here in Washington on the Mall between 3rd Street and 7th Street at 11:00 a.m. in the morning and delivering this message. And on top of that, we’re asking people to stay here in Washington for a few more days to do a massive lobby day on Monday, the 29th of January. All of this information is on our website, unitedforpeace.org. We encourage you to get more information about today’s protest and then the humungous — we believe will be a humungous march on Washington on Saturday, January 27th.

AMY GOODMAN: Leslie Cagan, I want to thank you for being with us in Washington, D.C., national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, and Sami Rasouli, founder of the Muslim Peacemakers Team, speaking to us from Najaf. Also, earlier, Sergeant Ronn Cantu, Army sergeant in the First Cavalry Division, was enlisted in the military, redeployed to Iraq, now one of more than a thousand active-duty soldiers who have signed an Appeal for Redress that’s being presented to Congress next week. And if you’ve just tuned in, we encourage you to go to our website at democracynow.org, where you can hear that exclusive interview with an active-duty soldier in Iraq opposed to the escalation, calling for troops to come home. And we will also link to his pieces; among them, Sergeant Cantu’s " One Soldier’s Musings: The Death of a Pro-War Conservative, or the Day I Got Away with Murder."

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