We speak with Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) who is backing a bill that would make it easier for parents to block military recruiters from gaining access to their high school-aged children. The bill seeks to amend a provision of the No Child Left Behind Act that requires school districts to provide the Pentagon the names, addresses and phone numbers of every student in the school. [includes rush transcript]
Tomorrow marks the second anniversary of the launch of the Iraq invasion. Two years ago, on March 19, 2003, the United States began dropping bombs on Iraq, while thousands of US and British forces began pouring across the country’s borders.
Since then, as many as 100,000 Iraqis have died and an unknown number have been wounded. Over 1,500 American soldiers have been killed and some 20,000 medically evacuated.
Two years after the launch of the invasion, the occupation continues. Some 150,000 US troops still occupy Iraq with no clear withdrawal date in sight. Meanwhile, the so-called Coalition of the Willing continues to shrink. This week, Italy announced it will begin withdrawing its troops leaving only three nations besides the U.S. with have more than 1,000 soldiers in Iraq.
And for the first time in a decade–the Army and Marines have missed their recruiting targets for two consecutive months. Part of the reason for the drop is that African American recruits have fallen 41 percent since the year 2000.
Today, we spend the hour looking at military recruiting. Later in the program, we will speak with a former marine and recruiter who is now speaking out against the military as well as two people arrested during a protest against military recruiters on university campus. But first, we turn to Democratic Congressmember Jim McDermott of Washington. Along with California Congressman Mike Honda, he has put forward a bill that would make it easier for parents to block military recruiters from gaining access to their high school-aged children. The bill seeks to amend a provision of the No Child Left Behind Act that requires school districts to provide the Pentagon the names, addresses and phone numbers of every student in the school. Yesterday in Washington, Congressman Jim McDermott held a press conference on the steps of the Capitol to announce a petition drive for the bill. He joins us on the line from Washington.
- Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), Democratic Congressman representing the Seattle area. He was first elected in 1989. He is a psychiatrist by training.
AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday in Washington, Congress member McDermott held a news conference on the steps of the Capitol to announce a petition drive for the bill. He joins us on the line from Seattle. Welcome to Democracy Now!
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: How you are, Amy? Hi, Juan.
AMY GOODMAN: Its good to have you us with.
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Good to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: First, can you explain what this section of the No Child Left Behind Act says?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Well, buried in the No Child Left Behind Act, in section 9528, it says schools are required to give military recruiters names, home addresses, and home phone numbers. If they don’t do that, they can be penalized by receiving no money from the federal government. So, it’s really a stick, a big heavy stick on schools to give out that information. There is a possibility for youngsters to opt out, but nobody tells kids about opting out. And that’s what this campaign is really all about. It’s to give kids the awareness that they can opt out, give their parents the awareness they can opt out, so that they’re not bugged by recruiters.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what are the prospects right now of being able to get this amended and out of the legislation?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Well, the reason we’re doing it through the public is that this is the only way we’ll get it changed. The Bush administration never had enough troops and has denied they want a draft, so they’re using all these tricks, the stop-loss orders to keep troops over there. They’re pushing the recruiters to go into schools and call up kids at home at night. They’re doing all this because they are short of troops, and they will not change this because they don’t want to institute a draft. So, this is going to stop when the kids and the parents of this country start talking. We didn’t change the environmental laws in this country because Washington wanted to do it, or we didn’t end the Vietnam War because Washington wanted to do it, it was done because people in the society said we’re through with this. We don’t want any more of this. Clean up the environment. Stop the war.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Congress member Jim McDermott. He’s in Seattle now about to get on a plane. If you can explain, though, because I don’t think, and maybe this is why you’ve introduced this, most people understand how it works, that the school automatically hands over students’ names, high school students’ names to the Pentagon, unless a parent or the student, him or herself, actually proactively says, “Do not hand over that name.” Is that right?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And the principal can decide whether to send a letter home to inform parents about this so they have the choice, or more often than not, the names are just handed over.
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Yep. The school has no requirement to, or the school board has no requirement to tell parents what’s happening to their kids’ private information. And in most cases, they are not doing anything. In some places, we had a youngster yesterday at the press conference from New Jersey, where the kids got 90% of the kids in the school to opt out in a New Jersey high school. Now, that’s student activism at its very best.
AMY GOODMAN: So —
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: That’s what it takes.
AMY GOODMAN: You held a news conference yesterday with the punk group Anti-Flag?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Yes. I met them during the campaign. They went across the country doing punk vote, and were registering. They had something like a 100 and some-odd thousand kids that they registered around the country in these concerts, telling them that if they didn’t want Bush to send whatever is going on in this country, the only way to do it was to get out and vote. And so I got to know them. They’re a straightedge group. They don’t smoke, no drink, no drugs, no anything. And they are just interested in what’s good for kids. And they are running this petition drive. They’re going out on the road shortly all over the country to get kids signed up for opting out.
JUAN GONZALEZ: On another note, you have been actively involved over the last few years in the question of returning veterans from Iraq and health problems that they have had, and the issue of possible exposure to depleted uranium. Could you tell us the latest on that and your efforts in that area?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Well, we continue to get reports of people reporting difficulties, which at least in theory could be caused by depleted uranium. We cannot get the military to do a study. We have had a billion to have a study. The chairman of the committee won’t bring it up for discussion, because the Pentagon simply does not want to look at this, and it’s going to turn out in my — my fear is it’s going to turn out like agent orange, where during the war people said, you know, this is doing stuff, but it took us 25 years to finally admit that agent orange was a serious problem. And I think that’s the same is true with depleted uranium. I was in Iraq and went to the hospitals, the pediatric hospitals, where they have had a 600% increase in leukemia among children and 600% increase in physical deformities at birth. No head, no eyes, no arms. These kind of really horrible kinds of deformities, which the doctor there says all of these people were exposed to heavy dosages of depleted uranium. It’s down in southern Iraq in Basra where we dumped thousands and thousands of tons in the Gulf War, and we simply are leaving debris that our soldiers are walking through. Nobody tells these kids when they recruit them that you are going to be sent out, and you’re going to have to deal with depleted uranium. That’s not part of what you tell a kid when you are trying to get him to sign up for something like this. And I really think that this is just one more reason why I am very concerned about our continuing warfare around the world and needing more and more troops. We are going to get to a draft if we don’t stop this war.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking with Congress member Jim McDermott at the Seattle Airport. He’s about to get on a plane. You went to Iraq, and you were criticized by some for criticizing the U.S. government when you were there. Tell us when you were there?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: I was there in September, before we went to war in March, September of 2001. It was very clear to me that we simply — the President of the United States wanted to go to war, and he was going to go to war no matter what. The peace groups and the church groups in my area sent me over there, paid for my trip and said go have a look. It was clear to me from talking to people in Iraq, from talking to people on the street and so forth, that this simply was a fait accompli. We were heading for a war no matter what the Iraqis did. And that’s why I came back and said I didn’t believe all of this business about weapons of mass destruction. They didn’t want to let the inspectors go on with their work. They said, you know, you’ve hidden this, you’ve done that. It turns out that it was all misleading the American people. I don’t like to use the word “lie,” but it certainly was not telling the truth to the American people.
AMY GOODMAN: The other night, Congress member McDermott, I came home. It was pretty late, and I was surprised to see on C-SPAN Live, you went on the floor of the House to share your thoughts on — to share your thoughts on Paul Wolfowitz being named the president of the World Bank. You can talk about that?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: Well, this President has never liked the United Nations or any kind of international organization. It’s always been “my way or the highway” for President Bush. This recent appointment of John Bolton as the ambassador to the United Nations, a guy who hates international organizations, and Paul Wolfowitz, who has disparaged these people over and over again as the head of the World Bank is just — it is such a slap in the face to the international community. We’re going to give Paul Wolfowitz the power and the money to go out and redevelop places that we bombed flat. I mean, we’re going to put money into Iraq and Fallujah that he bombed flat. I mean, how can you possibly think that that’s going to inspire confidence in the rest of the world, to put Paul Wolfowitz, the architect of this war, the head neo-con, in the position of now reconstructing the world and using the money as he sees fit. That will be, once again, the Americans punishing some countries because they didn’t help us, they weren’t part of the coalition of the willing, and so we’re not going to give them the money they need for this or for that. The AIDS epidemic and everything will be on this guy’s control. And he simply does not have an internationalist view.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And the last 30 seconds before you have to board your plane, your reaction to also John Bolton and now Zalmay Khalilzad being named to key posts, as well, also a part of the Project for a New American Century?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: You know, this administration is going to be wreaking havoc on us for the next three years, because what they got out of this last election was they think they have a mandate. And they think that the country agrees with them, that we want to continually isolate ourselves and try and solve our problems with military power. That is not going to work. It didn’t work for any other empire in the history of man. And they are trying a failed policy. And I really think that all these appointments are simply putting in place people who are yes-men, who will go along with exactly what the Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld and Cheney plan is. Really, I think Cheney is at the head of it. Wolfowitz is really only a second in hand, but the two of them really constructed this whole crazy idea, and we are committed to it for four years. It is a terrible situation, and we cannot — we’ll never be able to get out of Iraq, because the President says we have to stay until it’s stable. Well, as long as we stay there irritating the situation, it will never be stable. So, that’s why they’re building a permanent base at the Bagram Airport. We are building permanent bases all through Iraq. And we have no intention whatsoever of leaving. I don’t care what the President says. Nobody believes him.
AMY GOODMAN: Congress member McDermott, you are a psychiatrist, as well as a Congress member. Are you using crazy in the clinical sense?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: No, I’m using it in the political sense.
AMY GOODMAN: Tomorrow there will be more than 700 antiwar protests around the country on the second anniversary of the invasion. Will you be at one of them?
REP. JIM McDERMOTT: I will. I will be there. And I’ve got to run and catch my plane. I’ll see you.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you for being with us, Congress member Jim McDermott, speaking to us from Seattle Airport, as he gets on his plane.