Mother of Ailing Iraq War Vet Confronts Rep. Obey over U.S. Troop Withdrawal

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Over 1,000 protests, vigils and actions are scheduled over the coming days to mark the fourth anniversary of the Iraq War. Antiwar activists have also spent countless hours in recent months urging Democratic lawmakers to cut off funding for the war. Last week, Tina Richards, the mother of an Iraq War veteran, confronted the chair of House Appropriations Committee, Rep. David Obey, in the halls of the Capitol. Richards joins us from Washington, D.C. [includes rush transcript]

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

JUAN GONZALEZ: Over a thousand protests, vigils and actions are scheduled over the coming days to mark the fourth anniversary of the Iraq War. The largest protest is expected to be the march on the Pentagon on Saturday. Dozens of antiwar actions have already taken place across the country in recent days. On Monday, a hundred activists in New York occupied a U.S. military recruitment center for two hours. Twenty-three people were arrested there.

AMY GOODMAN: In San Francisco, peace activists camped outside the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Antiwar activists from Maryland occupied the office of Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski and urged her to cut off funding for the war. On Thursday, 11 peace activists were arrested on Capitol Hill while attempting to enter the House Appropriations Committee meeting, where lawmakers voted to approve allocating $100 billion more for war. Gael Murphy, the co-founder of CodePink, was among those arrested. She called Democracy Now! from the police wagon to report on what happened.

GAEL MURPHY: My name is Gael Murphy. I’m a co-founder of CodePink Women for Peace. I’m in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill sitting in a police wagon with colleagues from World Can’t Wait, Troops Out Now Coalition. We’ve all been at the Rayburn House Office Building during the Appropriations Committee markup and vote of Bush’s request for $100 billion additional to continue the occupation in Iraq. We tried to get into the hearing. Unfortunately, they have left no room for the public to be able to witness what the members of Congress are doing today with our tax dollars. And so, we were in the hallways calling to get in, calling for an end to the funding, calling for the troops to come home. And we were arrested, and we’re now in the police wagon.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was Gael Murphy, co-founder of CodePink. Antiwar activists have also spent countless hours in recent months urging Democratic lawmakers to cut off funding for the war. Last week, Tina Richards, the mother of an Iraq War veteran, approached the Democratic Congressman David Obey, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, in the hallway of the Capitol. The interaction was filmed and later posted on YouTube.

TINA RICHARDS: Are you going to be voting against the supplemental?

REP. DAVID OBEY: Absolutely not. I’m the sponsor of the bill.

TINA RICHARDS: To continue the war?

REP. DAVID OBEY: It doesn’t. The president wants to continue the war. We’re trying to use the supplemental to end the war. But you can’t end the war by going against the supplemental. It’s time these idiot liberals understand that. There’s a hell of a difference between defunding the troops and ending the war. I’m not going to deny body armor. I’m not going to deny funding for veterans’ hospitals and vets hospitals so you can help people who have medical problems. That’s what you do if you’re going against that bill.

TINA RICHARDS: But there should be enough money already in the regular defense bill —

REP. DAVID OBEY: Well, there isn’t.

TINA RICHARDS: — without continuing the funding for the war.

REP. DAVID OBEY: There isn’t. There isn’t. That’s not the way it works. The money in the defense bill, it pays for a standing army, but it doesn’t pay for these recurring costs. We’re going to add over a billion dollars more to what the president is asking for in that bill, so it should deal with exactly some of the problems you’re talking about. How the hell do you get the money to the hospitals if we don’t provide the money?

TINA RICHARDS: Well, are you going to be in support then of —

REP. DAVID OBEY: I hate the war. I voted against it, to start with. I was the first guy in Congress to call for Rumsfeld’s resignation, but we don’t have the votes to defund the war, and we shouldn’t, because that also means defunding everything we’ve got in that bill to help guys who are the victims of the war.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was Congressman David Obey, who later apologized for screaming. He said, “We are both frustrated, and that led us to have an argument that we never should have had, because we both want to see an end to U.S. involvement in that war. What divided us was the question of how.”

AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, Obey’s House Appropriations Committee approved an emergency spending bill that includes about $100 billion to continue fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The legislation set strict conditions on continuing the Iraq War for the next 18 months and would end U.S. combat there by September 1, 2008.

Tina Richards joins us now in Washington, D.C. Her son, Corporal Cloy Richards, was deployed twice to Iraq, has served as an artillery cannoneer for the Marines. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Tina.

TINA RICHARDS: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about what happened yesterday in the House Appropriations Committee, why there were arrests afterwards, and more about your interaction with the chair of the Appropriations Committee, David Obey?

TINA RICHARDS: Yes. Well, I think it just was reflective of the frustration that’s being felt there on the Capitol Hill, which is partly why I released the video, was to show that level of frustration.

Normally on these appropriations hearings — and I’ve sat in most of them through the last six weeks — they have lots of seating for the public, very little staff shows up. And this particular one had a lot of staff, and they had a lot of press. And we started waiting in line about 7:00 in the morning. Some people started at 6:00 in the morning, and — as far as the general public, because it was an open hearing.

And then, as some of the congressmen filed by saw a lot of different people, including a lot of people from CodePink had shown up and a lot of people that didn’t dress in business suits showed up, before the hearing opened we saw a lot of staffers come and get into line so that there wouldn’t be any available seating for the general public. Getting shut out of the hearing led to a lot of people going back to where we’re at, where our voices are not being heard by the lawmakers.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you saying, Tina, that the legislators sent in their staffs to fill the place so that the public would not be allowed in?

TINA RICHARDS: I have absolutely no idea. I’m not behind the scenes. I’m just — that’s what we saw happen.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of the reaction of Obey, were there other Democrats that you also confronted that expressed similar viewpoints, or was he alone in his antagonism?

TINA RICHARDS: Well, I hope I didn’t confront him. Actually, I wanted to have a dialogue. That’s what I’ve been doing here for the last six weeks, is trying to have a dialogue with the lawmakers to let them know that there are other ideas out there. And so, as far as with Representative Obey, when I talked with him, I didn’t expect for him to react that way, because I had spoken to Jim Moran, I’ve spoken to John Murtha, I had spoken to Sanford Bishop. I was speaking to all the people on the Subcommittee of Defensive Appropriations. And they were all very gracious to me, most of us disagreeing with each other, but at least they got an insight to what the military families are suffering, because there’s a lot of us out here. I’m also a member of Military Families Speak Out, and there’s thousands, tens of thousands of us that — our voices are getting heard. And that’s within military families, but also, of course, various peace organizations throughout the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Tina Richards, tell us about your son. He has been deployed twice to Iraq. What is his condition? Is he being sent off again?

TINA RICHARDS: Well, I don’t know. On March 24, he’s supposed to report in with documentation from Veterans Affairs as to his disabilities. The problem is, is that he doesn’t have that documentation, because we’ve been fighting with the VA system for close to a year now, just trying to get him treatment. Recently, I’ve been sitting in on the hearings, and I was interviewed by a Veterans Affairs Committee on the House. And it appears that a lot of the symptoms that my son has is actually from traumatic brain injury, which can sometimes be confused with PTSD, or it can be a combination of both. You know, he definitely has undiagnosed traumatic brain injury.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened to him?

TINA RICHARDS: Well, he did two tours there, with the last one was in Fallujah. And with his — I mean, he had artillery shell fall on his knee in the first tour, that he was back only four months. They didn’t have time to even look at his injury from that. He was hit by — where a rocket exploded right next to him, and that’s when he was thrown back about 20 feet. They didn’t have the right inserts for the helmet, so he was knocked unconscious, hurt his back and neck from that. You know, he was in the siege of Fallujah. When he was breaking down doors, he had hurt his arm and his hand. And, I mean, just various other things that happen when you go almost two years in a battlefield with only four months back home.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And your reaction, as you’ve been seeing all of these reports in recent weeks about the medical treatment that returned soldiers are getting here? Your reaction also to how your son is viewing the whole situation, given the problems he’s been having in terms of his medical treatment?

TINA RICHARDS: Well, I think it’s unconscionable for a nation to send their soldiers and their marines into a war and then not provide any care for them.

I sat in on a hearing recently, on one of the Walter Reed hearings, where Representative Bill Young, who used to be — now he’s a ranking member, but he used to be in a position that could have stopped this, and he talked about, as a citizen, him and his wife had spent at least a hundred days in the last couple of years at Walter Reed and that they saw these conditions. But he was afraid, if he brought it up as a legislator, that it would give the Army a black eye during the time of war, and he didn’t want to do that. And this is the type of oversight that has been missing in our country for the last six years.

And, to me, I was so angry, and I started crying. And I walked out of the hearing, because I couldn’t handle hearing how our lawmakers see these problems and then walk away from them. That’s part of why I want to speak with them about the war and the way that they’re going about ending the war.

Now, I’m no expert. I mean, I’m a mom. My son may be deployed now for his third tour. I’ve been fighting and given up everything to fight with the VA system and to fight to save my son’s life, to make sure that he doesn’t feel he has to end it. So, I’m not doing a great job. I’m sure I’ve made many mistakes. But I’m down here to try to change something, to try to change the dialogue. In the national media, it’s been that “support the troops” means funding the war. And I want to say that isn’t always the best idea. We have a lot of great ideas about what we can do, and if the lawmakers will just open up, if the Democratic leadership who was given a mandate to end this war, to get us out of Iraq, if they can listen to our ideas, we might come to a better solution.

AMY GOODMAN: Tina Richards, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Tina Richards is the mother of an Iraq War vet. We thank you very much.

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