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Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson Slams His Friend Mitt Romney for “Flip-Flopping” on Abortion, Stem Cell Research, Torture in Attempt to Win GOP Presidential Nomination

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Anderson and Romney became “great friends” after they closely worked together on the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. They have campaigned for each other, despite their party difference, but now Anderson says Mitt Romney’s support for the Iraq War, torture and the doubling of the size of Guantanamo is “unconscionable.” “I am very surprised that somebody like Mitt Romney, who I always felt had such great integrity and was so reasonable, would have caved in to his handlers and flip-flopped on so many issues,” Anderson said. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryNov 29, 2007Romney, McCain Spar on Waterboarding and Torture at GOP Debate
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Rocky Anderson, the mayor of Salt Lake City, is one of the most outspoken critics of the Bush administration and the Iraq War. Earlier this year he called for the impeachment of President Bush, calling him a “war criminal” who has committed “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Rocky Anderson is also well regarded for his local politics. Last year, The Nation magazine praised him instituting “some of the most creative, thoughtful and radical urban policies anywhere in America.”

Today, Rocky Anderson is in New York to participate in an evening event calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. He will be speaking at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Mayor Anderson joins us now. Welcome to Democracy Now!

ROCKY ANDERSON: Real pleasure to see you, Amy. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Impeachment is off the table, though, in Washington, D.C., your party, the Democratic Party, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said no, that that’s not the direction they’re going to go. One of the chief proponents of it, John Conyers, head of the House Judiciary Committee, has backed off of that demand, yet you continue.

ROCKY ANDERSON: Well, yeah, I’ve taken my “proud Democrat” coffee mug out of my shelf and put it into storage for a while.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you going to do like Michael Bloomberg has done? Are you going to leave your party?

ROCKY ANDERSON: I’m not proud of my party. You know, I expected a George Bush and Cheney will come along and try to abuse their power and usurp and undermine the balance of power, disregard the rule of law, and I expect sometimes that the Republican Party is going to support them in that, as we saw during the regime of Richard Nixon.

What I don’t expect is that we not have an opposition party all these years, that we not have a party who will stand up against the fiscal recklessness, about the lies that have driven us into this disastrous war of aggression. And I am ashamed of the Democratic Party. There have been a few heroes, a few people that have stood up, but the party as a whole, I think, has been a dismal failure these last several years in standing up to this insanity.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to last October. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader in the then-Republican-controlled Congress, was asked by 60 Minutes’s Lesley Stahl whether the Democrats would pursue the impeachment of President Bush if Democrats gained control of the House.

NANCY PELOSI: Impeachment is off the table.

LESLEY STAHL: Off the table. And that’s a pledge?

NANCY PELOSI: Well, it’s a pledge. Yes, and it’s a pledge. Of course, it is. And it is a waste of time.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Nancy Pelosi.

ROCKY ANDERSON: It seems very odd to me that any Democrat would say that a constitutional remedy, a remedy the founders felt very strongly about, when a president through his or her wrongdoing is doing damage to our country, that that remedy would ever be off the table. There can only be one reason for it, and that’s the Democrats want to politically cash in on this disastrous administration in the 2008 elections. And I think that’s wrong.

I think that when we have a president who has blatantly violated our own Constitution, our own treaty obligations, our own statutory law, abused his powers in remarkable ways, undermined the balance of power, exerted a unitary executive power unknown to this country and to our democracy, and at the same time betrayed his trust with our Congress, with the American people, by his deceit in leading us into this war and through his utter incompetency — if impeachment were ever called for, this is certainly the time, and this is exactly what the founders had in mind.

AMY GOODMAN: The Democratic leadership argues that it would distract from other things that need to get passed.

ROCKY ANDERSON: We need some people in Congress who can multitask. It’s been done before. You know, the Republicans were able to do it in the case against President Clinton, where there was no harm to the country alleged. They were talking about a lie in a private lawsuit having to do with a private affair, not an impeachable offense. Never was that sort of kind — that kind of thing contemplated by the founders.

But here, we have an instance where our country is suffering in so many ways across the board: our young men and women are being killed, hundreds of thousands in another country that pose no danger to us are being killed, all the wounded, the financial implications that will be felt for generations, and all of us being lied to, to get to this point.

Impeachment, although I understand people’s reticence about it, if you take a step back and look at all that’s happened, impeachment has never been more justified. And my point is, let us make that statement to the rest of the world that this is not the American values. This is not who we are as the American people. We don’t believe in kidnapping, disappearing, torturing people as a matter of official policy. And it’s absolutely unprecedented in our nation’s history that we’re engaging in those sorts of things: the warrantless wiretapping of people’s conversations, of their emails, United States citizens; arresting, basically kidnapping, American citizens and denying them any due process, the right to a lawyer, right to a trial, the right to habeas corpus.

We have become, not becoming, but we have become, as a nation, under the Bush administration, the sort of totalitarian country like those from whom we have always been proud to distinguish ourselves. We’ve always looked at other nations and said they’re the ones that kidnap, disappear, and torture their people, and even kill them, when they’re perceived to be on the other side. Now, that’s exactly what this president is doing in our nation’s name. We need to stand up as a people, let the world know, let posterity know, that’s not who Americans are, this doesn’t reflect our values.

AMY GOODMAN: Mayor Anderson, how would you end this war?

ROCKY ANDERSON: I would end this war by going to the United Nations and saying there need to be peacekeeping troops. We need to work with the entire region. We need to have discussions with neighboring countries, countries that this administration has refused to deal with, like Iran, like Syria. But we need to pull our troops out, because every day American troops have a presence there, we’re seen as the occupying force. And as long as we’re seen as the occupying force, there will be more terrorists.

We’re feeding right into bin Laden’s plan. We’re feeding right into his perception of who the United States is, this imperialist country. This war would never have begun, the attacks on 9/11 would never have happened, Osama bin Laden’s declaration of war against the United States would never have happened, had we not maintained permanent bases in Saudi Arabia, contrary to Dick Cheney’s promises when he was secretary of defense, that after the first Gulf War we would remove those bases. Osama bin Laden saw those bases as basically a Christian and Jewish occupying of the Muslim holy lands.

And now, what have we done? We’ve invaded and occupied another Muslim country that posed no danger whatsoever to the United States and let the Muslim world know that we are asserting that kind of control, that we’re going to tell them what kind of government they have, that we’re going to tell their military what to do. Every single day that happens with our troops, we’re making the situation worse. And it is so far worse off for the Iraqi people.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your feeling in Utah? Your constituents, your community, Salt Lake City — you have many young men and women who have been sent to Iraq — how do they respond to you?

ROCKY ANDERSON: It’s a mixed bag. We’ve had some huge demonstrations there. The last two times President Bush has come to town, we’ve held demonstrations. I spoke at both of those. And there’s a lot of controversy around it. But I can tell you, after the last time he came, although there were those who thought that just because he’s the president I should lay out the welcoming mat and shut up, there was far less, on the merits, being said in support of the war. And as I said at the time, you know, I’m speaking up, and if anybody wants to stand up and support the kidnapping, disappearing and torture of human beings, if anybody wants to stand up and justify the warrantless wiretapping of Americans, if somebody wants to stand up and defend this nation being deceived into this war of aggression against a country that posed no danger to us, I’m happy to hear that from you. I think you should stand up and support the president. We never heard that.

All we heard was this sort of mindless, “Well, he’s the president, and we need to get behind him and support him,” or this notion that you can’t support the troops if you’re not supporting the war at the same time. I can tell you, more and more, and I’m even hearing it not just from families of American servicemen and —women in active duty, I’m hearing it from people in the active duty right now: we’ve got to end this war. We’re not accomplishing anything. We’re working against our own interest and even have good longtime Republicans coming up and, mostly whispering -— they’re not out there in the streets yelling, although some of them do come to the demonstrations now — they’re telling me, “You’re absolutely right. This president is ruining this country. He needs to go.”

AMY GOODMAN: When I came out to Salt Lake City, I interviewed you and also Sergeant Marshall Thompson, who was the officer in Iraq. He actually was the editor of the Anaconda Times. He was a military journalist and said he had interviewed many, many soldiers, many of them opposed to war — this was in Iraq — and when he came home to Utah, the reddest state in the nation, he and his wife walked across the state protesting the war and were joined by many people, actually, across the political spectrum. His website was A Soldier’s Peace. And he said, in that way, he would participate — his father, the ex-mayor of Logan, Utah.

Mitt Romney — can you talk about this adopted son of Utah who also has a vacation home there? He just did a campaign swing through Utah. He has a home in Utah, also in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, claimed residency in Utah from 1999 to 2002 during his time as president of the Salt Lake City Olympic Committee. Now, of course, Republican presidential candidate.

ROCKY ANDERSON: Mitt’s a great friend. We worked together very closely on the Olympics. We got to know each other very well. And his wife Ann, lovely woman, dedicated herself to a lot of human rights causes, has done a lot of work in the community with young people. I really admired both of them very much. And I must say that I am very surprised that somebody like Mitt Romney, who I always felt had such great integrity and was so reasonable, would have caved into his handlers and flip-flopped on so many issues that he used to say he felt so strongly about, things like choice. His coming out against stem cell research was just absolutely incredible to me.

AMY GOODMAN: What about his past record on choice, on stem cell research?

ROCKY ANDERSON: Well, he was very clearly supportive of Roe v. Wade. He said that as he ran for governor, as he ran for senator in Massachusetts. He told me, going into that race, that Roe v. Wade is working, we need to get beyond this issue. And he felt that it was important that women have choice, so…

But you can see very clearly what’s happening — it’s so transparent — that a year before the presidential race, all of a sudden he’s got these new positions on these issues. But then he’s also said now that he was a lifetime hunter, having, I think, hunted once when he was a young boy and then a little while back, after practicing shooting a shotgun, I guess he went out with some Republican funders. That also is just absolutely untrue.

He needs to be himself. If Mitt Romney would be himself, true to himself, true to the people of this country, I think he would be a great president. But he has fallen for these handlers and flip-flopped on these issues and, I think, is misleading us in terms of his positions.

But the thing that I find incredibly frightening is that Mitt Romney — and this has stunned me — that he could stand up and say, number one, that he would support this war, that he would have gone about this much like President Bush has, that he supports torture and that he would double the size of Guantanamo. That, for me, is just so absolutely unconscionable. And I have tried to get him to meet with some retired generals and admirals. Human Rights First has been lining some of these people up to talk to the presidential candidates about what is happening, about what the heritage, history, has been, in the armed forces, how important it is even for the safety of our own servicemen and —women to abide by the Geneva Conventions or their equivalent under international law and also abide by our own domestic law in these areas. And to this point, he has refused to meet with them. And I just -— I do not understand that. And I think that it’s so frightening that it’s perceived by any presidential candidate that that is going to help them get elected, standing up for torture, saying that this is a good thing for the first time in our nation’s history as a matter of official policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Before he went through Salt Lake City on Saturday, Mitt Romney said, on Friday, when meeting with a convention of Montana Republicans, “I believe Guantanamo plays an important role in protecting our nation from violent, heinous terrorists. Guantanamo is a symbol of our resolve.” He went on to say, if he were elected, there will be a war waged on terrorists. He said, terrorist suspects need to be kept at Guantanamo so they don’t get safe harbor in the legal system. “Terrorists,” he said, “don’t get such constitutional rights.”

ROCKY ANDERSON: You know, to talk about safe harbor, the reason that we’ve had upwards of 70 percent of those at Guantanamo who are innocent of any wrongdoing — and those are the latest findings; look at the hundreds of people who have been released without any prosecution, any other legal action taken against them — a lot of these people were fingered by warlords. A lot of them were fingered because there were rewards available for people to identify terrorists or insurgents. They end up at Guantanamo, and then we find out that there was nothing to it, just like when we kidnapped citizens of Germany or Canada and sent them off to be tortured and then found out months later, after torturing them, after holding them without their families knowing where they were, that there was no wrongdoing. And they were set at loose. Maher Arar from Canada, El-Masri from Germany, who was picked up in Macedonia, both of them shipped off to torture camps and innocent. So how a president of the United States could say that there should be safe harbor from any legal protections, it is absolutely counter to our American traditions.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Mitt Romney is changing his mind on these issues?

ROCKY ANDERSON: Absolutely. This is not Mitt Romney. It you asked Mitt Romney, sat down and got the real Mitt Romney, first of all, he would say we never should have been in Iraq. Never would Mitt Romney and his wife — and they’re a team, believe me — they would never support the concept of kidnapping and torturing human beings. They have always stood up for human rights, fundamental human rights. So this is an enormous clash of values. And I think that he’s just trying to sound tough in the face of terror. And I guess that sells to the right-wing Christian Coalition, as does his newfound opposition to free choice, his opposition to stem cell research. This is not the Mitt Romney I knew, and it really saddens me.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Mayor Rocky Anderson, for joining us, the mayor of Salt Lake City. He’ll be speaking tonight at the New York Ethical Culture Society.

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