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As RNC Opens, Iraq Veterans Against the War March in St. Paul

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We return to the streets of St. Paul, where more than one hundred members of Iraq Veterans Against the War held a rally on Monday. The antiwar vets marched to the site of the Republican National Convention. Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films filed this report. [includes rush transcript]

AMY GOODMAN: We return to the streets of St. Paul, where more than a hundred members of Iraq Veterans Against the War held a rally on Monday. The antiwar vets marched to the site of the Republican National Convention. Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise Films files this report.

    JACQUIE SOOHEN: Demonstrations at the Republican National Convention began early Monday morning, as a formation of sixty Iraq and Afghanistan veterans marched from the Minnesota State Capitol to the Xcel Center to deliver a briefing on veterans’ issues to Senator McCain. Matthis Chiroux, who earlier this year refused to deploy to Iraq, explained the reasons for the march.

    MATTHIS CHIROUX: Today, Iraq Veterans Against the War is marching on the Republican National Convention to apply pressure to the McCain campaign to include veterans’ issues in their election platform. While John McCain is a veteran, he has a history of not supporting the troops as he should, for example, voting — or refusing to vote for expanding our educational benefits, and also making public his intention to keep us in this unlawful occupation of Iraq for a hundred years, if necessary. This is unacceptable to Iraq Veterans Against the War. This is unacceptable to the service members on the front line. This is unacceptable for the American people.

    JACQUIE SOOHEN: Iraq Veterans Against the War, or IVAW, has three demands: the immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces in Iraq; reparations for the people for Iraq; and full benefits, including adequate healthcare, for returning servicemen and -women.

    GARRETT REPPENHAGEN: Many veterans behind me today, many of them have decided to even risk arrest to deliver this proposal to John McCain and to bring these important critical issues to the forefront. We hope that the world is watching. We hope that America is watching the returning war veterans continue to sacrifice and serve their country. Thank you.

    JACQUIE SOOHEN: IVAW member Wes Davey led the march and attempted to deliver the briefing to Senator McCain’s staff. First Sergeant Davey served twenty-eight years in the Army, including a tour in Iraq in 2003. His oldest child has served two tours in Iraq. Eventually, Davey and the veterans were turned away from the Xcel Center by McCain’s campaign. IVAW member Garrett Reppenhagen.

    GARRETT REPPENHAGEN: Our Minnesota-Minneapolis chapter president, Wes Davey, who was a first sergeant in Iraq, was let into the Xcel Center area. And then, even after being let in by the security there, he was refused to — they refused to talk to him once he was inside. So, it’s just a shame that, you know, John McCain has turned his back on veterans. Despite being a POW and a veteran himself, he’s MIA when it comes to veteran issues.

    JACQUIE SOOHEN: Despite being turned away, the veterans considered the action a success.

    IVAW MEMBER: Let this be viewed as an establishment of IVAW’s contact with the Republicans. This is a unilateral movement to take care of veterans. It is not a political issue. It is not a political stance. We are putting pressure on both parties, who are both responsible to provide proper healthcare and legal assistance to all members of the military and all veterans.

    KELLY DOUGHERTY: My name’s Kelly Dougherty. I’m the executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Our message is getting out to the public, it’s getting out to other veterans, that Iraq Veterans Against the War has your back, has the back of our brothers and sisters in the military and our returning veterans, and political campaigns, political candidates, they don’t have the backs of the soldiers and the veterans. And it’s really out to us to look out for each other and to advocate for one another, and we intend to continue to demand response, demand that these issues are taken — that action is taken on these issues. There are debates coming up. Iraq Veterans Against the War plans on having a presence at those debates to make sure that issues of the ongoing occupation of Iraq and the serious crisis in veterans’ healthcare are addressed by both of the candidates.

    When you look at a candidate like McCain, his actions speak volumes over his words. So as much as he says he supports the troops, he still primarily consistently votes against issues that will help veterans, that will provide for an increase in care, an increase in benefits to go back to school. And so, his actions are saying, “Look, I just want to use and manipulate the veterans to support my political campaign, but yet when it comes to taking care of them, I’m not ready to do that.”

    JACQUIE SOOHEN: As the march ended and veterans gathered back on the Capitol steps, some overwhelmed with emotion, we were reminded once again that behind each of these men and women in uniform is a powerful story. Former Abu Ghraib prison guard, Benjamin Thompson, shared his story with Democracy Now!

    BENJAMIN THOMPSON: One of my prisoners at Abu Ghraib, a place where you saw all those photographs come out — you didn’t know the half of it. Most of our people didn’t live in those cell blocks. Most of the people lived outdoors. They’re killed by enemy insurgents, in our camps. This prisoner — this means God hopes for peace.

    We had ten-year-old boys in my camps. We had an eighty-year-old blind man in my camp. They were killed by enemy fire, because we did not protect them when they were in our custody. They were not worth protecting. The generals that came to my base came with three helicopters apiece. And when they left, they took them with them.

    We were giving them food that made them sick. We were giving them water that gave them kidney stones. We weren’t supplying them with medical attention. They were dying from lack of heart medication that they had been on for twenty years. You never heard about this, ever, because of the [expletive] photographs. The Department of Defense focused all of the attention upon those atrocious acts committed by war criminals, my brother and sister military policemen. And then everything else that happened at that prison, to the other 95 percent of those prisoners, went unreported in the media. This is not OK.

    JACQUIE SOOHEN: For Democracy Now!, this is Jacquie Soohen and Richard Rowley in St. Paul.

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