Veterans for Common Sense Press Statement 1/15/2003

January 15, 2003

National Press Club, Washington, DC

Contact: Erik Gustafson

Families of Current Service Members and Gulf War Veterans Question U.S. Military Build-Up in the Gulf

I. OPENING STATEMENT by Erik Gustafson

Good Morning. My name is Erik Gustafson. I serve on the Board of Directors of Veterans for Common Sense. I served in the 1991 Gulf War as a Specialist with the Army’s 864th Engineer Battalion.

Our press conference today marks the first time families with deployed service members and Gulf War veterans are joining forces to raise legitimate questions about our administration’s headlong rush to war.

Twelve years ago, on January 17, 1991, hundreds of U.S. planes began bombing Iraq. Nearly 700,000 U.S. troops participated in the Gulf War and the liberation of Kuwait.

In 2003, the U.S. may deploy up to 350,000 soldiers to the Persian Gulf region (ABC News 1/13/03). The Bush administration appears to be preparing to launch a first-strike attack against Iraq and start a major U.S. war in this volatile region.

But there are sharp differences between 1991 and 2003.

In 1991, Iraq had invaded Kuwait. The United Nations spoke clearly, with several detailed resolutions: Iraq must withdraw from Kuwait or face the consequences, including military action.

In 1991, the U.S. had more than 30 allies.

In contrast, in 2003 the U.S. has only one ally – the United Kingdom – which appears to be backing out.

In 1991, the U.S. had the support of the United Nations.

In contrast, in 2003 the United Nations has not given backing to a first-strike attack on Iraq.

In fact, like Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, such action will be in breach of the UN Charter and the very principles the United Nations was founded upon.

As a result of these sharp and significant differences, Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) and Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) join forces to highlight critical questions the Bush administration has failed to address regarding Iraq.

Veterans for Common Sense and Military Families Speak Out are new organizations.

Veterans for Common Sense was organized in August 2002 by and for Gulf War veterans to bring common sense to the debate about Iraq. VCS exposes unanswered questions from the 1991 Gulf War as well unanswered questions about the new war looming on the horizon.

Military Families Speak Out was formed last year by family members of service men and women deployed and about to be deployed to fight another Gulf War. MFSO opposes a unilateral U.S. attack against Iraq; it calls on the U.S. administration to work with the United Nations and our allies.

More information about our two organizations can be found at our web sites. The VCS website is frequently updated with critical information often not reported in the U.S., but widely reported overseas.

Speakers at our joint press conference today include decorated Desert Storm combat veterans who know war and its consequences firsthand.

Also with us are family members of service men and women who recently deployed to the Persian Gulf. Their loved ones could be involved in combat any day.

Because of this, their sense of urgency in demanding answers is serious and significant.

Veterans for Common Sense and Military Families Speak Out ask President George W. Bush to reassure them and an increasingly alarmed public that his administration is not hell bent on a military conflict that does not have the support of our allies or the United Nations.

Hans Blix, the chief United Nations weapons inspector, says there is no “smoking gun.” Experts agree: Iraq isn’t a “clear and present danger.” As one United Nations inspector said, “If we were to publish a report now, we would have zilch to put in it” (LA Times 12/31/02).

Respected conservative military analyst Anthony Cordesman says, “It just isn’t true that war is inevitable, and it’s never been true throughout political and military history.”

Despite the lack of a threat, U.S. preparations for a second major war against Iraq continue. Those of us gathered here today strongly believe the President has failed to justify a U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Veterans for Common Sense and Military Families Speak Out believe war against Iraq is neither necessary nor inevitable.

Veterans and military families encourage the President to “win without war” by adhering to the United Nations process.

This is our message today. We are non-partisan. We are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. We are strongly patriotic. We are not hawks, nor are we doves. We believe in protecting democracy and American values.

Veterans for Common Sense and Military Families Speak Out join forces to ask the President to slow the reckless rush to war. We make ten key points.

Each of the speakers from Veterans for Common Sense and Military Families Speak Out will highlight and expand on one or more of these themes.

1) Veterans and military families believe the U.S. can win without war. Winning without war means a diplomatic solution, working with the UN and allies. Winning without war means war should be a last resort, not the first option.

* Veterans and military families ask: Why the rush to war Mr. President?

2) Veterans and military families want the President to follow the United Nations’ lead. Following the United Nations’ lead means not launching an unprovoked unilateral attack, invasion, and occupation that would further devastate Iraq. UN weapons inspectors, who are making significant progress, require months to complete their investigation.

* Veterans and military families ask: Mr. President, why are you not allowing inspections to work? Why is the U.S. ignoring the United Nations?

3) From the FBI to the CIA, there is no evidence of an operational link between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi regime. Experts warn, however, that a U.S. war on Iraq could reverse the progress we are making against terrorism. As Edward H. Hamm (a 6-figure donor to the Republican Party) put it in Monday’s Wall Street Journal: “a billion bitter enemies will rise out of this war.” Unforeseen consequences could impact the international standing and safety of the American people.

* Veterans and military families ask: Is the U.S. prepared to assume all of the risks and costs involved with invading and occupying Iraq – a nation of over 27 million – without the support of our allies?

4) Veterans and military families want the President to secure broad support from our allies. Broad support means more than just the support of one leader in one country – the United Kingdom. In 1991, more than 30 nations combined efforts. Now the U.S. appears to be going it alone, without the support of our allies.

* Veterans and military families ask: Why is the U.S. ignoring our allies?

5) Veterans and military families want the President to provide genuine evidence that Iraq poses a clear and immediate threat to the United States. To date, the President has not made a case for war.

* Veterans and military families ask: Mr. President, where’s the evidence against Iraq?

6) Veterans and military families understand the enormous risk of war. We take war very seriously. It is our loved ones and fellow veterans who would be risking injury and death in another Gulf War. Given the risks, both known and unknown, the U.S. could suffer casualties the U.S. has not seen since Vietnam.

* Veterans and family members ask: Mr. President, how many U.S. soldiers, Iraqi civilians and unwilling conscripts will be sacrificed in this war?

7) Yale University economist William D. Nordhaus estimates that a war with Iraq over the next decade could cost as much as $1.9 trillion. How will we pay for this war? To make matters worse, our economy is likely to take a $391 billion hit in the next two years. If federal dollars go toward war, what will happen to state and city governments in need. According to the National Governors Association, states are in the worst fiscal crisis since World War II.

* Veterans and family members ask: Mr. President, how badly will war harm our economy?

8) Veterans and military families want the best military equipment for our soldiers. According to the General Accounting Office and an Army audit, chemical protection suits, gas masks, and chemical detection alarms don’t work. Without adequate protection and detection equipment, another generation of veterans remains vulnerable to the illnesses and disabilities suffered by tens of thousands of Desert Storm veterans.

* Veterans and military families ask: Mr. President, why are U.S. soldiers still vulnerable?

9) Veterans and military families insist that when our soldiers return home from any conflict, regardless of the outcome, that they receive the best medical care possible. They earned it. President Abraham Lincoln said we must “Care for those who have borne the burden of battle, and their widows and orphans.” We know there are chemical weapons and depleted uranium on the battlefields today.

* Veterans and military families ask: Mr. President, is the Department of Veterans Affairs fully funded and prepared to handle heavy casualties from urban combat, casualties from chemical exposure, and casualties from radioactive depleted uranium?

10) Most important, war is not inevitable. We have not passed the point of no return. It is the President who would launch a unilateral first strike against Iraq.

* Veterans and military families ask: Mr. President, why the rush to war without all the facts, without the support of allies, and without the support of the United Nations?

Gulf War veterans and military families require answers now.

That concludes our joint comments. Please allow me to introduce our speakers today. Each will give a brief statement. Then we will take questions.

Again, my name is Erik Gustafson. I also serve as the executive director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center, a Washington-based human rights organization.

With me are Nancy Lessin and Charley Richardson, co-founders of Military Families Speak Out. Charley directs the Labor Extension Program at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. Nancy works for the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. Charley and Nancy’s son Joe is a Marine who already deployed to the Persian Gulf. Joe serves as an Arab language specialist.

Steve Robinson is executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center. Prior to retiring as a Sergeant First Class from the Army, Robinson worked with the Pentagon’s Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses. During the Gulf War, he served with the 1st/10th Special Forces in northern Iraq. Steve is an expert on issues related to Gulf War illnesses, including chemical warfare agents, the anthrax vaccine, and depleted uranium.

Jeffrey McKenzie is also a co-founder of Military Families Speak Out. His son, Army Captain Jeremy McKenzie, is currently being deployed to Kuwait. His daughter-in-law Nicole is in the National Guard.

And Charles Sheehan-Miles. Charles also serves on the Board of Directors of Veterans for Common Sense. Charles is a decorated Gulf War combat veteran. He served as a tank crewman with the Army’s 24th Infantry Division. He is the former president of the National Gulf War Resource Center, where he worked to secure healthcare and disability benefits for tens of thousands of Gulf War veterans.

Allow me to close by stating that today also marks the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King is an American hero. He was one of our first national leaders to promote nonviolent solutions to national conflicts, and to oppose the Vietnam War.

Please join us in a moment of silence for both Dr. King and all those killed, injured and suffering from the first Gulf War-Americans and Iraqis. Let us hope we have learned a lesson. Let us not repeat the mistakes of 1991.

Following the four speakers.

Also with us is Dr. Steve Cleghorn, whose stepson is a Major in the U.S. Army’s V (Fifth) Corps headquarters, presently deployed to Kuwait. Steve works on issues regarding homelessness here in Washington, DC.

James Ladrith is a with Veterans Against an Iraq War. He is a Marine veteran who served in the Gulf from December 1990 to May 1991 with the Second Force Service Support Group.

Briggs Seekins is with Maine Veterans for Peace. He served during Operation Desert Storm with the Third Armored Division.

Lt. Colonel Joe Mayer (Ret.) is a Vietnam Veteran who opposes President Bush’s intention to unilaterally begin a pre-emptive war against Iraq. Joe is an attorney in Washington, DC and currently runs a major trade association.

II. STATEMENT by Nancy Lessin

The day after Thanksgiving we wrapped and mailed presents so that our son Joe could have them in time for Christmas. Joe is 25 years old and a Marine. He is on a ship in the Persian Gulf, we believe, waiting, preparing to do battle.

We worry about him. We don’t want him to be wounded or die. We don’t want him to be forced to wound or kill innocent Iraqis. That would kill a part of him – and a part of us.

We are not pacifists. As Joe’s grandfather, a World War II veteran, said when talking about his own opposition to this war: “War is never a good thing, although sometimes it is necessary. This is not one of those times.”

Those who say war in Iraq is necessary, is defense of the U.S., is a blow against terrorism, need to look harder at the facts and think again. The cost will be high. Despite the talk of drones and smart bombs, there will be men, women and children dying.

If the United States engages in a unilateral war on Iraq (or a war with a few, arm-twisted allies), the Marines (including our son) will not be defending this country.

They tell us that this war is about making the world safe from terrorism. What we know is that if tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians are killed or injured, we will not be safer. If the U.S. leads the way into Iraq, we will be more, not less, of a target.

Some say that opposing this war is unpatriotic, and unsupportive of Joe and the others who are preparing for battle. But we know that the epithets “unpatriotic” and “unsupportive” are being used to silence the voices of protest.

We know that the most loving and supportive thing we can do for Joe is to keep writing him, sending him cookies and brownies, and fighting to stop this war from ever happening – to keep yet another generation from being put in harm’s way for the wrong reasons.

So we will continue to protest. And we will love Joe, hold him close in our hearts and anxiously await the day when we can hold him close in our arms.

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