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Why Casey Sheehan was killed

By Aaron Glantz
August 25, 2005

DENVER - Despite camping out next to George W Bush's Texas ranch for two weeks, Cindy Sheehan has been unable to get a meeting with the president for an explanation of why her 24-year-old son had to die in action. So, here is some of the story from one who was there.

Like Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, I was in Baghdad's Sadr City on April 4, 2004. I was there as an unembedded journalist (not attached to a military unit). Unlike Casey Sheehan, I came out alive.

I had traveled to Sadr City to cover the Bush administration's attack on the movement of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. It didn't matter that the cleric had millions of followers or that he was the scion of an important political family with a history of standing up to tyranny. (His father was killed by Saddam Hussein's regime for fomenting revolution in 1999. His uncle, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr, was killed for leading an insurrection against Saddam's Ba'ath rule in 1980.)

It didn't matter that Sadr's forces were providing food aid to the poor or organizing traffic patrol and garbage duty in an atmosphere with no basic services. The problem for Bush and his Iraq administrator, L Paul Bremer, was that Sadr was against the US occupation. So he had to be dealt with. First his newspaper was closed. (See The Shi'ite voice that will be heard, Asia Times Online, April 8, 2004) Then his top advisor was arrested. Then Bremer announced an unnamed judge was demanding that Sadr be arrested on charges of murder. "He's effectively attempting to establish his authority in place of the legitimate Iraqi government," Bremer told reporters. "We will not tolerate that."

That was the last straw. Until April 4, 2004 Muqtada had urged his followers to protest peacefully against the occupation. But the US assault led him to urge his followers to "terrorize the enemy". In the first 48 hours of fighting, Sadr's followers seized police stations and government buildings across the country, including the governor's office in Basra.

At least 75 Iraqis and 10 US servicemen were killed, among them Army Specialist Casey Sheehan. As an unembedded journalist, I saw only the Iraqi casualties (the US casualties being taken away to military hospitals). My translator Waseem and I weaved through roads closed by US tanks until we arrived at Sadr City's al-Ubaidi Hospital.

There, I interviewed 15-year-old Ali Hussein. He lay in the hospital, a US bullet lodged in his gut. He was barely able to lift his head, but he wanted to say a few words to the Western reporter: "I was standing in my doorway and I was shot," he said. "I don't have anything to say to the Americans. It's just between them and God."

A few miles away at Baghdad's Mustansuriye University, hundreds of students marched through the center of campus. They chanted, "The dead want a brave people so we won't follow the law of Bremer."

"We will act according to the situation that we face," said Wassam Mehdi Hussein, head of the Islamic Union of Iraqi Students, standing by Muqtada's declaration of jihad against the occupation. "We will use any means peaceful and violent."

Another Mustansuriye student, Ali Mohammed, noted the violence started when the US military closed Sadr's newspaper and arrested his top advisor. "We don't want to fight the Americans," he told me. "We are very grateful to them. They are very dear to us because they released us from Saddam. But at the same time we want them to do something for humanity.

"A lot of people are suffering from hunger and sitting at home having no work. These things make the situation bad and then we turn to explosions. We want to respect them and we want them to respect us."

A year on, such respect still isn't forthcoming - even to US citizens like Cindy Sheehan, who deserve to know the truth of why their sons have been killed in Iraq. It isn't for lack of trying that Sheehan isn't getting answers from Bush.

She has stubbornly maintained her vigil outside Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, demanding a meeting with the president. Since no weapons of mass destruction - which Bush used as grounds to go into Iraq - have been found there, she thinks Bush owes her an explanation.

Her protest has become a lightning rod for antiwar sentiment, with more than 1,000 vigils organized across the US this week in support of her demand.

Bush has largely ignored Sheehan's protest.

When asked last week about Sheehan's demand for a meeting, Bush refused to answer directly: "And so, you know, listen, I sympathize with Mrs Sheehan. She feels strongly about her - about her position. And I am - she has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America."

Meanwhile, Associated Press reported that Bush was to spend two hours on Wednesday with families of soldiers killed in Iraq, but the meeting wasn't to include Cindy Sheehan. Bush said Tuesday he understood her anguish, but he also challenged her, saying the California woman's demands for an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq was not embraced by many military families and represented a view contrary to the national interest, AP reported.

IPS reporter Aaron Glantz is author of the book How America Lost Iraq (Tarcher/Penguin).

(Inter Press Service)

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