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Profile: Cindy Sheehan
Cindy Sheehan was a participant or observer in the following events:
Spc. Casey Sheehan. [Source: Associated Press]Specialist Casey Sheehan, an Eagle Scout, church group leader, and honor student who enlisted in the Army in 2000, dies during an ambush in Sadr City, Baghdad. Sheehan had been in Iraq for only two weeks. His death will drive his mother, Cindy Sheehan, to become a noted peace activist (see August 6, 2005 and After). Specialist Sheehan and six other American soldiers die during a rescue mission in Sadr City. Sheehan and his compatriots are left to fend for themselves by their Iraqi cohorts, newly trained militiamen who flee when fighters for Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army attack their position. Sheehan’s death will become a powerful counterargument against claims by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush officials that “over 200,000 Iraqis… have been trained and equipped” and are “out on the front line taking the brunt of the violence.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will write that given the wildly inflated claims by Rumsfeld and others about the size and effectiveness of the Iraqi soldiers, and the increasing power wielded by al-Sadr, “[i]t is hard to see what Cindy Sheehan’s young son had died for.” [US Department of Defense, 4/7/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 193-194] Mrs. Sheehan, as part of a group of bereaved family members who suffered their own losses in Iraq, will meet with President Bush soon after her son’s death, and come away dissatisfied and angry. Recalling the meeting, she will say: “We wanted [the president] to look at pictures of Casey, we wanted him to hear stories about Casey, and he wouldn’t. He changed the subject every time we tried. He wouldn’t say Casey’s name, called him, ‘your loved one.’” [Los Angeles Times, 8/11/2005]
Camp Casey. [Source: Indybay (.org)]Antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, of Vacaville, California, sets up “Camp Casey” three miles outside of President Bush’s Crawford, Texas ranch. Bush has come to his ranch for his yearly August vacation; Sheehan has come to demand a meeting with Bush to discuss the loss of her son, Casey, in Iraq. Sheehan chooses the date to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the briefing that warned Bush of Osama bin Laden’s intention to attack the US (see August 6, 2001). Camp Casey begins as a single pup tent in a ditch by the side of a dirt road, in which Sheehan intends to stay for whatever time it takes to secure a meeting with Bush. Author and media critic Frank Rich later writes that because Bush is so firmly ensconsced in the protective “bubble” that shields him from awareness of criticism, he and his top officials are blindsided by the media response to Sheehan’s lonely vigil. Casey Sheehan, who died in April 2004 a mere two weeks after his arrival in Iraq (see April 4, 2004), will become, Rich will write, emblematic of both “the noble intentions of those who volunteered to fight the war [and] also the arrogance, incompetence, and recklessness of those who gave the marching orders.”
Bush Refuses to Meet with Sheehan - Bush will refuse to meet with Sheehan and the increasing number of peace activists who gather at Camp Casey, causing him inordinate embarrassment (see August 12, 2005) as more and more reporters begin questioning his motives in refusing to meet with the bereaved mother of a fallen US soldier. Bush even ignores the advice of some of his public relations staffers and fellow Republicans, who ask him to reconsider, as Senator George Allen (R-VA) says, “as a matter of courtesy and decency.” Rich will write: “Only someone as adrift as Bush would need to be told that a vacationing president couldn’t win a standoff with a grief-stricken parent commandeering TV cameras and the blogosphere 24/7. But the White House held firm. In a particularly unfortunate gesture, the presidential motorcade, in a rare foray out of the vacation compound, left Sheehan in the dust on its way to a fundraiser at a fat cat’s ranch nearby” (see August 12, 2005). [Rich, 2006, pp. 193-196] Political analyst Charlie Cook says: “Anything that focuses media and public attention on Iraq war casualties day after day—particularly [something] that is a good visual for television, like a weeping Gold Star mother—is a really bad thing for President Bush and his administration.… Americans get a little numb by the numbers of war casualties, but when faces, names, and families are added, it has a much greater effect.” Republican strategist Kellyanne Conway agrees, saying: “Cindy Sheehan has tapped into a latent but fervent feeling among some in this country who would prefer that we not engage our troops in Iraq. She can tap into what has been an astonishingly silent minority since the end of last year’s presidential contest. It will capture attention.” University professor Stephen Hess says that Sheehan’s “movement… can be countered by a countermovement” and therefore negated, but “I think the president might have defused the situation if he had invited her in instantly.” Hess predicts that Sheehan will soon be targeted by Republican strategists in a counterattack (see August 11, 2005 and After).
Focus of Antiwar Movement - Camp Casey quickly becomes the focus of the American antiwar movement, with organizations such as MoveOn.org and Code Pink pitching in to help expand and coordinate the camp, and high-profile Democratic operatives such as Joe Trippi organizing support among left-wing bloggers. MoveOn’s Tom Mattzie says: “Cindy reached out to us.… Cindy is a morally pure voice on the war, so we’re trying to keep the focus on her and not jump in and turn it into a political fight.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/11/2005]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Cindy Sheehan, Charlie Cook, Casey Sheehan, Bush administration (43), “Camp Casey”, Code Pink, George F. Allen, MoveOn (.org), Stephen Hess, Frank Rich, Kellyanne Conway, Joe Trippi, Tom Mattzie
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin meet with antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan (see August 6, 2005 and After) for about 45 minutes. Sheehan, who has requested a meeting with President Bush during his vacation at his ranch in Texas, says she is not satisfied with the meeting with Hadley and Hagin. “I don’t believe his phony excuses for the war,” she says. “I want him to tell me why my son died (see April 4, 2004). If he gave the real answer, people in this country would be outraged—if he told people it was to make his buddies rich, that it was about oil.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/11/2005]
Right-wing commentators react to the sudden media presence of antiwar activist and bereaved mother Cindy Sheehan (see August 6, 2005 and After) with vitriolic criticism. (Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write of his belief that the anti-Sheehan campaign is orchestrated from the White House: “The attack was especially vicious because there was little the White House feared more than a critic who had more battle scars than a president or a vice president who had avoided Vietnam.”) Weekly Standard writer Fred Barnes tells Fox News viewers that Sheehan is a “crackpot.” Right-wing bloggers begin spreading lurid, and sometimes false, stories of her recent divorce and the opposition Sheehan receives from some of her family members. Because some of the Camp Casey protesters showed the recent Iraq documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), many right-wing commentators and pundits accuse Sheehan of being a tool of documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin accuses Sheehan and other bereaved family members opposing the war of using their losses to promote their ideological agenda, and calls them “grief pimps.” The American Spectator says Sheehan’s own peace organization, Gold Star Families for Peace, “seeks to impeach George W. Bush and apparently to convince the US government to surrender to Muslim terrorists.” Talk-show host Rush Limbaugh makes the extraordinary claim that Sheehan is making up the entire story of her son’s death (see April 4, 2004), claiming that her loss “is nothing more than forged documents—there’s nothing about it that’s real.” Rich later notes that what he calls “the Swift Boating of Cindy Sheehan” has “failed, utterly.” He will continue: “The hope this time was that we’d change the subject to Cindy Sheehan’s ‘wacko’ rhetoric and the opportunistic left-wing groups that have attached themselves to her like barnacles. That way we would forget about her dead son. But if much of the 24/7 media has taken the bait, much of the public has not.… The public knows that what matters this time is Casey Sheehan’s story, not the mother who symbolizes it.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/11/2005; Washington Post, 8/13/2005; New York Times, 8/21/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 194-195]
The Bush motorcade drives past Camp Casey; Texas police officers stand between the motorcade and the camp. [Source: American Patriot Friends Network]President Bush and his motorcade drive past the growing camp of war protesters and peace activists nicknamed “Camp Casey” (see August 6, 2005 and After) without stopping, leaving the gathered protesters and bereaved family members literally in the dust. Bush is on his way to a fundraising barbecue expected to raise at least $2 million for the Republican National Committee. Camp founder Cindy Sheehan holds a sign that reads, “Why do you make time for donors and not for me?” The Associated Press reports, “It was unclear whether Bush, riding in a black Suburban with tinted windows, saw the demonstrators.” Bush has continued to refuse to meet with Sheehan and the others in Camp Casey, a makeshift camp three miles outside of his Crawford, Texas vacation ranch. The camp is attracting war protesters, peace activists, and bereaved family members who have lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. [Associated Press, 8/12/2005] The New York Times notes that in less than a week, Camp Casey has grown from one woman’s lonely vigil to a gathering of well over 100 protesters and family members, with visits from celebrities such as actor Viggo Mortensen and a full-time police presence. War supporters have blasted Sheehan and her companions, calling her everything from a traitor to a terrorist supporter, and arguing that the death of her son does not give her the right to criticize the war effort. Local supporters of Bush have suggested, among other things, that they unleash a gaggle of skunks on the camp to drive the protesters away; some have pretended to drive their pickup trucks into the crowds, and splashed protesters with mud as they revved their engines. [New York Times, 8/13/2005] Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that the images of Bush’s motorcade ignoring Sheehan and the other protesters become embarrassing fodder for media comment and criticism. [Rich, 2006, pp. 194] The Times writes, “[Bush’s] five-week sojourn at his 1,600-acre ranch offers the protesters ample opportunity to camp out for extended periods in front of the national media at a time of sharp spikes in the casualties in Iraq, and as public polling data suggests the lowest support for the war since it began.” In a recent television ad paid for by her peace organization Gold Star Families for Peace, Sheehan said: “All I wanted was an hour out of his extended vacation time, but he’s refused to meet with me and the other military families. We just want honest answers.” [New York Times, 8/13/2005]
Tammy Pruett weeps while watching Bush’s presentation. [Source: Jim Watson / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]The White House presents Tammy Pruett, whose four sons are serving in Iraq, as a counter to antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son Casey in Iraq (see August 6, 2005 and After). Unlike Sheehan, Pruett and her family staunchly support the war; also unlike Sheehan, Pruett has not lost any of her sons. Apparently the White House found Pruett after learning of her family’s appearance on CNN in June 2004, where she defended the war effort, and contacted the family a week before the event. “An obviously delighted President Bush,” who has repeatedly refused to meet with Sheehan (see August 12, 2005), flies to Idaho to introduce Pruett to what the Washington Post calls “a boisterous invitation-only audience mostly made up of military families.” Bush tells the audience: “There are few things in life more difficult than seeing a loved one go off to war. And here in Idaho, a mom named Tammy Pruett—I think she’s here—knows that feeling six times over. Tammy has four sons serving in Iraq right now with the Idaho National Guard—Eric, Evan, Greg, and Jeff. Last year, her husband Leon and another son, Eren, returned from Iraq, where they helped train Iraqi firefighters in Mosul. Tammy says this—and I want you to hear this—‘I know that if something happens to one of the boys, they would leave this world doing what they believe, what they think is right for our country. And I guess you couldn’t ask for a better way of life than giving it for something that you believe in.’ America lives in freedom because of families like the Pruetts.” Bush kisses Pruett on the cheek after the speech, then sends her out to talk to the press. [Washington Post, 8/25/2005]
Pruetts Offer Condolences to Sheehan, Other Bereaved Families - But the Pruetts are not willing to merely serve as props for the White House’s pro-war agenda. Both Leon and Tammy Pruett are quick to offer tearful condolences to families who have lost loved ones overseas, specifically naming Sheehan. Tammy says while her family supports the war, they do not want to be seen as criticizing those who oppose it. “We don’t feel like we’re out here trying to be a poster family, we’re just proud of our sons,” she says. [MSNBC, 8/24/2005]
Careful Staging - The Post notes that the Pruett speech is viewed by White House planners “as a crucial opportunity for Bush to show both compassion and resolve when his conduct of the war is increasingly being publicly questioned, and polls of public support are flirting with Vietnam War-era depths.” The speech and presentation are carefully crafted, with a drum corps playing the themes of each of the five branches of service, and Bush placed before a group of soldiers dressed in fatigues and arrayed in front of a huge red, white, and blue backdrop festooned with photographs of soldiers, police officers, firefighters, and rescue workers beneath the heading “Honoring America’s Soldiers.” The entire event, Knight Ridder reporter William Douglas writes, is designed to “creat[e] a visual link between the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq.” [MSNBC, 8/24/2005; Washington Post, 8/25/2005]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Cindy Sheehan, Casey Sheehan, Bush administration (43), Eren Pruett, Evan Pruett, Leon Pruett, Tammy Pruett, Idaho National Guard, William Douglas, Greg Pruett, Jeff Pruett, Eric Pruett
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
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