Vermont Legislature Says Bring Them Home Now!
By James Marc Leas, International Committee Member
The Vermont Senate and House both passed resolutions “urging the President and Congress to commence immediately the orderly withdrawal of American military forces from Iraq.”
The resolutions also both urge Vermont “Governor [James] Douglas to enlist the support of other members of the National Governors Association to speak out against the war in Iraq and the announced troop surge and to support a withdrawal from Iraq of American troops.”
Vermont is the first state to pass a resolution calling for troops to come home from Iraq.
Representative Mike Fisher, the lead sponsor of the resolution, told Democracy Now, “sometimes states have to step up and lead when Congress is not doing enough. And this was a time when Vermonters were able to speak up and say clearly that it was time to take some real leadership to end this war.”
The Vermont Senate resolution was sponsored by 18 of the 30 members and passed with a vote of 25 to 4 without any amendment. The Vermont House resolution was sponsored by 72 of the 150 members, and as amended, passed with a vote of 95 to 52. The resolutions gained the support of the leadership of both houses.
While both resolutions oppose the escalation of troop levels in Iraq, the Vermont Senate version states that “this legislative body believes that an escalation of American troops in Iraq is exactly the wrong foreign policy direction, and that the presence of American troops in Iraq has not, and will not, contribute to the stability of that nation, the region, or the security of Americans at home or abroad.”
Both resolutions call on “the Administration and Congress to fund fully all veterans’ benefits to care appropriately for our brave men and women when they return from this war.”
Both resolutions note that “Vermont has had the highest number of soldiers per capita who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives in this war.” The resolutions also point out that “the cost of this war according to the Congressional Research Service is at least $379 billion,” that “Vermont’s share of the cost exceeds $750 million,” and “these costs will have a significant impact on Vermont households and the Vermont state budget process for years to come.”
The non-binding resolutions adopted by the Vermont House and Senate do not need to be reconciled with each other or go to the governor for signature.
The resolutions were introduced following citizen organizing and passage of antiwar Town Meeting proposals during the past several years. For example, a referendum question on the ballot in the City of Burlington in 2005 that called for “bringing the troops home from Iraq now” passed with a vote of 65.2% of the electorate. Fifty other Vermont towns passed antiwar resolutions at Town Meeting that same year.
A series of speak outs, marches, and rallies at the State House in Montpelier and in towns throughout Vermont led to introduction of a resolution last year in the Vermont House, but that resolution never made it out of committee. This year leaders of the Vermont legislature were persuaded that the time had come for Vermont to speak out. Factors included the decisive election last November that removed Republicans from control of the US Congress, largely over the war issue; a large demonstration at the Vermont State House on January 20; the massive demonstration in Washington, DC on January 27; successful petitioning to put a new antiwar resolution up for a vote in dozens of Vermont towns; the articulate statements by active duty soldiers and returning Vermont Iraq War veterans against the war, including the “Appeal for Redress;” and outrage among Vermonters that President Bush was responding to all this by escalating the war.
One example of the new antiwar resolution that will be voted at Town Meetings on March 7 states:
“Shall the voters of the town of Newfane advise the President, Congress and Vermont’s state and federal office holders that Newfane and its citizens strongly support the men and women serving in all branches of the United States Armed Forces in Iraq and believe that the best way to support them is to bring each and every one of them home now and take good care of them when they get home.”
Before the debate in the House began, three Vermont Iraq War veterans, former Army Sgt. Drew Cameron, Former Marine Cpl. Matt Howard, and former Army Sgt. Adrienne Kinne, all members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, and two members of the Vermont Military Families Speak Out, Nancy Brown and Nicole Conte, were seated in plush red chairs at the front of the chamber and introduced to the House. They received an extended standing ovation from the representatives.
During the debate in the House, Representative Sue Minter, from Waterbury, stated,
“I support this resolution because I support our troops. And the best way that we can support the Vermont men and women who have been deployed in Iraq is to bring them home from countries where they live every day at great risk of being killed or wounded by people who consider them unwanted occupiers, not liberators, as they were promised. We must not stand by silently while more of Vermont’s finest sons and daughters and their families are asked to sacrifice for a war that has no clear end. This resolution sends a simple message to Vermonters in uniform: Thank you. You have done enough. It is time to come home to Vermont. And we will take care of you. Our General Assembly has supported our men and women in uniform, and this Resolution is no exception.”
Former Marine Cpl. Matthew Howard’s Statement
Former Marine Cpl. Matthew Howard served two combat tours in Iraq, deploying with the 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division. He served four years in the United States Marine Corps. In a statement distributed to House and Senate sponsors of the resolution before the debate he explained his opposition to the war:
Sometimes it’s the post traumatic stress — the anxiety, the fear, the isolation. Sometimes it’s the false pretenses. Sometimes it’s the mass civilian casualties. Sometimes it’s the corporate profiteers. Sometimes it’s the faulty equipment and faulty planning or the lack of equipment and lack of planning.
The people of Iraq are suffering horrors hard to conceive on a daily basis because we are there. And yet their only crime is that they were also victims of previous horrors under a different regime. The people fighting us are fighting for their freedom–to be free from foreign military occupation. While I despise their violence, unfortunately I can understand it.
Conditions are exponentially worse than when I invaded their country four years ago. I saw this on my second tour of duty and continue to hear it from my brothers in arms today. Hospitals are morgues, schools are landfills, streets are sewers. We have overwhelmingly proven that we are not there to help these people. Unemployment is hovering at 70% yet we import Pakistanis to run our chow halls. The country is in shambles and KBR gets no bid contracts with no quantifiable progress.
I swore to uphold and defend the constitution. Instead I disgraced it. I urge you all to honor the veterans placing themselves in death’s cross hairs and support this legislation calling for immediate withdrawal. Don’t be fooled by those saying you must support the troops. I never received support from this government. Never. I can write a book about the things we didn’t get issued, the things we were forced to pay for, the pointless missions we were told to execute. Withdrawal is what we as veterans want, it is what the people of this country want, and it is what the Iraqis want. You can’t win a crime, you can only stop it. Please join myself and Iraq Veterans Against the War in finding the courage to put a stop to this war now.
Former Army Sgt. Adrienne Kinne’s Statement
Former Army Sgt. Adrienne Kinne served in the Army from 1994 to 2004 as an Arabic linguist in military intelligence, with a total of six years on active duty. She distributed the following statement to her Vermont state representatives and senators:
During the period leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I was disturbed by the administration’ s recklessness, its misrepresentation of the facts, and manipulation of the events of 9/11. At the time, I felt powerless to do anything about the wrongs that were being perpetrated by those in charge. In the years subsequent to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that feeling of powerlessness followed me. The only reprieve that I experienced from that feeling came following the election of 2006 when it became clear that the American public had finally spoken. At that time, just a few short months ago, I thought to myself, finally, things are going to change. Unfortunately, that hopeful feeling was not to last.
When the administration announced that additional troops were going to be sent to Iraq, I not only felt powerless, but angry. I firmly believe that whatever grip on reality the administration may have once had, it is now all but gone. The reality is that the U.S. military’s continued presence in Iraq is clearly making the situation on the ground there more dangerous. We are fueling the fire of anti-American sentiment in the hearts of many, thereby easing the job of terrorist organizations in their quest for new volunteers — a fact that seems contrary to the goals of a “war on terror.” We are also making it more difficult for those Iraqis who want to bring stability to their country to serve without fear of reprisals by those who would see them as American collaborators. The time has come for the United States to end its occupation of Iraq, thereby allowing Iraqis the opportunity to forge their own path. Only Iraqis can decide what is best for Iraq.
As a Veteran, I know that our military is all-volunteer. I know that the men and women of our Armed Forces took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, to bear true faith and allegiance to the same, to obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over them. I believe in the spirit of that oath; however, I also believe that the time has come for us to support and defend our brave men and women by bringing them home now.
I say this to you as a veteran who continues to support her fellow veterans and wishes them all a safe return. I say this to you as the big sister of a Reservist who is afraid that her little brother could be called to Iraq any day. I say this to you as the friend of a fellow woman veteran, who is also a two-time breast cancer survivor and mother of two, and whose husband will be deploying to Iraq in the coming weeks.
I say this to you as someone who has worked with veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom have suffered traumatic brain injuries and/or suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. As someone who has worked in the Veterans Health Administration, I can tell you that the resources are not there to provide our veterans the quality health care and mental health care that they have earned and deserve. On that subject, I urge you all to ensure that Veterans hospitals receive the funding they need to get the job done.
And, finally, I say this to you as a human being who thinks that we are all morally obligated to do whatever is in our power to bring our troops home now and out of harms way.
Marine Sgt. Liam Madden’s Statement
The following statement from former Marine Sgt. Liam Madden, a veteran of the war in Iraq who finished his Marine service last month was distributed by his representative to members of the Vermont House and Senate:
I admire and support the Vermont State Legislature for setting a precedent for other legislatures to follow in calling for an end to an illegal and unjust war. Once again Vermonters are proving their independence and commitment to a more just and peaceful world.
American service members pledged an oath to support and defend the constitution of the United States from all enemies foreign and domestic. Your actions make that oath meaningful and give us something to defend.
We volunteer to serve our nation’s best interest, not to throw our lives away for a lie. If your call for an immediate withdrawal of American forces from Iraq can save one more mother one more tear then you have done more to support our men and women in the United States military than any other governmental body in the nation.
James Marc Leas is a member of the National Lawyers Guild and helped lead the effort to get a resolution introduced to the Vermont legislature.