Actions in Iraq criticized

Most participants at Juneau forum say politicians to blame

Posted: Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Calls for the president's impeachment drew applause in the crowd of about 200 Tuesday night at Centennial Hall, and Alaska's junior U.S. senator heard almost no support for the war in Iraq.

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Before she left, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she would take much of what she heard back to Washington, D.C.

"I appreciate there is a recognition that there is no easy solution," she said, noting there were some views at the "Juneau Speaks on Iraq" forum with which she may disagree.

"I'm not going to sign on to impeaching (President) Bush and (Vice President Dick) Cheney," she said.

A couple of the more than 30 people who addressed Murkowski said they hold her, along with other members of Congress, personally responsible for the war, which they said has ruined America's standing throughout the world. Nearly all demanded she oppose it.

Only one audience member spoke in support of America's policies on Iraq.

Murkowski pointed out the previous day she attended Memorial Day services on the Kenai Peninsula.

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"This forum was no less patriotic than what we had yesterday," she said.

Alaska Supreme Court Justice Walter "Bud" Carpeneti, moderating the event, told speakers the issue wouldn't be how America got into the war, but where the country should go from here.

At the outset, Murkowski cited successes in bringing democracy to Iraq, which has put an elected representative government in place - a success some speakers would question during the next two hours.

In welcoming the audience, Mayor Bruce Botelho said the forum originally had sought to have a local veteran of the war to speak, but organizers couldn't get permission from the Alaska Department of Military Affairs.

Late in the forum, David Summers, owner of Alaska Knifeworks in downtown Juneau, said he has gone back into the Alaska National Guard for the opportunity to serve in Iraq.

"I'm not here to be an advocate of war," he said. But he said he trusts the good decisions of the government to do what's best for the people of Iraq.

Others weren't shy about questioning the government's decisions.

"The president is shattering democracy in the name of the war on terror," said Margo Waring, a Juneau School Board member, whose grievances included the new "doctrine of pre-emptive war."

"Why are we in a war of occupation?" asked attorney Doug Mertz. American troops occupied Europe after World War II, but none were killed in combat after the war, he said.

"Saddam Hussein was a war criminal and his administration was despotic," said Steve Reese. "But our own despotic regime is still in place, and our own war criminals are still at large. ... We need to be brave enough to control our own government."

"We must impeach President Cheney and Vice President Bush for consistently lying to us," Lisle Hebert said, drawing spontaneous applause as the first to bring up impeachment, as well as his reversal of roles for George Bush and Dick Cheney.

Sean Dougherty followed with another call to impeach America's leaders. "No flag is big enough to cover my shame for what we have done to Iraq," he said.

"I think it was a mistake going into Iraq and we should get out as soon as possible," said Mike Turek, a Vietnam War-era veteran.

Catholic Bishop Michael Warfel spoke of the "ethics of exit," a theme with which Murkowski later said she agreed. Warfel said leaving Iraq too soon could cause serious problems in the region.

"We all share a desire to bring our troops home safely and as soon as possible," Murkowski told the audience. She said that last week at a joint session of Congress, the Israeli prime minister said peace and security must go hand in hand.

"Every leader thinks history will vindicate him," said University of Alaska Southeast history professor David Noon, who addressed the audience before and after public comment along with Murkowski.

He said he wasn't drawing comparisons between the war in Iraq and Vietnam, but noted that Alaska's Ernest Gruening said history would vindicate him as one of two U.S. senators to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing the military action in Vietnam, as well as future incursions into Cambodia and Laos.

Noon also said he didn't have any answers for the current dilemma.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at

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