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As King said, we can't just look away



Did you see President Bush Sunday on 60 Minutes re: Saddam's hanging? Asked if he'd seen the video, Bush said yeah, part of it, but then—and he literally turned up his nose at this point—he said he quit watching before the body fell and the neck snapped. What, he's squeamish? This veteran of 152 executions during the six years he was governor of Texas? Who also says, in almost the same breath, that he's got a thick hide when it comes to fighting wars?

But of course, Bush didn't have to watch them die in Texas, either. It occurred to me, if he had, maybe he wouldn't like killing quite so much. (To say nothing of the fact that he sat out the Vietnam War as an occasional trainee of the Texas Air National Guard.)

And now, in North Carolina, the only thing that stands between three convicted murderers and their scheduled executions over the next three weeks is Gov. Mike Easley, who doesn't have to watch either. Easley has the power to commute a death sentence to life in prison without hope of parole, but he's exercised it just twice in his six years, while sending 27 men to their graves from long-range.

At a minimum, somebody should videotape our executions so the interested public—including Easley, if he's interested—can view them for what they are, the same as the Iraqis did. As it stands now, the only public official who has to be in the death chamber—at 2 in the morning, when all else is silent—is the Central Prison warden.

Speaking of Bush, he keeps talking about our "war" in Iraq and "the enemy" we're fighting. Which enemy is that again? We ousted Saddam, and dismissed his Sunni-dominated army, and we got the predictable (and widely predicted) result, which is a Shiite-dominated government, propped up by our military. Now pissed-off Shiite militias are exacting their revenge on the Sunnis—hanging or decapitating them when they can—and the Sunnis are fighting back, aided by the fact that any government we're supporting in our continuing occupation of their country is by definition illegitimate.

Critics of the idea that we need to get our troops out now predict that there will be a bloodbath if we do. But there's a bloodbath now, and it will continue until some government, dictator or bunch of thugs takes power and beats down the opposition. It's likely to be Shiite thugs this time. But nobody and nothing can take charge while we're still there.

Or do you still think Bush's fantasy of a "democratic" Iraq is possible?

We're not fighting a war in Iraq. We're occupying a country illegally, and we're standing in the way of a decision in the civil war raging all around us. In the way, and in the middle, searching for an enemy that is all around us.

John Edwards, our former senator running again for president, got it right Monday when he spoke at New York's Riverside Church in Harlem. Forty years earlier, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. used Riverside's pulpit to speak out against the Vietnam War. Now Edwards, on King's birthday, denounced the Iraq occupation and Bush's plan to keep it going with 20,000 more troops. But mainly—and like King—he attacked those of us who remain silent while the tragedy continues.

"Silence is betrayal," Edwards said, quoting King. "Speak out. Tell your elected leaders to block this misguided plan that is destined to cost more lives and further damage America's ability to lead."

And to Congress, he said: "[If] you know this war is going in the wrong direction, it is no longer enough to study your option and keep your own counsel."

This message, clearly, was for Sen. Hillary Clinton, would-be president.

Closer to home, the NAACP's state chapter is calling all North Carolina progressives to the General Assembly in Raleigh on Saturday, Feb. 10 for an event it's dubbed "HK on J"—"Hundreds of Thousands on Jones Street." The NAACP's been a sleeping giant for years, says Rob Schofield of N.C. Policy Watch, but he adds, "Things have changed dramatically under the energetic leadership of the [chapter's] new president, the Rev. William Barber of Goldsboro."

Barber, backed by a host of other progressive groups, has put out a 14-point agenda, the last one of which is: "Bring Troops Home from Iraq Now." The other 13 points have to do with economic justice for the poor, good schools and health care for all. And abolishing the death penalty.

However, the last point reads: "We cannot address injustice at home while we turn our heads from an unjust war abroad."

Not to mention the $400 billion and counting that it's cost American taxpayers so far, and the $2 trillion-plus it'll end up costing when all the wounded veterans' care is tolled. Plus 3,000 dead American troops, and how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead?

Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican, called it the worst foreign-policy mistake since Vietnam.

Made by a president who skips out when there's bloodshed—then, and now.

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