"Bush lied, my son died"

In excruciating new TV ads, family members of soldiers killed in Iraq speak out about the horrible waste of their loved ones' lives.

By Michelle Goldberg
Published October 1, 2004 12:50AM (EDT)

In a TV commercial released Wednesday, Cindy Sheehan, a 47-year-old woman from Vacaville, Calif., whose 24-year-old son was killed in Sadr City in April, speaks directly to George W. Bush.

Shot in black-and-white, her soft voice cracking, she says, "I imagined it would hurt if one of my kids was killed, but I never thought it would hurt this bad, especially someone so honest and brave as Casey, my son. When you haven't been honest with us, when you and your advisors rushed us into this war. How do you think we felt when we heard the Senate report that said there was no link between Iraq and 9/11?"

This is one of four new ads featuring relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq, produced by a new political action committee called RealVoices.org. At a time when soldiers' parents have been arrested at Bush rallies and thrown out of the Republican National Convention for trying to make themselves heard, Real Voices was formed to broadcast the excruciating messages of those who feel that their loved ones' lives were wasted in Iraq.

Real Voices is spending $200,000 on its initial ad buy while trying to raise more money. Each one of the spots is bitter and searing. In one, Raphael Zappala, whose 30-year-old brother was killed in Baghdad while searching a warehouse for weapons of mass destruction, says, "My brother died trying to make an honest man out of George W. Bush, needlessly. He was betrayed by the lies of his commander in chief. And the troops still in Iraq are being betrayed." Another features a California mother named Jane Bright, who remains livid about Bush's rash "Bring 'em on!" challenge. "Mr. Bush," she says, "I have no way of knowing whether the insurgent who killed my son ever heard your foolish taunt. But thanks to you, Mr. President, I have the rest of my life to wonder about it."

Sheehan tells Salon that she has never been politically active before. But speaking out against Bush is a way to assuage a tiny bit of the futility she feels about her son's death. "I need to speak out for what I think is right, and I have this chance right now because people want to listen to me," she says. "If I didn't do that, I wouldn't be able to get up in the morning or face a new day, because every day for me is like a new April 4, when my son was killed."

Since her son died, Sheehan has tormented herself for not doing more to fight Bush four years ago. "My biggest regret in my entire life is that when Bush was selected as president by the Supreme Court that I didn't go out and say, 'No, this is B.S., we can't stop this election until we count every single vote.' I just regret it so much. I don't know if I did something more maybe my son would still be alive."

One might think that Sheehan's sacrifice would protect her from assaults by the right-wing patriotism police, but one would be wrong. Since she started speaking out, she's been attacked as a political opportunist and accused of treason.

"I have had people tell me that what I'm doing is supporting terrorists and that my son would be ashamed of me," she says. "I was on a radio call-in show on Sunday morning, and I had a lot of people call me a traitor."

Still, she plans to continue speaking out, joining a growing list of people channeling their grief into activism. There's Lila Lipscomb, the bereft mother from "Fahrenheit 9/11." There's Fernando Suarez del Solar, who crashed the Republican National Convention with a poster bearing a picture of his son, a Marine named Jesus, and the words, "Bush lied, my son died." There's Sue Sapir Niederer, who wore a T-shirt saying "President Bush You Killed My Son" to a campaign rally featuring Laura Bush, and ended up being arrested and charged with "defiant trespassing," even though she had a ticket for the event. And there are more like them coming forth every day.

Speaking about those who want her to shut up, Sheehan says, "I think those people are traitors, because my son and millions of brave Americans before him have died for my right to speak out against the government."

Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg is a frequent contributor to Salon and the author of "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism" (WW Norton).

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