Monday, January 29, 2007

Dodd On Soldier's Death: Senate Will "Bring An End To This Insanity"

I picked up this story while reading the Congressional Record and have held it for a few days, not knowing how to write about it -- and I still don't. Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and John Kerry (D-MA) took a trip to Iraq last month and, while in Baghdad, had a short conversation with a young Army Captain who approached them to talk about his frustrations with conditions faced by the troops.

Senator Dodd went to the floor of the Senate last week to discuss that chance meeting and to say that he had been notified of that soldier's death on January 20, in Karbala, Iraq, of wounds suffered in a mortar and small arms attack.

While I suppose this isn't that remarkable a story, it strikes me as a compelling vignette illustrating the seriousness of the choices our nation is confronting. Since I can't figure out how to do this story justice, I'll simply post excerpts of Senator Dodd's comments and let those words do the talking:
About a month ago, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and I were in the Middle East, and at sundown on an evening in Baghdad, as we landed in our helicopter in the Green Zone, a young man walked up to Senator Kerry and me. I could hardly see him. He was about 6 feet 2 inches, 6 feet 3 inches, a captain, and a West Point graduate. He talked to us about his concerns and what was going on in Iraq. This was back in the mid part of December before the Christmas holidays. His name was Brian Freeman.

The conversation did not last very long. It was not one of those long conversations. It may have lasted 15, 20 minutes, at best. I do not even have a clear picture in my mind of what he looked like because it was dark, as the conversation went on for 15 or 20 minutes. But it is one of those meetings all of us have had in our lives, where you do not forget a person, an individual. For whatever reason, he was compelling, he was sincere. He sought us out. He wanted us to know how he felt about what was happening in Iraq.

I mentioned him on 'Meet the Press' a few weeks later in talking about Iraq. I did not mention his name. I did not wish to put him in that position. But I talked about this young Army captain, a West Point graduate, whom I met. He apparently saw the program in Baghdad and e-mailed me, and we began this conversation between my office and himself over the last month or so, in which we talked about the surge, and he talked about the problems associated with it, the jobs he was being asked to do.

He said to me -- I am quoting him now --

"Senator, it's nuts over here. Soldiers are being asked to do work we're not trained to do. I'm doing work that the State Department people are far more prepared to do in fostering democracy, but they're not allowed to come off the bases because it's too dangerous here. It doesn't make any sense."

Captain Brian Freeman, a West Point graduate, was killed in Iraq last Saturday.

I have spoken to his family over the last number of days, his wife Charlotte, his two young children, his parents and his in-laws, trying to express on behalf, I am sure, of all us the sense of grief we feel about this young man's loss of life and his contribution to our country.

I cannot tell you how exciting it was for me to meet him. This young man had nothing but potential and a great interest in seeing his country do better and grow stronger. And he wanted to be a part of it and make a contribution to our land.

Today, I am here to say enough is enough. I think all of us feel this way. We are coming to a point next week when we will have a debate about this. We are going to discuss various resolutions before us. I firmly believe we have to do everything we possibly can to ensure that the tragedy of Brian Freeman does not continue to be replicated over and over again. That is why we must say no, in my view, to the decision by the President of the United States to send thousands more of our brave young men and women in uniform to the streets of Baghdad to risk their lives for a plan which just "doesn't make any sense," to quote Brian Freeman.

I, as one Senator, intend to speak loudly, as I have already, against this ill-conceived policy. But more than just speak out, I intend, at every available opportunity, to ask this body and the other body to go on record in a meaningful way against the President's specific decision to send more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq and against the continuation of our failed military strategy in Iraq.
Dodd went on to express his profound opposition to the Bush-McCain Doctrine of escalating the Iraq war and said that "I think most of us here want to responsibly end our involvement after 4 painful years that have taken a tragic toll on our country."

And he talked poignantly about Freeman's family and two young children who will grow up without a father.

"Talking to Brian Freeman's family in Utah the other night was painful. His 14-month-old and his 3-year-old don't have a father any longer," said Dodd to his Senate colleagues. "Our country lost a wonderful young man whom Senator Kerry and I had the privilege of meeting for such a brief time. But both of us were profoundly affected by his courage and commitment."

"I say to them and others that in this body we will stand up in the coming days and bring an end to this insanity."