When John Kerry spoke on the Senate Floor last week about his plans to offer a resolution to set a deadline to “limit this war and bring our participation to a conclusion,” and his decision not to run for president again, he spoke of a chance encounter in Baghdad that he and Senator Dodd had with a young soldier at the Baghdad helicopter landing zone as they were leaving Baghdad. The brief conversation that Kerry and Dodd had with Army captain Brian Freeman, became a turning point for both Kerry and Dodd.
Freeman, the WaPo reports, told the Senators “The war was going badly… Troops were stretched so thin they were doing tasks they never dreamed of, let alone trained for.”
Freeman, 31, took a short holiday leave to see his 14-month-old daughter and 2-year-old son, returned to his base in Karbala, Iraq, and less than two weeks ago died in a hail of bullets and grenades. Insurgents, dressed in U.S. military uniforms, speaking English and driving black American SUVs, got through a checkpoint and attacked, kidnapped four soldiers and later shot them. Freeman died in the assault, the fifth casualty of the brazen attack.
The death of the West Point graduate — a star athlete from Temecula, Calif., who ran bobsleds and skeletons with Winter Olympians — has radicalized Dodd, energized Kerry and girded the ever-more confrontational stance of Democrats in the Senate. Freeman’s death has reverberated on the Senate floor, in committee deliberations and on television talk shows.
“This was the kind of person you don’t forget,” Dodd said yesterday. “You mention the number dead, 3,000, the 22,000 wounded, and you almost see the eyes glaze over. But you talk about an individual like this, who was doing his job, a hell of a job, but was also willing to talk about what was wrong, it’s a way to really bring it to life, to connect.”
The WaPo paraphrased Kerry’s statement about meeting Freeman in their article, I feel it is worth repeating here in full:
“I might mention, when Senator Dodd and I were about to helicopter out of Baghdad, we were at Landing Zone Washington, which is right in the Green Zone. Many Senators are familiar with it. In the darkness of night, as we were leaving, a young man came up to us to talk to us and he identified himself as an officer in the Army. He was going home for leave and was hitching a ride on the helicopter to go home. He went home, visited his 14- month-old daughter and, I think, his 4-year-old son, if I am correct. His name was Brian Freeman and he was intelligent and thoughtful and bright and he talked about his future and talked with us animatedly about what was going on in Iraq and how he disagreed with what he was being asked to do and how others did. He went home, and we just learned that this Friday he was killed. So he went back. He did his duty as so many have.
I know when I returned from war, almost 40 years ago now, I stood up and spoke from my heart and my gut about what I thought was wrong. To this day that has been controversial in some quarters, but I am proud that I told the truth. And that truth has been documented again and again from Army training manuals to books that have been written to the statements of our own Secretary of Defense at that time, Robert McNamara. But, before I finish, I want to make it clear that that is my motivation in talking about this war now and this predicament that so many of these soldiers find themselves in.
I asked the question in 1971: How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? Although I knew going into public service I wanted to be in a place where I could have an impact should there be a choice of war in the future, but I never thought that I would be reliving the need to ask that question again.”
The time has come to listen to the voices of our troops, the voices of the Brian Freeman’s that dare to speak out. Though Brian has now become yet another casualty of Bush’s war, we can and should take heed in that he shared with Kerry and Dodd. It took courage for him to speak out, as the WaPo notes his wife recounted:
Even though he felt nervous, he told his wife later, he delivered his message with urgency. Soldiers were being deployed to do missions that they were utterly untrained to do; Freeman, for example, an armor officer, had been sent to help foster democracy and rebuild an Iraqi civil society. State Department personnel who could do those jobs were restricted in their travel off military bases by regional security officers who said it was unsafe for them to venture out.
“Senator, it’s nuts over here,” Dodd quoted Freeman as saying.
Maj. Tony Nichols, who commanded a tank company that Freeman served in, called Freeman “‘ridiculously’ bright.”
Nichols said Freeman did not oppose the war but “wanted it to be done better and smarter.”
After Dodd mentioned an unnamed Army captain’s concerns on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Freeman e-mailed him to bring up another concern: the mistreatment of Iraqi interpreters by military contractors.
The connection between Dodd and Freeman went beyond a chance encounter and an exchange of e-mails. On Jan. 20, the day of Freeman’s death, his wife was visiting his mother in Utah when a neighbor called to say that a military vehicle had stopped by the Freeman home. Frantic for news, Charlotte Freeman contacted Dodd’s staff. The senator’s aides learned of Brian Freeman’s fate from the Defense Department and helped get military officials dispatched to his wife.
Kerry took the news personally, aides said. In Freeman, he saw something of himself — a promising young officer, articulate and politically minded. But Kerry made it back from Vietnam.
“All that loss, for what?” Dodd asked.
It was not just Freeman’s death that deeply troubled and provoked the two senators, but the way he died, in an apparent betrayal by Iraqi allies. In the days after Freeman’s death, Dodd drafted legislation to cap the number of troops in Iraq. Last week in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry backed Dodd in a failed effort to attach the legislative cap to the nonbinding resolution of opposition.
And both men are demanding that the Senate push the confrontation with Bush further. Kerry has resurrected his call for legislation setting a date certain for the withdrawal of troops.
“The notion of sense-of-the-Senate resolutions, what the hell does that mean?” Dodd asked yesterday. “Is that all you got?”
“Is that all you got,” is right. The time has come to make a stand and bring our troops home. How many more must die for the mistakes of the Bush administration? Help end the war in Iraq. If you have not already, go to SetADeadline.com and sign up to be a co-sponsor of the Set A Deadline legislation.