The controversy at Walter Reed is heating up:
Since the spring, long before an angry mom named Cindy Sheehan set up camp outside President Bush’s Texas ranch, anti-war activists have been holding vigils outside Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Friday nights, when many soldiers and their families venture off campus for steak dinners.
They’ve called for better health care benefits for soldiers wounded in Iraq, protested an early policy of making some soldiers buy their own meals while in care, and accused the military of purposely flying injured troops in under cover of night to downplay the volume of casualties. And they’ve waved signs protesting the war and the Bush administration…
Now vigil organizers are alleging that Cybercast News Service’s story is part of a strategy by Bush’s supporters to hurt war protesters’ credibility in the wake of Sheehan’s public relations success and sinking support for the war.
“It’s all part of a smear campaign,” Medea Benjamin, a liberal anti-war activist from San Francisco and a co-founder of CodePink, one of the groups organizing the vigils, said in a telephone interview.
Sheehan, the Vacaville mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, has gotten help from liberal donors, public relations firms and groups including CodePink.
Friday night at Walter Reed, counterprotesters outnumbered the 20 or so vigil participants by a 3-1 margin. They waved flags, yelled at anti-war activists and hoisted signs saying such things as: “Cindy Sheehan Bride of Bin Laden.”
They said a hospital should be off-limits for political demonstrations, no matter the message. One counterprotester, Vietnam veteran Ted Sampley, said he had come from Kinston, N.C., for the day, to give the anti-war crowd a piece of his mind…
But counterprotesters said Friday the anti-war side has sanitized its vigil since the controversy broke. Before, said Albion Wilde, a Baltimore-area counterprotester who has been coming for months, “They had nasty signs: ‘Maimed for a lie,’ ‘Died for Halliburton.’ ”
In the midst of all of this, James Miguez – a 28-year-old Army soldier from Iowa who has been recovering at Walter Reed since June – walked out of the hospital gate to meet a pizza deliveryman, and looked bewildered about all the fuss.
An encounter in Iraq with an explosive device severed arteries, scarred his face and neck and covered his thighs with shrapnel, but he said his Humvee at the time was loaded with the best armor available.
“They can’t give us no more than we got,” he said. “Whatever we needed, we got it.” And he said, “The care here has been exceptional.”
At the same time, he said he didn’t get the sense the vigil participants were trying to shame him, or blame soldiers for the war.
“I really can’t object,” he said. “I fight for them to be able to say what they want to say.”
My personal opinion is that military hospitals should not be the site for any type of protest. Period.
But you know how I feel about protests in general.