My opponent in November's election, two-term Representative John Kline, has a distinguished record of 25 years of service in the Marine Corps. He is justifiably proud of the fact that he rose through the ranks to serve as an aide to both Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, carrying the "football" with our nation's nuclear codes. Indeed, Kline has consistently campaigned on his military record as his chief qualification for a seat in Congress.
Although John Kline's duty now is to serve the people of Minnesota's second congressional district, his allegiance is still to his Commander-in-Chief, carrying water for the Bush administration. Kline is a vocal supporter of each of Bush's signature policies. Tax cuts for the wealthy? Kline never misses a chance to demand the cuts be made permanent. Social Security privatization? Kline has spent more time in Congress supporting privatization than any other single issue. The war in Iraq? Kline suggested it might be time to "finish the job in Iraq" even before the Administration rolled out its plans to invade. And on the rare occasions when Kline's views haven't matched up with Bush's, Kline has been only too happy to change his. Kline originally opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment, saying that the issue was best left to the states. But when the administration turned up the heat on FMA to energize its base for the 2004 elections, Kline voted for it.
Ordinarily, John Kline would just be a problem for Minnesota's second district. But every vote he casts for the Bush agenda is a national problem. And it recently got worse.
For the past few weeks we've heard about the atrocities committed by U.S. Marines against the people of Haditha, Iraq. Two dozen innocent civilians, including a 1-year-old child, were shot at point-blank range and killed. There's compelling evidence that senior officers made an effort to cover up the massacre, first by filing an erroneous report on the incident, and then by failing to conduct an immediate investigation as required by military policy. Congressman and long-time Marine Jack Murtha rightly denounced the coverup, insisting "It goes right up the chain of command". Republican Senator John Warner, former Secretary of the Navy and also a former Marine, also expressed "serious concerns" about the actions of senior officers.
Since Jack Murtha has logged nearly 30 years of service as a Marine and has an established record of hawkishness in Congress, his criticism carries a lot of weight. When the GOP needed a Republican counter to Murtha, they turned to John Kline. Kline has proven to be a great team player in the past, blasting Murtha in 2004 for suggesting we should increase troop presence in Iraq, and blasting him again last fall for advocating withdrawal. As someone who will vigorously oppose any deviation from administration policy, Kline is the perfect man to rebut Murtha's charges of a coverup in Haditha, and he has not disappointed his Commander-in-Chief.
In a recent radio interview, Kline said: ". . . there is no indication that this is broad-based, that there is a high-level coverup, that this was instigated at higher levels, there is nothing at this point that would indicate that at all." Kline further dismissed the suggestion that the administration's deception in selling the war and incompetent handling of it were in any way responsible for the atrocities: "To suggest that it is a policy from the U.S. government that has caused that, I think is a stretch."
Apparently John Kline sees no connection between the actions of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, and the actions of the Marines in Haditha. He refuses to acknowledge that the Bush administration intentionally misled the country and our troops about Iraq, "fixing the facts around" a predetermined policy of war that put our soldiers in harm's way. In particular, Kline still promotes the notion that we invaded Iraq to avenge 9/11, citing the attacks as a primary justification for the need to 'stay the course' in Iraq. Kline has never spoken out against the administration policies of extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention, and abusive interrogations which inspire otherwise peaceful Iraqis to take up arms against our troops --- indeed, he even condemned Amnesty International's report on prisoner abuse, calling it "unfounded".
The Administration has thrown the Geneva Convention out the window, sending our troops a clear signal that the rules don't apply to them. And from John Kline: silence. Under Donald Rumsfeld's guidance, and against our generals' advice, we invaded Iraq with only one-third the troops required, without any thought as to how to secure the postwar peace. After Bush declared 'Mission Accomplished', Rumsfeld disbanded Iraq's military, creating a nation full of angry, well-armed men with time on their hands. And after failing to secure 380 tons of explosives in the post-war aftermath, Rumsfeld insured that insurgents had plenty of raw materials for IEDs. Yet when the Abu Ghraib abuses were revealed and more responsible voices demanded that Rumsfeld resign to be replaced by someone who could give our troops competent leadership, John Kline defended Rumsfeld, insisting he had done a "very good job".
Just three months before the Haditha killings, the city was run by insurgents, carrying out public beheadings and distributing DVDs of the executions for families to show their children. Our Marines were sent into Haditha with little or no training in fighting an insurgency, unable to distinguish between insurgent and civilian, and understandably confused as to how the situation they found themselves in squared with the mission: the Administration's linking of Iraq to Al Qaeda and the "war on terror." To this day, the U.S. can't recruit a home-grown police force in Haditha because Iraqis fear retribution if they cooperate with the U.S. Under the tremendous stress of trying to create order in a country descending into civil war, compounded by extended deployments and seeing their fellow Marines regularly attacked and die, there's no wonder that some soldiers eventually cracked. Retired Army General John Batiste put it bluntly when he said there's "a direct link between Haditha, the national embarrassment of Abu Ghraib . . . with the bad judgment, poor decisions of our Secretary of Defense back in late 2003 and 2004."
John Kline has been briefed on the situation in Haditha, so he knows all of this and more. But instead of siding with the troops and demanding competent leadership, rigorous counter-insurgency training, or even sufficient body armor, he has declared that all responsibility for the Haditha massacre begins and ends with the "two or three Marines" who pulled the trigger. Those Marines do need to be held accountable to the full extent of military justice. But to insist that George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld bear no responsibility for putting our troops in this high-pressure shooting gallery without the necessary tools to succeed is flat out wrong. Abu Ghraib was a great recruiting tool for insurgents and terrorists alike; and now so is Haditha. And a host of less well-publicized incidents feed recruitment in the meantime. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said that U.S. killing of Iraqi civilians "has become common" in Iraq, a view corroborated by many U.S. veterans of the war.
Our troops are the best in the world, but they're also human. And in Iraq they are subject to tremendous stress day after day, month after month, which exacts a substantial toll. These are the conditions in which tragedies like this can and do occur, and these conditions are directly related to Kline, Bush, and the policy set in Washington.
The Bush/Kline 'stay the course' strategy in Iraq is wrong strategically, it's wrong morally, and it's wrong for our country. With almost 2,500 American troops dead, we're killing innocent Iraqis and traumatizing our own troops while spurring on al-Qaeda recruitment, yet John Kline insists it's making us safer. That kind of irresponsible talk doesn't help anyone but George W. Bush.
Co-written by Coleen Rowley, Candidate for Congress in Minnesota's 2nd District and David Bailey, research and communications volunteer for the campaign.