The anti-war demonstrators, who obtain their protest permits from the Washington, D.C., police department, position themselves directly in front of the main entrance to the Army Medical Center, which is located in northwest D.C., about five miles from the White House.
Among the props used by the protesters are mock caskets, lined up on the sidewalk to represent the death toll in Iraq.
Code Pink Women for Peace, one of the groups backing anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan’s vigil outside President Bush’s ranch in Crawford Texas, organizes the protests at Walter Reed as well.
Some conservative supporters of the war call the protests, which have been ignored by the establishment media, “shameless” and have taken to conducting counter-demonstrations at Walter Reed. “[The anti-war protesters] should not be demonstrating at a hospital. A hospital is not a suitable location for an anti-war demonstration,” said Bill Floyd of the D.C. chapter of FreeRepublic.com, who stood across the street from the anti-war demonstrators on Aug. 19.
“I believe they are tormenting our wounded soldiers and they should just leave them alone,” Floyd added.
According to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, nearly 4,000 individuals involved in the Iraq war were treated at the facility as of March of this year, 1,050 of whom were wounded in battle.
One anti-war protester, who would only identify himself as “Luke,” told Cybercast News Service that “the price of George Bush’s foreign policy can be seen right here at Walter Reed — young men who returned from Iraq with their bodies shattered after George Bush sent them to war for a lie.”
Luke accused President Bush of “exploiting American soldiers” while “oppressing the other nations of earth.” The president “has killed far too many people,” he added.
On Aug. 19, as the anti-war protesters chanted slogans such as “George Bush kills American soldiers,” Cybercast News Service observed several wounded war veterans entering and departing the gates of Walter Reed, some with prosthetic limbs. Most of the demonstrations have been held on Friday evenings, a popular time for the family members of wounded soldiers to visit the hospital.
But the anti-war activists were unapologetic when asked whether they considered such signs as “Maimed for Lies” offensive to wounded war veterans and their families.
“I am more offended by the fact that many were maimed for life. I am more offended by the fact that they (wounded veterans) have been kept out of the news,” said Kevin McCarron, a member of the anti-war group Veterans for Peace.
Kevin Pannell, who was recently treated at Walter Reed and had both legs amputated after an ambush grenade attack near Baghdad in 2004, considers the presence of the anti-war protesters in front of the hospital “distasteful.”
When he was a patient at the hospital, Pannell said he initially tried to ignore the anti-war activists camped out in front of Walter Reed, until witnessing something that enraged him.
“We went by there one day and I drove by and [the anti-war protesters] had a bunch of flag-draped coffins laid out on the sidewalk. That, I thought, was probably the most distasteful thing I had ever seen. Ever,” Pannell, a member of the Army’s First Cavalry Division, told Cybercast News Service.
“You know that 95 percent of the guys in the hospital bed lost guys whenever they got hurt and survivors’ guilt is the worst thing you can deal with,” Pannell said, adding that other veterans recovering from wounds at Walter Reed share his resentment for the anti-war protesters.
“We don’t like them and we don’t like the fact that they can hang their signs and stuff on the fence at Walter Reed,” he said. “[The wounded veterans] are there to recuperate. Once they get out in the real world, then they can start seeing that stuff (anti-war protests). I mean Walter Reed is a sheltered environment and it needs to stay that way.”
McCarron said he dislikes having to resort to such controversial tactics, “but this stuff can’t be hidden,” he insisted. “The real cost of this war cannot be kept from the American public.”
The anti-war protesters claim their presence at the hospital is necessary to publicize the arrivals of newly wounded soldiers from Iraq, who the protesters allege are being smuggled in at night by the Pentagon to avoid media scrutiny. The protesters also argue that the military hospital is the most appropriate place for the demonstrations and that the vigils are designed to ultimately help the wounded veterans.
“If I went to war and lost a leg and then found out from my hospital bed that I had been lied to, that the weapons I was sent to search for never existed, that the person who sent me to war had no plan but to exploit me, exploit the country I was sent to, I would be pretty angry,” Luke told Cybercast News Service.
“I would want people to do something about it and if I couldn’t get out of my bed and protest myself, I would want someone else to do it in my name,” he added.
The conservative counter-demonstrators carry signs reading “Troops out when the job’s done,” “Thank you U.S. Armed Forces” and “Shameless Pinkos go home.” Many wear the orange T-shirts reading “Club G’itmo” that are marketed by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
“[The anti-war protesters] have no business here. If they want to protest policy, they should be at the Capitol, they should be at the White House,” said Nina Burke. “The only reason for being here is to talk to [the] wounded and [anti-war protests are] just completely inappropriate.”
Albion Wilde concurred, arguing that “it’s very easy to pick on the families of the wounded. They are very vulnerable … I feel disgusted.
“[The anti-war protesters] are really showing an enormous lack of respect for just everything that America has always stood for. They lost the election and now they are really, really angry and so they are picking on the wrong people,” Wilde added.
At least one anti-war demonstrator conceded that standing out in front of a military hospital where wounded soldiers and their families are entering and exiting, might not be appropriate.
“Maybe there is a better place to have a protest. I am not sure,” said a man holding a sign reading “Stop the War,” who declined to be identified.
But Luke and the other anti-war protesters dismissed the message of the counter demonstrators. “We know most of the George Bush supporters have never spent a day in uniform, have never been closer to a battlefield than seeing it through the television screen,” Luke said.
Code Pink, the group organizing the anti-war demonstrations in front of the Walter Reed hospital, has a controversial leader and affiliations. As Cybercast News Service previously reported, Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin has expressed support for the Communist Viet Cong in Vietnam and the Nicaraguan Sandinistas.
In 2001, Benjamin was asked about anti-war protesters sympathizing with nations considered to be enemies of U.S. foreign policy, including the Viet Cong and the Sandinistas. “There’s no one who will talk about how the other side is good,” she reportedly told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Benjamin has also reportedly praised the Cuban regime of Fidel Castro. Benjamin told the San Francisco Chronicle that her visit to Cuba in the 1980s revealed to her a great country. “It seem[ed] like I died and went to heaven,” she reportedly said.