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NEWS FROM CNN

Veterans, Military Families Push to Return Troops to U.S.

Aired August 13, 2003 - 12:23   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Almost everyday, it seems, we tell you about another U.S. soldier captured -- killed in attacks in Iraq. There was another casualty today near Baghdad, a U.S. soldier killed. Since the U.S. went to war in Iraq in March, 268 troops have died, most of them from hostile fire now. Now some military families back at home in the United States are saying enough is enough. They're in Washington today demanding that the rest of the troops be brought home.
Stan Goff helped organize this effort. His son has been deployed to Iraq. Also joining us, the retired U.S. Air Force General George Harrison. He's at CNN Center in Atlanta.

Mr. Goff, thanks, first of all, to you for joining us. What made you come to this decision to try to protest to bring the troops home right now?

STAN GOFF, BRING THEM HOME NOW: I myself have been opposed to this action in Iraq before this happened. I was never convinced of the pretext for the war. I think it was undertaken in violation of international law in the U.N. Charter to which the United States is a signatory. And I've never believed that Iraq presents the least threat to the United States.

BLITZER: What does your son do over there in Iraq?

GOFF: My son is a wheel vehicle mechanic with the 82nd Airborne Division.

BLITZER: How does he feel about your political views?

GOFF: My son is fairly apolitical. You know we disagree on some things but that doesn't change the fact we still have our personal relationship. And he does not object to my political activity around this.

BLITZER: Let me bring General Harrison. General Harrison, what do you make of this effort now to try to bring the troops home, families, parents of U.S. military personnel protesting to bring the troops home?

MAJ. GEN. GEORGE HARRISON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think first of all, they're entitled to protests, they're entitled to express their opinion. And it's certainly an understandable reaction of any parent when their sons or daughters are in a difficult situation. They want to see them out of situation and it becomes much more personal. Certainly more personal to Mr. Goff and the other parents of our soldiers than to people at large who really don't have a personal involvement what's going on other than observing their government operate.

However, I would take exception to Mr. Goff's assertion this is an illegal war. As you know, this action was taken to implement a U.N. resolution that was passed last year. It was taken with a large majority of congressional support. This issue was publicly debated. The facts were laid out.

And we moved into this situation clearly believing what was going on was in the national interest and represented a part of a very broad approach against the terrorist threat we've seen so much evidence of today.

BLITZER: All right, let's continue this discussion, we have a caller from Fort Hood, Texas. go ahead with your question.

CALLER: Yes, I'm just mainly concerned with our guys there. I do not have a clear mission, their morale is really down, and it's just time to bring them home.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: General Harrison, what I'm hearing from Mr. Goff, what I'm hearing from this caller are similar comments we used to hear, and you well remember this, during the Vietnam War. Is there the beginning of this kind of protest movement? What do you say to these people?

HARRISON: Well I understand clearly the Vietnam perspective, having spent three tours in Southeast Asia myself, and having read a lot in the years since about the way that involvement was developed. And I see a clear difference between the Iraqi activity and the way that we went into Vietnam.

I don't think we did have a clear purpose in Vietnam. I think we have a clear purpose in Iraq. We understand the need for regime change understand and we understand the things that need to be done.

And we also understand, I believe, at national level that this is a long-term process. I would that it's difficult for the troops. But I think that most of the troops do understand what we're abut and what we're doing.

BLITZER: Mr. Goff, how big of a group have you organized in Washington today? How many families are involved?

GOFF: Well there are a number of group. Veterans for Peace is involved in this, Citizen Soldier, Military Families Speak Out. And so the Bring Them Home Now is a campaign, it's not an organization. Military Families Speak Out has around 600 military families right now and Veterans for Peace is organized in hundreds of chapters across the country right now. BLITZER: Is it -- but the difference between now and Vietnam, Mr. Goff, of course, is that all U.S. military personnel, Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, these are all volunteers, including the reserves, the National Guard.

When they enlisted they knew what they were getting themselves into. What do you say to those who argue that, you know what? They knew what they were getting themselves into. They volunteered for it nevertheless?

GOFF: My argument is not whether or not we have a volunteer military. I still don't believe a country having a volunteer military exempts them from international law.

And the military does not make the decision to go to war. Civilian leaders do. And the reasons that the gentleman said earlier had been clearly spelled out have all turned out to be fabrications. There was no al Qaeda connection, they've found weapons of mass destruction and there was no nuclear weapons program.

BLITZER: All right, let's take another caller from Texas. Jan, go ahead.

CALLER: Yes, Wolf. I agree very much with General Harrison in what we need to do.

But first of all, we made a commitment to the Iraqi people, and we need to fulfill that commitment. We need to restore them to a decent standard of living. And if it need be that we take more -- people over there too get their electricity back and provide for their basic needs. We need to do that. We cannot abandon those people.

BLITZER: All right, that's a fair point. Let me read an e-mail to you, General Harrison, we got from Jean in Forest Hills, New York.

"I'm constantly hearing that our soldiers in Iraq don't have enough water or edible food and are suffering from heat stroke and mysterious illnesses. If our troops have to be over there, why aren't they being adequately supplied and cared for?"

You've heard about these complaints, General?

HARRISON: Sure I have. I think that we've seen some isolated cases, and I think we'll continue to see isolated cases. Supplying 3 or 400,000 people is a complex task.

But I am convinced that the command structure is doing everything militarily possible to move the right supplies forward, to give the right medical care. There is in progress right now as we speak a task force examining the illness issue to try to make sure that we don't have the same kind of residual difficulties that we had with the Gulf War Syndrome in 1991.

So I understand the concerns, and I'm convinced that the command structure is addressing them. BLITZER: I want to move on, but one final question to you, Mr. Goff. Have you heard any personal complaints from your son about the kind of lifestyle conditions he's enduring in Iraq?

GOFF: My son just arrived over there in the last couple days. The 82nd's in the process of replacing the 3rd Infantry Division over there.

We have heard from families of the 3rd Infantry Division, though, about a great deal -- a lot of difficulties in the logistics. Mail was taking four to five weeks and sometimes two months to get turned around. There were some people talking about water shortage and so forth.

These logistical problems point to some incompetence, but I still don't think that's the core issue. I think the core issue is that they don't need to be over there in the first place.

BLITZER: All right, let's take one more caller from Kansas. Minnie, go ahead. You're on the air.

CALLER: Hi, Wolf. Nice to hear you, and I watch you every day.

BLITZER: Thank you.

CALLER: I just wanted to first say my heart goes out to all of our boys that are serving and those who have lost loved ones. I had a husband in the service, he was drafted.

And I -- I just think -- I guess it's just really disheartening for me to see these families on TV campaigning to have our boys come home. I agree with the lady, Jan, I believe it was, that said we're over there and we made a commitment and need to stay with it.

But also that our boys now, and women are going into a voluntary system. And I thought our military was for the protection of our land.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let me let General Harrison respond and I'll give the final word to Mr. Goff. Go ahead, General.

HARRISON: Sure. Conditions are tough, the troops are working hard. I've served in Southwest (sic) Asia myself and I've been hot and tired and thirsty. I understand exactly what's going on.

I think we're taking care of the troops. And I think we do have a clear purpose. We're moving along, we're not going to finish this job in the next two or three months, we have to stick with it. And we have work it as a part of our overall national campaign to secure ourselves against a very unstable situation that threatens our way of life.

BLITZER: Mr. Goff, aren't you happy that Saddam Hussein and his Ba'ath Party, his regime, which caused so much devastation, torture and destruction in Iraq, that they're gone?

GOFF: I think the jury is still out what's going to replace it. Again -- and I'm a veteran of eight conflict areas and retired military myself -- the hardship is a real issue, but I don't think the hardship is responsible for the morale problems in Iraq right now.

I think morale problems and eventually discipline problems will be related to the fact that the soldiers who are over there now recognize that the reasons that they were given for being over there have turned out to be fabrications.

This is not a liberation. The United States military is not qualified to build nations. This is not nation building, this is empire building.

BLITZER: All right, Stan Goff whose son is in Iraq serving in the U.S. military. Thanks for joining us. General Harrison, always good to have you on our program as well.

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