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Interview: Cindy Sheehan

by Liam Stack in Cairo
Al Jazeera

Cindy Shee­han, an Amer­i­can activist who was nick­named the “Peace Mom” by the media for her crit­i­cism of the Iraq War, retreat­ed from her pub­lic cam­paigns in 2007.

The death of her son Casey, a US sol­dier, in a Bagh­dad bat­tle in 2005 had trans­formed Shee­han into a pub­lic fig­ure in the US.

But she resur­faced in Cairo last week as a mem­ber of a del­e­ga­tion from the Mus­lim Amer­i­can Soci­ety which is in Egypt to protest against the mil­i­tary tri­al of 40 mem­bers of the banned Mus­lim Broth­er­hood.

She spoke to Al Jazeera about her jour­ney from peace activist to Con­gres­sion­al can­di­date, her thoughts on Iraq and her expe­ri­ences in Egypt.

Al Jazeera: You first became famous for your protests against the Iraq war in August 2005, but you have not been an active anti-war fig­ure for a while now. What hap­pened?

Shee­han: In May 2007, I decid­ed to quit actu­al­ly being the face of the anti-war move­ment in Amer­i­ca. I quit and I have not gone back to that. When I left the move­ment I was broke, I was tired, I was sick – lit­er­al­ly sick and in pain.

I want­ed to just total­ly be out of the polit­i­cal realm and not have any­thing to do with it. The estab­lish­ment that runs our coun­try just dis­gust­ed me and I was tired of it. It is very cor­rupt and I def­i­nite­ly saw that when I was focus­ing on anti-war activism.

The lead­ers of both par­ties work togeth­er to keep nor­mal peo­ple out of the process. In many ways the Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­er­ship, espe­cial­ly in Con­gress, has been com­plic­it with George Bush, the US pres­i­dent, in his crimes against human­i­ty.

How can [Demo­c­ra­t­ic Speak­er of the House] Nan­cy Pelosi say unequiv­o­cal­ly that water-board­ing is tor­ture and that Bush and [Richard] Cheney, the US vice-pres­i­dent, should not only be impeached but they should be charged with war crimes when in 2002 she her­self was briefed on water-board­ing and shown video of the ren­di­tion places where water-board­ing hap­pened?

Impeach­ing George Bush was a pop­u­lar demand among lib­er­al Amer­i­cans at one time, but very few peo­ple talk about it any­more. Is that what turned you into an activist again?

When George Bush com­mut­ed [vice-pres­i­den­tial aide] Scoot­er Lib­by’s sen­tence, the Democ­rats in Con­gress did­n’t do any­thing about it. When the Admin­is­tra­tion said they would not coop­er­ate with sub­poe­nas against [pres­i­den­tial aide] Har­ri­et Myers, the democ­rats did­n’t do any­thing about it.

That’s what pulled me back into activism. I thought how can they do that? How can they say ‘I’m just not going to come to your stu­pid tri­al,’ and no one will say any­thing about it?

When the Democ­rats took impeach­ment off the table, I decid­ed enough was enough. On July 23, 2007, I offi­cial­ly announced that I was run­ning for Con­gress against Nan­cy Pelosi.

Why the focus on Nan­cy Pelosi?

I decid­ed if Nan­cy Pelosi was­n’t going to put impeach­ment on the table then I would run against her.

You can’t take any part of the Con­sti­tu­tion off the table, even though they have ren­dered it almost mean­ing­less between George Bush and Karl Rove. Since they came to pow­er they have insti­tu­tion­alised tor­ture and spy­ing against Amer­i­cans.

They have passed the Mil­i­tary Com­mis­sions Act and just done away with habeas cor­pus. They have prac­ti­cal­ly ren­dered it mean­ing­less. That is why I decid­ed to chal­lenge Pelosi for her seat. I always say if you want change you have to vote out the enablers, and Pelosi is the biggest enabler there is.

If your new focus is on unseat­ing Nan­cy Pelosi, what are you doing in Egypt?

My anti-war work evolved into work for glob­al human rights because I saw the prob­lem was much deep­er than just George Bush.

It’s about mil­i­tarism and vio­lence, glob­al­i­sa­tion and free trade.

I decid­ed I want­ed to do human rights work on behalf of peo­ple around the world who have been harmed by US impe­ri­al­ism.

Part of why I am here, also, is to draw atten­tion to the par­al­lels between the mil­i­tary courts here and the same kinds of courts that are being used to try detainees at Guan­tanamo Bay by the US.

If this becomes the stan­dard for the world, and there is no inter­na­tion­al out­cry, then every­one is in big trou­ble.

But what does the US have to do with a mil­i­tary tri­al in Egypt?

Egypt is a major recip­i­ent of US for­eign aid, and there is no rela­tion­ship between Amer­i­can aid and human rights.

If we [Amer­i­ca] real­ly want to pro­mote democ­ra­cy in this region then we can­not silence the voic­es of the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood because they’re the mod­er­ate voice here and they are the ones who are actu­al­ly work­ing for democ­ra­cy.

Do you think your pres­ence in Egypt will have an effect on the tri­al?

Well, we have been doing a lot of media work since we came to Egypt and we hope this will put pres­sure on the Egypt­ian gov­ern­ment to treat the pris­on­ers bet­ter and to also maybe alle­vi­ate their pun­ish­ment.

Hope­ful­ly we will draw some inter­na­tion­al atten­tion to what is hap­pen­ing here, too, and that will help the sit­u­a­tion.

You also went to the Nation­al Coun­cil of Women in down­town Cairo to request a meet­ing with Suzanne Mubarak, Egyp­t’s First Lady. How did that go?

I did­n’t real­ly under­stand a lot of what was going on. There was a lot of yelling in Ara­bic. They weren’t the right peo­ple to get us a meet­ing with Suzanne Mubarak ... I left a let­ter for Madame Mubarak and they promised that she would see it.

We thought it was impor­tant to go there because there are women and chil­dren who are being harmed by hav­ing their fathers and hus­bands detained, so I want­ed to talk to Suzanne, moth­er to moth­er.

We brought along moth­ers and wives of the detainees and they were actu­al­ly able to file com­plaints, and it was real­ly great.

Have you spo­ken to many of the fam­i­lies of the defen­dants in the mil­i­tary tri­al? Have you spo­ken to many female mem­bers of the Broth­er­hood moth­er-to-moth­er?

My con­ver­sa­tions with the moth­ers and chil­dren of the detainees have been real­ly emo­tion­al. They told me about the hard­ships [the arrests and tri­als] have placed on their fam­i­lies, from finan­cial hard­ships to emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal hard­ships.

It is very emo­tion­al for me because my fam­i­ly has gone through the same things since my son died. It has been real­ly hard for us.

Peo­ple always say to me, ‘Cindy, why do you always make every­thing per­son­al?’

But in the end, every­thing affects peo­ple, whether it’s war or eco­nom­ics or human rights vio­la­tions. I don’t think politi­cians who make polit­i­cal deci­sions nec­es­sar­i­ly think about how they are going to affect peo­ple and their fam­i­lies.

That is why when I meet peo­ple who have been harmed by the poli­cies of their own coun­tries, or the poli­cies of my coun­try, it just makes me resolved to work hard­er to make the world a bet­ter place.


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