Representative Murtha Holds a News Conference on the War in Iraq

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Thursday, November 17, 2005; 3:17 PM

NOVEMBER 17, 2005

SPEAKER: U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JOHN MURTHA (D-PA)

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(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

MURTHA: And I started out by saying the war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It's a flawed policy wrapped in illusion.

The American public is way ahead of the members of Congress. The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq. But it's time for a change in direction.

Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course.

It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interest of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf region.

General Casey said in a September 2005 hearing: "The perception of occupation in Iraq is a major driving force behind the insurgency." General Abizaid said on the same date: "Reducing the size and visibility of the coalition forces in Iraq is a part of our counterinsurgency strategy."

For two and a half years I've been concerned about U.S. policy and the plan in Iraq. I've addressed my concerns with the administration and the Pentagon, and I've spoken out in public about my concerns.

MURTHA: The main reason for going to war has been discredited.

A few days before the start of the war I was in Kuwait. The military drew a line, a red line around Baghdad, and they said, "When U.S. forces cross that line, they will be attacked by the Iraqis with weapons of mass destruction." And I believed it and they believed it.

But the U.S. forces -- the commander said they were prepared. They said they had well-trained forces with the appropriate protective gear.

Now, let me tell you, we spend more money on intelligence than any -- than all the countries in the world put together, and more on intelligence than most country's GDP. And when they say, "It's a world intelligence failure," it's a U.S. intelligence failure. It's a U.S. failure, and it's a failure in the way the intelligence was used.

I've been visiting our wounded troops in Bethesda and Walter Reed, as some of you know, almost every week since the beginning of the war. And what demoralizes them is not the criticism. What demoralizes them is going to war with not enough troops and equipment to make the transition to peace.

The devastation caused by IEDs is what they're concerned about. Being deployed to Iraq when their homes have been ravaged by hurricanes -- you've seen these stories about some of the people whose homes were destroyed and they were deployed to Iraq after it. Being on their second or third deployment, leaving their families behind without a network of support.

The threat by terrorism is real, but we have other threats that cannot be ignored. We must prepare to face all these threats.

The future of our military is at risk. Our military and our families are stretched thin.

Many say the Army is broken. Some of our troops are on a third deployment. Recruitment is down even as the military has lowed its standards. They expect to take 20 percent category 4, which is the lowest category, which they said they'd never take. They have been forced to do that to try to meet a reduced quota.

Defense budgets are being cut. Personnel costs are skyrocketing, particularly in health care. Choices will have to be made. We cannot allow promises we have made to our military families in terms of service benefits, in terms of their health care to be negotiated away. Procurement programs that ensure our military dominance cannot be negotiated away. We must be prepared.

The war in Iraq has caused huge shortfalls in our bases at home. I've been to three bases in the United States, and each one of them were short of things they need to train the people going to Iraq.

MURTHA: Much of our ground equipment is worn out. And I've told the CEOs of big companies, "You better get in the business of rehabilitating equipment because we're not going to be able to buy any new equipment because the money's not going to be there."

George Washington said, "To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace."

We don't want somebody to miscalculate down the road. It takes us 18 years to put a weapons system in the arsenal. And I don't know what the threat is -- nobody knows what the threat is -- but we better make sure we have what's necessary to preserve our peace.

We must rebuild our Army. Our deficit is growing out of control. The director of the Congressional Budget Office recently admitted to being terrified about the deficit in the coming decades.

In other words: Where's the money going to come from for defense?

I voted against every tax cut. Every tax cut I voted against. My wife says, "You shouldn't say that." I believed that when we voted for these tax cuts you can't have a war and you can't have a tragedy like we had, the hurricanes, and then not have a huge deficit, which is going to increase interest rates and could cause a real problem.

This is the first prolonged war we've ever fought with three years of tax cuts without full mobilization of American industry and without a draft.

And the college campuses always ask me about a draft. "Are you for a draft?" I say, "Yes, there's only two of us who voted for it, so you don't have to worry too much about it."

The burden of this war has not been shared equally. The military and their families are shouldering the burden.

Our military has been fighting this war in Iraq for over two and a half years. Our military has accomplished its mission and done its duty. Our military captured Saddam Hussein, captured or killed his closest associates, but the war continues to intensify.

Deaths and injuries are growing, and over 2,079 of confirmed American deaths, over 15,500 have been seriously injured -- half of them returned to duty -- and it's estimated over 50,000 will suffer from what I call battle fatigue. And there have been reports at least 30,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed.

I just recently visited Anbar province in Iraq in order to assess the conditions on the ground. And last May -- last May -- we put in the emergency supplemental spending bill Moran amendment, which was accepted in conference, which required the secretary of defense to submit a quarterly report and accurately measure the stability and security in Iraq.

MURTHA: We've now received two reports. So I've just come from Iraq and I've looked at the next report. I'm disturbed by the findings in the key indicator areas.

Oil production and energy production are below prewar level. You remember they said that was going to pay for the war, and it's below prewar level.

Our reconstruction efforts have been crippled by the security situation. Only $9 billion of $18 billion appropriated for reconstruction has been spent.

And I said on the floor of the House, when they passed the $87 billion, the $18 billion was the most important part of it because you've got to get people back to work; you've got electricity; you've got to get water.

Unemployment is 60 percent. Now, they tell you in the United States it's less than that. So it may be 40 percent. But in Iraq, they told me it's 60 percent, when I was there.

Clean water is scarce and they only spent $500 million of the $2.2 billion appropriated for water projects.

And, most importantly -- this is the most important point -- incidents have increased from 150 a week to over 700 in the last year. Instead of attacks going down over a time when we had additional more troops, attacks have grown dramatically. Since the revolution at Abu Ghraib, American casualties have doubled.

You look at the timeline. You'll see one per day average before Abu Ghraib. After Abu Ghraib, you'll see two a day -- two killed per day because of the dramatic impact that Abu Ghraib had on what we were doing.

And the State Department reported in 2004, right before they quit putting reports out, that indicated a sharp increase in global terrorism.

I said over a year ago now, the military and the administration agrees now that Iraq cannot be won militarily. I said two year ago, "The key to progress in Iraq is Iraqitize, internationalize and energize."

Now, we have a packet for you where I sent a letter to the president in September and I got an answer back from the assistant secretary of defense five months later.

I believe the same today. They don't want input. They only want to criticize.

Bush One was the opposite.

MURTHA: Bush One might not like the criticism and constructive suggestion, but he listened to what we had to say.

I believe and I have concluded the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is impeding this progress. Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are united against U.S. forces, and we have become a catalyst for violence. U.S. troops are the common enemy of the Sunnis, the Saddamists and the foreign jihadists. And let me tell you, they haven't captured any in this latest activity, so this idea that they're coming in from outside, we still think there's only 7 percent.

I believe with a U.S. troop redeployment, the Iraqi security forces will be incentivized to take control. A poll recently conducted -- this is a British poll reported in the Washington Times -- over 80 percent of Iraqis are strongly opposed to the presence of coalition forces and about 45 percent of Iraqi population believe attacks against American troops are justified.

I believe we need to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis. I believe before the Iraqi elections, scheduled for mid-December, the Iraqi people and the emerging government must be put on notice: The United States will immediately redeploy -- immediately redeploy.

No schedule which can be changed, nothing that's controlled by the Iraqis, this is an immediate redeployment of our American forces because they have become the target.

All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free, free from a United States occupation. And I believe this will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process.

My experience in a guerrilla war says that until you find out where they are, until the public is willing to tell you where the insurgent is, you're not going to win this war.

MURTHA: In Vietnam it was the same way. If you have a military operation, and you tell the Sunnis, because their families are in jeopardy -- you tell the Iraqis, then they are going to tell the insurgents, because they're worried about their families.

My plan calls for immediate redeployment of U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces to create a quick reaction force in the region, to create an over-the-horizon presence of Marines, and to diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq.

Now, let me personalize this thing for you. I go out to the hospitals every week. One of my first visits -- two young women. One was 22 or 23, had two children; lost her husband. One was 19. And they both went out to the hospitals to tell the people out there how happy they should be to be alive. In other words, they were reaching out because they felt their husbands had done their duty, but they wanted to tell them that they were so fortunate, even though they were wounded, to be alive.

I have a young fellow in my district who was blinded and he lost his foot. And they did everything they could for him at Walter Reed, then they sent him home.

His father was in jail; he had nobody at home -- imagine this: young kid that age -- 22, 23 years old -- goes home to nobody. V.A. did everything they could do to help him.

He was reaching out, so they sent him -- to make sure that he was blind, they sent him to John Hopkins. John Hopkins started to send him bills. Then the collection agency started sending bills.

Well, when I found out about it, you could imagine they stopped the collection agency and Walter Reed finally paid the bills. But imagine a young person being blinded, without a foot, and he's getting bills from a collection agency.

I saw a young soldier who lost two legs and an arm.

MURTHA: His dad was pushing him around.

I go to the mental ward. You know what they say to me? They've got battle fatigue. You know what they say? "We don't get nothing. We get nothing. We're just as bruised, just as injured as everybody else, but we don't even get a Purple Heart. We get nothing. We get shunted aside. We get looked at as if there's something wrong with us."

I saw a young woman from Notre Dame, basketball player, right- handed; lost her right hand. You know what she's worried about? She's worried about her husband, because he lost weight worrying about her.

These are great people. These soldiers and people who are serving, they're marvelous people.

I saw a Seabee lying there with three children. His mother and his wife were there. And he was paralyzed from the neck down. There were 18 of them killed in this one mortar attack -- and they were all crying because they knew what it would be like in the future.

I saw a Marine rub his boy's hand. He was a Marine in Vietnam, and his son had just come back from Iraq. And he said he wanted his brother to come home, is what the father said, because the kid couldn't speak. He was in a coma. Kept rubbing his hand.

He didn't want to come home. I told the Marine Corps to get him home.

There's one other kid lost both of his hands, blinded. I was praising him, saying how proud we were of him and how much we appreciate his service to the country. "Anything I can do for you?"

His mother said, "Get him a Purple Heart."

I said, "What do you mean, get him a Purple Heart?"

He had been wounded in taking care of bomblets -- these bomblets that they drop that they have to dismantle.

MURTHA: And he had been wounded and lost both his hands. The kid behind him was killed.

His mother said, because they were friendly bomblets, they wouldn't give him a Purple Heart.

I met with the commandant. I said, "If you don't give him a Purple Heart, I'll give him one of mine." And they gave him a Purple Heart.

Let me tell you something: We're charged -- Congress is charged with sending our sons and daughters into battle, and it's our responsibility, our obligation, to speak out for them. That's why I'm speaking out.

Our military's done everything that has been asked of them. The U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It's time to bring the troops home.

QUESTION: Congressman, Republicans say that Democrats who are calling for withdrawal are a advocating a cut-and-run strategy. What do you say to that criticism?

MURTHA: It's time to bring them home. They've done everything they can do. The military has done everything they can do. This war has been so mishandled from the very start. Not only was the intelligence bad, the way they disbanded the troops. There's all kinds of mistakes have been made.

They don't deserve to continue to suffer. They're the targets. They have become the enemy. Eighty percent of the Iraqis want us out of there. The public wants us out of there.

QUESTION: Democrats have called for an exit strategy in the past, but Republicans have said that it's a nonstarter. Is there anything -- do you think that the climate has changed in Congress that would give your legislation a chance?

MURTHA: I don't know whether the climate's changed or not, but I know one thing: It's the right thing to do. And setting an exit strategy with some kind of event-driven plan doesn't work, because they always find an excuse not to get them out.

There's times you just got to -- you got to change your mind about this thing, you got to change your direction. There's times when you just got to say, "What's the right thing to do?" The right thing to do -- our troops are the enemy, they're the targets.

When I went to Anbar province, General Huck (ph) said to me, "You know, the thing that's so discouraging? We got all this armor and everything, and the snipers are shooting right below the helmets." They blowing the turrets off tanks no matter how much armor that we put out there.

MURTHA: We're the targets. We're uniting the enemy against us. And there's terrorism all over the world that there wasn't before we went into Iraq.

QUESTION: Mr. Murtha, you say that -- your first point about bringing them home, consistent with the safety of U.S. forces. You know about these matters. What is your sense as to how long that would be?

MURTHA: I think that you get them out of there in six months. I think that we could do it -- you have to do it in a very consistent way, but I think six months would be a reasonable time to get them out of there.

Let me add something else: Let's say you wanted to go the other way; you wanted to put 500,000 troops over there. Now, we can't even meet the goals of 512,000. We're going to be 10,000 short in recruitment right now. Unless you have a draft, there's no way that you can have more troops.

And where are most of the attacks coming? On the roads to logistics. General Huck (ph) said every convoy is attacked.

I had a young Marine that -- I went to a young group that just came back, and he said that he'd been hit five times. Now, he wasn't wounded five times but his vehicle was hit five times, and people all around him were killed.

But what was the question?

QUESTION: My other question: What do you mean exactly by a quick reaction force in the region?

MURTHA: Well, the Marines in Okinawa -- remember in Somalia, we came back from Somalia and then we went back in. It only took us a couple days to take care of the Iraqi army, and now we're not talking about an army.

What I'm talking about is a terrorist camp that may affect our national security or the security in the region, we can go back in. But not a civil war or something like that. That's up to the Iraqis to settle that.

So I think the Marine force could be in there momentarily, within a couple days, within 48 hours they could be in there. And if the Kuwaitis would agree and they wanted to put a force in Kuwait, that would be a good place to have them; they could go right down the road.

QUESTION: Mr. Murtha, what about the goal of having an oasis of democracy in the Middle East and the idea that this leaving now would leave a breeding ground for terrorists right in the middle in the least-stable heartland?

MURTHA: Let's talk about terrorism. What the State Department said? There's more terrorism now than there ever was, and it's because of what? Is it because of our policy? I would say it's a big part. We have become the enemy there. We have united them against us.

So when they say that they want democracy, what was the first goal? The first goal was to get rid of weapons of mass destruction. The second goal was to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Well, they did that. And a third was to -- well, I guess the third was destroy the enemy, and then get rid of Saddam Hussein.

We've done our job militarily. It's time for us to get out.

QUESTION: You said that you had spoken with the caucus earlier today. What was their reaction? And are they willing to stand with you on this?

MURTHA: Well, you'll have to talk to them about that. I got a standing ovation, but you'll have to talk to them.

QUESTION: The president and the vice president are both saying that it is now irresponsible for Democrats to criticize the war and to criticize the intelligence going into the war, because everybody was looking at the same intelligence.

MURTHA: I like guys who've never been there that criticize us who've been there. I like that.

I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done.

MURTHA: I resent the fact, on Veterans Day, he criticized Democrats for criticizing them. This is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public knows it.

And lashing out at critics doesn't help a bit. You've got to change the policy. That's what's going to help with the American people. We need changed direction.

The troops -- what hurts the troops are the things that I listed before.

QUESTION: How did you come to this decision now? Obviously, it's something you've been thinking a lot about. But you just talk it through a little bit how you got here?

MURTHA: Yes. I'll tell you, I led the fight to go to war in '91. I was one of the few people that believed that Bush One was absolutely right about not going into Iraq.

You know why he didn't go into Iraq? He said, "I don't want to rebuild it and I don't want to occupy it." That's why he didn't go into Iraq after the '91 war.

I supported Reagan all through the Central American thing.

This was a decision that came because the troops and the targets -- they become the target -- and the lack of progress that I see.

When I go there, I see commanders that are discouraged; even though they say what they're supposed to say, you can tell the difference. And when I come back here and look at what is called the criteria for success, and the incidents have increased even though we've increased the number of troops, when the unemployment is 60 percent and we're the target and our kids are being killed because of that, it's time to redeploy them from Iraq.

QUESTION: Mr. Murtha, based on your meeting this morning, I assume you have Ms. Pelosi's endorsement of this.

MURTHA: No, you have to talk to her.

I was very careful not to say this was a caucus position. A lot of people suggested it should be. But I was very careful about this. This is my own position, my own conclusion that I have reached.

My long years in the Marine Corps, my long years in Defense, in reading -- I'm frustrated because in the first war, President Bush, we made some suggestions to him -- what did he do? He collected $60 billion -- and I was chairman of the committee at the time -- $60 billion from all the world in order to fight the war.

MURTHA: We paid about $60 billion. There were coalition troops -- a legitimate coalition. And I remember calling General Scowcroft saying, "Get this thing moving, get this war over with. There's 250,000 troops out there." He said, "We will not move until we got whatever Schwarzkopf wants." And that's what they did.

And they followed the U.N. resolution to a T. He didn't want a resolution, you remember. This was a very controversial thing, the '91 thing. People forget how controversial it was. And it only passed the Senate by two votes.

But he listened to us. He had a meeting every week and listened to what we had to say. And sometimes he took the advice; sometimes he didn't.

This outfit doesn't want to hear any suggestions. It's frustrating. And the troops are paying the price for it.

QUESTION: So you're effectively saying that this war should end, beginning as soon as possible and that all these troops can be brought home within six months, or that's your hope.

MURTHA: I say, they could be brought back -- I'm saying, within -- the safety of the troops. But I project it could be six months.

QUESTION: Six months to start it or six months to have them all back?

MURTHA: I think, in six months, you could have them all back.

QUESTION: What's your plans for the Defense conference coming up on the anti-torture?

MURTHA: Well, we thought it was going to be today but it doesn't look like it.

QUESTION: Do you intend to fight to keep the anti-torture language that the Senate has in the bill?

MURTHA: I think you'll see a big vote -- Republicans, many Republicans come to me; nobody's for torture, you know. And for us to send a signal to the world that we're for torture -- I mean, this is what caused a major part of the change in minds in Iraq and the United States is Abu Ghraib.

Some of those are my constituents who were at Abu Ghraib.

One young fellow who was the ringleader -- at least, they said he was a ringleader -- this guy was under a court order not to be allowed to see his family because he abused his family.

He couldn't carry a gun in the United States, yet they put him in charge of this group that got out of hand. He told them and they still -- they were so short-handed -- no supervision, no training.

You need strict guidance.

Captain Fishback came to see me five, six months ago.

MURTHA: He said, "We don't know what to do. We don't know what the guidelines are. I'd ask a lawyer and he'd say one thing. I'd ask the commanding officer, he'd say something else. Were you guys complicit in this, you guys in Congress part of this? Did you wink and say, 'Yes, go ahead and torture these people?'" He said they're not following the Geneva Convention.

We need to clarify exactly what the standards are. We need to make sure that the world knows we do not treat prisoners inhumanely or detainees inhumanely.

Fishback said, "I'd rather die than lower the moral standards of the United States." He said that in a letter to John McCain, and I believe that. I believe this is the thing that we have going for us in this country.

QUESTION: Do you believe that many House Republicans support your position on the torture?

MURTHA: I do.

QUESTION: Enough to keep it in?

MURTHA: I do. He's not going to veto that bill over torture, I'll tell you that, not a Defense bill when we got troops in the war.

QUESTION: Mr. Murtha, could you respond directly to what Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld say, that saying that we're going to get out in six months is giving the insurgents exactly what they want in Iraq? They just can outlast us.

MURTHA: I can only tell you this: Incidents have increased and there's no economic progress. And we have become the enemy. And 80 percent of the Iraqis want us out of there.

Saying it -- the president said it's tough to win a war. It's tough to wage a war. That's where the fallacy's been. To wage this war is where the problem's been.

QUESTION: Do you have any cosponsors?

MURTHA: I didn't ask for any. I'm not sure that -- I think I'll just sponsor it myself. I feel very strongly about this thing, and I'm not sure whether I'll ask for cosponsors.

QUESTION: What's your political strategy, though, going forward? Because you would have to convince some Republicans to get on your side, and there doesn't seem to be any that are willing to go out on a limb on this and buck the leadership. Do you have private conversations with any Republicans who say to you quietly, "I'm behind this"?

MURTHA: I have not yet because, obviously, anything I said before this time would have leaked out. You folks are so hard- working, so dedicated, have such an ability to get words out of people that I knew better than to say anything.

QUESTION: Do you have a political strategy moving forward to try to get some more support on this?

MURTHA: Well, I'm just starting to think about that.

QUESTION: Will you introduce your bill today?

MURTHA: Yes.

STAFF: OK, folks, one more question.

QUESTION: Have you had any discussions with anyone in the administration prior to coming out with this -- the idea that you were coming all the way around to having troops come back immediately? Have you had any discussions prior to coming out?

MURTHA: My experience goes back to the letter I sent to them. As a former chairman, as a ranking member of the Defense Subcommittee, five months later I get a letter from the assistant secretary.

So I didn't have much chance to speak to the administration about it.

And I know it wouldn't have made any difference. I mean, what they're saying is rhetoric. It's easy to sit in these air-conditioned offices and talk about what the troops are doing, send the troops to war.

But I tell you, these young folks are under intense activity over there; much more intense than Vietnam. You never know when it's going to happen.

One young commanding officer -- I just met with him the other day; went out to the hospital to see him. He's from Johnstown. He actually was the commanding officer of a unit in Johnstown. Three days before he's to go home, he walked up to this IED and it blew up. It blew him apart.

Luckily, he had the glasses on that we've provided for them, and it didn't blind him, for he'd have been blinded.

And I remember one young fellow -- and this is the last story I'll tell -- is he had pockmarks all over his face -- shrapnel all over his face, all over his body, arms, every place -- but he wasn't blinded. And I was so pleased because he had glasses on that we had made sure they got.

And I patted him on the hand and the vibration was so severe he almost screamed. And he turned his arm over and it was split the whole way up and his nerves were showing.

We've got to address. And these are long-term problems. This is not somebody you just put him out of the hospital. You've got long- term problems with these guys and the intensity that they have been through.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Senators Warner and Stevens have just been talking with reporters on the other side of the Capitol, and they said that they had yet to meet a single soldier in Iraq or at the hospitals here who thought it was time to pull out of Iraq.

MURTHA: They're right.

(CROSSTALK)

MURTHA: What do you think they're going to tell you?

We're here to talk for them. We're here to measure success. The soldiers aren't going to tell you that. I told you what the soldier say. They're proud of their service. They're looking at their friends.

We are here. We have an obligation to speak for them.

Thank you very much.

END .ETX


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