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Soldier's Death Strengthens Senators' Antiwar Resolve

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone last month with, from left, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Sen. John F. Kerry and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone last month with, from left, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Sen. John F. Kerry and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd. (By Ali Haider -- Associated Press)

"For my sake, he tried to get out" of the deployment, she said. But she knew he felt torn. "A part of him felt very guilty, because he had never gone to Iraq. He had dodged that bullet," she said.

Concerned about leaving his wife while she was pregnant, Freeman was able to obtain a three-month deferral and spend time with their newborn daughter, Ingrid. Just after Christmas in 2005, he grew so concerned about his pending deployment -- and his lack of qualifications to be a civil affairs officer -- that he anxiously contacted a reporter for The Washington Post.

Maj. Tony Nichols, who commanded a tank company that Freeman served in during his active duty, said Freeman "would have gone with a tank crew . . . in a heartbeat" but felt uneasy going with an unfamiliar civil affairs team.

Once in Iraq, Freeman was dismayed to find that his training "had no relation to what they were actually doing," Charlotte Freeman said. "He was appalled," enduring danger but seeing no clear mission, she said. Moreover, he believed that the Iraqis "didn't want us there."

Still, he did his best, working with the governor of Karbala to try to improve security and touching individual lives, such as helping an Iraqi boy who needed heart surgery and obtaining death benefits for an Iraqi interpreter's family. "He truly wanted to make a difference," Charlotte said.

Late last year, Freeman approached the senators at Landing Zone Washington, in Baghdad's Green Zone, "almost out of the shadows," Dodd recalled.

Even though he felt nervous, he told his wife later, he delivered his message with urgency. Soldiers were being deployed to do missions that they were utterly untrained to do; Freeman, for example, an armor officer, had been sent to help foster democracy and rebuild an Iraqi civil society. State Department personnel who could do those jobs were restricted in their travel off military bases by regional security officers who said it was unsafe for them to venture out.

"Senator, it's nuts over here," Dodd quoted Freeman as saying.

Calling him "ridiculously" bright, Nichols said Freeman did not oppose the war but "wanted it to be done better and smarter."

After Dodd mentioned an unnamed Army captain's concerns on NBC's "Meet The Press," Freeman e-mailed him to bring up another concern: the mistreatment of Iraqi interpreters by military contractors.

The connection between Dodd and Freeman went beyond a chance encounter and an exchange of e-mails. On Jan. 20, the day of Freeman's death, his wife was visiting his mother in Utah when a neighbor called to say that a military vehicle had stopped by the Freeman home. Frantic for news, Charlotte Freeman contacted Dodd's staff. The senator's aides learned of Brian Freeman's fate from the Defense Department and helped get military officials dispatched to his wife.

Kerry took the news personally, aides said. In Freeman, he saw something of himself -- a promising young officer, articulate and politically minded. But Kerry made it back from Vietnam.

"All that loss, for what?" Dodd asked.

It was not just Freeman's death that deeply troubled and provoked the two senators, but the way he died, in an apparent betrayal by Iraqi allies. In the days after Freeman's death, Dodd drafted legislation to cap the number of troops in Iraq. Last week in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry backed Dodd in a failed effort to attach the legislative cap to the nonbinding resolution of opposition.

And both men are demanding that the Senate push the confrontation with Bush further. Kerry has resurrected his call for legislation setting a date certain for the withdrawal of troops.

"The notion of sense-of-the-Senate resolutions, what the hell does that mean?" Dodd asked yesterday. "Is that all you got?"

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