U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) faced tough questions about his 2002 vote on the war in Iraq during a forum yesterday evening at one of the region's largest Muslim community centers.
Early in his comments at the Islamic Center of Maryland, Wynn explained why he supported the resolution authorizing military force. He said intelligence presented to members of Congress at the time suggested that Iraq had the capacity to use weapons of mass destruction against U.S. citizens.
His explanation, however, did not end the challenges from the audience.
"Is it not true you voted for a major international crime in which thousands of innocent lives were lost?" asked one man.
"I'm not willing to say I voted for a crime," Wynn responded. "That resolution was predicated on intelligence information . . . [but] that information was wrong. It was inaccurate, it was overstated."
Although Wynn later told the group that "some things are better post-Saddam," he said he believes the resolution was a mistake. "I regret that vote based on what I know now," he said.
Wynn -- one of two Maryland Democratic representatives to support the war resolution -- was invited to speak by the Gaithersburg center, which is outside his district but draws some members from it.
He told the audience of about 100 that he is concerned about the potential of the USA Patriot Act to infringe on privacy rights and that he wants to see Israel and a Palestinian state coexist.
He won applause for endorsing a plan to grant Palestinian control of the Gaza Strip. But he drew criticism from some audience members for maintaining that Yasser Arafat made a mistake by rejecting a peace plan promoted by President Bill Clinton shortly before Clinton left office in 2001.
Responding to a question about whether the U.S. government has done enough "to win the hearts and minds" of Muslims in Iraq and the Middle East, Wynn blamed "the arrogance of the Bush administration" for the poor image the United States has overseas. He won vigorous applause when he called for "regime change over here."
Wynn also drew loud applause when he urged the prosecution of any U.S. military leaders who might have ordered or tolerated the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
The scandal at the notorious detention center, though, generated relatively few questions.
Samina Ali, 52, of North Potomac asked Wynn whether racism was responsible for the prisoner abuse. She later said the scandal has demoralized a Muslim community already upset about the war.
But, she said, "We appreciate that the American people are upset by [the scandal], too. That's restored my faith."
Samira Hussein, 49, of Gaithersburg said members of the Islamic Center were most concerned about the Palestinian situation and Wynn's support of the use-of-force resolution.
Abu Ghraib had come as a terrible blow to Muslims in the community, she said -- one they were not fully ready to discuss.
"We're stunned," she said. "It's something shameful. We don't want to bring it up in front of our children."