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At the University of Minnesota: Protesters Disrupt Speech by U.S. Military Official

By Katrina Plotz

Minneapolis, MN – The Anti-War Committee and the Anti-War Organizing League co-sponsored a lively protest here, Nov. 15, to voice opposition to U.S. wars in the Middle East and to challenge the presence of United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus.

USCENTCOM is part of the Department of Defense and is responsible for conducting military operations in the central region of the globe. Maj. Gen. Michael J. Diamond, deputy director of logistics for USCENTCOM, came to the U of M’s Humphrey Institute to defend the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Local peace and justice activists recognized Diamond’s presentation as an attempt to counter the rising tide of anti-war sentiment around the country. According to Jess Sundin from the Anti-War Committee, “We organized a demonstration in order to deliver a clear message. We demand an end to the war in Iraq and call for U.S. troops to be brought home now.”

The protest began with a student march from Coffman Union to the Humphrey Center. Along the way, several passing students enthusiastically joined the march to voice their opposition to a pro-war event on their campus. When marchers arrived, they united with protesters who had already gathered and held a rally of about 50 people.

Tracy Molm, the emcee of the event, led the crowd in chanting for an end to the war. Katrina Plotz read a poem entitled Where are the Terrorists? that pointed out the hypocrisy of a U.S. military that kills civilians, tortures prisoners and uses weapons of mass destruction in the ‘war on terror.’ Sundin read a letter from Sami Rasouli, an Iraqi-American currently in Iraq working with the Muslim Peacekeeper Team. The letter denounced the war and described the miserable conditions Iraqis are forced to endure because of the U.S. occupation. Anti-War Organizing League member Chris Bassett then attributed the 60% rise in university tuition over the last five years to wars that have cost taxpayers $430 billion.

The protesters then entered the building to confront Diamond as he addressed the audience of about 100. While he was speaking, Meredith Aby asked if any of his charts showed the number of Iraqis who have been killed in the war. Immediately an audience member demanded to know her name, called her a “thug,” and said she was “abusing free speech.” Then Erika Zurawski introduced herself to the audience and asked Diamond to explain the use of white phosphorous, an illegal chemical weapon that has been widely used by the U.S. military in Iraq. Instead of responding, Diamond backed away from the podium, and the moderator began citing a Minnesota statute that anyone interrupting the speaker was, “interfering with the use of a public space,” and would be arrested. In response Chris Bassett shouted, “This is my space. I pay to go to this school!”

At that point, several demonstrators began chanting “Out of Afghanistan! Out of Iraq! Out of the U and don’t come back!” The police then moved in and forced them to leave the auditorium. They continued chanting loudly just outside the door until they were told to leave the building. Diamond then continued his speech by saying that U.S. objectives in the Middle East are often complicated by the high population of young Arabs, a problem he referred to as the “youth bulge” and said it made sense “since we’ve just seen how youth behave.” Some audience members were offended that he would characterize youth negatively for exercising free speech, especially at an event on a college campus. A few protesters remained inside and were told they could stay if they waited to speak until the question and answer session. Minutes later, Jess Sundin was forcibly removed. She was escorted out by two police officers while loudly demanding to know, “How many Iraqis have to die before the military will answer a question?”

Sabry Wazwaz, a Palestinian-American, waited until the question and answer session to dispute Diamond’s assertion that the Iraq war is justified due to radical Islamists’ plans to take over the world. Wazwaz argued that the real reasons for U.S. military intervention are control of oil resources and regional domination. He explained that the U.S. doesn’t really care about freedom or human rights in the Middle East. He cited the friendly relationship between the U.S. and regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who cooperate with the United States but repress their own people. Wazwaz also pointed out that Saddam Hussein, recently sentenced to death for war crimes committed in the 1980s, was an ally of the United States at the time. Diamond responded that the U.S., “has turned over a new leaf,” and went on the next question.

Later an audience member asked about the report from 16 U.S. agencies that the Iraq War has made Americans less safe. This was apparently news to Diamond, who responded, “Really? U.S. agencies?” Many in the audience, at least half of which appeared to be anti-war, chuckled at Diamond’s lack of knowledge and were disappointed that he only took four questions before ending the program.

Afterward, several people, including some of the event organizers, thanked the Anti-War Committee and Anti-War Organizing League for their protest. Some audience members also criticized university officials for removing the protesters from the event. Protest organizers agreed that the event was a success and left determined to continue their vocal opposition to the war in Iraq and U.S. militarism around the world.

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