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Iraq debate: better late than never


The testimonials were impassioned, resolute, heartbreaking.

Colorado Springs attorney John Buckley III talked about his son, a former Army Ranger who, after three combat tours, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and is 100 percent disabled. He was injured in Afghanistan, while searching for Osama bin Laden, in an explosion that killed his best friend.

Buckley's feelings about the need for war cross into Iraq, where, he claims, "Islamofascist" heathens hate Christians and Jews. And the war must go on.

"They want to see us dead," he said.

Gaye Lowe-Kaplan, of Wheat Ridge, talked about her son, nearly killed in the assault of Fallujah, watching wild dogs eating the faces of dead civilians. There, his convoy was ambushed, and he spent several hours with a friend, whose brains were spilling out of his head, waiting for help.

"We simply can't continue to surge our troops into the middle of a civil war," Lowe-Kaplan said.

Pamela Osborne, mother of an active-duty Marine, talked about her son reporting to boot camp two weeks after he graduated from high school. On his 20th birthday, he confided that he had been informed he was "expendable."

Quincy Ryan, of Colorado Springs, critically informed Osborne, and the audience, of the "ugly truth": The United States does not send children to war. "Marines are taught to kill. I know this sounds blunt."

And so it went for four hours, as the state Legislature considered a resolution calling on the president and Congress to stop the escalation of the war in Iraq. In the midst of civil war, George W. Bush has called for more troops in Iraq, and nearly 70 people signed up to let five members of a state Senate committee know exactly what they thought.

What's clear is this: Four years ago, this discussion did not occur. In many ways, it was not allowed to occur. Not in Colorado, and not in Washington, D.C. Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction were a direct threat to the free world, or so we were wrongly informed. The few dissenters were shouted down from the public square, accused of being anti-American, of being traitors.

The past dearth of debate about something as grave as taking a nation to war was not lost on the resolution's Democratic sponsors, Sens. Ken Gordon of Denver and Ron Tupa of Boulder. Gordon says some call him a traitor for sponsoring the nonbinding resolution. No Republican has agreed, at least so far, to support it.

Plenty of anti-war activists also don't much like it. They want a stronger statement far stronger demanding immediate withdrawal of troops.

It is entirely appropriate for states to weigh in on the war, Gordon says. There are the human costs deaths, physical and mental injuries. And there is the cold, hard cash. So far, U.S. taxpayers have spent an estimated $450 billion to $500 billion on the war in Iraq, depending on the source.

Gordon estimates the cost in Colorado at $88 million. But in reality, with 1.5 percent of the nation's population, Colorado could claim as much as $7.8 billion money that could have been spent on education, energy, transportation, clean water.

Diggs Brown, a war veteran from Fort Collins, was "outraged" at politicians playing armchair general. "Thirty years ago our troops came home from Vietnam with individuals spitting on them," he said. "The last thing we need today is the Legislature spitting on them."

Sen. Peter Groff, D-Denver: "The problem I'm having is the fact we went in, in the first place. We've created a civil war. We're spreading terrorism rather than trying to contain it. We've got to say enough is enough thousands of people have died."

Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs: "I want to get out as fast as we can, too, but I don't want us to get out as losers. I want us to get out as winners."

In the end, Schultheis, along with Sen. Ron May, R-Colorado Springs, voted in opposition. Three Democrats approved the resolution, meaning the discussion will move forward to the full state Senate.

One thing is clear. As Tupa pointed out, "Free speech and political debate are two of the bedrocks of our country."

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