Washington Thousands of protesters — many directing their anger squarely at President Barack Obama — marched through the nation’s capital Saturday to urge immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
At least eight people, including activist Cindy Sheehan, were arrested by U.S. Park Police at the end of the march, after laying coffins at a fence outside the White House. Friday marked the seventh anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
“Arrest that war criminal!” Sheehan shouted outside the White House before her arrest, referring to Obama.
At a rally before the march, Sheehan asked whether “the honeymoon was over with that war criminal in the White House” — an apparent reference to Obama — prompting moderate applause.
The protesters defied orders to clear the sidewalk on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, and park police say they face charges of failure to obey a lawful order.
Activist Ralph Nader told thousands who gathered in Lafayette Park across from the White House that Obama has essentially continued the policies of the Bush administration, and it was foolish to have thought otherwise.
“He’s kept Guantanamo open, he’s continued to use indefinite detention,” Nader said. The only real difference, he said, is that “Obama’s speeches are better.”
Others were more conciliatory toward Obama. Shirley Allan of Silver Spring, Md., carried a sign that read, “President Obama We love you but we need to tell you! Your hands are getting bloody!! Stop it now.”
Allan thought it was going too far to call Obama a war criminal but said she is deeply disappointed that the conflicts are continuing.
“He has to know it’s unacceptable,” Allan said. “I am absolutely disappointed.”
The protest organized by Act Now to Stop War and Racism or ANSWER drew a smaller crowd than the tens of thousands who marched in 2006 and 2007. Protests in cities around the country also had far fewer participants than in the past.
San Francisco’s rally brought out Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the top-secret Pentagon Papers study of the Vietnam War and is the subject of the recent documentary film, “The Most Dangerous Man in America.” He likened the protest and others like it around the country Saturday to a day of demonstrations organized against the conflict in Vietnam in 1969.
“They thought it had no effect,” he told the crowd in San Francisco, referring to the 1969 protesters. “They were wrong.”
Ellsberg said President Richard Nixon was planning to escalate the war around that time, but held off.
Protesters in Washington stopped at the offices of military contractor Halliburton — where they tore apart an effigy of former Vice President and Halliburton Chief Executive Dick Cheney — the Mortgage Bankers Association and The Washington Post offices.
Despite the arrests, the protest was peaceful. At the outset, police closed a portion of the sidewalk in front of the White House fence after protesters tried to use mud and large stencils to spell out “Iraq veterans against the war.”