Robert Byrd, the longest serving legislator in US history, died last night in a Washington hospital. He overcame the racial politics of his upbringing, repudiating his youthful flirtations with the Klan and championing a vision of the Constitution that secured rights to all Americans. He was a voice against needless war and against abusing the war on terrorism as an excuse to strip citizens of our Constitutional rights.
He will be missed for those reasons, and among the many other reasons, for his strident speeches, like this from September 13, 2006:
September 11 has come and gone, and as we remember those lost on that fateful day, and contemplate events since the horrific attack, one truth stands out.
The war in Iraq has backfired, producing more recruits for terrorism, and deep divisions within our own country. It is a war we should never have begun. The detour from our attack on Bin Laden and his minions, hiding in the cracks and crevices of the rough terrain of Afghanistan, to the unwise and unprovoked attack on Iraq has been a disastrous one. … Where is the America of restraint, of peace and of inspiration to millions? Where is the America respected not only for her military might, but also for her powerful ideas and her reasonable diplomacy?
Our country may have deviated occasionally from its positive global image in the past, but Abu Ghraib, the body snatching for torture, euphemistically called rendition, Presidential directives which unilaterally alter conditions of the Geneva Convention — these are not the stuff of mere slight deviations from the America of peacefulness, fairness, and goodwill.… I cannot remember a time in our history when our elected leaders have failed the people so completely, and yet, so far, are not held accountable for costly misjudgments and outright deceptions.
…Secretary Rumsfeld… President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. These men continue to try to make the American public swallow whole the line that the war in Iraq is the front line of a global war on terror, which must be continued at all costs. Stay the course, they say, despite three years of discouragingly little progress in Iraq.…
Some of our citizens have apparently been convinced that it is unpatriotic to criticize one’s country when that country is engaged in an armed conflict. In fact, in our land today, there is a troubling tolerance for government overreaching on fronts at home as well as abroad. This Administration has repeatedly used fear and flag-waving to blunt the traditional American insistence on the Bill of Rights, personal freedom of thought and action, privacy, and one’s right to speak and write as one pleases. Such a cynical exercise on the part of high officials of our government is unconscionable. It is shameful behavior for which there is no excuse.
The Congress, under the control of the President’s party has been submissive, a lap dog wagging its tail in appreciation of White House secrecy and deception. Even the vast majority of the opposition party has been too quiet for too long — unable to find its voice, stunted by the demand to “support the troops.”…
President Bush insists that his war must go on. He defends warrantless wiretapping of our own citizens as essential to his cause, despite a court decision that the President has no such authority under our Constitution. He defends torture and rendition, and says that they have produced valuable evidence which has subverted several terror attacks on our country. But, his credibility is so damaged that it is difficult to believe him. He demands the authority to hold terror suspects indefinitely, and then to try them using military tribunals which deny basic rights, also in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling. He seems convinced that he can “win” a global war on terror despite the demonstrated failure of his policies of unilateralism, militarism, overheated rhetoric, and a pathological dislike of diplomacy. It is up to the Congress to change course and to stop the heinous raiding of constitutionally protected liberties by a White House which does not fully appreciate the true meaning of the word freedom.
I hope that we may find the courage.
His courage lives on in us all.