Former MN Senator Becky Lourey: Why Not Let Moral Principles Guide Governance?

09/26/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Image: Coleen Rowley, Congressman John Murtha, Becky Lourey (2006 G. Nienaber)

It was late September 2006 and Minnesota was in the throws of mid-term elections. Coleen Rowley was waging an impossible uphill battle against incumbent John Kline for a congressional seat in the countryside south of Minneapolis. I was working the Rowley campaign, having taken six months off from writing to try to make a difference and help a real-life heroine. Rowley had consistently opposed the Iraq war since before it was launched, stating that there was no link to al Qaeda, as the administration and her opponent, John Kline, both claimed. Rowley was and is a 24-year veteran of the F.B.I. and Time "Person of the Year" in 2002 for her role as a whistleblower on intelligence failures prior to 9/11.

Congressman John Murtha was in town to give Rowley a boost, and the Rowley campaign staff had gathered at the Rosemount American Legion Post No. 65 that was literally bursting at seams with Rowley supporters. Congressman Murtha, Minnesota's senior Congressman, Jim Oberstar (D-MN 8th), and Rowley were meeting with U.S. military veterans and the public.

Congressman Murtha, a 37-year Veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who had served in the U.S. Congress since 1975, had recently taken the lead in Washington by proposing to redeploy American troops in Iraq with a resolution known as "The Murtha Plan." FOX News was gathering for the kill, even though most local media was out covering the aftermath of a tornado that devastated a suburban community the night before.

But, someone else caught my eye. Virtually unnoticed, former State Senator Becky Lourey was standing quietly in the back of the room. Not months before, she had been the center of media attention as she bucked the party hacks in her quest for the gubernatorial nomination. She lost that bid, and the media lights vanished in favor of the anointed DFL candidate who subsequently lost to current Republican vice-presidential option, Tim Pawlenty. But Lourey never lost the hard-earned moral high ground that had defined her political career from the beginning, when she became the first woman elected to represent her rural district in eastern Minnesota.

During her run for governor, Lourey championed peace above all. Lourey had been a peace advocate even before her son, Army Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Lourey, 40, died when his helicopter was shot down in Iraq. Matt was killed on May 27, 2005 over Buhriz, Iraq during his second tour of duty.

Well before Matt was killed, Lourey was adamantly opposed to the invasion of Iraq. A voice for the minority in the hopped-up days before the war, she authored an antiwar resolution signed by eighteen other Minnesota state senators in March 2003. She said she spoke out against the Iraq war because "this war is alienating us from the rest of the world, and I believe that this occupation in Iraq is making Americans less safe."


Matt Lourey was a hero. He did not have to go back the second time and had also served time in Bosnia. After his death, Lourey received many emails from soldiers whose lives were saved because of him.

In an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now after Matt died, Lourey made the point that needs to be made now as we consider our presidential choices and our moral obligations as citizens to be actively engaged in policy.

"We must have an honorable, honest commander-in-chief who directs the work that our armed forces do. There is a serious distinction between the irresponsibility of bad decisions by a commander-in-chief and the responsibilities that the army folks hold among themselves for protecting each other in conflicts like this," Lourey said.

The irony of the diminutive farm woman with the huge convictions standing alone dressed in a navy suit with the Gold Star on her lapel was enough to take my breath away. There was only one thing to do, and I walked to the back of the Legion Hall, tripping over local FOX-TV television cables along the way, and guided her gently to a seat next to Congressman Murtha. Murtha was there to not only support Rowley, but to take on the mainstream network talking heads that were savaging him.

Even Tim Russert went for Murtha's jugular on Meet the Press weeks later and asked Murtha, "Congressman, when you heard those words, 'Cowards cut and run, Marines never do,' how did you feel?"

This, after Russet made editorial comment after editorial comment about how leaving Iraq would result in a "bloodbath."

This past March 19, 2008, private citizen Becky Lourey gave a speech at the Minnesota State Capitol Rotunda. It was the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

In these days when there is bitter debate both here and at other progressive news sites about what constitutes "news" and worthy editorial commentary, perhaps we need to be asking the bigger questions. The Internet is filled with impossible amounts of writing, commentary and just plain old rambling, but this "lost" speech by a steely woman from rural Minnesota has a message which all Americans and especially those writers with a bully pulpit might do well to consider.

Following, is Lourey's speech with minimal editing. I dropped Lourey a note and asked if I could write an op-ed around it, since I have been deeply troubled by the lack of a moral compass in media and in our leadership choices.

Her response?

One word.


Imagine this Gold Star mother giving a speech under the Minnesota Capitol dome, with the floor in front of the podium littered with empty combat boots.

Lourey's Comments

I have placed Matt's photo directly in front of me so that as I glance up I am gazing into his eyes. This message today on the 5th Anniversary of the Invasion of Iraq -- a conspiracy to defraud the United States by President Bush, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald M. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin M. Powell -- is laden with pain, but also with determination. Determination to see that these tragedies are not repeated in places such as Iran, promises that the persons who wrote the torture memos and allowed horrendous acts against humanity and human rights in prisons in Bagram, Afghanistan, at Guantanamo, Cuba, at Abu Ghraib, Iraq, and extraordinary rendition are brought to justice.

How We Allowed Fear to Completely Annihilate Our Humanity

I just hate it when we don't learn from history. After realizing the horrible things we had done by interring the Japanese Americans in detention camps during World War II, and following President Ronald Regan's apology in 1988, when he signed a law passed by Congress, I thought we would never do things like this again. Especially now since we have the Geneva Convention and the Nuremberg Principles to guide us, how is it we let fear completely annihilate our humanity! Have patience, because justice will be done, and as a nation, as a people, we will seek atonement for the sins we have committed.

The Nuremberg Principles provide for accountability for war crimes committed by military and civilian officials. Principle IV of the Nuremberg Principles states: "The fact that a person acted pursuant to an order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him. Principal VI of the Nuremberg Principles: The following crimes are punishable as crimes under international law:

Crimes against peace: i. Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances; ii. Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).
War Crimes: Violations of the laws or customs of war which include, but are not limited to murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave-labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war, of persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.

Crimes against humanity: Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, when such acts are done, or such persecutions are carried on in execution of, or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime.

Attacking Iran Would Be a War Crime

Attacking Iran will be a crime against peace, a war crime. Those conducting military operations will be violating the Nuremberg Principles, the Geneva Conventions and the Laws of Land Warfare. Prosecution for commission of war crimes is possible.

Why am I talking about attacking Iran?

The recent resignation of Admiral William J. Fallon caused many of us who watched the conspiracy to invade Iraq move steadily forward to pay closer attention because Admiral Fallon is a critic of Bush and is adamantly against invading Iran.

The Boston Globe considers "the validity of Fallon's advice" as it notes that Bush has a "history of stumbling into grievous strategic errors" because he ignores the advice of military commanders. While Secretary of Defense Robert Gates states that he also does not want to invade Iran, President Bush has stubbornly refused to take it off the table and we know that Vice President Cheney has certainly considered the idea.

In 1997, a new conservative Washington think-tank called the Project for the New American Century was established. Vice President Dick Cheney, at the time Chairman of Halliburton, was a founding member. Soon after its founding, the Project for the New American Century produced a white paper published in September of 2000, which outlines what is required of America to create the global empire they envision. The white paper expressed the conviction that, and I quote, "Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to U.S. interests in the Gulf as Iraq has. And even should U.S.-Iranian relations improve; retaining forward-based forces in the region would still be an essential element in U.S. security strategy given the longstanding American interests in the region." End quote.

And I suspect that they don't care at all that the National Intelligence Estimate which represents the consensus view of 16 US Intelligence Agencies reported on December 3, 2007, that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen.

So, Why Wouldn't We Be Worried?

Admiral Fallon succeeded Army General John Abizaid and both were against the surge. On November 15, 2006, General Abizaid appeared before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee and said, "It is easy for the Iraqis to rely on us to do this work. I believe that more American Forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, taking more responsibility for their own future."

Let's look closer at the surge. It is interesting to me to discover that the surge is indeed killing fewer American soldiers, but just as many Iraqis are being killed -- the death toll is at 2005 levels. Does someone think this is acceptable?

Don't we care about them?

International agencies are reporting Iraqi death tolls as high as one million dead. But these numbers aren't reported here in the US. My dear friend, Ann Wright, who retired from the U.S. Army Reserves as a Colonel after 29 years, who served in Grenada, Panama, Greece, the Netherlands, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, and Mongolia, who was on the small team that reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, in December 2001, and who resigned from the U.S. Diplomatic Corps in March 2003 in opposition to the Iraq War, agrees with the observation written by Peter Oborne from Baghdad for The Daily Mail.

Holding a Bull by its Tail

Ann and Peter both worry that "by arming former insurgents and paying them to swoop sides, the U.S. risks building up heavily armed new militias who could unleash untold terror and blood-letting once American troops pull out." (Peter's quote.) The surge is like the concept of holding on to a bull by his tail; if you let go, everything breaks again. It is also like squeezing a balloon, U.S. personnel are dying in fewer numbers where the surge (the squeeze) is occurring, but the killing is swelling out to the surrounding areas.

The surge is also creating problems with U.S. Army recruitment, Peter Oborne reports. "Former U.S. General Barry McGaffrey warned that "the U.S. Army is starting to unravel. Our recruiting campaign is bringing into the Army thousands of new soldiers who should not be in uniform "- drugs and mental delinquency being the reason." (Peter Oborne.)

Think of it, Americans on the edge being recruited to die for oil. I feel more comfortable saying that, now that so many more people with more credibility than I are also saying it: General Abizaid, Retired, "Of course it's about oil, we can't really deny that." New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, "We've treated the Arab world as a collection of big gas stations." Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, "the Iraq War is largely about oil."

Just look at what the greed of this administration has done to our country. It has devastated our economy. It is said that the attention of the electorate in this election season that is upon us is focused on the economy, and not on the war.

It is said that Americans have become accustomed to the backdrop of the ongoing killings in the war in Iraq as they struggle to make ends meet and deal with financial challenges as food and energy prices soar, as they lose their homes, as they lose value in their retirement accounts, as they can't afford college, as their schools lay off teachers, as they lose their health care.

Where Have Our Morals Gone?

But can't you see, it is the war in Iraq that is causing the crumbling of our own economy, it is the unchecked greed of the people at the helm of our failing institutions as they walk away with golden parachutes and their employees lose their pensions and their jobs. Where have our morals gone? We have a president who told us to go spend money in time of crisis -- I was raised to believe that it is not spending, but working -- jobs, jobs that are needed to meet the challenges facing our world -- that build and rejuvenate an economy. And war only makes a few rich -- the oil companies and a few defense contractors.

Bush of course denies it, but the new report by Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Blimes presents figures to us that are staggering. The Washington Post reports that the authors "final tally reaches $2.2 trillion in their best case scenario and $5 trillion in their realistic scenario -- and those figures don't even count the costs to Iraq, U.S. allies and the rest of the world. Choosing to err on the conservative side (and perhaps on the side of a catchier book title) the authors settle on $3 trillion." The title of the book is The Three Trillion Dollar War; its authors are experts on the subject. Stiglitz is the Nobel Prize winning Columbia University economist and Blimes is a Harvard University lecturer and public finance expert.

So -- when Americans are focusing on the economy, they are in fact focusing on the war at the same time -- whether they are aware of it or not.

Maybe 4,000 U.S. military dead by the time this 5th anniversary ends, 29,000 physically wounded with multiple serious injuries, not to mention the psychological scars from repeated deployments and extended tours of duty without rest, inadequate medical support upon returning home. Somewhere between 600,000 and one million Iraqis dead, and 5 million displaced -- take a moment to consider the horror refugees and immigrants are experiencing and the crisis created for the people and the countries. With the Red Cross estimating that more than 2,200 doctors and nurses have been killed and of the 34,000 doctors registered in Iraq in 1990, at least 20,000 have left the country.

Beatrice Megevand Roggo of the Red Cross pleads, "Better security in some parts of Iraq must not distract attention from the continuing plight of millions of people who have essentially been left to their own devices."

How can caring Americans bear this unconscionable state of affairs? How can we go on remembering what we knew from the back pages of the newspapers, from former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, that there were no weapons of mass destruction. We knew there were no operational links between Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein even before the March 11, 2008, report from The Institute for Defense Analyses stated, after examining 600,000 Iraqi documents, that there was no link. What have we done!

Remaining Calm and Steady

We must remain calm and steady. We must not appear to be hysterical because we have a message. And we must never tire. We must seek justice -- for hope I recommend that you read former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega's book United States v. George W. Bush et al. It is from her hypothetical indictment to a hypothetical grand jury that I read in the first paragraph "a conspiracy to defraud'. Elizabeth states, "because of Bush's fiction, we agreed to bomb people 8000 miles away whose only "crime" was that they were oppressed by a violent and cruel dictator".

For emotional support and inspiration, I recommend you read Dissent, Voices of Conscience -- Government Insiders Speak Out Against the War in Iraq by Colonel (Ret.) Ann Wright and Susan Dixon, with a foreword by Daniel Ellsberg.

My son admired and respected General Eric Shinseki so I had planned to read the section where he was castigated in public by Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld for speaking truth. However, this quote from Marine Lieutenant General (Ret.) Greg Newbold reaches deep into my emotion and soul, "The commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions -- or bury the results."

On his death bed on March 7, 2006, Psychology Professor Emeritus, Kamal Gindy, UMD, called me to his bedside and told me to never give up. I'm here with you because of my promise to him.

But it is so hard, so hard, isn't it, to be fighting fear -- fear is primal, it is not taught, it is within us, and we must resist it and replace it with empathy and love and action.
--Becky Lourey

Words of grace, wisdom and honor from a formidable Minnesota woman. Another heroine who gives strength to this writer's sword arm.