Sat, May 06, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Protesters heckle Rumsfeld speech

ROUGH RIDE The US defense secretary was shouted at and accused of lying in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq by demonstrators during a speech on Thursday

AP , ATLANTA

Anti-war protester Gloria Tatum, left, is restrained after she disrupted a speech by US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Atlanta on Thursday.

PHOTO: AP

Anti-war protesters repeatedly interrupted US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during a speech, and one of them, a former CIA analyst, accused him in a question-and-answer session of lying about prewar intelligence on Iraq.

"Why did you lie to get us into a war that caused these kind of casualties and was not necessary?" asked Ray McGovern, the former analyst. He said Rumsfeld had told a "lie" about supposedly known caches of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and had falsely linked al-Qaeda to former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's regime.

"I did not lie," shot back Rumsfeld, who waved off security guards ready to remove McGovern from the hall at the Southern Center for International Studies.

With Iraq war support remaining low, it is not unusual for top Bush administration officials to encounter protests and hostile questions. But the outbursts Rumsfeld confronted on Thursday seemed beyond the usual.

Three protesters were escorted away by security as each interrupted Rumsfeld's speech by jumping up and shouting anti-war messages. Throughout the speech, a fourth protester stood in the middle of the room with his back to Rumsfeld in silent protest. Officials reported no arrests.

Rumsfeld also faced tough questions from a woman identifying herself as Patricia Roberts of Lithonia, Georgia, who said her son, 22-year-old Specialist Jamaal Addison, was killed in Iraq. Roberts said she is now raising her young grandson and asked whether the government could provide any help.

Rumsfeld referred her to a Web site listing aid organizations.

US President George W. Bush seldom faces such challenges. Demonstrators usually are kept far from him when he delivers public remarks.

Rumsfeld has been interrupted by anti-war demonstrators in congressional hearing rooms as he has delivered testimony to lawmakers in recent months, and at some speeches around the country.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has had direct confrontations overseas. These include demonstrators who called her a murderer and war criminal in Australia in March, and throngs of anti-war protesters who dogged her every move in northern England last month.

Demonstrators were kept far away from Rice during a visit last week to Greece, where riot police confronted a violent street mob that smashed shop windows in protest of US policies and Rice's role in the US-led invasion of Iraq.

More than half of Americans say the war in Iraq was not worth the cost financially or in loss of life, recent public polling has found. Just over one-third of those surveyed say they approve of Bush's handing of the war. Public sentiment about the war has been at those low levels since last fall.

Just over one-third of the public says Rumsfeld is doing an excellent or pretty good job, according to polling in March, while six in 10 said fair or poor.

In the run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration repeatedly spoke of evidence that Saddam Hussein had acquired weapons of mass destruction. No such armaments have been found. Officials also spoke about connections between Saddam and al-Qaeda that critics say remain unproven.

In recent weeks, a number of retired generals have called for Rumsfeld's resignation, saying that he has ignored advice offered by military officers and made strategic errors in the Iraq war, including committing too few troops. But he has received strong backing by Bush, who repeatedly has indicated he will keep Rumsfeld at the Pentagon.

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