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Transcript: Mothers of Slain Soldiers Debate Iraq War
Written by Chris Wallace / Published August 29, 2005 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a transcript from "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace" on August 28, 2005.
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: In Crawford, Texas, Cindy Sheehan (search) led a rally of anti-war demonstrators. She told the crowd their efforts could end the fighting in Iraq. Nearby, supporters of President Bush yelled, "Cindy, go home," and said her actions give hope to the enemy.
We're joined now by two mothers whose sons, when they were both just 19, were killed in Iraq. They now have very different views about the war that the U.S. is waging. Rhonda Winfield's son, Marine Lance Corporal Jason Redifer, died this January, just one week before his tour was up. Rhonda supports the president's policies.
Barbara Porchia's son, Army Reservist Private First Class Jonathan Cheatham, was killed in July of 2003. She says it's time to start pulling out our troops.
Thank you both for joining us today, and we are very sorry for both of your losses.
BARBARA PORCHIA: Thank you.
RHONDA WINFIELD: Thank you.
WALLACE: Let's start with your sons. Both of them enlisted in the service. Barbara, you say that Jonathan died for what he believed to be right. Does that make it tougher now for you to oppose the war?
PORCHIA: Jonathan died because when we were — we started the war. We were told that there were weapons of mass construction (search), imminent threat and connection to 9/11. He joined the military right after 9/11, and he said, "Mom, I want to do something to protect our country."
But as time went on, I looked at the weapons of mass destruction, imminent threat and connection to 9/11. Those things all panned out not to be true. And that is when you look at it and you say what are we really over there for if those things are not true.
WALLACE: Rhonda, let me turn to you. As the casualties of more American troops mount, as Iraqis haggle over the constitution, no doubts at all about staying the course in Iraq, no doubts at all about more mothers sending more sons and daughters to fight there?
WINFIELD: Absolutely no doubts. And I don't say that because my son is gone and can't come back. I have an older son who is in the Army and is still serving and will possibly go as well. We have to be here. We cannot simply stay here and wait for them to come to our shores. We were attacked. Our citizens were murdered on September 11th, and waiting for the next move was not an option.
WALLACE: Barbara, let's talk about the other mothers and other sons. Is it fair to them to see folks back home protesting, raising questions about whether it's worth risking their lives?
PORCHIA: The way I look that is all parents — we love our kids. We love our children dearly. And when we send our children off, I think that we should understand what we're sending our children off for.
Since we don't have weapons of mass destruction, imminent threat or connection to 9/11, and our president's now saying that our soldiers are bringing democracy to Iraq and that our soldiers are dying for a noble cause, I wish he could just explain to us what the noble cause is, so as mothers send their children off they could tell their children what they're so proud of them for, you know, doing and explain to them what they're actually over there for.
My thing now is why are we fighting this war? And if we're fighting terrorists, we were fighting terrorists in Iraq — I mean in Afghanistan. So why did we go to Iraq to fight terrorists? Osama bin Laden, which caused 9/11, was in Afghanistan, so why did we choose to go to Iraq?
I think that's a question that I would have and I think a lot of other mothers — and I don't think that we are taking the morale down of the troops, because I think all of our troops understand that we love them and care for them dearly. We just want them, if they have got to be over there, to know what the reason is.
WALLACE: Rhonda, I know that's a big concern of yours, the question of the message — if there's home front protest, the message that sends and, as Barbara brought up, the issue it has on morale. How do you answer her statements?
WINFIELD: I think not only is it devastating to our troops to see, as they go out every day, putting their lives on the line, watching their brothers and sisters fall for what they are so courageously fighting for, to think that there is dissension among the ranks back home.
They need to know that they are fully supported, fully believed in and fully engaged by all of our concerns. I just have to think that — my son carried with him a simple stuffed animal that my younger children sent to him, and he wrote home and told us touching this was home, thinking of us sending this was home.
And he also called and told us about a letter that they received from someone at home, supposedly in support, until they called them all baby killers and murderers. I know what that did to my son that day. And I know when they're there and they hear what's going on here, they can't feel our support.
And not only is it just blatantly an insult to our troops, it says to the whole world that we cannot even unite as a country to defend the liberties that our children are fighting for.
WALLACE: Barbara, how do you respond to Rhonda?
PORCHIA: I think what we're looking at here and what we need to understand — we need to find out what we're fighting for. What are we in Iraq for? You know, like I keep saying, everything that we were told we're going for is not there. So why are we sending our troops there?
And I think as far as supporting our troops, I love my troops. I support them constantly. And for them to think that possibly we have a disagreement here is taking down morale there — I think we need to look at other things that possibly could take down morale.
How do you think morale was felt by the troops when we went into Iraq, and we were told there were weapons of mass destruction, imminent threat and connection to 9/11, and now all of a sudden the administration came out and said we made a mistake? What do you think that did to the morale?
And then, one other question is we were told, as we were sending our troops over there, that they would have the best of equipment and everything to fight with to be able to get this war over with and come home. And then many, many months later we have Donald Rumsfeld coming out and saying, "Oh, we went to war with what we had." I don't that, you know, we're taking the morale of our troops down. I think I support them by saying if we've got to stay there, do what we've got to do and then get them out of there.
WINFIELD: I have seen pictures of entire fighter jets buried in the sand. I have seen pictures of the entire cache of weapons that just my son's unit would uncover from homes. I have no concerns about there being weapons of mass destruction of some regard there that were going to be used against Americans.
I know we get just what we see from our evening news. I also know that a lot of the good that's going on there is not conveyed and I just think we have to stay the course. I know why my son went there. I know why Barbara's son went there. They watched those towers fall, and they knew that the liberties that we have were something that they believed were worth fighting for. That hasn't changed. And we either approach them on their soil or we sit here idly and wait for them to come to ours.
WALLACE: Let me ask you about that, about the threat. The president went out this week to try to rally support, perhaps in response to Cindy Sheehan and the anti-war movement getting so much attention, and one of the points he made is that if we pull out now that it sends a terrible signal of weakness around the world. Let's take a look to what the president had to say about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: An immediate withdrawal of our troops in Iraq or the broader Middle East, as some have called for, would only embolden the terrorists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Barbara, let's talk about that. Let's talk about what would happen if you had your way. If we pull out our troops either right away or begin to pull them out — but that's what you want, is to get the troops out of there — what do you think happens to Iraq, and what do you think happens to the war on terror?
PORCHIA: I think we have to first look at 9/11. There was no connection to 9/11 in Iraq, OK? And I think that we were fighting very strongly in Afghanistan to deal with terrorism. And I think that if we had focused in Afghanistan and stayed the course in Afghanistan, we today would not be sitting here discussing about trying to pull our troops out of Iraq.
WALLACE: I know, but for good or ill, we're in there now. We have 139,000, 140,000 troops there. What do you think happens to Iraq, what do you think happens to the war on terror, if now we pull the troops out?
PORCHIA: You know, I don't think that we can say what will happen if we leave our troops there. But right now they're debating over the constitution while our soldiers are still fighting and dying. And if we pull out — if we stay there, is there a guarantee that everything will be fine? No, there's not.
And if we pull out, you know, like I say, there is no guarantee there as well. But I'm looking at what is the reason for our troops dying. And we need to look at that and say if our troops are dying for a noble cause, our president needs to come out and tell us what the noble cause is. If we don't know what the noble cause is and there really is no true noble cause, why are we keeping our troops there? I say pull them out.
WALLACE: Let me turn to you, Rhonda. If we do stay the course, how long are we going to have troops there, and what can we say that we are going to accomplish?
WINFIELD: I think it's absolutely unfair to tie anyone's hands and force them to give us a definite time line. I think we just have to keep the end result in mind. The Iraqi people deserve to be free. Our country deserves to have our freedoms defended. We have continued to make progress.
In response to Afghanistan, there are terrorists gladly claiming every day responsibility for the attacks on our troops. Obviously, we're in a place that we need to be. I just don't think we can give a definite time line. I'm sure all of us pray that it could be today that it would be over and there would be no one else to have to lose their life. But there is a human cost to war. And in this situation, there will be an even greater human cost to not being at war.
WALLACE: We have a little bit of time left. Rhonda and Barbara, for all your differences, there's obviously a great deal that binds you as two mothers who have shared a terrible loss that thankfully none of us can even imagine. What would you like to say to each other? What would you like us to understand?
WINFIELD: Well, I think we had a little time to talk before the show, and you don't even have to say anything. You hug one another and you know that the hole in your heart that never is repaired is only felt by someone else who has a like hole. And we have a kinship, as do all of the other parents and family members who have lost ones, that no one else will understand.
PORCHIA: I look at Rhonda and we both understand, like she says, that there is a relationship between us, because we've both lost our sons there. And what I would like to think of is that when I look at other mothers, I don't want to see other mothers have to go through what I go through every day.
PORCHIA: And I support those troops, but I support them in saying if they're in harm's way for reasons that cannot be explained, I say pull them out and get them out. As far as looking at the whole scenario, I think that we have to look at death as an equalizer. Once we're dead, there is nothing else there. And we need to think about are we really playing politics with our soldiers over there, or are they there for all the right reasons.
WALLACE: Well, we have to leave it there. Rhonda and Barbara, I want to thank you both so much for joining us today to share your thoughts about the war. And from all of us, thank you for your sons' service to our country.
We honor their memory.
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