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Protesters Heckle Rumsfeld at Hearing

September 19, 2002|JOHN HENDREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — In a rare breach of Capitol Hill decorum, two protesters heckled Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Wednesday during a House committee hearing on Iraq, unfurling a banner that read "U.N. Inspection Not War" and chanting the slogan until police escorted them out.

The incident occurred at the Rayburn Office Building, across the street from the Capitol. Members of the public may no longer wander the halls of Congress unescorted, but they are free to walk through the neighboring House and Senate office buildings where hearings are held. Anyone patient enough to wait in line for a seat can enter after walking through a metal detector.

Early in Rumsfeld's remarks urging Congress to give President Bush a free hand on Iraq, he asked, "What is the responsible course of action for our country?" He was about to answer his own question when one of the protesters did it for him.

"Yes, Mr. Rumsfeld, I think we need weapons inspections, not war," she said as at least one audience member cheered. "Why are you obstructing the inspections? Is this really about oil? How many civilians will be killed? How many of our servicemen will be killed?"

A second woman yelled, "Isn't this really about oil?"

Committee members, Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, smiled and waited as Capitol Hill police took away the two women, who were seated behind Rumsfeld, and a third woman who chanted near the door to the hearing room.

Rumsfeld used the protest to further his point.

"Mr. Chairman, as I listened to those comments, it struck me what a wonderful thing free speech is," Rumsfeld said, to chuckles. "But, of course, people like that are not able to go into Iraq and make demonstrations like that because they don't have free speech."

The women removed from the hearing--Medea Benjamin, who ran for U.S. Senate in California on the Green Party ticket in 2000, and Diane Wilson--were interviewed Wednesday on CNN.

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