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For slain soldier's mom, Bush's book reopens old wounds

Jane Bright, who lost her son in Iraq, finds no sympathy and no humor in the former president's account of his most critical decisions.

November 17, 2010|Steve Lopez

Jane Bright, who lives in Newbury Park and lost a son to the war in Iraq, doesn't intend to buy former President George W. Bush's new book. As much as possible, she has tuned out the hoopla over "Decision Points," for which Bush was paid a reported $7 million.

"I don't have words to describe how I feel when I see this man's face," said Bright. "I mean, he's responsible for my son's death."

Twenty-four-year-old Army Sgt. Evan Ashcraft was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade along with two other soldiers on July 24, 2003, while guarding an oil refinery.

But even though she has no interest in reading "Decision Points," in which Bush describes how he made critical decisions in his life — including the invasion of Iraq — Bright hasn't been able to avoid hearing about the book on the radio and elsewhere.

She knows Bush still defends the war, contends the world is a better place because of it, and says that although he regrets that weapons of mass destruction did not exist, intelligence at the time indicated that they did.

Having spoken to Bright several times since her son was killed, I think she's made the right decision in not reading the book. I've read a lot of it, including all of the portions about the war, and my blood is boiling. I can't imagine what it would be like to have lost a son and then read such a self-serving, distorted account of a decision that cost so many American and Iraqi lives.

It isn't enough to admit, as Bush does, that the intelligence was wrong. He should have explained why he and his cohorts cherry-picked intelligence that justified the war, discounting reliable reports, including U.N. inspection records, that downplayed the threat.

Bush also doesn't delve deeply into the White House's role in the Valerie Plame scandal, in which Plame, a CIA agent, was outed via a White House leak to the press after her husband wrote an op-ed piece questioning some of the intelligence that had led to the Iraq war. Bush deals with the affair only by describing his most "emotional personnel decision": whether White House aide Scooter Libby — who was convicted of lying about the Plame case — should be pardoned or merely have his sentence commuted to avoid prison.

Bush chose the latter, which outraged Vice President Dick Cheney, who, like Bush, had never seen combat. According to Bush's account in the book, Cheney said, "I can't believe you're going to leave a soldier on the battlefield."

Leave "a" soldier on the battlefield? I'm glad Bright didn't have to read that.

U.S. troop fatalities in Iraq stand near 4,500, with roughly 32,000 injuries. Estimates on the number of Iraqi civilian casualties begin at about 100,000. And stability isn't even on the horizon.

For Bright, it's still preposterous that in response to the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S., Bush beat the drums for war on the secular leader of a country that had no connection to 9/11. "Do you think the Iraqi people are thanking Bush for planting the seeds of democracy?" Bright asked me in her living room.

Yes, she agreed, Saddam was a tyrant, "But who's the bigger war criminal, Saddam Hussein or George Bush?"

Bright can't see it any other way. For her it was a war without justification, with no understanding of the complexities and no plan for the aftermath.

"From 2006 to 2009, every 36 hours, an active duty member committed suicide," said Bright, who honors her son's service and sacrifice by raising and donating money to non-government agencies helping vets with war-related disorders (www.evanashcraft.org).

She can't forget that Cheney was once CEO of oil-services giant Halliburton, whose subsidiaries have made billions on the war.

She can't forgive herself for not "drugging Evan and taking him to Canada" when the young classical pianist, who hadn't figured out what to do with his life, insisted on joining the Army.

She can't forgive the Democrats in Congress who signed off on the war, the cheerleading done by some of the biggest names in media, or those who scarcely acknowledge two ongoing and enormously costly wars even as they scream for smaller government.

Bright has often spoken out against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and is a member of Gold Star Mothers — a group of women who have lost a son or daughter in military service. She told me that former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, once asked her what she would say to President Bush if she met him.

Bright knew immediately. She would remind the president of something he said at a 2004 banquet, when he joked about looking behind curtains and under furniture for weapons of mass destruction. It was less than a year after her son was killed. She'd say it to the president straight: "If you think that was funny, do it in front of a group of Gold Star Moms, and we'll tell you how funny it was."

steve.lopez@latimes.com

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