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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 9/10/21

Rep. Barbara Lee, Who Cast Sole Vote After 9/11 Against "Forever Wars," on Need for Afghan War Inquiry

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AMY GOODMAN: Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. In the days that followed, the nation reeled from the deaths of over 3,000 people, as President George W. Bush beat the drums for war. On September 14, 2001, three days after the devastating 9/11 attacks, members of Congress held a five-hour debate on whether to grant the president expansive powers to use military force in retaliation for the attacks, which the Senate had already passed by a vote of 98 to 0.

California Democratic Congressmember Barbara Lee, her voice trembling with emotion as she spoke from the House floor, would be the sole member of Congress to vote against the war in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. The final vote was 420 to 1.

REP. BARBARA LEE: Mr. Speaker, members, I rise today really with a very heavy heart, one that is filled with sorrow for the families and the loved ones who were killed and injured this week. Only the most foolish and the most callous would not understand the grief that has really gripped our people and millions across the world.

This unspeakable act on the United States has really forced me, however, to rely on my moral compass, my conscience and my god for direction. September 11th changed the world. Our deepest fears now haunt us. Yet I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States. This is a very complex and complicated matter.

Now, this resolution will pass, although we all know that the president can wage a war even without it. However difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint. Our country is in a state of mourning. Some of us must say, "Let's step back for a moment. Let's just pause, just for a minute, and think through the implications of our actions today so that this does not spiral out of control."

Now, I have agonized over this vote, but I came to grips with it today, and I came to grips with opposing this resolution during the very painful yet very beautiful memorial service. As a member of the clergy so eloquently said, "As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore." Thank you, and I yield the balance of my time.

AMY GOODMAN: "Let us not become the evil we deplore." And with those words, Oakland Congressmember Barbara Lee rocked the House, the Capitol, this country, the world, the lone voice of more than 400 congressmembers.

At the time, Barbara Lee was one of the newest members of Congress and one of the few African American women to hold office in either the House or the Senate. Now in her 12th term, she is the highest-ranking African American woman in Congress.

Yes, it's 20 years later. And on Wednesday this week, I interviewed Congressmember Lee during a virtual event hosted by the Institute for Policy Studies, which was founded by Marcus Raskin, a former aide in the Kennedy administration who became a progressive activist and author. I asked Congressmember Lee how she decided to stand alone, what went into that decision, where she was when she decided she was going to give her speech, and then how people responded to it.

REP. BARBARA LEE: Thanks so much, Amy. And really, thanks to everyone, especially IPS for hosting this very important forum today. And let me just say to those from IPS, for historical context and also just in honor of Marcus Raskin, Marcus was the last person I talked to before I gave that speech -- the very last person.

I had gone to the memorial and had come back. And I was on the committee of jurisdiction, which was the Foreign Affairs Committee with this, where the authorization was coming from. And, of course, it didn't go through the committee. It was supposed to come up on Saturday. I got back to the office, and my staff said, "You've got to get to the floor. The authorization is coming up. The vote is coming up within another hour or two."

So I had to race down to the floor. And I was trying to get my thoughts together. As you can see, I was kind of not I won't say "not prepared," but I didn't have what I wanted in terms of my sort of framework and talking points. I had to just scribble something on a piece of paper. And I called Marcus. And I said, "OK." I said and I had talked to him for the last three days. And I talked to my former boss, Ron Dellums, who was, for those of you who don't know, a great warrior for peace and justice from my district. I worked for him 11 years, my predecessor. So I talked with Ron, and he's a psychiatric social worker by profession. And I talked to several constitutional lawyers. I've talked to my pastor, of course, my mother and family.

And it was a very difficult time, but no one that I talked to, Amy, suggested how I should vote. And it was very interesting. Even Marcus didn't. We talked about the pros and cons, what the Constitution required, what this was about, all the considerations. And it was very helpful for me to be able to talk to these individuals, because it seems like they didn't want to tell me to vote no, because they knew all hell was going to break loose. But they really gave me kind of, you know, the pros and cons.

Ron, for example, we kind of walked through our background in psychology and psychiatric social work. And we said, you know, the first thing you learn in Psychology 101 is that you don't make critical, serious decisions when you're grieving and when you're mourning and when you're anxious and when you're angry. Those are moments where you have to live you know, you have to get through that. You have to push through that. Then maybe you can begin to engage in a process that's thoughtful. And so, Ron and I talked a lot about that.

I talked with other members of the clergy. And I don't think I talked to him, but I mentioned him at that because I was following a lot of his work and sermons, and he's a friend of mine, Reverend James Forbes, who is the pastor of Riverside Church, Reverend William Sloane Coffin. And they in the past had talked about just wars, what just wars were about, what are the criteria for just wars. And so, you know, my faith was weighing in, but it was basically the constitutional requirement that members of Congress can't give away our responsibility to any executive branch, to the president, whether it's a Democrat or a Republican president.

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