| A child in Kurdish dress at an anti-war protest near the US consulate in Istanbul. (AFP)
Charlie Liteky is America’s embarrassment. He sits on a Baghdad pavement in front of the Al Fanar Hotel, near a tight security cordon of US soldiers and war machines, just wanting people to come and talk to him. He would then go on and on about why “this is an illegal, immoral war”.
A small group of activists against the war has been camping in the Al Fanar Hotel. Banners strung across its balconies read “Peace”, “No to War”.
“I was thinking of giving up my American citizenship but I have been energised by the reaction of so many people in the US to this war. The insensitivity that the US government has developed is absolutely incredible,” Liteky says.
Liteky is one of a group of eight “Iraq Peace Team” activists who have stayed through the war. He was ‘guarding’ a water treatment plant in central Baghdad that serves a hospital complex. The plant was not bombed. He wears a cap with the words “veterans for peace” and announces his intentions to all and sundry. Liteky is 72 years old.
He came to Baghdad last November, went back home to San Francisco and returned to stay on February 17, a little more than a month before “Operation Iraqi Freedom” started.
“This experience here took me back to Vietnam. The big difference — I was at the receiving end of the bombs and therefore had more to fear here than in Vietnam. We could feel the ground shake when the B-52s flew in. I was always against this war,” he says.
“I keep repeating what the historian Howard Zinn once said: ‘There is no flag big enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.’”
Having been in Baghdad for so long, he should know what the people feel.
“Some seem to be happy,” says Liteky. “I was getting a haircut at my favourite barber’s here the other day. I am a familiar face in the locality. A youth came in, laughed and said ‘America go home’. I think the majority of people are happy that Saddam is gone but they say it is America that should be gone now.”
Back in 1967, Charlie Liteky was a chaplain in the US army serving in Vietnam.
Part of the citation accompanying his Medal of Honour read: “Chaplain Liteky distinguished himself by exceptional heroism… He was participating in a search and destroy operation when Company A came under intense fire from a battalion-size enemy force. Momentarily stunned from the immediate encounter that ensued, the men hugged the ground for cover. Observing two wounded men, Chaplain Liteky moved to within 15 metres of an enemy machine gun position to reach them, placing himself between the enemy and the wounded men…”
Charlie Liteky renounced the medal in July 1986.
[This report was written on return from Baghdad]