George Bush spoke of freedom repeatedly during his SOTU address - seventeen times by some counts. The gist of his freedom laced message was that he would do anything and everything , anywhere and everywhere, to protect the freedom of America and Americans. Yet minutes before he began his speech, Cindy Sheehan the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, was hauled off the Capitol building in handcuffs for being seen in a T-shirt with a message which read "2245 Dead. How many more?" Another woman, Beverly Young , wife of Florida Representative Bill Young (R), also wore a T-shirt with a message. Hers read "Support The Troops - Defending Our Freedom". She too was removed from the gallery by the Capitol Police. Note however, the difference in the behavior of the two women and their treatment at the hands of the police. So ALL T-shirts with messages violate the dress code but only SOME messages violate the penal code - the distinction to be made by the "freedom loving" President's loyal foot soldiers !
"Cindy Sheehan, who had been invited to attend State of the Union address by Representative Lynn Woolsey (news, bio, voting record), the California Democrat who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, did not put the "dangerous" shirt on for the event. The woman whose protest last summer outside the president's ranchette in Crawford, Texas, drew international attention to the anti-war movement, had been wearing it at events earlier in the day.
Indeed, as Sheehan, who had passed through Capitol security monitors without incident, noted, "I knew that I couldn't disrupt the address because Lynn had given me the ticket and I didn't want to be disruptive out of respect for her."
No one has suggested that Sheehan was in any way disruptive. So why was she arrested? Because, as Sheehan recounts, she was identified as a dissident.
Before the arrest, media reports buzzed about official concern regarding Sheehan's presence. And, as she was being dragged from a room where the president would shortly extol the virtues of freedom and liberty, police explicitly told Sheehan that she was being removed "because you were protesting."
Capitol Police and other security officials, whose rough treatment of Sheehan was witnessed by dozens of people who attended the State of the Union event, said she was arrested for "unlawful conduct." Conveniently, she was held until after the president finished speaking.
Is there really a law against wearing a political t-shirt to the State of the Union address? No.
The Capitol Police do have protocols that are followed in order to avoid "incidents" during major events. But their own actions Tuesday night confirm that Sheehan was singled out for rough justice.
Beverly Young, the wife of Representative C.W. Bill Young (news, bio, voting record), a Florida Republican who chairs the House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, showed for the State of the Union address up sporting a t-shirt that read, "Support the Troops -- Defending Our Freedom." When Capitol Police asked her to leave the gallery about her wearing clothing that featured a political message, Mrs. Young says, she argued loudly with officers and called one of them "an idiot."
But Mrs. Young was not handcuffed. She was not dragged from the Capitol. She was not arrested. She was not jailed.
Sheehan, who caused no ruckus, was arrested not because she engaged in "unlawful conduct." Rather, by every evidence, she was arrested because of what her t-shirt said -- and, by extension, because of what she believes.
That make this a most serious matter. Representative Pete Stark, the California Democrat who is one of the senior members of the House, is right when he says that Sheehan's arrest by officers he refers to as "the president's Gestapo," tells us a lot more about the George Bush and the sorry state of our basic liberties in the midst of the president's open-ended "war on terror" than anything that was said in the State of the Union address. "It shows he still has a thin skin," Stark says of the president who claims to welcome dissent.
It also shows that the father of the Constitution, James Madison, was right when he warned that, in times of war, the greatest danger to America would not be foreign foes but presidents and their minions, who would abuse the powers of the executive branch with the purpose of "subduing the force of the people."
This one incident involving one t-shirt may is a minor matter. But, seen in the context of the mounting evidence of constraints on legitimate protest, warrantless wiretaps and the abuses of the Patriot Act, it reminds us of the the truth of Madison's warning that: "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."