Protesting War Criminal Robert Gates at U. Washington Graduation


From World Can’t Wait, Seattle

On June 13 40 people protested War Criminal Robert Gates, Obama’s Secretary of Defense and the main speaker at the University of Washington Commencement Ceremony. The protest was initiated by World Can’t Wait, Seattle, and was endorsed by local anti-war groups. Participants were mainly from Vets For Peace, World Can't Wait and ANSWER. A small number of couple of graduates, students, and alumni also took part.
We had pictures of detainees being tortured, Iraqis being injured in war and the Yes We Can Torture Poster. We had a large banner that read “Robert Gates is a War Criminal.” Two graduates spoke out against Robert Gates and said that the reason why there we there is because Robert Gates has been responsible for the death of thousands of people around the world. The said Robert Gates does not represent them as students. One young woman who was graduating said that she told her mom she wanted to spend her graduation protesting Robert Gates instead of going inside to the ceremony. So her mom supported her and joined in the protest outside.
Our leaflet exposed the crimes of Robert Gates and why he is a war criminal: his role in waging an illegal war of aggression in Iraq by sending a surge of 21,000 troops, which led to the deaths of 24,000 Iraqis - more than the amount of deaths in 2003 and 2004 combined, when Rumsfeld was in office. It addressed the war crimes of bombing civilians, from the drones in Pakistan that according to the UN left one million people homeless, causing a humanitarian crisis on the level of Hurricane Katrina. We talked about the air strikes in Afghanistan, killing 140 civilians in one attack alone. It also talked about Gates' role in torture, how, according to Amnesty International, the conditions in Guantanamo worsened significantly after the initiation of Robert Gates. And Guantanamo is still open.
We talked about the rebranding of the war by Obama and Gates, and how they kill civilians and then “apologize”. They refuse to prosecute anybody responsible for the torture in the Bush years, and continue the same basic policies. We spoke about how international law makes no differentiation between those who initiate illegal wars of aggression and those who carry them out. International law makes no differentiation between those who opened up Guantanamo and those who carried out torture and expand detention prisons all over the world.
We talked about the responsibility people have in challenging Robert Gates when he spoke – not doing so means going along with all of this. People were chanting “UW is for education, not for war and occupation” and “Robert Gates is A War Criminal!”
Most of the response, including from students, was along the lines of, “Oh I haven't been keeping up with what’s been going on”. Some students complained that they wanted to just “enjoy their day” and many parents said it wasn't appropriate for us to be there because this was a day for people to enjoy their graduation.
We challenged this with a lot of substance, saying that at the same time people want to enjoy graduation, the U.S. Is murdering people all over the Middle East. What about the children who had their limbs blown off? What were there dreams? What were their hopes? What do their lives count for? American lives are not more important than other people's lives. We said to these students, “look, this day isn't about you. This day is the day a war mongering mass murderer is speaking at your campus. That’s what it means to people around the world. Are you gonna let this continue to new heights of destruction or will you resist. Your life is not more important than other people's lives.”
One parent came up to us and said his daughter was at graduation and he was so angry that Gates was speaking and asked for an orange ribbon. He said he was so glad we were there. Inside about 10 students interrupted Robert Gates and called him a war criminal and an architect of murder. Two people were escorted out. 3 others were allowed to stay inside and continued shouting. Others did a banner drop and some graduates turned their backs. People also booed. They arrested a young Arab man who was a part of the banner drop but then released him because they couldn't charge him with anything.
Inside Gates spoke about national service and “joked” that in this economy there are plenty of jobs in the military for youth. It was important that we were there to challenge Robert Gates because there is a lot of confusion and outright complicity around the role of Gates and what the U.S. Government is doing to people around the world.
Although a small group opposed Gates, it was important that people who wanted to speak out against Gates had a vehicle to act and that we were able to mobilize meaningful resistance to this and we received some significant press coverage including local news and npr. We also had a real effect on challenging people to think and confront reality and the responsibility this generation has to stop the crimes of their government.




World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.