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Photo: Joseph Wilson at Upper Quarry
Former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson addresses the crowd at the Upper Quarry on April 24.
Photos: Jim MacKenzie

May 1, 2006

'Hold your government accountable,' teach-in crowd told

By Jennifer McNulty

Joseph Wilson shrugged off the mantle of hero at Monday's faculty teach-in about the war on terror, saying he was merely exercising his rights as a citizen when he disputed claims by the Bush administration during the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Photo: Joseph Wilson
Joseph Wilson was the keynote speaker at the teach-in.

"I wanted my government to correct the record," said Wilson, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq who asserted in a New York Times op-ed that the administration twisted intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat from a nuclear weapons program.

Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was subsequently "outed" as a covert CIA operative, triggering a special prosecutor's investigation that has led to Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff.

"I wrote that article to hold my government accountable," said Wilson. "Without the nuclear case, there was no case for war."

Wilson, who received standing ovations at both ends of his talk, was the keynote speaker during the daylong teach-in. Organized by UCSC Faculty Against the War, the event, dubbed "The War on Terror: A Credible Threat," brought two dozen speakers to campus. More than 1,000 gathered to hear Wilson.

"I worry about this country, and I worry about what they're doing to this country," Wilson said of the Bush administration. The "outing" of his wife has distracted the nation from the urgently needed debate over the military's role in Iraq, and it sent a clear signal to the rest of the foreign policy community that dissent will not be tolerated, he said.

"Exercise vigilance, hold your government accountable. This is the lesson of our experience," Wilson told the crowd. "If we are passive, they will take and usurp power."

He concluded with a reference to George Orwell: "In a time of deceit, simple truth telling becomes a revolutionary act."

Wilson was followed by David Cole, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, who discussed the president's conception of his authority as commander-in-chief and how Bush's hostility toward the rule of law has made the nation more vulnerable by fueling anti-Americanism around the globe.

"He views the law as an obstacle to our security, not an asset," said Cole, outlining numerous areas in which Bush has assumed extraordinary powers, including domestic spying, torture, imprisonment of "enemy combatants," and the operation of covert CIA-run prisons around the world where suspected terrorists are "disappeared."

Despite the "very depressing" circumstances, Cole hailed the "acts of courage" by Wilson and his own students, who turned their back in protest when U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez appeared on campus to defend the legality of domestic spying.

Earlier in the day, Santa Cruz Mayor Cynthia Mathews decried the cost of the war in Iraq, which "threatens to unravel the fabric of our community" by depleting funds for local programs, and she expressed concern about the "daily anxiety" experienced by the families of those serving in Iraq and the "physical and emotional scars" that veterans will bear.

Congressman Sam Farr urged the crowd to get involved in the upcoming midterm elections and "take back the voice for the American people."

"Democracy is as strong as the people who participate in it," he said.

Chancellor Denice D. Denton said she found reports that political dissent has been labeled threatening "particularly disturbing."

"Such an environment of surveillance and intimidation threatens the core values of universities and our nation," she said. "As educators, we must stand vigorously against such intrusions."

Denton saluted organizers of the teach-in and said, "I know it will make a big difference for us as a campus, and I hope it will begin to make a difference for us as a country."

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