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December 2003 • Vol 3, No. 11 •

Slain Troops’ Parents Speak Out

By Peter Graff

Lance Corporal, Thomas Keys

Reg Keys, whose son Thomas was killed in Iraq, is not on the list of family members of fallen British servicemen invited to meet George W. Bush this week, but he wishes he was: he has a message for the U.S. president.

“I’d love to meet him, but I’d refuse his hand,” he said. “I’d say: ‘I can’t shake that hand. It’s stained with the blood of my son.’“

Bush’s meetings with families of soldiers killed in Iraq have been billed as one of the centerpieces of his state visit to wartime ally Britain this week.

But as Prime Minister Tony Blair has already learned, the president is likely to find them a difficult audience.

Over the past months, parents and widows of slain soldiers have emerged as some of the war’s most potent critics, many trying to balance pride in their husbands’ and sons’ sacrifice with anger over what they see as false justifications for war.

Lance-Corporal Thomas Keys, 20, was one of six British Royal Military Policemen who was killed by an angry mob while training Iraqi police on June 24 in a town near the southern city of Basra.

“I want to challenge Bush to meet me,” Reg Keys told Reuters by telephone from his home in Wales. “I think I know more about what’s going on in Iraq than he does, from phone calls with my son who was on the ground out there.”

In interviews ahead of his visit to London, Bush stressed his plans to meet the families of soldiers who died in Iraq, to “tell them their loved ones did not die in vain. The actions we have taken will make the world more secure and the world more peaceful in the long run.”

But Bush’s comments have been partly overshadowed by widows and parents, several of whom have said they want no part of what Keys called “a propaganda means for his re-election.”

“I’m proud of my son. He died doing his duty,” he said. “But what you have to bring out is: Was their duty justified?”

His son died believing he had gone to war to protect his country from Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, which have yet to be found, Keys said.

“I think we were all deceived and I think (Bush) has got a nerve to show his face after the deceit he’s pointed toward us,” he added. “My son goes off to war thinking he’s protecting the country—he’s gone off deceived and lost his life deceived.”

The Ministry of Defense [MoD] said the meetings with the families of service members would be private and gave no details as to who had been invited or how they were selected. The MoD lists 53 British servicemen as having died in the conflict.

At a memorial service for them in London’s St Paul’s Cathedral last month, Blair did not speak. The sermon was given by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, one of the war’s steadiest critics.

Several family members said they did not want Blair to attend that service at all. Keys said he sought out the prime minister at a reception afterwards.

“I said that the blood of my son is on your hands. ‘You are responsible. How do you react to that?’” Keys said.

“He looked white. I have to be fair to the man. He didn’t dodge the question. He did say that he was responsible for the deaths, that he was trying to make Iraq a better place.”

“I said: ‘All you’ve done is kick the lid off a hornets’ nest.’”

—Reuters, November 18, 2003.





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