Kerry: Bush using ‘cheap and shameful’ tactics to quash political dissent

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BOSTON (AP) – Invoking bitter memories of the public tumult over the Vietnam War three decades ago, Sen. John Kerry is accusing the Bush administration of stifling dissent about its failed Iraq policies by branding critics as unpatriotic.

“The spirit of intolerance for dissent has risen steadily, and the habit of labeling dissenters as unpatriotic has become the common currency of the politicians currently running our country,” Kerry, D-Mass., said in remarks Saturday at Boston’s Faneuil Hall.

“We have even heard accusations that this dissent gives aid and comfort to the enemy,” said the senator, a potential 2008 presidential contender. “That is cheap and shameful.”

Kerry’s remarks came exactly 35 years after he posed a haunting question during a speech before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a young anti-war Vietnam veteran wearing military fatigues.

“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” Kerry said in 1971. That line helped propel the decorated Navy combat veteran and Yale grad onto the national stage as an anti-war leader.

The same stark moral question applies today as Americans wrestle with the mounting death toll in Iraq, Kerry said.

“As in Vietnam, we have stayed and fought and died even though it is time for us to go,” said the senator. “A majority of our casualties in Vietnam occurred after Richard Nixon had given up on victory. That must not happen in Iraq.”

Kerry had hoped his military background would be a pillar of his 2004 presidential bid. But his campaign failed to effectively counter charges by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which attacked Kerry’s war record.

Kerry, who has called for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq by year’s end, said while Iraq is very different from Vietnam, there are some critical parallels.

“We are in the same place as we were when I came home from Vietnam and spoke out against the civilian leaders who were willing to sacrifice America’s best in the interest of political self-preservation,” he said.

He urged others to speak out against the war.

Several retired senior military officials have recently called for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s ouster.

“And across the administration, from the president on down, we’ve heard these calls dismissed or even attacked as acts of disloyalty, or as threats to civilian control of the armed forces,” said Kerry.

AP-ES-04-22-06 1228EDT

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