Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Calif.: "It's only through peace and justice will we achieve the American dream for everybody."
By Peter Smith
U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. received scorching criticism in 2001 as the only U.S. legislator to vote against the resolution authorizing military force after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
At the time, she warned of the unintended consequences of the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which empowered force against nations, organizations or individuals that carried out the 9/11 attacks or helped those who did, “in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States” by such groups.
Fourteen years later, the legislation remains in effect and has been used by presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to justify military actions not only in Afghanistan and against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda but against other militants as far afield as Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia.
For speaking out early against the far-reaching consequences of the act, and for other actions promoting peace, Rep. Lee received the 2015 Thomas Merton Award for peace and justice work on Monday from the Thomas Merton Center.
She is the 43rd annual recipient of the award. Past recipients have included environmentalist Bill McKibben, activist Noam Chomsky and journalist Jeremy Scahill. The center held its annual dinner Monday night at the Sheraton Station Square. The center and the award are named for the late Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk and author of dozens of books on peace, the environment and relations between races and religions.
Ms. Lee “is a prophet ... that speaks the truth about what has to be done no matter what the consequences,” Bonnie DiCarlo, past president of the center, said at an afternoon news conference.
Ms. Lee said she and more than 150 other members of Congress have now been pushing for a repeal of the 2001 act as well as the 2002 act authorizing force in Iraq, which the Obama administration has used to authorize military strikes against the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. She said the Syria action, for example, should get a specific authorization from Congress today.
The 2001 vote came at a “terrible time” three days after the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, near Washington, D.C., and in Stonycreek, Somerset County.
“Everyone knew we had to respond,” she said, “but we had to respond appropriately so we didn’t create more chaos, more war, more violence, more attacks.” The resolution was “really a blank check” to use force. “It was very, very broad.”
Ms. Lee, whose district is in the Bay area, also spoke of other efforts in Congress such as reining in executive pay in corporations that get tax breaks and maintaining funds for programs that treat addicts and provide health care.
She said she was a single mother who relied on food stamps while raising two boys. Most aid recipients, she said, need help to get through rough patches and want jobs that can support themselves and their families. “I never could have made it without a safety net,” she said.
Ms. Lee also saluted the work of the Thomas Merton Center, noting that Pope Francis drew new attention to its namesake in September when he quoted Merton’s writings in a speech before a joint meeting of Congress.
“It’s only through peace and justice will we achieve the American dream for everybody,” she said.