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Protesters, press restricted during Bush visit

click to enlarge Officer B.P. Barela asks Peter Sprunger-Froese to move farther away from Academy Boulevard. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Officer B.P. Barela asks Peter Sprunger-Froese to move farther away from Academy Boulevard.

Laurel Smith and two of her friends drove northeast for two hours from Cotopaxi, Colo., in Fremont County, to watch George W. Bush arrive for a speech Monday at Fort Carson.

Smith's nephew, who is in the National Guard, was sent to Iraq in July and returned earlier this month.

When he was deployed, "I was so angry," recalled Smith, a 58-year-old lawyer. "I lived through Vietnam and watched my friends die."

Holding a sign that read, "Bush lies kill GIs," Smith jeered when Bush's motorcade passed her by on South Academy Boulevard near the B Street entrance to Fort Carson. She was one of about 50 protesters who gathered at the entrance to voice their displeasure with the war in Iraq.

Fresh from a visit to England, where more than 100,000 people participated in a protest march against him last week, Bush came to Fort Carson to have lunch with soldiers and deliver a morale-boosting speech before continuing on to his ranch in Texas.

The visit was widely interpreted as a response to recent criticism directed at the president for refusing to attend memorial services for GIs killed in Iraq. After his speech, Bush met with the families of some of the 31 Fort Carson soldiers who have lost their lives in the conflict.

"I want to thank the families of the fallen soldiers who are here with us today," Bush said in his speech. "Our prayers are with you."

Media coverage of the visit was strictly controlled. Reporters were handed "guidelines," including a mandate forbidding them to ask questions of soldiers and their families.

"That was primarily to keep control of the media," said Richard Bridges, a spokesman for the post. "We had strict orders from the White House communications staff to keep the media in one place."

One of the guidelines notified reporters to, "Write positive stories about Ft. Carson and the U.S. Army."

"That portion was tongue-in-cheek," Bridges said, noting that another guideline said, "Have fun."

Meanwhile, demonstrators outside also faced restrictions. Though no one was arrested, some tense confrontations erupted when Colorado Springs police told protesters they had to stay at least 150 feet away from Academy Boulevard. After the demonstrators challenged the constitutionality of the order, police partially relented, letting them stand along the road's eastbound lane as Bush arrived in the westbound lane.

Asked about the 150-foot rule, an officer at the scene, B.P. Barela, said it had been ordered by the Secret Service. He referred further questions to Colorado Springs Police Department spokesman Lt. Skip Arms.

Arms, however, said he didn't know anything about the rule. A spokesman for the Secret Service, Special Agent Lon Garner, said his agency issued no such order.

"I'll deny that because nothing was put out by this service," he said.

Smith, meanwhile, was glad she got to give Bush her message of disapproval. Smith said she believes the war is being fought for the benefit of corporations that have landed fat contracts to help rebuild Iraq.

"Profit and special interests aren't worth the lives of our young men and women," she said.

The text of Bush's speech is available at www.whitehouse.gov.

--Terje Langeland

  • Protesters, press restricted during Bush visit

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