WASHINGTON -- Consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader criticized President Bush on Monday for his handling of the Iraqi crisis.
"Day after day on television, Mr. Bush comes on and goes after [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein," Nader said. "But have you heard him speak about health care for 50 million Americans? Have you heard him speak about hunger? About homelessness? Have you heard him speak about the criminal injustice system? Have you heard him speak about the massive child poverty? Have you heard him speak about cracking down on corporate crime that steals trillions of dollars from millions of Americans?" Nader said.
"But you've heard him speak about Saddam. For every question we put to the president about domestic needs he has one answer: attack Iraq, attack Iraq, attack Iraq. Psychologists would call this the obsessive-compulsive syndrome."
Nader joined former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney and African-American peace activists in speaking before more than 2,000 people packed into a church in Northeast Washington.
The group Black Voices for Peace organized the rally to bring people together on the holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke out against the Vietnam war before his assassination in 1968.
Nader went on to call Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft and conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh "draft dodgers" who avoided military service.
"These were not conscientious objectors. They were belligerent draft dodgers," Nader said.
Nader's comments brought the crowd to its feet. Rally leaders mixed church spirituals, traditional African dance and frequent praise for King with an anti-war message.
"We are not saying that the government of Iraq is some wonderful government," said Damu Smith, director of Black Voices for Peace. "We are not saying Saddam Hussein is some saint. What we are saying is there is a better way to achieve peace in the Middle East -- through diplomacy, through negotiation and a focus on nonviolent means of resolving this crisis," he said.
Smith started Black Voices for Peace after the attacks of September 11, 2001. He believes the best defense against terrorism is to follow policies that promote human rights and disarmament.
Washington was the site of some of the largest of the peace rallies held around the country and around the world last weekend. Crowds were urged on by international peace activists, religious leaders, members of Congress, actors and musicians.
Sixteen anti-war protesters were arrested Sunday after they marched on the White House.
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