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One man's war on war 

A year after losing his son in Iraq, Bill Mitchell is still fighting to end the war

"I want to go to Washington, I want to stand on people's desks, if that what it takes [to end the war]," Bill Mitchell told New Times over a year ago after his son Sgt. Michael Mitchell was killed in Iraq. "I want to stop this insanity."

Since then Mitchell, of Atascadero, has been making good on his word. He has spent the last year speaking, protesting, and lobbying congressional representatives in Washington to do exactly that - end the war. In mid-June he went to hearings on the Downing Street Memo, leaked documents that some argue provides proof that President Bush made clandestine plans with England to invade Iraq before obtaining congressional approval, and this week Mitchell is back in D.C. thanking members of Congress for their support for the Downing Street inquiries.

At the Downing Street Hearing on June 16, Mitchell accompanied other members of Gold Star Families for Peace, a group consisting of the family members of fallen soldiers. Notables like Joseph Wilson, former ambassador to Niger; John Bonifaz, co-founder of www.afterdowningstreet.org; and Gold Star Families for Peace's Cindy Sheehan were all at the Downing Street Hearing, testifying before members of Congress.

"I really think it's a major turning point. I've been out speaking for over a year after the death of my son, and I tell you members of congress were up there being seriously apologetic [at the hearing]," Mitchell said. "Some of them made serious apologies and they were basically saying, 'We should have done more. If we had done our jobs and asked more questions and followed up more, back three years ago, your sons should still be alive today.'"

Perhaps a hard apology to swallow for a father who lost a son, but not so for Mitchell. "I'm glad someone finally stepped up and took some responsibility," he said.

In a group e-mail Mitchell sent to his friends and other members of Gold Star Families for Peace, he wrote, "I really believe this was the first sincere apology from a government official that I have received. Sincere in the sense that they owned up to their sense of the responsibility in the death of our loved ones."

Last year in the June 10-17 New Times story "A father's grief," Mitchell was asked if he believed that President Bush fabricated the case for war.

"It's probably not a popular opinion," Mitchell said. "But honestly I do."

Now with the Downing Street Memo released, Mitchell seems even more certain.

"What came out pointed to me that there were high crimes committed by this administration. And that is grounds for impeachment," he said. "I think we're pretty confident that there have been lies and deceit along the way. But maybe I could be wrong, and that's one thing I will admit is maybe I'm wrong."

More than a year after his son's death, Mitchell still strains to speak about him. He easily lapses into fond memories of what life was like when Michael was living.

"My son was so positive; he could be talking about his plans to scale El Capitan [right now]. Dude had muscles, I tell you," Mitchell says before leaving his imagination. "That is, if he wasn't quadriplegic. I could be living a worse nightmare today with my son alive than I am when he's dead. I don't know. But these are things you shouldn't have to think about as a parent.

"Am I less sad today because my son's dead than if he was fully dependent on me, even though he was positive and looking like he was doing good and you know it was eating him on the inside? I mean, God... You shouldn't have to even have these thoughts."

Bill Mitchell says he will keep on trying to connect with the family members of fallen soldiers and other people to bring the human cost of the war home.

"I feel a lot better out there on the road speaking with people than I do stuck in my four little walls with this damn computer, living my son's death every single day with every e-mail that comes along, or sitting on my couch curled up. I'm a lot better talking about my son, keeping his memory alive," he said. "When someone tells you your child's dead, it's worse than anything you can ever imagine. I mean, you can't imagine... ."

Staff Writer John Peabody can be reached at jpeabody@newtimesslo.com.

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