Washington city debates creating haven for AWOL soldiers

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Residents verbally sparred Monday over the idea of granting sanctuary to AWOL soldiers.

In a community meeting approved unanimously by City Council members, city residents as well as others from around Whatcom County, discussed the G.I. Sanctuary City Movement's proposal to prohibit local police from arresting AWOL soldiers if stopped for other issues, such as speeding.

Hundreds of people signed up to speak on the issue and the Bellingham Municipal Court building was packed to standing room only. At one point, the fire marshal told the meeting facilitator that the room was past capacity, and asked people who had already spoken to leave.

The meeting was often heated, with those opposing the sanctuary city idea sometimes shouting at the moderator, Moonwater, the executive director of the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center, as well as supporters of the sanctuary city idea.

When Moonwater asked the crowd to calm down and not yell at speakers, saying she might close the meeting if it didn't stop, one person yelled "good!"

It was an evening packed with passionate speeches about soldiers who have killed themselves, about veterans from World War II who believed it was dishonorable to desert and much more. It appeared there were more people present against the idea, with many giving standing ovations to various speakers as they derided the City Council for having the meeting as well as the sanctuary city movement supporters.

"This meeting should not even occur," said Korean War veteran Phil Morgan. "The city should pay attention to city business, not special-interest groups."

"This war is wrong, and illegal and immoral," said Matt Bambara, an Iraq war veteran.