Students gather outside of Bender Arena to protest Dick Cheney
Approximately 30 students protested former Vice President Dick Cheney’s appearance at AU on March 27, holding signs that read phrases including “Arrest Cheney war criminal,” “Close Guantanamo” and “Torture Wonk.”
A variety of students gathered outside Bender Arena, including SG Comptroller Ben Johnson, who said that he did not think student money should be used for accused war criminals.
“In the [SG] e-board vote, I voted against this,” Johnson said. “And I have not signed any of the payments for him.”
SG President Pat Kelly and Vice President Ray Bowman both voted to bring Cheney to campus. Johnson and Rosemary Cipriano did not, and other executive members approved the payment forms after Johnson refused to do so.
Approximately 10 students who attended the speech silently walked out with about two students yelling, “Walk out on war criminals” while Cheney was speaking. Carlo Chavarria, a junior in the School of International Service, said that he walked out during the talk because he wanted to make his feelings clear to the University.
“We wanted to [walk out] because we wanted to make a statement,” Chavarria said. “Just walking out and showing that we don’t accept Dick Cheney coming here as a speaker makes a strong statement.”
Students protested Cheney’s event to show their opposition to his war crimes conviction by the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission in Malaysia in 2012, according to the Foreign Policy Journal. Leah Doolittle, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she opposed KPU’s decision to bring an accused war criminal to campus.
“By using student money it makes it seem like American University and its students are tacitly approving of war crimes,” she said. “I’m all for bringing a diversity of speakers here, but there’s a line, and this is the line.”
Chandler Thornton, the director of KPU, said in an email that he was pleased with the positive response shared by students who attended Cheney’s speech.
“As always, KPU strives to bring a diverse range of speakers to our politically active campus in our nation’s capital, and we believe that we achieved that by hosting Vice President Dick Cheney,” Thornton said.
The demonstrators, who made signs prior to the event, were not from any one student organization. Word spread as people gathered their friends to show their disapproval of the event, Doolittle said.
Code Pink, an independent, women-initiated social justice group working to end U.S. led wars, also protested Cheney’s presence. Cayman Kai, a member of Code Pink, said she was demonstrating to hold Cheney responsible for his actions during the Iraq War and his involvement with Guantanamo Bay.
“Dick Cheney is complicit in a lot of the war crimes that have happened. He’s got blood on his hands,” Kai said. “We hold everyone accountable who commits crimes against humanity.”
A previous version of this article stated that several students walked out of the event silently. It has been amended to clarify that there were about 10 students who walked out during the event and approximately two of those students yelled while walking out.