'Asking God To Forgive Me': N.C. Lawmaker Seeks Redemption For War Votes Driven by a profound regret for his votes to authorize the wars in the Middle East, Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., is leading a bipartisan effort to pull the U.S. military out of Afghanistan.

'Asking God To Forgive Me': N.C. Lawmaker Seeks Redemption For War Votes

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On Memorial Day, we honor those who died while serving in the military. One congressman has made it his life's cause to honor service members who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. North Carolina Republican Walter B. Jones says he regrets voting to start those wars, and now he wants to end America's military presence in Afghanistan. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis reports.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Fourteen years later, Congressman Walter Jones still remembers with full clarity the day he started to regret his vote to go to war.

WALTER JONES: This is the first funeral I went to that made me start thinking that I made the wrong decision of giving Bush the authority to go into Iraq.

DAVIS: Jones is pointing to a picture of Marine Sergeant Michael Bitz. He died in Iraq on March 23, 2003. Jones attended the funeral and recalls the moment Bitz's wife read the last letter she received from him.

JONES: She reads the letter, obviously very difficult for her to read because it's a letter of love and appreciation. And I think everybody there was teary-eyed. And the closing in the letter - I'm paraphrasing - was that I might not see you on Earth, but I will see you in heaven. Love, Michael.

DAVIS: Bitz's portrait hangs on the wall outside of Jones' congressional office. His is one of 568 pictures of Marines killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. They're part of a makeshift memorial on the walls outside of his office. All were stationed at Camp Lejeune, which is in Jones' district. Jones is a devout Catholic, and the memorial he started 10 years ago is a type of penance; so too is his letter writing. Jones tries to write to the family of every service member killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

JONES: I have signed over 12,000 letters to families and extended families who've lost loved ones in the Iraq and Afghanistan War. And that was, for me, asking God to forgive me for my mistake.

DAVIS: Jones' profound regret for his votes to authorize the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is well known on Capitol Hill. For years, his was a lonely voice in the Republican Party calling to bring all combat troops home. But last week at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol, Jones was not alone. Here's Kentucky Republican Tom Massie.

THOMAS MASSIE: My concern is that our colleagues have forgotten about the war in Afghanistan, these wars that are dragging on. And there are lives over there, and we're still losing lives over there for goals that I don't think our colleagues can define.

DAVIS: Massie is one of nine co-sponsors - four Republicans and five Democrats - who support new legislation by Jones to cut off money for all combat operations in Afghanistan. Massie tells me it bothers him that most members of the House have never had to take a tough vote on the wars. And he's right. Nearly 8 of 10 sitting House members were elected after the wars were authorized in 2001 and 2002. And in the years since, Congress has never revisited that debate except to provide trillions for military operations. That's unacceptable for Alaska Republican Don Young, another co-sponsor at the press conference.


DON YOUNG: Let's find out where American people are. Let's understand one thing - 16 years is too long.

DAVIS: Congress is generally reluctant to get in front of the White House on military operations. The Trump administration says an updated Afghanistan strategy is coming soon. It could call for more ground troops. Here's Jones' top Democratic co-sponsor, California Congressman John Garamendi.


JOHN GARAMENDI: Apparently, the administration is unsure what it wants to do. I can assure you that Congress is equally unsure.

DAVIS: And that's why Garamendi says Congress should have it out.


GARAMENDI: Don't you suppose we really ought to debate this, that we really ought to get into the details about how we win this war? We certainly know how we got into it. How do we get out of it?

DAVIS: For this small group of lawmakers, the answer is to end it. They say it's gone on too long and cost too much. Back outside his office, Jones stares at the faces of the dead. For him, the past 14 years have also been about seeking redemption for those votes to go to war.

JONES: Everybody has their way of dealing with pain, and my pain is primarily because all these faces never had a chance to live.

DAVIS: For now, on Afghanistan, Congress waits for President Trump, and Jones waits for forgiveness. Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capitol.


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