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'Human shields' being used - U.S.

White House rebukes peace campaigners

Washington says the peace activists are allowing themselves to be used by a tyrant and dictator.

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CNN's Marga Ortigas reports on anti-war protesters who plan to travel to Iraq by bus to act as human shields to avert war. (January 25)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A day after dozens of peace activists boarded double-decker buses and a taxi to travel from London to Baghdad in hopes of preventing bombing by the U.S. and its allies, the Bush administration criticized their efforts.

"We would not recommend that people allow themselves to be used by a tyrant and a dictator who has a history of doing horrible things to even his own people as well as his neighbors," White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card told Fox News Sunday. "So this is not the time for people to call themselves human shields."

On Saturday, participants said they were hoping their presence would cause war planners not to carry through on threats to attack Iraq, which they accuse of amassing weapons of mass destruction in violation of U.N. resolutions.

"The potential for white Western body parts flying around with the Iraqi ones should make them think again about this imperialist oil war," organizer Ken O'Keefe, a former U.S. Marine in the 1991 Gulf War, said Saturday.

The group of about 60 volunteers includes Britons, Americans, Spaniards, Brazilians, Australians and Israelis, ranging in age from 20 to 60.

The activists planned to drive day and night through Europe and Turkey, arriving at the Iraqi border by February 4 or 5, where they will be given entry visas by Iraqi officials, volunteer Sue Darling said.

On February 15, the caravan is expected to be joined by a bigger convoy of perhaps hundreds of volunteers, a participant told CNN.

"What we are intending to do is to make it politically impossible for President Bush and Tony Blair to have this war," said Joe Letts, owner of two of the buses and a driver.

Letts, a father of four, said the anti-war coalition asked for his help in planning the route to Baghdad. Letts then offered to lend his buses and himself to the cause.

The top levels of the buses have been converted to accommodate cots for the two-week journey. Letts' buses are red, but the third bus and the taxi have been painted white.

A white flag intended to symbolize peace was placed on the taxi's roof.

"We will run the risk of being maimed or killed, but it is simply the same risk that innocent Iraqis will themselves face," O'Keefe was quoted as saying in a December online interview.

"I would rather die in defense of justice and peace than 'prosper' in complicity with mass murder and war," he said.

O'Keefe renounced his American citizenship in 1999. Darling, 60, said she is a former British diplomat to the United Nations.

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