After meeting with six families whose loved ones have served in Iraq, Governor Mitt Romney said yesterday that the United States had invaded the country based on ''faulty intelligence." But he refused to press President Bush to bring home the state's National Guard.
The families, some of whom have lost relatives, pleaded with the governor to urge Bush to return the Guard. But Romney said that pulling out of Iraq would cost more American lives.
''We were apparently mistaken as a nation in believing that there were weapons of mass destruction there, so that aspect of the entry into Iraq was obviously based on faulty intelligence," Romney told reporters after meeting with the families.
But he said ''those who are fighting in our armed services are doing so in a very real effort to preserve our liberties and preserve the safety of our citizens."
Asked by a reporter if he believed that the Iraq invasion had been a mistake, Romney responded: ''Well, we went in under faulty impressions, faulty intelligence . . . We thought there were weapons of mass destruction." He declined to say whether the United States should have gone to war if the lack of such weapons had been clear.
The meeting with the families put Romney in the delicate position of affirming his support for a war that has taken the lives of their loved ones.
The families emerged from the meeting disappointed and angry at the governor for his backing of what many called an unjust war.
Massachusetts has about 1,000 National Guard troops overseas, the vast majority in Iraq, according to a Guard spokesman.
Rose Gonzalez of Somerville, whose mother is stationed with the National Guard north of Baghdad, walked out in tears. Though Romney doesn't have the authority to pull the state's National Guard troops from Iraq, Gonzalez said he was responsible for his constituents, and she scoffed at his assertion that American servicemen and women should continue fighting there even though the war was launched for faulty reasons.
''It was kind of an 'oops,' and 'oops' isn't enough," Gonzalez, carrying her 5-month-old son in her arms, told reporters after walking out. ''That's not enough when it's my mother's life. It's a politician's duty to smile and act like they're concerned, but they don't really know what the cost is or what it's like, because they don't have to experience it."
Gonzalez joined other families at the press conference, where they shared grief and fears. They urged residents of the state to sign a ballot petition for 2006 that would require the governor to work to bring Guard troops home.
''Let not another parent experience what we experienced," said Kevin Lucey of Belchertown, whose 23-year-old son, Jeffrey, a Marine Reservist, took his own life last year after suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder upon his return home from Iraq.
''My family has forever been changed," added Jeffrey Lucey's 22-year-old sister, Debra, who came to the State House wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a photo of her late brother.
The families are among 2,600, 70 of them in Massachusetts, who belong to a group that was founded three years ago, called Military Families Speak Out. That organization is dedicated in part to ending the American presence in Iraq.
One of the group's cofounders is Nancy Lessin, whose 27-year-old stepson, Joe, is a Marine who could be sent back to Iraq at any moment. She said Romney had tried to compare the Iraq war with World War I and World War II.
''Iraq is different," she said. ''This was a war of choice, a war that didn't have to happen, and we as military families are suffering and paying the price."
The families made their plea a week after Romney said Massachusetts needed to recruit as many as 1,000 new National Guard troops as the nation continues fighting the war on terror. He testified in support of a bill that would make Guard service more attractive by granting new or expanded benefits to service members and their families.
Romney has also attended roughly 30 funerals for Massachusetts natives killed in action, including a service yesterday morning in Franklin for 19-year-old Lance Corporal Shayne Cabino of Canton, one of four Marines who were killed when an improvised explosive device detonated near Karmah, Iraq.
Two weeks ago, Romney visited injured Masachusetts troops at Walter Reed Hospital while on a trip to Washington DC.
The petition effort is led by HomeFromIraqNow.org. If supporters gather the necessary 66,000 signatures by Thanksgiving and voters give approval in 2006, the measure would require the governor to prevent further deployment of Massachusetts National Guard troops to Iraq.
Though the governor does not have the authority to recall troops already serving in Iraq, the petition measure would require the governor to use ''all legal means" to bring the Guard home and to get the approval of the Legislature before deploying Guard troops overseas in the future.
Scott Helman can be reached at email@example.com.