08/12/2005 at 08:25 AM EDT
George W. Bush on Thursday finally addressed the issue of California mother Cindy Sheehan, who has been camped outside the vacationing president's Crawford, Texas, ranch since Saturday, seeking to meet him to discuss her soldier son who died in Iraq – and to demand that he bring the troops home now.
"I understand the anguish that some feel about the death that takes place," Bush said. "I also have heard the voices of those saying: 'Pull out now!' And I've thought about their cry and their sincere desire to reduce the loss of life by pulling our troops out. I just strongly disagree."
Sheehan's son Casey was killed five days after he arrived in Iraq last year. He was 24.
"This is President Bush's accountability moment, and we are holding him accountable," a tearful Sheehan, 48, told reporters Wednesday. "He's on vacation here for five weeks. I don't understand why he can't take an hour to speak with somebody whose life he has devastated."
In his remarks, Bush said: "I sympathize with Mrs. Sheehan. She feels strongly about her position, and she has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America. She has a right to her position, and I thought long and hard about her position. I've heard her position from others, which is: 'Get out of Iraq now.' And it would be a mistake for the security of this country and the ability to lay the foundations for peace in the long run if we were to do so."
More than 40 American soldiers have been killed this month, most of them due to bombings.
By Thursday, about 50 people had joined Sheehan's cause, pitching tents in muddy, shallow ditches and hanging antiwar banners. Two dozen others have sent flowers.
Stephen Hadley, Bush's national security adviser, and a deputy White House chief of staff, talked to Sheehan on Saturday. Sheehan said the meeting, which she called "pointless," lasted 20 minutes. The White House said it lasted 45 minutes, AP reports.