AT FORUM HELD IN BALTIMORE ON AUG. 22:
Scott Ritter, former Marine and UN Weapons Inspector in Iraq, Makes Case Against War
Ritter was in Baltimore following participating in an August 20 Capitol Hill briefing on why the US should not go to war with Iraq. The briefing was organized by Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH), ranking member of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs and International Relations. Prior to that, Ritter was in England, where he briefed Members of Parliament on US Iraq policy at the invitation of Labor Party members.
Ritter was stationed in Iraq from 1991 to 1998 and is credited with initiating aggressive intelligence-collection measures. His knowledge of Iraq's military and police state apparatus is based on extensive first-hand experience. Ritter, who served directly under Gen. Schwarzkopf during the 1991 Gulf War, and was involved in planning military operations inside Iraq, was a Pentagon whistleblower during the Iraq war, refuting US military claims that it was shooting down Scud missiles.
Now he is making himself heard once again, telling why he believes the US should not go to war against Iraq.
Speaking before a packed crowd, Rittertall and imposing, with military bearing despite his informal civilian clothingannounced that he was a moderate-to-conservative Republican. But the possibility of going to war against Iraq, he said, is not about Republicans and Democrats, the left or the right. Its about the U S of A. We are a moral and just people. When we are exposed to truth and facts, we will do the right thing.
He asserted that the people of the US generally do not have access to the truth about Iraq. We have demonized Iraq. We have demonized 20 million people. Saddam is evil. We are on the brink of a war that will be devastating. It will have an impact beyond your wildest imagination.
He stressed that if the US is to go to war, it must be because our nation is at risk. Ritter is one who does not believe that risk is present. If Saddam Hussein and Iraq are in possession of weapons of mass destruction, or seeking to acquire them, clearly he is a pariah leader, said Ritter. Then Bush would be justified. But the problem is, war hinges on the possession of, or attempt to acquire, chemical and biological weapons. The White House is allowing us to believe that they know this is the case, but they have failed to let us know. What we hear is rhetoric laced with supposition.
He expressed concern that the White House is already discussing what will happen in Iraq after Hussein is gone. What kind of debate is that? he demanded.
He acknowledged that, in 1991, Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and said Iraq was then on the verge of having nuclear bombs. After the Gulf War, he was on the UNSCOM team that went into Iraq to seek and destroy any such weapons. The Iraqis made it difficult by lying. They tried to hold onto the weapons of mass destruction, but we persevered, and achieved a ninety to ninety-five percent weapons eradication. And we also eradicated the means of production.
He agreed that the effort was not 100% complete. Yes, some aspects were unaccounted for. But since that time, he stressed that there has been no information that Iraq has WMD. Even if you take into account all the missing weapons and materiel, that does not pose an imminent threat, he said. We actually destroyed all the factories.
During his time on the UN inspection team, Ritter and his colleagues demanded that Iraqi scientists and military personnel account for the tons of growth media they had once had in order to make anthrax and other such weapons. They could not document how much anthrax they produced, but they were producing liquid bulk anthrax, and that only lasts three years. The same is true of other nerve agents. Their shelf life is five years.
Ritter wants to know what the White House knows since December 1998, when the UNSCOM weapons inspectors left Iraq. They would have had to rebuild the factories, he pointed out, and that would be imminently detectable by other nations. I guarantee you the Israelis arent sleeping on the issue of Iraq.
He continued, Its not sound policy to go to war against Iraq. Some say They might have secret information, but our Constitution says Congress is obligated to be apprised of this information. The Select Intelligence Committee has not been provided this information. [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair is waiting for the US to make the case. All we have is rumors, speculation, innuendo.
So if there is no case, are we going to war for national security reasons, or for political reasons? We dont go to war for political ambition. Before going to war, he concluded his address, we should take every step possible to prevent it.
Ritter was asked if Hussein kicked out the UNSCOM inspection team in 1998. No, Ritter said. The US government ordered them out two days before the US started Operation Desert Fox, bombing over 100 targets that were identified using information provided by the UN inspection team. Iraq understandably would not want them back. Yet Iraq is willing now.
The accuracy of the inspection teams work was questioned. We were the worlds best forensic investigators, rejoined Ritter. Weve got to get the inspectors in again. But heres the catch: You have to engage the engine of diplomacy. And remember, if they go back in, they may find no weapons, and Iraq would have to be accepted [in the world community].
Ritter asserted that Bush has put regime removal ahead of disarmament. His administration has invested considerable political capital in regime removal. They have made elimination of Saddam Hussein Number One, exceeding even the determination against bin Laden and el Qaida. We are going to war because the Republicans have a domestic political problem. When you label someone a Hitler, when you demonize that person, whos going to speak out?
Ritter indicated that the war decision has already been made. We are at war against Iraq, he said. Were doing hundreds of sorties every day. Several times a week were bombing northern Iraq. Our combat engineers are expanding airfields there and in Jordan. Weve expanded our bases in Qatar, in Kuwait. Tens of thousands of soldiers are being trained.
Were going to war, ladies and gentlemen. And were going to be fighting alone.
Though many Iraqis do not support Hussein, Ritter said the Iraqi people can be expected to resist the US. They will resist because they are pro-Iraq, anti-invasion.
If the US were to eliminate Hussein, Ritter said the US cannot set up a government there. We are looking at at least a decade to two decades of US occupation, and then finally Iraq will collapse. Then they will be run by militant Islamic forces....If we invade Iraq, we will lose the war on terrorism. Were not even willing to try to find out the truth.
A Muslim of Iraqi descent in the audience concurred with Ritters assessment. The idea of a US invasion is very foolish, he said. The US should help the Iraqi people overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Ritter pointed out that when Hussein took over Iraq 22 years ago, that country had $40 billion in credit, and was very prosperous. They had a very advanced level of technology, medicine, and so on. Now Iraq is at least $300 billion in debt, and has 4.5 million refugees out of a total population of 22 to 23 million people. Theyve sustained at least a half a trillion dollars destruction to their infrastructure, and at least 50,000 people die each year due to Saddam Husseins stupidity and lack of foresight.
Still, Ritter asked, There are many despots in the world today. Why Hussein? In his view, the US has a particular moral obligation to overthrow the yoke of Hussein because, in the past, the US supported his regime against Iran. The Iraqi people wanted to be rid of him after Kuwait, said Ritter, and the US promised to help them. But when 14 of 18 [Iraqi] departments rose up against Saddam Hussein, the US allowed him to crush the opposition, and 200,000 died.
No, the US should not go to war, but it does have a moral responsibility to help the people to depose a man that the US put into power.
A woman in the audience asked, Going to war to get peaceare we that violent a people?
Ritter responded, We have to oppose the war for our own salvation. There is no honor, no glory to war. Sometimes it has to be fought. But it is imperative that Americans understand what it means. We as a nation have started viewing war as a giant Nintendo game.
We owe it to our military to do everything possible to keep them from having to go to war, continued Ritter.
Whats the best way to help Iraq? someone asked.
We need to stop seeing Saddam Hussein as an individual, and look at the entire country, said Ritter. Who are we to impose the American style of democracy on anyone? Its the greatest form of government for us, but weve had to grow as a nation to get where we are today. If you want democracy abroad, you have to respect that nations history.
He pointed out that 60% of the Iraqi people are Shiite Muslims, who lean toward radical fundamentalism. Thats a majority. Do we want that democracy? he demanded. Only 17% of Iraqs population is of the Sunni Muslim faith, he noted, and even they arent homogenous.
Saddam Hussein is a tribal leader who dominates by violence and bribery. In my view, the best way to help Iraq is to change the countrys internal dynamic by lifting the sanctions. Force Saddam Hussein to rebuild the nation. Encourage the middle class. It will take decades, but it can be done without military intervention.
A woman asked why Israel appears to be encouraging the Iraq invasion. Ritter replied, Several years ago, I was in Israel on a top secret mission about the disarmament of Iraq. Iraq was then Israels number one security concern. But four years later, Iraq was number six as a threat. After 9/11, Israeli diplomats were encouraging the White House to drop its anti-Iraq rhetoric, and they continued to lobby like thisuntil the recent West Bank violence.
Sharon has used the American model of terrorismyoure either with us or youre against usso Sharon is buying into Bushs Iraq stance to buy US support of its own stance [against Palestinians]. The only way to change that is to change the dynamic in the US. We need to look at the root causes of terrorism, and rip them off at the bud. We need to solve the problem of why they hate us.
Dick Ullrich, director of Maryland Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, asked, Is war good for business?
Yes, said Ritter, for those in the business of supplying war. But not for other sectors of our economy. We live in a global economy, and everything intersects. A large part of war is powered with oil, for example. Oil prices will climb, and businesses will go under. The cost of everything will go up.
There is nothing good thats going to come from this war, Ritter stressed, except for the third shift at Boeing.
A man active in the Voices in the Wilderness Campaign said that, since 1996, his group had sent 46 humanitarian delegations into Iraq to try to repair infrastructure and provide medical assistance. Four to five thousand people a month die because of dirty water, he said.
Ritter nodded. We bombed eighty thousand tons over 40 days in 1991, and we destroyed the infrastructure. When we think about war, we should think about the innocent. Rememberwe are the only country to have used nuclear weapons. And we used uranium weapons in Iraq, Kuwait, Kosovo.
He noted that the Persian Gulf is viewed as having a 100-year supply of oil, and said the American public needs to look at the Bush administrations military stance in light of our desire to preserve our way of life.
Ritter told the group, I have twin nine-year-old daughters. And so I say to you, when you turn loose the dogs of war, people die. Children die. Dont turn us loose. Remember that when were at total war, we destroy a nation to minimize the loss to those in our uniform. When the wars over, we have a moral obligation to reach out and help mitigate the damage done, to bring back to normalcy as soon as possible.
The sanctions are an atrocity, he concluded. Containment is not a policy, its a lack of a policy. Its time we stopped the madness.
Ritters presentation was co-sponsored by Baltimore Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Baltimore News Network (BNN), Traprock Peace Center [www. traprockpeace.org], American Friends Service Committee-Middle Atlantic Region, Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, Pax Christi, St. Vincent de Paul Churchs Peace and Justice Committee, and others.
Mission Helper Productions, Inc., 1001 W. Joppa Rd., Baltimore, MD 21204-3787 videotaped Ritters presentation. Call 410-823-8585.
Ritter wrote Endgame: Solving The Iraq Problem Once And For All (Simon & Schuster, 1999).
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This story was published on September 4, 2002.