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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Nation on Fire 

Courtesy of our indefatigable colleagues at Cursor: On October 19, at an event sponsored by The Nation, legendary investigative reporter Sy Hersh interviewed former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, whose new book is Iraq Confidential; the topics ranged from Ayad Allawi's role in the CIA's failed coup attempt against Saddam in June of 1996 to the prospects of war with Syria and/or Iran. In the excerpts below, Messrs. Hersh and Ritter discuss the awful menace of Saddam's nonexistent WMD's. Despite Judith Miller's protestations, not everybody got it wrong:

MR. HERSH: One of the things about your book that's amazing is that it's not only about the Bush Administration, and if there are any villains in this book, they include Sandy Berger, who was Clinton's national security advisor, and Madeleine Albright.

Another thing that's breathtaking about this book is the amount of new stories and new information. Scott describes in detail and with named sources, basically, a two or three-year run of the American government undercutting the inspection process. In your view, during those years, '91 to'98, particularly the last three years, was the United States interested in disarming Iraq?

MR. RITTER: Well, the fact of the matter is the United States was never interested in disarming Iraq. The whole Security Council resolution that created the UN weapons inspections and called upon Iraq to disarm was focused on one thing and one thing only, and that is a vehicle for the maintenance of economic sanctions that were imposed in August 1990 linked to the liberation of Kuwait. We liberated Kuwait, I participated in that conflict. And one would think, therefore, the sanctions should be lifted.

The United States needed to find a vehicle to continue to contain Saddam because the CIA said all we have to do is wait six months and Saddam is going to collapse on his own volition. That vehicle is sanctions. They needed a justification; the justification was disarmament. They drafted a Chapter 7 resolution of the United Nations Security Council calling for the disarmament of Iraq and saying in Paragraph 14 that if Iraq complies, sanctions will be lifted. Within months of this resolution being passed--and the United States drafted and voted in favor of this resolution--within months, the President, George Herbert Walker Bush, and his Secretary of State, James Baker, are saying publicly, not privately, publicly that even if Iraq complies with its obligation to disarm, economic sanctions will be maintained until which time Saddam Hussein is removed from power.

That is proof positive that disarmament was only useful insofar as it contained through the maintenance of sanctions and facilitated regime change. It was never about disarmament, it was never about getting rid of weapons of mass destruction. It started with George Herbert Walker Bush, and it was a policy continued through eight years of the Clinton presidency, and then brought us to this current disastrous course of action under the current Bush Administration.

MR. HERSH: One of the things that's overwhelming to me is the notion that everybody believed before March of '03 that Saddam had weapons. This is just urban myth. The fact of the matter is that, in talking to people who worked on the UNSCOM and also in the International Atomic Energy Agency, they were pretty much clear by '97 that there was very little likelihood that Saddam had weapons. And there were many people in our State Department, in the Department of Energy, in the CIA who didn't believe there were weapons. And I think history is going to judge the mass hysteria we had about Saddam and weapons. And one of the questions that keeps on coming up now is why didn't Saddam tell us. Did he tell us?

MR. RITTER: Well, of course he told us. Look, let's be honest, the Iraqis were obligated in 1991 to submit a full declaration listing the totality of their holdings in WMD, and they didn't do this. They lied. They failed to declare a nuclear weapons program, they failed to declare a biological weapons programs, and they under-declared their chemical and ballistic missile capabilities. Saddam Hussein intended to retain a strategic deterrent capability, not only to take care of Iran but also to focus on Israel. What he didn't count on was the tenacity of the inspectors. And very rapidly, by June 1991, we had compelled him into acknowledging that he had a nuclear weapons programs, and we pushed him so hard that by the summer of 1991, in the same way that a drug dealer who has police knocking at his door, flushes drugs down a toilet to get rid of his stash so he could tell the cops, "I don't have any drugs," the Iraqis, not wanting to admit that they lied, flushed their stash down the toilet.

They blew up all their weapons and buried them in the desert, and then tried to maintain the fiction that they had told the truth. And by 1992 they were compelled again, because of the tenacity of the inspectors, to come clean. People ask why didn't Saddam Hussein admit being disarmed? In 1992 they submitted a declaration that said everything's been destroyed, we have nothing left. In 1995 they turned over the totality of their document cache. Again, not willingly, it took years of inspections to pressure them, but the bottom line is by 1995 there were no more weapons in Iraq, there were no more documents in Iraq, there was no more production capability in Iraq because we were monitoring the totality of Iraq's industrial infrastructure with the most technologically advanced, the most intrusive arms control regime in the history of arms control.

And furthermore, the CIA knew this, the British intelligence knew this, Israeli intelligence knew this, German intelligence, the whole world knew this. They weren't going to say that Iraq was disarmed because nobody could say that, but they definitely knew that the Iraqi capability regarding WMD had been reduced to as near to zero as you could bring it, and that Iraq represented a threat to no one when it came to weapons of mass destruction . . . .

MR. HERSH: There's always the argument that one virtue of what we did, no matter how bad it is, we've got rid of a very bad dictator. What's your answer to that one?

MR. RITTER: That invokes the notion of the ends justify the means. I mean, that's basically what we're saying here is that who cares about the lie, who cares about the WMD. You know, we got rid of a bad guy. The ends justify the means. And I have to be frank. If there's anybody here who calls themselves a citizen of the United States of America and you endorse the notion of the ends justify the means, submit your passport for destruction and get the hell out of my country. Because this is a country that is founded on the rule of law as set forth by the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution that the men and women who serve us swore an oath of allegiance to, the Constitution that our government, every government official swears an oath of allegiance to, and it's about due process. Democracy is ugly. Sometimes it doesn't work as smoothly as we want it to. But if you're sitting here and saying that when it comes to Saddam, that the ends justify the means, where do you draw the line? Where do you draw the line?

And you can't tell me that it's only going to stop here. It's about the rule of law, it's about the Constitution. And if we wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein, then we should have had a debate, discussion, and dialogue about the real reasons and not make up some artificial WMD . . . .

MR. HERSH: Do you have any optimism at this point?

MR. RITTER: No. I wish I did.


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