Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter says the U.S. should not wage war on Iraq Scott Ritter spent seven years in the 1990s as the chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq. Before that, he served 12 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, including duty as an intelligence officer under Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf in the Gulf War. It seems an unlikely role for a Republican who voted for George W. Bush and a man who Saddam Hussein accused of being a U.S. spy, but Ritter has emerged as the most compelling national voice against the proposed U.S. invasion of Iraq. He will be taking part in a public forum sponsored by the Indianapolis Peace and Justice Center scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 21 at 7:30 p.m. at the Ashanti Room, located at 1529 N. Alabama St. In anticipation of his visit to Indianapolis, Ritter spoke with NUVO.
Scott Ritter will take part in a forum on the proposed U.S. invasion of Iraq on Wednesday, Aug. 21.
NUVO: Does Iraq pose a threat to the United States? Ritter: No, I don"t believe Iraq poses a threat to the United States. I don"t believe Iraq poses a threat to anyone except the Iraqi people, and that"s unfortunately a tragic reality of the internal situation in Iraq. There"s been no substantive fact put forward by anyone in the Bush administration that somehow Iraq poses a grave and imminent risk to the security of the United States or, for that matter, anyone in the world, that is worthy of American military intervention. I think we should take some sort of guide off of Iraq"s immediate neighbors. That includes Kuwait, which was invaded by Iraq in 1990, and over which we fought the first Gulf War; Saudi Arabia, a nation which felt threatened by Iraq"s invasion of Kuwait; and Iran, which fought an eight-year war with Iraq. It also includes Turkey, Syria, Jordan, the Gulf Arab states and other nations in the region. They are all saying, "We don"t feel threatened by Iraq." If they don"t feel threatened by Iraq, I don"t know how suddenly we can extrapolate that Iraq is a grave and imminent risk to the United States and the security of the American people. NUVO: Based on your inspection experience inside Iraq, and what you have learned since then, do you believe Iraq now possesses weapons of mass destruction? Ritter: I can"t say with all certainty one way or the other, but no evidence exists that substantiates the allegations that Iraq has reconstituted a manufacturing base, reacquired weapons of mass destruction or is possessing weapons of mass destruction today. As of December 1998, when inspectors left Iraq - and I think it should be made clear that they were not kicked out by Saddam Hussein but rather ordered out by the United States - we had achieved a 90 to 95 percent level of disarmament at that time. Now, this is significant: It is fundamental disarmament, qualitative disarmament. It means that we eliminated all of the factories used by Iraq to produce weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological, nuclear and long-range ballistic missiles. We eliminated the associated production equipment, and we could account for the disposition of the vast majority of the product produced by these factories. NUVO: What about the remaining 5 to 10 percent of disarmament that could not be verified, and the possibility of weapon-producing activity since the end of 1998? Ritter: There is still some uncertainty over Iraq"s VX nerve agent program. But we know that the basic research and development and pilot plant used by the Iraqis to develop VX has been destroyed, along with its equipment. We know that the precursor chemicals have been destroyed. We know that the production equipment bought by Iraq for a large-scale manufacturing plant for VX has been destroyed. We know that weapons that Iraq did fill with VX nerve agent have been destroyed. Biological weapons are similar. People talk about Iraq"s anthrax capability. We destroyed the factory, we destroyed the production equipment, we destroyed the growth media that"s used to grow this stuff. Some of our experts have looked at the factory and said that the output could have been three times as high, and feel that the Iraqi production logs might be fabrications. We don"t have any evidence they are fabrications. Even if the assessment is correct - which I don"t believe it is - if Iraq had produced more anthrax, it"s liquid bulk anthrax, which under ideal circumstances has a shelf life of three years before it germinates and becomes sludge. Even if Iraq had held on to anthrax produced in 1991 and before, it is useless today. So for Iraq to have weapons of mass destruction today, Iraq would have had to reconstitute a significant manufacturing base since December 1998. That would require not only massive construction activity in Iraq that is imminently detectable through a variety of intelligence sources and methods, but they would also have to reacquire technology that is only available in Europe and elsewhere in the world. That is a process that would require Iraq sending out front companies, covert procurement efforts, all of which have historically been penetrated by intelligence services, and which should lead to some sort of information able to be put on the table to substantiate that Iraq has undertaken this activity. No such information has been provided. But, you know, the best way to clarify all this is to get weapons inspectors back into Iraq. We need to get the inspectors back in to complete their task. NUVO: How can weapons inspectors get back into Iraq? Ritter: The only way to get inspectors back in is through the United Nations Security Council, which mandated these inspections in the first place. But Iraq has some concerns, chief of which appears to be what guarantees can the Security Council give that if inspectors go back in and are given this unfettered access that they won"t once again be used by the United States as a vehicle for espionage to target Saddam Hussein. Canada has talked about stepping forward and serving as some sort of special envoy or observer of inspections to provide a confidence-building mechanism to assure the Iraqis that the inspectors won"t deviate from their mandated tasks. Something like that needs to happen so we can get inspectors back in, break through this impasse and put in the mechanism that can find the weapons if Iraq has them or certify that Iraq has disarmed. NUVO: Is there information that, in your view, would justify waging war on Iraq? Ritter: There are two things: One, if it could be substantiated that Iraq played a role in Sept. 11. If Iraq played a role in this horrific attack on the United States, then Iraq must be held accountable, and that means its leadership, and I would be 100 percent supportive of taking Saddam out. And I think the whole world would be, too. But nothing remotely resembling fact has been put forth that demonstrates that kind of linkage. The other one is weapons of mass destruction. It"s been more than 10 years now that the international community has outlawed these weapons in Iraq. Iraq is simply not allowed to have them. If it can be substantiated with fact that Iraq does in fact have them or has been actively trying to reacquire them, then clearly we have a problem. We have a pariah leader at the head of a rogue nation that must be dealt with harshly. So I do think there are circumstances where war with Iraq would be justified. But those circumstances don"t exist right now, or at least haven"t been substantiated to exist. NUVO: How close are we to a war? Ritter: We are already at war. We fly hundreds of combat sorties over Iraq every day. We bomb Iraq several times a week. The bombing campaign is escalating, the nature of the targets are broadening, we have covert operations already deployed in northern Iraq liaisoning with indigenous tribal elements in Kurdistan and elsewhere to start a covert war. We have a lethal finding signed by the president authorizing special operations forces and paramilitary forces of the CIA to use lethal force if required to capture or eliminate Saddam Hussein. If this isn"t war, I don"t know what is. We are waging economic war on Iraq every day with the economic sanctions that are in place. We are at war with Iraq. It"s just not the conventional war that people have been talking about. But we"ve been at war with Iraq for more than 10 years now. NUVO: What about the question of conventional war? Is the United States close to a full-scale invasion? Ritter: I believe we are very close. We have troops in Iraq carrying out pre-invasion activities. We have seen a massive expansion of American facilities in the region, especially related to the transfer of whatever capabilities we had in Saudi Arabia to other Gulf Arab states. We have tens of thousands of American combat forces forward-deployed in the region. We have tens of thousands more on their way as we speak, and tens of thousands more ready to follow them. We have mobilized entire armor brigades and divisions of the U.S. Army reserve. We are going to war, unless something is done to stop it. President Bush may be technically accurate when he says no war plans have crossed his desk. But that"s like Bill Clinton trying to say what the definition of "is" is. Bush is being less than genuine with the American public here. War plans have crossed his desk, he has signed off on war plans, he"s been briefed on the war, he"s making decisions on war. NUVO: The Gulf War and the war in Afghanistan had very few U.S. casualties. Is that the kind of war the Bush administration is looking at for Iraq? Ritter: They think they are looking at that, but the people planning this war don"t know the first damn thing about Iraq, excuse my language. I"ve never been less impressed with so-called expert opinion in my entire life. Iraq is going to be a hard nut to crack. I"ve had the opportunity to see the defense plans for Baghdad and the country. I"ve walked through the headquarters of every major military unit in Iraq. And I"m here to tell you that these people will fight. Now, they are not going to fight us in the open deserts, Saddam just made that clear in his speech last week. He"s going to fight in the towns, he"s going to make fortresses out of every town and city. Yeah, we"ll take these villages, but we"ll kill a lot of people doing it, and we"ll lose a lot of people. Saddam Hussein is surrounded by tens of thousands if not over 100,000 hard-core loyalist troops: hard-core, well-trained, well-equipped and well-led. They are not going to surrender because their future is with Saddam. If Saddam goes, they are at risk. So they will fight to the death. These are not going to be the conscript soldiers who surrendered in the Gulf War. We"re talking about going in with as few as 70,000 troops. This is insanity, absolute insanity. It"s a recipe for disaster. It"s almost so bad that it approaches an impeachable offense in my mind. It truly is irresponsible action to the extreme, because this is a war that"s being fought based upon domestic political considerations, not national security considerations. And when you start putting the lives of American troops at risk for domestic political considerations, we got a serious problem here. NUVO: You speak of domestic political considerations. If Iraq is not posing a significant risk to the United States, why are these war plans moving forward? Ritter: This is a situation where politically-based rhetoric has been allowed to get out of control. We have demonized Saddam Hussein for over a decade now. We have made it inherently acceptable for the American public to speak of him as the devil incarnate, the personification of evil, the Middle East equivalent of Adolph Hitler. In doing so, we"ve eliminated an entire range of options that could otherwise be available to deal with this situation. Why can Colin Powell sit down and have tea with the foreign minister of North Korea and we can"t have an American diplomat talk with an Iraqi diplomat? We have boxed ourselves into a rhetorical corner. Right now, for any American politician to step out and say, "Hey, you know, I envision a world where we can do business with an Iraq with Saddam Hussein at the helm," that would be political suicide. Right now, the only thing politicians can say is we want Saddam gone, even if he doesn"t pose a threat. That"s what"s happening right now: We don"t have a threat emanating from Iraq, it"s pure fabrication, yet we"re going to go to war. It"s not going to be the politicians whose lives are lost when we go to war with Iraq. It is going to be American citizens. NUVO: You are not exactly the prototype of a peace activist. Why do you feel compelled to speak out and question these plans for war? Ritter: Because it"s the truth. If you are empowered with facts, and you know the truth, and you see something happen that"s a deviation or perversion of the truth, I think you have an obligation as a human being and as an American citizen to speak out. I would be failing my fellow citizens if I just sat here at home over a beer at my kitchen table and complained about what Bush is doing. The Constitution speaks of "we the people," I"m one of those "we." History has conspired to give me unique experiences that have empowered me with information and knowledge that allows me to better judge this situation. I have a duty and responsibility as an American citizen to speak out on this issue.