Wednesday, 24 July, 2002
Room 295 of the Suffolk Law School building in downtown Boston was filled to capacity on July 23rd with peace activists, aging Cambridge hippies and assorted freaks. One of the organizers for the gathering, United For Justice With Peace Coalition, handed out green pieces of paper that read, "We will not support war, no matter what reason or rhetoric is offered by politicians or the media. War in our time and in this context is indiscriminate, a war against innocents and against children." Judging from the crowd, and from the buzz in the room, that pretty much summed things up.
The contrast presented when Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, entered the room, could not have been more disparate. There at the lectern stood this tall lantern-jawed man, every inch the twelve-year Marine Corps veteran he was, who looked and spoke just exactly like a bulldogging high school football coach. A whistle on a string around his neck would have perfected the image.
"I need to say right out front," he said minutes into his speech, "I'm a card-carrying Republican in the conservative-moderate range who voted for George W. Bush for President. I'm not here with a political agenda. I'm not here to slam Republicans. I am one."
Yet this was a lie - Scott Ritter had come to Boston with a political agenda, one that impacts every single American citizen. Ritter was in the room that night to denounce, with roaring voice and burning eyes, the coming American war in Iraq. According to Ritter, this coming war is about nothing more or less than domestic American politics, based upon speculation and rhetoric entirely divorced from fact. According to Ritter, that war is just over the horizon.
"The Third Marine Expeditionary Force in California is preparing to have 20,000 Marines deployed in the (Iraq) region for ground combat operations by mid-October," he said. "The Air Force used the vast majority of its precision-guided munitions blowing up caves in Afghanistan. Congress just passed emergency appropriations money and told Boeing company to accelerate their production of the GPS satellite kits, that go on bombs that allow them to hit targets while the planes fly away, by September 30, 2002. Why? Because the Air Force has been told to have three air expeditionary wings ready for combat operations in Iraq by mid-October."
"As a guy who was part of the first Gulf War," said Ritter, who indeed served under Schwarzkopf in that conflict, "when you deploy that much military power forward - disrupting their training cycles, disrupting their operational cycles, disrupting everything, spending a lot of money - it is very difficult to pull them back without using them."
"You got 20,000 Marines forward deployed in October," said Ritter, "you better expect war in October."
His purpose for coming to that room was straightforward: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Democrat Joe Biden, plans to call a hearing beginning on Monday, July 29th. The Committee will call forth witnesses to describe the threat posed to America by Iraq. Ritter fears that much crucial information will not be discussed in that hearing, precipitating a war authorization by Congress based on political expediency and ignorance. Scott Ritter came to that Boston classroom to exhort all there to demand of the Senators on the Committee that he be allowed to stand as a witness.
Ritter began his comments by noting the interesting times we live in after September 11th. There has been much talk of war, and much talk of war with Iraq. Ritter was careful to note that there are no good wars - as a veteran, he described war as purely awful and something not to be trivialized - but that there is such a thing as a just war. He described America as a good place, filled with potential and worth fighting for. We go to just war, he said, when our national existence has been threatened.
According to Ritter, there is no justification in fact, national security, international law or basic morality to justify this coming war with Iraq. In fact, when asked pointedly what the mid-October scheduling of this conflict has to do with the midterm Congressional elections that will follow a few weeks later, he replied, simply, "Everything."
"This is not about the security of the United States," said this card-carrying Republican while pounding the lectern. "This is about domestic American politics. The national security of the United States of America has been hijacked by a handful of neo-conservatives who are using their position of authority to pursue their own ideologically-driven political ambitions. The day we go to war for that reason is the day we have failed collectively as a nation."
Ritter was sledding up a pretty steep slope with all this. After all, Saddam Hussein has been demonized for twelve years by American politicians and the media. He gassed his own people, and America has already fought one war to keep him under control. Ritter's presence in Iraq was demanded in the first place by Hussein's pursuit of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction, along with the ballistic missile technology that could deliver these weapons to all points on the compass.
According to the Bush administration, Hussein has ties to the same Al Qaeda terrorists that brought down the World Trade Center. It is certain that Hussein will use these terrorist links to deliver a lethal blow to America, using any number of the aforementioned weapons. The argument, propounded by Bush administration officials on any number of Sunday news talk shows, is that a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, and the unseating of Saddam Hussein, is critical to American national security. Why wait for them to hit us first?
"If I were an American, uninformed on Iraq as we all are," said Ritter, "I would be concerned." Furthermore, continued Ritter, if an unquestionable case could be made that such weapons and terrorist connections existed, he would be all for a war in Iraq. It would be just, smart, and in the interest of national defense.
Therein lies the rub: According to Scott Ritter, who spent seven years in Iraq with the UNSCOM weapons inspection teams performing acidly detailed investigations into Iraq's weapons program, no such capability exists. Iraq simply does not have weapons of mass destruction, and does not have threatening ties to international terrorism. Therefore, no premise for a war in Iraq exists. Considering the American military lives and the Iraqi civilian lives that will be spent in such an endeavor, not to mention the deadly regional destabilization that will ensue, such a baseless war must be avoided at all costs.
"The Bush administration has provided the American public with little more than rhetorically laced speculation," said Ritter. "There has been nothing in the way of substantive fact presented that makes the case that Iraq possesses these weapons or has links to international terror, that Iraq poses a threat to the United States of America worthy of war."
Ritter regaled the crowd with stories of his time in Iraq with UNSCOM. The basis for the coming October war is the continued existence of a weapons program that threatens America. Ritter noted explicitly that Iraq, of course, had these weapons at one time - he spent seven years there tracking them down. At the outset, said Ritter, they lied about it. They failed to declare the existence of their biological and nuclear programs after the Gulf War, and declared less than 50% of their chemical and missile stockpiles. They hid everything they could, as cleverly as they could.
After the first lie, Ritter and his team refused to believe anything else they said. For the next seven years, they meticulously tracked down every bomb, every missile, every factory designed to produce chemical, biological and nuclear weaponry. They went to Europe and found the manufacturers who sold them the equipment. They got the invoices and shoved them into the faces of Iraqi officials. They tracked the shipping of these materials and cross-referenced this data against the invoices. They lifted the foundations of buildings destroyed in the Gulf War to find wrecked research and development labs, at great risk to their lives, and used the reams of paperwork there to cross-reference what they had already cross-referenced.
Everything they found was later destroyed in place.
After a while, the Iraqis knew Ritter and his people were robotically thorough. Fearing military retaliation if they hid anything, the Iraqis instituted a policy of full disclosure. Still, Ritter believed nothing they said and tracked everything down. By the time he was finished, Ritter was mortally sure that he and his UNSCOM investigators had stripped Iraq of 90-95% of all their weapons of mass destruction.
What of the missing 10%? Is this not still a threat? Ritter believes that the ravages of the Gulf War accounted for a great deal of the missing material, as did the governmental chaos caused by sanctions. The Iraqis' policy of full disclosure, also, was of a curious nature that deserved all of Ritter's mistrust. Fearing the aforementioned attacks, Iraq instituted a policy of destroying whatever Ritter's people had not yet found, and then pretending it never existed in the first place. Often, the dodge failed to fool UNSCOM. That some of it did also accounts for a portion of that missing 10%.
Ritter told a story about running down 98 missiles the Iraqis tried to pretend never existed. UNSCOM got hold of the documentation describing them, and demanded proof that they had, in fact, been destroyed. He was brought to a field where, according to Iraqi officials, the missiles had been blown up and then buried. At this point, Ritter and his team became "forensic archaeologists," digging up every single missile component they could find there.
After sifting through the bits and pieces to find parts bearing serial numbers, they went to Russia, who sold Iraq the weapons in the first place. They cross-referenced the serial numbers with the manufacturer's records, and confirmed the data with the shipping invoices. When finished, they had accounted for 96 of the missiles. Left over was a pile of metal with no identifying marks, which the Iraqis claimed were the other two missiles. Ritter didn't believe them, but could go no further with the investigation.
This story was telling in many ways. Americans mesmerized with stories of lying Iraqis who never told the weapons inspectors the truth about anything should take note of the fact that Ritter was led to exactly the place where the Iraqis themselves had destroyed their weapons without being ordered to. The pile of metal left over from this investigation that could not be identified means Iraq, technically, could not receive a 100% confirmation that all its weapons were destroyed. Along with the other mitigating factors described above, it seems clear that 100% compliance under the UNSCOM rules was impossible to achieve. 90-95%, however, is an impressive record.
The fact that chemical and biological weapons ever existed in the first place demands action, according to the Bush administration. After all, they could have managed to hide vast amounts of the stuff from Ritter's investigators. Iraq manufactured three kinds of these nerve agents: VX, Sarin and Tabou. Some alarmists who want war with Iraq describe 20,000 munitions filled with Sarin and Tabou nerve agents that could be used against Americans.
The facts, however, allay the fears. Sarin and Tabou have a shelf life of five years. Even if Iraq had somehow managed to hide this vast number of weapons from Ritter's people, what they are now storing is nothing more than useless and completely harmless goo.
The VX gas was of a greater concern to Ritter. It is harder to manufacture than the others, but once made stable, it can be kept for much longer. Ritter's people found the VX manufacturing facility that the Iraqis claimed never existed totally destroyed, hit by a Gulf War bomb on January 23, 1991. The field where the material they had manufactured was subsequently buried underwent more forensic archaeology to determine that whatever they had made had also been destroyed. All of this, again, was cross-referenced and meticulously researched.
"The research and development factory is destroyed," said Ritter. "The product of that factory is destroyed. The weapons they loaded up have been destroyed. More importantly, the equipment procured from Europe that was going to be used for their large-scale VX nerve agent factory was identified by the special commission - still packed in its crates in 1997 - and destroyed. Is there a VX nerve agent factory in Iraq today? Not on your life."
This is, in and of itself, a bold statement. Ritter himself and no weapons inspection team has set foot in Iraq since 1998. Ritter believed Iraq technically capable of restarting its weapons manufacturing capabilities within six months of his departure. That leaves some three and one half years to manufacture and weaponize all the horrors that has purportedly motivated the Bush administration to attack.
"Technically capable," however, is the important phrase here. If no one were watching, Iraq could do this. But they would have to start completely from scratch, having been deprived of all equipment, facilities and research because of Ritter's work. They would have to procure the complicated tools and technology required through front companies, which would be detected. The manufacture of chemical and biological weapons emits vented gasses that would have been detected by now if they existed. The manufacture of nuclear weapons emits gamma rays that would have been detected by now if they existed. We have been watching, via satellite and other means, and we have seen none of this.
"If Iraq was producing weapons today, we would have definitive proof," said Ritter, "plain and simple."
And yet we march to war, and soon. A chorus of voices was raised in the room asking why we are going. What motivates this, if not hard facts and true threats? According to Ritter, it comes down to opportunistic politics and a decade of hard anti-Hussein rhetoric that has boxed the Bush administration into a rhetorical corner.
Back in 1991, the UN Security Council mandated the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Sanctions were placed upon Iraq to pressure them to comply. The first Bush administration signed on to this, but also issued a covert finding that mandated the removal of Saddam Hussein. Even if all the weapons were destroyed, Bush Sr. would not lift the sanctions until Hussein was gone.
Bush Sr., and Clinton after him, came to realize that talking about removing Hussein was far, far easier than achieving that goal. Hussein was, and remains, virtually coup-proof. No one could get close enough to put a bullet in him, and no viable intelligence existed to pinpoint his location from day to day. Rousing a complacent American populace to support the massive military engagement that would have been required to remove Hussein by force presented insurmountable political obstacles. The tough talk about confronting Hussein continued, but the Bush and Clinton administrations treaded water.
This lack of results became exponentially more complicated. Politicians began making a living off of demonizing Hussein, and lambasting Clinton for failing to have him removed. The roots of our current problem began to deepen at this point, for it became acceptable to encapsulate a nation of 20 million citizens in the visage of one man who was hated and reviled in bipartisan fashion. Before long, the American people knew the drill - Saddam is an evil threat and must be met with military force, period.
In 1998, the Republican-controlled Congress passed the Iraqi Liberation Act. The weight of public American law now demanded the removal of Saddam Hussein. The American government went on to use data gathered by UNSCOM, narrowly meant to pinpoint possible areas of investigation, to choose bombing targets in an operation called Desert Fox. Confrontation, rather than resolution, continued to be the rule. By 1999, however, Hussein was still in power.
"An open letter was written to Bill Clinton in the fall of 1999," said Ritter, "condemning him for failing to fully implement the Iraqi Liberation Act. It demanded that he use the American military to facilitate the Iraqi opposition's operations inside Iraq, to put troops on the ground and move on up to Baghdad to get rid of Saddam. Who signed this letter? Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage, Robert Zoellick, Richard Perle, and on and on and on."
The removal of Saddam Hussein became a plank in the GOP's race for the Presidency in 2000. After gaining office, George W. Bush was confronted with the reality that he and many within his administration had spent a great amount of political capital promising that removal. Once in power, however, he came to realize what his father and Clinton already knew - talking tough was easy, and instigating pinprick military confrontations was easy, but removing Hussein from power was not easy at all. His own rhetoric was all around him, however, pushing him into that corner which had only one exit. Still, like the two Presidents before him, he treaded water.
Then came September 11th. Within days, Bush was on television claiming that the terrorists must have had state-sponsored help, and that state sponsor must be Iraq. When the anthrax attacks came, Bush blamed Iraq again. Both times, he had no basis whatsoever in fact for his claims. The habit of lambasting Iraq, and the opportunity to escape the rhetorical box twelve years of hard-talking American policy, were too juicy to ignore.
The dearth of definitive proof of an Iraqi threat against America began to go international. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld appeared before NATO not long ago and demanded that they support America's looming Iraq war. Most of the NATO nations appeared ready to do so - they trusted that America's top defense official would not come before them and lie. But when they tried to ask questions of him about the basis for this war, Rumsfeld absolutely refused to answer any of them. Instead, he offered this regarding our utter lack of meaningful data to support a conflict: "The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence."
Scott Ritter appeared before NATO some days after this at their invitation to offer answers to their questions. Much of what he told them was mirrored in his comments in that Boston classroom. After he was finished, 16 of the 19 NATO nations present wrote letters of complaint to the American government about Rumsfeld's comments, and about our basis for war. American UN representatives boycotted this hearing, and denounced all who gave ear to Ritter.
Some have claimed that the Bush administration may hold secret evidence pointing to a threat within Iraq, one that cannot be exposed for fear of compromising a source. Ritter dismissed this out of hand in Boston. "If the administration had such secret evidence," he said, "we'd be at war in Iraq right now. We wouldn't be talking about it. It would be a fait accompli." Our immediate military action in Afghanistan, whose ties to Al Qaeda were manifest, lends great credence to this point.
Ritter dismissed oil as a motivating factor behind our coming war with Iraq. He made a good defense of this claim. Yes, Iraq has the second-largest oil reserves on earth, a juicy target for the petroleum-loving Bush administration. But the U.S. already buys some 68% of all the oil produced in Iraq. "The Navy ships in the Gulf who work to interdict the smuggling of Iraqi oil," said Ritter, "are fueled by Iraqi oil." Iraq's Oil Minister has stated on camera that if the sanctions are lifted, Iraq will do whatever it takes to see that America's oil needs are fulfilled. "You can't get a better deal than that," claimed Ritter.
His thinking on this aspect of the coming war may be in error. That sort of logic exists in an all-things-being-equal world of politics and influence, a world that has ceased to exist. Oil is a coin in the bargaining, peddled as influence to oil-state congressmen and American petroleum companies by the Iraqi National Congress to procure support for this baseless conflict. Invade, says the INC, put us in power, and you will have all you want. There are many ruling in America today, both in government and business, who would shed innocent blood for this opportunity.
Ritter made no bones about the fact that Saddam Hussein is an evil man. Like most Americans, however, he detests being lied to. His work in Iraq, and his detailed understanding of the incredible technological requirements for the production of weapons of mass destruction, leads him to believe beyond question that there is no basis in fact or in the needs of national security for a war in Iraq. This Marine, this Republican who seemed so essentially hawkish that no one in that Boston classroom would have been surprised to find wings under his natty blue sportcoat, called the man he cast a Presidential vote for a liar.
"The clock is ticking," he said, "and it's ticking towards war. And it's going to be a real war. It's going to be a war that will result in the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. It's a war that is going to devastate Iraq. It's a war that's going to destroy the credibility of the United States of America. I just came back from London, and I can tell you this - Tony Blair may talk a good show about war, but the British people and the bulk of the British government do not support this war. The Europeans do not support this war. NATO does not support this war. No one supports this war."
It is of a certainty that few in the Muslim world support another American war with Iraq. Osama bin Laden used the civilian suffering in Iraq under the sanctions to demonstrate to his followers the evils of America and the West. Another war would exacerbate those already-raw emotions. After 9/11, much of the Islamic world repudiated bin Laden and his actions. Another Iraq war would go a long way to proving, in the minds of many Muslims, that bin Laden was right all along. The fires of terrorism that would follow this are unimaginable.
Scott Ritter wants to be present as a witness on Monday when the Foreign Relations Committee convenes its hearing, a hearing that will decide whether or not America goes to war in Iraq. He wants to share the information he delivered in that Boston classroom with Senators who have spent too many years listening to, or propounding, rhetorical and speculative fearmongering about an Iraqi threat to America that does not exist. Instead, he wants the inspectors back in Iraq, doing their jobs. He wants to try and keep American and Iraqi blood from being spilled in a military exercise promulgated by right-wing ideologues that may serve no purpose beyond affecting the outcome of the midterm Congressional elections in November 2002.
"This is not theory," said Ritter in Boston as he closed his comments. "This is real. And the only way this war is going to be stopped is if Congress stops this war."
[William Rivers Pitt is a teacher from Boston, MA. His new book, The Greatest Sedition is Silence, will be published soon by Pluto Press.]
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