Scott Ritter has been called "an honest man lost in Washington" by Forbes and "the most famous renegade Marine officer" by the New York Times. A former marine captain and the former chief weapons inspector for Unscom, the agency in charge of inspecting Iraq's weapons programs. He has made a name for himself by speaking out against the Bush Administration's justification for war, based on the claim there were weapons of mass destruction.
In 1998, Ritter resigned from Unscom after eight years as weapons inspector, claiming the Clinton Administration was preventing him from performing thorough inspections. At the time, Saddam Hussein's regime was openly defying U.N. weapons inspections with its non-compliance policy and Ritter criticized Clinton for not strong-arming him enough. Republicans hailed Ritter as an "American hero" during his rage against Clinton, but had no idea Ritter would criticize the right-wing Bush Administration, too. In fact, many of his former colleagues and bosses have acted bewildered by Ritter's apparent contradictions, urging Clinton to be harsher on Saddam, then urging Bush to be more pragmatic with him. Ritter says if his claims appear to run counter to each other it is only because his critics have used the media to play politics. He says all along he's pushed for government transparency and for the U.S. to follow international law as defined by the constitution itself. He explains some of his experiences in the following interview, and has gone into great detail in his books.
Ritter is the author of "Endgame: Solving the Iraq Crisis," "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You To Know," and "Frontier Justice: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Bushwhacking of America." His next book, "Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of America's Intelligence Conspiracy," is due out next September.
Ritter will be in Spokane on May 12 at The Met. The event is sponsored by Support the Truth - Start the Peace, the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, Veterans for Peace, City Yoga and Thin Air Community Radio. Tickets can be purchased through PJALS for $10.00 (838-7870) or Tickets West for $13 (800-325-7328).
Inlander: The Bush Administration officially called off its search for WMD in Iraq just last week, on April 26. What's your reaction?
Ritter: I don't think there should have been a search conducted unilaterally by the U.S. in the aftermath of an illegal war to begin with. It was a fraud, a charade. They want kudos for finally calling it off and acknowledging that which the CIA knew from the beginning? Charles Duelfer, [Director of Central Intelligence Special Advisor for Strategy regarding Iraqi Weapons Of Mass Destruction Programs] remained mute because, as he told me, 'if we focus on the weapons we loose site of the fact that Saddam is in power.'
WMDs were a front, an excuse. It was always about Saddam. It was pedaled to the people of the U.S. in a fraudulent manner. I don't get debating points for being right. People are dead. The fact that the government has finally acknowledged the truth only saddens me. [There have been 1,749 coalition troop deaths, 1,574 Americans, 87 Britons, eight Bulgarians, one Dane, two Dutch, two Estonians, one Hungarian, 21 Italians, one Kazakh, one Latvian, 17 Poles, one Salvadoran, three Slovaks, 11 Spaniards, two Thai and 17 Ukrainians in the war in Iraq as of April 29, 2005. These figures do not include deaths of mercenaries, contractors or civilians.]
How much money, in total, do you think the search for WMD cost American taxpayers?
I think we should rely on the CIA's own estimates, which are between $600-900 million. But again, what price do you put on human life? When I was weapons inspector in Iraq, not a single person died and yet we disarmed Iraq. Unlike the disarmament process by the U.N., this search cost human life and the price we the people have paid for this war, this lunacy we've engaged in, has created a huge stain on the moral character of America. Put a dollar figure on that. Ask the people of Spokane to go around the world and see what people think of us now. We used to be the good guys in white hats. We're not anymore. Put a dollar figure on that.
You resigned from your post as chief weapons inspector for Unscom because you said Clinton officials were blocking you from doing your job in order to avoid "confrontation" with Iraqis.
One of the problems is the media has never covered this right. They are always looking for the simplistic angle that can be summarized. It's much more complicated. Why did the Clinton Administration block me? Why weren't they interested in confrontation? The answer is the U.S. was not interested in disarming Iraq - they never have been. It was a front to justify the continuation for sanctions, which were designed to contain Saddam until the U.S. could remove him from power. The U.S. policy has been, since 1991, about regime change, not disarmament.
In 1998, after Clinton interfered with seven consecutive inspections, I came to the conclusion that I could no longer do my job. The Iraqis were blocking me, the Security Council was unwilling to hold Iraqis accountable for the blockage and the U.S. was not only abetting the Security Council, but leading it and using the inspection process to further unilateral regime change. The CIA received instructions from the president to use any and all methods necessary to remove Saddam from power, including lethal force. The CIA used the inspectors as a part of a coup de ta attempt to kill Saddam. So ask yourself, why did Iraq block the inspectors? Not because they were hiding [WMD]. What were they afraid of? Not of disarmament. They had already disarmed. They were afraid of CIA influence to target their president. Summarize that in a headline. The problem is that no one back then wanted to talk about it and no one is talking about it today. You will not find any mention of the CIA's primary objectives during this period.
Your summarization of U.S. foreign policy runs counter to what your critics have said about you, that you "lack an overall understanding of U.S. policy." Do you think you failed to get the big picture at the time?
No. It's an ignorant assessment. The mainstream media bought into [this critique of me]; even the media who are seen as cutting edge. Unfortunately the vast majority of Americans get their news from corporate media and they were running with this notion of Saddam Hussein as equivalent to Adolf Hitler and his (gasp) WMD.
I'm not some yokel from the backwoods. I ran intelligence operations for the U.N. in Iraq. I liasoned with the CIA, with British intelligence, with French and Jordanian intelligence. I ran the show; there was nothing about WMD I did not know. To say I was not informed is absurd. I was at the meetings; I implemented policy. It's too inconvenient for the media to suddenly come out and say, 'oh my goodness, the government is lying.' No, they have officials say, 'Scott is uninformed about U.S. policy.' And then you don't have to dig so deep.
I was more informed than they wanted me to be. Find one thing I've said about Iraq that's been wrong. You're not going to. I know what they were trying to achieve. I know what's going on. I'm not above criticism, but to say I wasn't informed is blatantly wrong.
What is the relevance of having been right now that we've already invaded? Is this discussion still valid?
It's valid to discuss the things happening over the last decade, or really, with the last four or five or six presidents. It's a discussion to have about America and how it deals with the Middle East. But let's just talk about Iraq. We're in a quagmire and I think everyone acknowledges we haven't had a glorious victory. We've got a problem, and you will not solve a problem until you've properly defined that problem. We are not going to be able to get anywhere if we are pretending that we actually tried to disarm Iraq and that this war was all about getting rid of WMD. We're not there because of WMD; we're there because policy makers determined an over-arching [U.S. foreign] policy regarding changing regimes in theocracies and feudalistic societies and dictatorships, and replacing those regimes with so-called Western-oriented democracies. This was not put forward to the American people.
The government was wrong. They lied and until we get that we're not going to have any solution regarding the global war on terror or any of the other problems that confront us as a nation. The constitution is about the rule of law and about due process and transparency of government, so when people say 'the end justifies the means,' they don't know what it means to be an American.
But Bush was re-elected and a great many Americans continue to support and believe him. Why do you think he is still in power?
If Americans had focused on these issues, he wouldn't have been re-elected. When it says 'We the people of the United States of America...' it means just that. Because of this wording, the constitution is the property of the people, not the president. We've stopped being citizens and started being consumers. We have officials who have lied, defrauded and misrepresented and yet the leader has been re-elected and you have to ask why? Most Americans just don't care and they don't want to rock the boat. And, (chuckling) the Democrats ran a horrible campaign.
Some of what you say makes you sound like a liberal.
I sound like a conservative person who loves his country. I like the middle class lifestyle and enjoy living in suburbia, but I also understand that it doesn't come without a cost, and it's more than monetary; it's part of being in the community I live and how that fits into the county, and how that fits into the state, the country and the world. It's [about] being cognizant of the fact that I hire officials to represent me and when they do things I don't like I hold them accountable. I must because I have a duty to hold them accountable. We have officials who lied, defrauded and misrepresented the facts and yet the leader has been re-elected and you have to ask why?
Despite all the politics, our leaders are human beings; do you think they are good? Do they truly believe what they're doing is right?
You have a group of neo-conservative ideologues who believe that there is something called the Elite; that there are Elite Thinkers who are empowered with the ability to perceive truth. They believe there are the masses of people who cannot discern the greater good and so therefore they believe in the Noble Lie. In order to achieve good, because you can't explain it to the masses, you must misdirect the masses and use justifications to get what you want. And that's why this administration has shown no embarrassment or remorse. They've all but acknowledged that they just picked [WMD] as the issue they could explain to the American people to justify the war. And what does that say about you? That you have to be lied to by officials because you don't know the difference?
Yes, they believe they're right but they are wrong. They are so fundamentally wrong it sickens me. It takes us to the statement 'The ends justify the means.' No statement can sicken me more.
I personally know Paul Wolfowitz and I believe that he believes what he's doing is right. It doesn't make it right.
Then we come to Colin Powell. I had a tremendous about of respect for him. I would have voted for him for president and I thought, 'this is the guy.' I met him and thought for sure he was the real deal. But he's a fraud. He's been deluding himself and the American people. When push came to shove he has shown he is simply a Yes man. Powell had the opportunity to stand up and do the right thing. In his book, he wrote that during Vietnam the powers-that-be would misrepresent the facts to further their position and he said that he'd never let that happen. So when the President said, 'I'm sending Powell to the Security Council to make the case for war,' and the speech he gave was 100 percent wrong - every word of it, I turned around and [spoke up]. Not a single word he said was true. Is Colin Powell a puppet or a thinking man? He didn't have to give that presentation. He could have demanded better evidence and did what he said he'd do in his book. Did he do what he believed? No, he didn't. Wolfowitz at least believes it. Powell doesn't. There are others, other true believers. John Bolton is a man I have nothing nice to say about but he honestly believes he is doing the right thing. I'm sure Bush thinks he's doing the right thing.
Donald Rumsfeld - now here's a man who hyped up North Korea and Iraq in order to sell the National Missile Defense System and he knows he lied, but he really believes that for the greater good we need to have this National Missile Defense System and that we can't wait for a true threat to emerge, and that the American people are too ignorant so they have to fabricate a threat. I believe we should throw him in jail. But he believes he's doing the right thing.
Do you think these people at least listen to other viewpoints?
They don't view the constitution as absolute law; they view it like a contract that can be renegotiated. They don't believe in the power of the people and don't respect the will of the people. They do not tolerate dissenting opinion and will go to extraordinary lengths to silence those who speak out against them. These are not people who embrace debate; they avoid it.
Throughout history government leaders have manipulated facts during times of war, telling Noble Lies for the Greater Good. How is this situation any different?
We had this thing called the American Revolution, which was designed to set us apart. We're different. When we talk about America being the greatest nation in the world it's because we don't tolerate this. We booted out a King who lied; we wrote the constitution and established the Rule of Law. I don't care what Nazi Germany did, what Communist china did, what the Soviet Union did to sell wars - America is different. We can't tolerate this and the moment we do we become no better than those governments.
It is a simple historical fact: George W. Bush violated international law when he invaded Iraq. This puts him in the same category as Saddam when he invaded Kuwait and Hitler when he invaded Poland.
Have you lost your belief in America?
I would never loose my belief in what America stands for. I'm willing to die, to fight for it, and I'm willing to fight those who seek to deviate what America stands for. Most Americans will bad mouth the U.N. or the Security Council and say American law is better than international law. I say to them, Article Six of the Constitution, my friends. (Quotes: ["This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding"]).
That is not imposed by others, but by our own defining document. So when we bad-mouth international law, we badmouth ourselves.
Where do we go from here?
Before the war, one of the things I said is that if we invade Iraq we will set in motion events that will have a devastating effect on the world and the U.S. There will be no elegant solutions. Whatever we do is not going to be easy. I think we should start with re-finding our solid foundations - who we are and what we stand for as a nation. We must re-establish that. Hopefully Americans can dig deep enough to get back to that and not do this expedient re-definition that says the ends justify the means, or that the president lied but oh well. We can make sure the policies Bush puts forth in Congress do not have the support of the people. Put pressure on Congress to stand up for the constitution. This is going to be long, hard and difficult, but if we don't define who we are it's only going to get worse.
But, do you think Americans will be able to come up with an identity that we can all be comfortable with?
A large problem with is the political parties and the way they are organized. The political power bases are divided, not the American people. There is always room for debate; Adams and Jefferson didn't get along and said nasty things about each other, but they sat down and made it work. There's no problem with having political differences, but they should not be misconstrued as a fundamental division in our nation.
I'm a Republican and we've allowed religious conservatives to define and dominate our party because of political expediency in order to dominate the polls. Is it Americans who are split? No, the political parties are ill and we have to resolve that issue. I thought getting Howard Dean in as Democratic Chair would go a long way in that vein, but the first thing he did was change his tune on Iraq, saying now that we're over there, we should stay. Thanks, Howard. The Democrats won't win the 2008 elections.
Iraq should be the kind of issue that lets us focus on unifying concepts, not divisive concepts. For instance, let's talk about supporting the troops. A lot of people say [I'm] anti-troop and I take violent exception to that. I'm a former Marine and would never do anything that would undermine the troops. I'm so pro-troop that I want to make sure before we send them out to war we have a just cause, that we have a mission, not that we're staying here just to prop up careers of a handful of ideologues.
What about getting Americans to support the Iraqi civilians, in addition to the troops?
In the decade of sanctions somewhere between 750,000 and 2.5 million Iraqis died. I think it's the truth leans toward 2.5 million. These sanctions were to compel Iraq to disarm and they did disarm in 1991, and yet we kept the sanctions in place. The American people are culpable for those deaths. So, why should we care about the hundreds of thousands who are dying now? I think it's asking too much of the American people to care now. I wish they would do something, not only to get us out of there but to make amends as to what we've done for decades. We're a nation that tolerates homeless people on the streets. It's hard enough to get us to care about our own troops. The Marines themselves say their families don't have a clue what they are doing over there and they don't want them to. Therefore, their families are supportive of policies that are killing their own kids. And now we're even talking of imposing sanctions on Iran and bombing Iran.
You sound so bitter.
The last thing I want to be is bitter. I'm angry and frustrated. I try to suppress [bitterness] by speaking the truth and believing the truth will come out. This is the last thing I thought I'd be doing in my life. I was a simple Marine who got involved in things and processes that I didn't train for; I was thrown into the mix and here I am, trying to do my best. Perhaps there are better words I could have used, but I don't have a speechwriter. I'm a citizen who is standing up and fighting for what's right. And I'll continue to do it. It's not a process one should be bitter about; it's a process one should embrace. No one said Democracy should be easy. We have to earn it and I'm in the process of earning it.
Are you planning on going into politics or running for an office?
No, I don't do politics. The ownership of my country is a political process in its own right and I'm so much more effective doing what I'm doing now.
Are you writing anything right now?
I just finished a manuscript that is coming out in September. It's called "Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of America's Intelligence Conspiracy." There is no document that Americans can read to know what was really happening. I wrote a detailed account of [events] from 1991 to 1998 of what I was trying to accomplish and why the CIA was interfering in that work. This will arm people with information they'll find nowhere else, so people can better articulate why what we're doing in Iraq is wrong.