Former Chief UN Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter lashed out at the Bush administration for its policies on Iraq last Thursday.
Despite his roots as a Marine and Republican, Ritter emerged in recent months as one of the most prominent denouncers of President Bush’s war plans. He was adamant about these views in his speech to a packed Hoyt Hall Nov. 7.
“I’m not a pacifist, I’m a warrior,” Ritter said. He argued that Bush took the oath to defend the Constitution, but that the president is now ignoring American and international law as he pushes for war in Iraq.
Ritter tried to dispel myths that weapons inspectors were ineffective and made the case that the Bush administration is lying to the American people.
“The American public just seems to accept Bush at face value,” he said.
Ritter, who was a weapons inspector for seven years, emphasized that, in his view, the Bush administration has not made the case to the public that this is a justified war and he is particularly afraid of the imperialist nature of the pre-emptive strike. He hopes inspectors are sent back to Iraq.
“Shouldn’t we be disturbed that they won’t show us the evidence?” he asked, speaking of the administration.
Ritter called on the public to question the administration as part of their patriotic duty. “Patriotism is knowing what this nation stands for and to hold our officials accountable,” he said. “With Bush, there is no room for neutrality.”
He suggested that America is becoming more of a dictatorship than a democracy. “You can only empower yourself if you debate,” he said. “How dare we let the administration call someone treasonous when they speak up?”
He argued that the U.S. administration is using inspections and inspectors as a guise for their larger plan of regime change. Ritter tried to set the record straight. “Disarmament is second for the administration, and that’s a violation of international law,” he claimed. “The weapons pose a threat, not Saddam.”
The day after Ritter’s speech, the resolution mandating weapons inspections in Iraq was passed unanimously by the United Nations. Iraq officially recognized and accepted the resolution yesterday.
He says that Bush now has unmatched power. “He already has all the power he needs ? there’s no stopping him,” he said with alarm. “We might as well call him King Bush the First.”
Ritter said his time as inspector was extremely successful. “I’m a spy,” he said. “I get information they don’t want me to have.”
Under Ritter, the nature of the inspections varied widely. They interviewed scientists, brought in experts, translators and hackers and travelled the world for clues. “I need the whole range of my geeks to be successful,” he joked.
“We never found a single weapon there, but by 1996 we effectively disarmed Iraq,” he boasted. “We did it the way a cop solves a crime.”
He said that when inspectors do just their job as inspectors, they are extremely effective, but once their role becomes murkier, Iraqis are less likely to comply and the ability to disarm the country is threatened.
The discussion returned to present policy as he emphasized the number of innocent Iraqis he claims the American government is killing through sanctions. “Five thousand kids were dying every month for a while,” he said.
America says they’re not in the business of killing civilians and children, he said, but that is in effect what the nation is doing. “You think we’re teaching Iraqis to love us? Think again,” Ritter scolded. “Saddam may be the trigger, but we’re the accomplice.”
Ritter expressed concern that America will lose lives in what he contends is an avoidable war. He said that renewed inspections are the answer. “Every weapons inspector came home [alive] and Iraq never attacked the U.S.,” he said.
Ritter hopes to inspire Americans to question and think critically about the actions of the government. “Don’t walk blindly off this cliff,” he urged.
Ritter impressed those UR students in attendance.
“I think it definitely changed my point of view,” freshman Ashley Poelma said of the speech. “Now I’m completely against [the impending war],” she said.
Junior Jack Collins said that before he heard the speech, he was fearful and “reluctantly in support of the war,” and the leaders he thought he could trust. After hearing Ritter, he changed his views.
Ritter “completely enlightened me,” Collins said. “What he brings up ? due process and respecting the law ? are the most profound and informed arguments why the U.S. should not engage in a pre-emptive strike against Iraq,” he said.
Not everyone was convinced, though. One audience member hounded Ritter during the question and answer session to produce more evidence, to which he clarified many of his points.
Ritter’s main message was that it is the obligation of the American people to treat the government with due scrutiny, especially in times of war. “Sometimes you have to go to war, but I’m not willing to die for the people of Iraq,” he said.
Ritter cautioned that public gestures may not be reality. “It should be conceivable that the president would lie to the public,” he said.