This one's for Ronnie:
Kingston Daily Freeman (New York)
February 1, 2003
No reason to attack Iraq, ex-weapons inspector tells packed house in Saugerties
By Aimee J. Frank, Correspondent February 01, 2003
SAUGERTIES - He's made a name for himself stating Saddam Hussein does not have weapons of mass destruction and opposing a possible U.S. military strike against Iraq, but "I stand before you as someone who is not a pacifist," Scott Ritter told a packed house Friday night.
"I believe that, in fact, if we set out our political beliefs, I would be in opposition to most of the people in this room," Ritter told some 300 people who jammed the Frank D. Greco Senior Citizens' Center to hear the former U.N. weapons inspector and ex-Marine.
But Ritter, speaking at an event sponsored by the Saugerties Committee for Peace and Social Justice, an anti-war group, said it is "a documented fact that, by 1996, 90 to 95 percent of Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction capability was eliminated, including 100 percent of the factories used by Iraq to produce these weapons."
Indeed, weapons inspectors who went to Iraq this winter found no smoking guns, but they encountered difficulty accessing some sites, and President Bush maintains that Saddam continues to possess chemical and biological weapons. Bush says military action may be the only way to prevent Saddam from using these weapons, and statements out of the White House in recent days suggest a U.S. military offensive against Baghdad could be only weeks away.
Ritter said on Friday that Bush merely is using the purported existence of these weapons as an excuse to remove Saddam from power.
"It has been American policy since 1991 (when the United States and its allies launched the Persian Gulf War against Iraq) to achieve regime removal in Iraq, to eliminate Saddam Hussein," Ritter said. "And this unilateral policy of regime removal has taken priority over disarmament."
Ritter agrees with Bush that Saddam is a ruthless dictator but said removing the Iraqi leader is "not a cause worthy of the sacrifice of American life."
Ritter was well-received by the audience and received a standing ovation at the end of his half-hour talk.
He took questions from after his speech, but not before a moderator instructed the audience that all inquiries had to be about Iraq. That was an apparent attempt to avoid questions about Ritter's arrest in June 2001 in an Internet sex sting.
Ritter, an Albany County resident, has declined to discuss the incident, but newspaper and broadcast reports in the Capital District over the past two weeks have said he allegedly tried to lure to a restaurant a 16-year-old girl he met on the Internet. The girl turned out to be an undercover police officer, and Ritter was arrested when they met.
Ritter has said he is prohibited from discussing the case because the charges were dismissed and the records were sealed. But he has suggested that the arrest suddenly being brought to the media's attention was part of an attempt to silence him.
"It's a shame that somebody would bring up this old matter, this dismissed matter, and seek to silence me at this time," he said last week.
Among those posing a question to Ritter after his speech on Friday was Manna Jo Greene, a Rosendale resident who plans to travel to Iraq next week as a way of protesting a possible U.S. attack.
Her question: What can be done to prevent this war?
"This war will be stopped ... when President Bush realizes that he loses more politically by going to war than he does by not going to war," Ritter replied.
Since his resignation as a weapons inspector in 1998, after seven years of service, Ritter has published two books and produced a film about U.S. policy toward Iraq and has lectured widely. He routinely tells audiences that Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction and poses no threat to the United States.
The crowd in Saugerties on Friday was so large that it spilled outside the Senior Citizens' Center. There also was a police presence, because protesters were expected, but no demonstrators showed up and no problems were reported.