Ritter urges dialogue on war with Iraq

Scott Ritter, former Chief of Weapons Inspection of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) spoke to the College community in a packed Chapin Hall on Wednesday night. He urged community members to engage in a discussion debating both sides of the case for war with Iraq.

Ritter appeared as the keynote speaker in the “War, Iraq, Terror?” series, a sequence of talks on war, terrorism and Middle Eastern politics. The week-long chain of events was sponsored by the Williams Anti-War Community Task Force (ACT), and was designed to raise awareness in the community.

Ritter detailed some of his own work as the head of UNSCOM, drawing on that experience to argue against the proposed war in Iraq. He urged the audience to take action and become involved, and to “reinvigorate democracy” at this “defining moment in our nation’s history.”

“We thought that [Ritter] would be a credible speaker, not only to give an interesting perspective on the Iraq issue, but also to increase dialogue among the student body about the current U.S. role in Iraq,” said ACT member Brigitte Teissedre ’03. “Scott Ritter gave our week a first-hand connection with what is happening at the heart of the Iraq issue, something not provided by our other events,” she said.

A mix of college students, staff and community members brought a broad range of questions and views to the event. Some individuals lined up an hour before the lecture to ensure seating.

Ritter said he hoped his lecture would not be “a speech or monologue,” but instead a discussion, where he eventually planned to “shut up and hold myself accountable for what I’ve said.”

He also described how his hopes for the talk paralleled those he holds for society: “Democracy only functions if people are involved and empowered with knowledge,” he said.

Ritter invoked powerful images of war, using these vivid descriptions to strengthen his position. Speaking pointedly to each individual in the audience, he said, “After everything you’ve heard about Iraq and Saddam Hussein, look in the mirror and ask ‘Am I willing to die for this?’ . . .If you’re not willing to make the sacrifice, don’t ask someone else to.”

Ritter also used his own Marine training to paint a first-hand portrait of war, in turn elaborating on why he believes that a war with Iraq is unnecessary.

“I’m not anti-war,” he said. “There’s a time and a place when you have to fight for what you believe in. . .but we the people must exhaust everything short of war. The cause must justify the ends.”

According to Ritter, the Bush administration’s posturing for war is unjustified. He said such a war would constitute a violation of both the U.S. Constitution and the United Nations charter. The U.S., he said, is “preparing to become the greatest law breaker the world has ever seen.”

Ritter then focused the speech on his own experience as the head of UNSCOM. He described the disarmament process and its main flaw – Iraq’s unwillingness to cooperate with inspections. He also addressed the Security Council’s subsequent failure to confront these violations, or to enforce international law.

“If you mandate that Iraq must fully cooperate with inspectors . . . and yet Iraq chooses not to, and cheats, and you don’t enforce the law, you’ve just let Iraq get away with it,” he said. “You must enforce your law. From the very beginning. . .Iraq lied, Iraq cheated, Iraq obstructed the work of inspectors and the Security Council did nothing in response.”

Ritter then outlined three different criteria that must be met for inspections to succeed. First, he said, Iraq must cooperate. Second, the United Nations must enforce its laws. Finally, he said, “those who implement the law must likewise be held accountable to the law.”

Ritter expanded on this third point and described how, during his tenure, weapons inspectors went beyond their duties mandated by the Security Council, and how the U.S. ultimately placed regime change ahead of the initial goal of disarmament.

“The United States started using the inspection process as a means to spy on Saddam Hussein,” he said. “We corrupted the inspections process. We corrupted the law.”

Still, Ritter said, the inspections were, in fact, successful: “By 1996 every factory used by Iraq to develop the prescribed material was eliminated. Ninety to ninety-five percent of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capability wasverified as eliminated.”

According to Ritter, the UN has finally issued an ultimatum enforcing the full extent of its law. As a result, Iraq has cooperated, and the current level of access to the country is greater than when he left UNSCOM.

Along with this improved access, Ritter feels that if Iraq ever did produce a weapon, there would be evidence such as “industrial thumbprints” left by chemical factories. Yet, he said, “[the inspectors] have found nothing, and they are equipped with the most sophisticated sensors you can possibly imagine. . .at some point you have to accept that finding nothing might mean that there’s nothing to find.”

Ritter demanded that President Bush “put the evidence on the table” before going to war. He said he believes that in handling the Iraqi crisis, the administrative process should have worked differently, and should have followed the traditional chain of command. He said that the administration should have gone to Congress with a war proposal only after receiving evidence from the Security Council. According to Ritter, the US “has it backwards” because it went to Congress first, thus undermining the power of the United Nations. “It is the largest abrogation of the Constitution in modern history and the public didn’t blink an eye,” he said.

He then asked audience members to hold their Representatives accountable for their actions in Congress. He specifically mentioned Massachusetts Senator and presidential hopeful John Kerry. Ritter said that while Kerry called his vote for war in Iraq a “vote for peace,” a large portion of the Senator’s constituents did notwant him to vote, in any way, for war.

Ritter concluded his lecture by warning against the unanticipated consequences of a military build-up. He cautioned that the military could “take on a life of its own,” and added that the US is “close to this point as we speak. As the world is moving away from this war, we move forward.”

At the very end of the night, he made a final plea: “Whether or not there is just cause, the only way to stop the process is for Americans to get engaged in democracy. . .it’s time that the American people seize control.”