Interview with Scott Ritter


ASMAN: Let me read to you a couple of quotes. I'm sure you've heard it before, but these are from four years ago, when you sounded about Saddam Hussein not very much different from the way President Bush did today at the U.N.

This one is from this week -- August 30, 1998 -- "Six months is a very reasonable time scale for Iraq to resume weapons capabilities."

The second two are from Good Morning America also in August of '98.

First, "Iraq's job is to avoid bringing the world's attention to the fact they've retained these weapons," and then, "Iraq retains the capability to launch a chemical strike." Sounds like Saddam Hussein is very dangerous and could mount a chemical strike right now.

RITTER: And what point are you trying to make?
ASMAN: Do you disagree with that in any way, shape or form?
RITTER: I don't disagree with anything I've ever said. Why in God's name would I disagree with something I've said?
ASMAN: Then how is it that people have gotten the impression that since those statements were made, you're now being somewhat apologetic for what Saddam Hussein is doing?
RITTER: Forget those people. Let's deal with the facts. First of all, it's a matter of perception. When I resigned, I didn't resign as someone beating the drum of war. I'm not out there promoting war. I didn't promote war when I was a weapons inspector. I'm not promoting war now. I'm promoting the process of weapons inspections as mandated by the Security Council. So I resigned in protest from being unable to do the job of completing the disarmament of Iraq.
ASMAN: So you think Saddam Hussein still has these chemical weapons capabilities?
RITTER: No, I said Saddam Hussein has the potential of having chemical weapons capability. We haven't completely confirmed the final disposition of these capabilities and they must be of concern. But to say that Saddam Hussein retains chemical weapons -- there's a big difference between weapons and capability.
ASMAN: You're talking about delivering the arsenal he has.
RITTER: I'm saying Saddam Hussein has the capability, inside Iraq today -- Iraq has the capability to convert aspects of its civilian infrastructure to reconstitute chemical weapons. Six months is not an unreasonable time. I said it then and I'm saying it now.
ASMAN: So he might still have all of those barrels of evil stuff, the biochemical weapons?
RITTER: It's not a matter of "still have," he might have been able to make those weapons in the intervening time.
ASMAN: Right, and chances are he has those weapons but he doesn't have the power to deliver them?
RITTER: No, first of all, I never said he has them and I'm not saying chances are he has them, I'm saying there's a possibility he could reconstitute this capability and that's why we have to have inspectors in place. You can't go from the fact we can't confirm the final disposition of important elements of his program -- which is the case -- to suddenly giving Saddam Hussein massive strike capability that threatens the United States of America. You can't make that leap. It is something you have to be concerned about. But the problem with what Bush is doing today is that he's made that leap, void of any intelligence information to substantiate that.
ASMAN: But it's not void of actions, Mr. Ritter. It is particularly in light of what happened on September 11, 2001 and the fear that there are evil people out there, some of whom may have consorted with Saddam Hussein in the past, that would get together and use some of these chemical weapons -- if they're in Iraq -- on U.S. citizens.
RITTER: But this is a purely hypothetical situation. Show me where is the link.
ASMAN: September 11, 2001 was not hypothetical, nothing hypothetical at all.
RITTER: Don't disgrace the death of those 3,000 people by bringing Iraq into the equation.
ASMAN: We know there are people out there willing to do the dirty deed and we also know Saddam Hussein has had contacts with these people in the past.
RITTER: No, you don't know that.
ASMAN: We know from Czech intelligence. Czech intelligence says that an Iraqi met with Mohammed Atta twice.
RITTER: What does the CIA and FBI say?
ASMAN: The FBI and CIA say the situation is not clear but Czech intelligence says it is. And why it is that the only person, only Arab leader that Usama bin Laden likes and approves of and speaks highly of is Saddam Hussein, why?
RITTER: That's an absurdity, David. Usama bin Laden in 1991 was offering his services to confront Saddam Hussein. Usama bin Laden has issued fatwas against Saddam Hussein.
ASMAN: We talked to representatives of Al Qaeda here in 1998 shortly after the bombings of those embassies in Africa. The only Arab leader -- I spoke to them personally, the only Arab leader they were willing to praise, not to condemn, was Saddam Hussein. Why?
RITTER: Well, I'm just telling you that the fact of the matter is the Iraqi government -- and I'm not an apologist for the Iraqi government, Saddam Hussein is the most brutal dictator I can think of today and from my lips to God's ear, I wish he was dead -- but the fact of the matter is Iraq is a secular dictatorship that has struggled against Islamic fundamentalists for 30 years.
ASMAN: Exactly. So why it that Saddam Hussein supports this secular individual?
RITTER: Well, first of all, I don't think that case has been made.
ASMAN: It's been made not only by Usama bin Laden himself but by representatives of Al Qaeda to me personally on air. We've got the tape. I can show it to you.
RITTER: I'm not disputing that.
ASMAN: You were disputing it.
RITTER: I'm not disputing that people have sat before you and said these things. I'm disputing that Al Qaeda is somehow in allegiance with Saddam Hussein.
ASMAN: Why shouldn't they be? They both want the destruction of the United States. You don't think they do? You don't think Usama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein want the destruction of the United States?
RITTER: Let's keep Usama bin Laden out of this equation because I'm not linking them.
ASMAN: He's directly a part of it. That's the point, Scott, the fact that Usama bin Laden has had, or is suspected to have had contacts, well, just a suspicion when thousands of American lives are at risk. Isn't a suspicion alone enough to really act upon?
RITTER: It's enough for us to be extremely concerned about, but when you want to take action, there has to be justification found in an international law. Let's remember there's two documents every American --
ASMAN: Isn't that what just happened today when George Bush went to the United Nations?
RITTER: No, actually George Bush was dictating to the United Nations, not trying to work with the United Nations.
ASMAN: In what way did he dictate?
RITTER: He said that you must hold Iraq accountable for its actions and if you don't, if you fail to do so, we will step forward.
ASMAN: That's not dictating -- that's just mentioning their obligations under the U.N. Charter.
RITTER: Well, let's remember the United States's obligations under the U.N. Charter, which is to go to the Security Council and seek Security Council action.
ASMAN: But remember who lost the war, Scott. You don't have to be told who lost the war in 1991.
RITTER: I fought in the war.
ASMAN: Exactly. Who lost? It was Saddam Hussein. He signed these agreements as a result of his loss so that he could keep his nation in power.
RITTER: First of all, he didn't sign a single agreement.
ASMAN: The conditions laid out by the U.N. were agreed to by the Iraqis.
RITTER: Correct. But don't say Saddam signed the agreement.
ASMAN: The point it that -- You know it's a dictatorship. Are you here to tell me Iraq is a democracy?
ASMAN: So Saddam Hussein clearly allowed his people to accept those documents from the U.N.?
RITTER: Absolutely.
ASMAN: So they were forced to accept those documents saying they would allow U.N. inspectors unfettered access -- and they didn't. Do you deny that?
RITTER: First of all, it's not that black and white. We achieved a 90-95 percent level of disarmament in Iraq. We could not have done that without unfettered access. I got into the sites I needed to get to. Was it easy? Was it pretty? No. Did I achieve a certain level of disarmament? Yes. Did other inspectors achieve a certain level of disarmament? Yes. We fundamentally disarmed Iraq and that's the point that has to be made. We succeeded in eliminating the threat posed to the world by Iraq --
ASMAN: Wait a minute. Even you said 95 percent was destroyed but five percent could not be accounted for, correct?
RITTER: Five to ten percent.
ASMAN: That's a lot of potential biochemical weapons.
RITTER: First of all, it's not just biochemical, it's across the board.
ASMAN: Nevertheless, for a madman like Saddam Hussein, who you just said you'd be for getting rid of in a heartbeat, for him to have 5 percent of that arsenal is still a dangerous thing.
RITTER: Again, let's put this in the proper perspective. Biological weapons -- everybody's concerned about that. Anthrax -- we suffered a horrific anthrax attack here in the United States. Iraq produced liquid bulk anthrax, that's all they ever produced, not the dry powder that we saw here in the United States.
ASMAN: How are you sure about that? You're saying inspectors weren't sure of what happened. How do you know it did?
RITTER: Because this is the finding of the United Nations.
ASMAN: But, Scott, you just said that we're not sure.
RITTER: I'm going to deal with the facts that we know of. I'm not going to get into the hypothetical. What we know is that Iraq only produced liquid bulk anthrax. There is no evidence --
ASMAN: I gotta stop you Scott. You just said we don't know that, we don't know that they didn't produce powdered form of anthrax. How do you know? How?
RITTER: No, we do know that they didn't produce powdered form of anthrax. Because we inspected the facility, we did the testing on the facility.
ASMAN: It could not have been a facility you didn't know about?
RITTER: Well, now you're going off the map.
ASMAN: The guy's got trillions of dollars' worth of oil. Couldn't he have within his --
RITTER: Has millions of dollars' worth of oil.
ASMAN: Well, the reserves are trillions of dollars, if you add it up at 25 dollars a barrel. The point is he's got enough cash to do all sorts of things that we don't know about, correct?
RITTER: No. Again, we deal in the world of reality. Weapons of mass destruction aren't pulled out of a black hat like a white rabbit at a magic show. They're produced in factories. There's science and technology involved. They're not produced in a hole in the ground or in a basement. It's an industrial facility, we investigated the industrial facility, anthrax, liquid bulk deteriorates after three years under ideal storage conditions. The last time he produced it, in 1991 -- we were there from '91 to '98 and never detected any evidence of production. So for Iraq to have anthrax today they would have had to rebuild these factories since the last time inspectors were there.
ASMAN: 1998. You yourself said it would take six months to rebuild those facilities. So they could have built that. They could have built that four, six times over.
RITTER: They could have.
ASMAN: And isn't that a risk that we have to be particularly cognizant of, and if the Iraqis won't allow our inspectors unfettered access, isn't our only option to go in there and take out Saddam?
RITTER: Yes. Now let's get to the bottom line here. The last time we allowed inspectors into Iraq unconditionally, with unfettered access, what happened? The United States took these inspectors and used them to spy on Saddam Hussein.
ASMAN: Wait a minute, are you including your former boss Richard Butler in that category?
RITTER: Richard Butler was totally complicit with it.
ASMAN: Richard Butler, you're saying, was a spy for the United States, not an independent U.N. weapons inspector?
RITTER: Richard Butler allowed the United States to use the United Nations weapons-inspection process as a Trojan horse to insert intelligence capabilities into Iraq, which were not approved by the United Nations and which did not facilitate the disarmament process, were instead focused on the security of Saddam Hussein and military targets.
ASMAN: So you think Richard Butler was an agent of the CIA?
RITTER: Don't put words in my mouth.
ASMAN: I'm asking you.
RITTER: Richard Butler facilitated American espionage in Iraq. Richard Butler facilitated American manipulation of the inspection process.
ASMAN: With the full knowledge of what he was doing? Was he a dupe?
RITTER: Well, that's a question to ask Richard Butler.