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Jewish World Review Sept. 6, 2002 / 29 Elul, 5762

Seth Gitell

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Consumer Reports

Iraq attack: Ritter's reversal | One of the increasingly influential voices on the question of a potential American war with Iraq is that of former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter.

Ritter penned a July 20 op-ed piece for the Boston Globe and appeared recently on Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, as was noted by this column last week. In both instances, he made the argument that war with Iraq was unnecessary because Saddam Hussein no longer possesses the kinds of dangerous chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons capable of harming the United States and our allies. " No one has put forward any facts " to show that Hussein has chemical or biological weapons, he told Stewart. In his Globe piece, Ritter contended that as a weapons inspector, " we did ascertain a 90-95 percent level of verified disarmament. "

There is one problem with Ritter's current position. It represents a 180-degree shift from what he said in August of 1998, when he resigned as an inspector - an act that presaged Saddam Hussein's ejection of inspectors later that year. For example, on August 31, 1998, Ritter appeared on PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and painted a stark picture of Hussein's capabilities. " We had some very specific information, which led us to believe we could go to locations where we would find aspects of this hidden weaponry, of these hidden components, and also uncover how Iraq actually went about hiding these weapons from the commission, " he said, going on to claim that the Clinton administration prevented the inspectors from aggressively ferreting out the weapons material.

While Ritter's new position has afforded him ample coverage in the press and on television, few have asked the opinion of former Australian UN ambassador Richard Butler - who, in his capacity as the former executive chair of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), the body charged with disarming Iraq, worked as Ritter's boss. I recently reached Butler, author of The Greatest Threat: Iraq, Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Growing Crisis in Global Security (Public Affairs, 2000), to ask him what he thinks of Ritter's recent comments. " On Ritter, it's simple, " Butler says. " Either he misled me when he worked for me, as he utterly insisted that Iraq retained WMD [weapons of mass destruction], or he's now misleading the public when he says there were no weapons left in Iraq at that time. The facts make clear that he did not mislead me. I don't know why he is now saying what he is saying. I'm not a psychoanalyst. "

Strong stuff. (Ritter was traveling and could not be reached for comment.) But with everybody and his mother demanding a dialogue on Iraq right now and paying great deference to Ritter's statements, it's useful to hear what Ritter's former immediate superior says about the matter. On the broader issue of the threat Iraq poses right now, Butler takes issue with Ritter as well. During testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 31, Butler said, " It is essential to recognize that the claim made by Saddam's representatives, that Iraq has no WMD, is false. "

In a certain way, the debate surrounding war with Iraq boils down to this: do you want to gamble and go with Ritter, who has changed his position, or do you go with Butler, who hasn't?

JWR contributor Seth Gitell is the political writer of the Boston Phoenix Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Seth Gitell