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Transcript: Excerpts from Producer Kathleen Hughes' interview with Scott Ritter

Scott Ritter was the UN's top weapons inspector in Iraq until 1998, when he resigned claiming President Clinton was too easy on Saddam. Ritter is an outspoken critic of the Iraq War. Ritter is also critical of the role the media played in the days before the invasion. Ritter discusses similarities between the Clinton Administration and the Administration of George W. Bush with regards to the role of UN inspectors in Iraq.

Clip #1

SCOTT RITTER: Well, the whole purpose of the resignation — you can choose one of two ways to go out quietly. And what you say, you know I'm fed up with this. I can't do my job. I've had enough. I'm going home. Au revior. Good day. Or you could say; I believe in this mission, and-- we're not able to accomplish this mission right now. Maybe if I resign and speak out, I can serve as an impetus for change that will enable the weapons inspection process to get back on track so we can finish the job that I had dedicated 7 years of my life to.

And so I chose to speak out. Initially I spoke out in defense of the inspection process. Which means that I have to speak out-- based upon the Security Council imperative of 100 percent compliance. And I noted, accurately, that we had not achieved 100 percent compliance. I noted accurately that Iraq was interfering with the weapons inspection process. I noted accurately that the United States was also interfering. That the Security Council was impotent. That there was a lot wrong with this process.

Everything I said was 100 percent factually correct. Unfortunately, people choose to pick and choose what you say and use it for their own-- for their own benefit. And so, a lot of people picked up on the fact that I was critical of Iraq, and critical of the United States. And they said; Ah, Ritter's saying that because Iraq is not complying, the United States needs to bomb Iraq. That the United States needs to become more forceful with Iraq. That's not what I was saying.

I was saying that we have to get weapons inspections back into Iraq that operate with the full integrity intended by the Security Council mandate. Which means we have to tell the Iraqis; You must cooperate. You must comply. If ya pass a law, enforce the law. If Iraq chooses not to cooperate and comply, then the Security Council must be willing to enforce this law, which means the United States must be willing to saddle-up and take part in that enforcement. And that enforcement has to be meaningful.

But I also said that we can't go and have confrontations for confrontations sake. That if we're gonna have a confrontation with Iraq, it has to be about disarmament. Which means the United States has to take a long, hard look at it's own unilateral policy objectives. Does the United States wanna get rid of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? If so, great. Support the inspectors. But if the policy is regime change, getting rid of Saddam Hussein, and the inspections are only seen as useful insofar as they facilitate regime change, then, no, we've got a problem. Nobody wanted to hear that.

Clip #2

SCOTT RITTER: You know, one of the-- one of my tasks as a weapons inspector, or even in the Marine Corps was to solve problems. And a key aspect of-- solving a problem is defining the problem. You can't solve that which you haven't properly defined.

And so, when we talk about where we are in Iraq, where we're going-- especially when you talk about the media and the reporting, you know, people say, "Well, you know we're-- we have to do a better job of reporting." But you can't do a good job of reporting if you haven't done a good job of looking back on the mistakes that you've made.

And, until which time the media recognizes that you know it has you know terminally compromised itself with this addiction to government-based sourcing that, if at the end of the day, the most important thing to NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS is the Sunday morning anonymous access to senior government officials who dictate the weekly news cycle, as opposed to you know hard nosed journalism to seek out the facts.

If you allow the access to fiction to trump, you know, investigative reporting of facts-- you're not a news organization, you're a propagandist service. And until you recognize that and take action to overcome that, you're not gonna be able top move forward solving the problems of the past. Yes, everybody acknowledges that a mistake was made, that problems occurred. But there's not an honest reflection on that until there is, you can't talk about solving the problem. Right now, the American media is the same media the covered the Iraq situation. You see the same patterns, the mistakes being made regarding Iran, Lebanon, that were made regarding Iraq. We have learned nothing.

Clip #3

SCOTT RITTER: Well the biggest thing is the notion of an Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program. I mean, even the government admits, the CIA has come out and says that there is no intelligence information to sustain the notion of an Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program. But they fall into the same trap, the same way that-- Donald Rumsfeld said, "The absence is not evidence of absence." When he talked about the weapons inspectors-- pre-2002, he said-- "The fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq is the clearest evidence yet that there are weapons of mass destruction."

You know the media played this over and over again, not sarcastically, but as, "Wow. This man's brilliant." We're saying the same thing about Iran. U.N. inspectors go into Iran, they find no evidence of weapons capability, and yet the administration comes out and says, "No, no the fact that they're not finding anything is proof that there is something there." We've taken this giant negative and we've turned it into a positive-- sustained by nothing more than speculative rhetoric. Where are the facts? And why isn't the news media demanding the facts? For the same reason why they didn't demand it regarding Saddam Hussein, because the second you speak out and say, "I need facts about the Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program," you're accused of being sympathetic with an inherently unsympathetic target."

Clip #4

SCOTT RITTER: And when I first resigned and spoke out, you know, I was treated as the darling of the right-wing media especially, because it was the time of the Clinton administration. And I was basically Clinton-bashing, or at least that's how they chose to interpret it. When it turned out that I wasn't Clinton-bashing, I was bashing, you know, American policy objectives-- some of which were endorsed by the right wing, the conservative side, I no longer was the darling of the media.

Having been pushed into a corner as a Clinton basher, there are certain elements of the media now that, you know, the analysis put me in another corner, didn't know how to deal with me. So, you're not getting-- the message out. I wrote a book. I made a documentary film. I did everything I could to get the data out there to the public and it wasn't working.

As a Marine, you have to sit back and say, "Okay. If it's not working, what's the next-- what's the next thing you could do?" I decided to take the initiative and go to Iraq, and dare the media to ignore me at that point in time. It was a bold move. And I think again, if you take the time to study what I said and what I did in Iraq, I said the right thing. I held the Iraqi government accountable for its failure to comply with security council resolution. I said that the only way for Iraq to resolve this problem is to allow for the return of weapons inspectors without precondition.

But I also said that the United States is making a huge mistake by seeking confrontation based upon a hyped-up weapons of mass destruction-- threat. And that should we go to war with Iraq-- you know, it-- will be very detrimental for-- our country. I'm very proud of that trip. Unfortunately, the media didn't know how to deal with it.

You know, I end up getting interviewed by, you know, a number of people including-- you know, a-- CNN anchorperson who-- at the same time, Vice President Dick Cheney was talking about aluminum tubes coming into Iraq that were used in their nuclear weapons program. And I stood there and I said, "No. We know it's used for a rocket program. We know-- can-- used for civilian programs. It's not used for a nuclear weapons program."

I was accused of drinking Saddam's Kool-Aid. And that's stunning that a news source, a reporter who's supposed to report the facts, has a chief inspector of the United Nations, who's the world's foremost expert on this, telling them right up front that this is not about nuclear weapons. And yet, they chose to side with the administration. That tells you everything you need to know about how the media behaved collectively in the months leading up to this war.

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