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interview: richard butler

Give me a sense of Saddam's biological warfare history, his orientation, goal, how much he amassed, etc.

It's really simple. When I was in Iraq after a little while, I formed this view. It's kind of a theory, but actually very practical. The degree of resistance that Saddam showed to our inspection and arms control was a direct sign of the importance he attached to a given weapon. So when he said, "You can't go there," that means they really wanted to keep that stuff.

The degree of resistance that the Iraqis showed to our investigation of their biological weapons program exceeded all other deceptions and resistances. So I had to conclude that, for Saddam, biological weapons were his weapons of choice. He seems to be really attached to the idea of killing people with germs, because they tried so hard to keep us away from their biology program. What did they have? Everything. Anthrax, plague, botulinum, gangrene, camelpox. Would you believe there's a thing in Iraq called camelpox? I mean, everything. Quantities and qualities, [we're] not absolutely sure, because they threw us out three years ago and we don't know what they now have.

Anthrax, however, [is the] leading biological agent, leading candidate, because of its nature. We know that Saddam loaded this into shells, bombs, and missile warheads. I had in my own hand pieces of a destroyed missile warhead that we swabbed and it had anthrax residue in it. It was a serious program.

My assumption is that, by using DNA, we can find out whether anthrax that's happening here is anthrax that came from Iraq. Do we have [that evidence]?

No. Unfortunately, not readily. ... We have to find out exactly what anthrax was used in these letters in the United States -- crude or sophisticated, and so on -- which would then lead to how it was made, which would then lead to who might have made it. So we funnel down; we narrow the field of candidates for who may have done this.

I suspect that one of the candidates will be Iraq, and, indeed, by the time this goes to air, that may have been proven. Because what is at issue here is crude or weapons-grade anthrax, and Iraq worked quite hard on making weapons-grade anthrax. It meant know-how, it meant investing millions of dollars in special equipment, which they did. Did we bring back samples? No, not particularly. Did we know what they were doing? Not absolutely. But I want to make this point to you: What we knew would have been an underestimate, not an overestimate, because they took such strenuous measures to prevent us from knowing the truth. What we saw was tens of thousands of gallons, serious stuff. Whether that was all of it or not, I don't know.


Richard Butler is the former chairman of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) that was set up to find and dismantle Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction at the end of the Gulf War. He warns that Saddam Hussein is "addicted" to weapons of mass destruction and that biological weapons are his weapon of choice, but he argues that the U.S. should not go after Saddam until it has proof of his involvement in the Sept. 11 or anthrax attacks. He was interviewed in mid-October 2001.

Tens of thousands of...

... Gallons or liters. Quite frankly, I can't remember at this particular moment, but very substantial quantities of anthrax, substantial quantities. Now, question that our figures, if anything, would have been low, not high. How else could I interpret the degree of resistance that was shown to our investigation of the biological weapons thing?

Tariq Aziz, Saddam's deputy, took me aside once, just once, in private, and said, "Of course we made biological weapons. Of course." One hour prior to that, in a public room, he was saying, "We never did that," but privately he said, "Of course we did." And he went on to say why. He said [it was] to use on the Persians and the Jews. ...

Beyond that, there is no doubt that, if you look at the amount of growth media -- the means of making this stuff that Iraq imported -- the figures they gave us, the figures we had to work with on how much anthrax and so on were clearly underestimates.

This growth media is the jet fuel of anthrax?

Well, something like that. This stuff exists in every hospital in the United States. If you have some pathology that needs to be investigated, they take a swab or a piece of skin or whatever from you to see if you've got a disease, or cancer, or whatever. Typically the tissue is grown in a growth medium. Look, it's quite simple. It's a little bit of gel, a little bit of yeast, that gives food to these cells, that grows them so the scientist can see if you're well or unwell. But in hospitals, you use a smidgen of it, a fingernail. You use a tiny bit to do that.

These people in Iraq imported tons of it. We begged them, we said, "Why did you do that? Why do you need all that stuff? To grow what?" We knew quite well it was to grow their biological weapons cultures. It's pathetic, but in the end they said, "The order clerk made an error, he put an extra zero on the error and we got 50 tons instead of five," or something like that. That's the nonsense that we were subjected to.

In the period after 1998, Iraq defenses would say they were done. They couldn't do it. We'd blown up the facilities. There was no ability for them to have done anything with this material. Do you believe that?

No. ... First, all of the evidence of their behavior showed that Saddam was very interested in biological weapons. They created the factories for it; they got the growth media and the seed stock. They did it.

Secondly, when at the end of the Gulf War the international community made a law which said Iraq must be divested of these things or sanctions will remain, Saddam had the clearest possible choice. He could remove sanctions on 22 million ordinary Iraqi people and alleviate and improve their standard of life, or he could retain his weapons of mass destruction. What did he do? The latter. He said, "Damn the ordinary people, I want my weapons."

For five years, he refused to accept the oil-for-food arrangement, where his oil could be sold to produce food for the people. For several years, he refused and hindered our inspections. What can one make of this? This is a man who wants weapons of mass destruction, even at the cost of ordinary Iraqi people. And that's what he did.

Now, go further into what I was saying earlier. The degree of resistance in the nuclear, chemical and biological area varied. But the highest degree of resistance was in the biological area, which leads me to conclude that this [is] Saddam's favorite toy: killing people with germs. They lied to us comprehensively about their program, and it was very hard for us to get a handle on it, to know its exact size and quality. In the end I think we did, up to a point, but let me say this: The last offer I made them before they threw us out was, "Give me the biological weapons. I'll forget about the manufacturing capability." This was unique. I tried to turn it on its head, I said, "Let's go top down. Give me the biological weapons that you've actually made, and I'll worry later about the manufacturing capability. Just give me the sharp end of the stick, the weapons."

Tariq Aziz briefly said to me, "That's an interesting proposal," but in a matter of weeks later, he just said, "You're out of here. No way." Because, in a sense, I was right. In a sense, it would have exposed all of the lies about never having weaponized biology, which, of course, they had.

Does it surprise you that there is a bipartisan movement in Washington to go after Saddam?

No, it doesn't surprise me. ...

Why are you not surprised?

Because they're right. ... Saddam and his addiction to weapons of mass destruction -- why do I use that word? I use that word really carefully. I've thought about this very deeply. Not attachment, but addiction -- a compulsive behavior, a deep belief that somehow these weapons will open up the world or make him the leader of the world, the new Nebuchadnezzar from biblical times, whatever. Believe me, they're right; Washington is right. This man and his addiction to weapons of mass destruction is actually a very serious problem.

Secondly, if one wants to get to the bottom of the whole business of there being an Arab and Muslim world on the one hand, but within that are fanatic terrorists on the other hand. ... We have to disconnect the two. Saddam's role in that is important. As long as he is there, posturing to be a leader of the slighted Arab peoples against the West and so on, that's a very serious problem.

The third thing is the specific possibility that he's actually given aid to Al Qaeda, that he's actually given anthrax or aid or whatever. So there are three good reasons to be concerned about him.

Which one would I choose? It's actually the middle one. It is the one that says Arab and Muslim people are deeply misled by people like Saddam Hussein, deeply misled. His offer to them [is] that by following him in some pan-Arab movement towards a better world against the West, against the Israelis or what Aziz calls the Jews, will somehow save everyone, make everyone's life better. It's very seductive, and it's very wrong.

The fundamental problem that many people in the Arab and Muslim world face is their standard of living and that their governments do little about it. That's not our fault, but that's a problem they face. Saddam suggesting to people, "Lift your gaze from that, follow me into some great Arab crusade," is both wrong but very dangerous to us. I would argue that, as long as a man like that exists in that part of the world, we've got a problem.

We have -- certainly in the last 10 years -- really relied on the idea of law enforcement and the tools of law to bring these people to yield. That implies a certain standard of evidence. There is an argument in Washington that the standard is too high in wartime. You've listed three rationales for, I guess, going to war with this man.

Yes. But I don't think the standard is too high. I disagree with that. I think there are three reasons why trying to get Saddam out of the picture is a good thing to do. But that's separate from the grounds, the basis on which we would do that. If we want to avoid an explosion in the Arab world at having intervened in an Arab government, we actually have to follow, not theirs, but our standards of evidence.

And do we have enough proof now, in your mind?

Not yet. But the minute we have it, we should act on it.

When will we get it?

I don't know when we'll get it.

Do you know what it would have to be?

Well, some connection between the Saddam regime and what happened on Sept. 11 or the anthrax stuff. Something like that.

Is it possible?

It's possible. Is it likely? I'm not sure, but it's possible. The president made some very important statements after Sept. 11. But in my book, the most important one was where he said that this country will draw no distinction between the terrorists and those who harbor or support them. That's central. If we're to really deal with this problem of getting terrorism, let's define it for what it is: the utterly indiscriminate use of homicide. To get that out of civilized life -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim, all civilized life -- then we need to take some very specific steps. I think it was important that in that context, the president said, "No distinction between the terrorists as such and those who help them."

That opens up the possibility of a rather large war on a regime like Saddam's. That raises problems of understanding in the Muslim world. Absolutely essential to establishing such understanding is that, if we were to proceed against Saddam, we have to have very specific, publicly presentable evidence for doing so that he was in some way connected with the anthrax horrors or with Sept. 11, or some other claim, rather than simply that we're being vengeful for what's happened in the past. ...

We know, for example, he went after President Bush's father. We know about Salman Pak supposedly training terrorist networks.

Yes, we know all about that. Well, there's also a place where they made biological weapons, by the way. There was a factory there that we decimated.

Exactly. You still doubt that it's a provable case in this environment? Is any of that useful in proving the case against Saddam Hussein?

Yes, it's all useful.

But not conclusive.

Yes. Do I have any doubt about the nature, character of this man, and so on? None whatsoever. But so what? I can go down on the street corner and make speeches about it or write articles in learned journals. So what? This is a real world of politics. There is a very vast Arab community out there, basically made up of decent people, that we don't want to get really angry and rise up and overthrow their governments and cause instability, or form the view that we in the West, in the United States in particular, are one-eyed -- that all we see is our support for Israel, we don't care about Arab people, and so on.

These things aren't necessarily correct. But they're real. And what is also real is the seduction that Saddam offers to such disaffected Arab populations. I find it truly sad, because he would actually lead them nowhere, as he's led his own people nowhere. But it is seductive. And we have to deal with those realities.

So yes, if we're to help the Arab people, which I believe is what we would essentially be doing to get this awful man out of their life, the present president of Iraq, that would help the Iraqi people but then, others around them. We have to do that on the basis of publicly credible, presentable information that at least mitigates, if not absolutely removes the idea that we're just behaving in a nasty, bitchy, vengeful way towards this man. There has to be substantively verifiable reasons why we're doing that. ...

What's the single thing you say to the president that he needs in order to go after Saddam, or that would cause him to stop?

... I would say, one, forget about your father, forget about the past; that's water under the bridge. We ought to look into the future. Two, the dictator of Iraq is really bad for everybody, starting with the Iraqi people and everyone around, but perhaps above all, as a lightning rod for the disaffected people on the Arab street, 200 million people. Three, as we try to get terrorism out of civilized life and so on, he's going to be a problem; this lightning rod is going to be a problem. So, four, Let's try and get him out of the picture.

I've never said this to anyone else. I'm taking your question quite seriously. I would say to "W", as he's called, G.W. Bush, "Let's try to get him out of the picture. But Mr. President, we have to do that, only do that, in a way that will not make a situation where the cure becomes worse than the disease, where the Arab world explodes because we've intervened in an Arab government. We have to do this it's based on evidence. We have to do it firmly and clearly. We have to take some other Arabs along with us." I would tell him how Arab leaders told me in private a couple of years ago when I was doing that job that they would love to be rid of Saddam. He gives every Arab a bad name. He's bad for business. But they cannot say that publicly. And that's a circle we have to square. ...

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