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William Rivers Pitt: Bearing Bloody Witness

Bearing Bloody Witness

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Tuesday 12 October 2004


In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter - bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."

- Stephen Crane, 'In the Desert'

The release of the report by Charles Duelfer and the Iraq Survey Group, which involved 1,625 U.N. and U.S. inspectors searching 1,700 sites in Iraq for weapons of mass destruction over two years at a cost of more than $1 billion, told me what I have known for more than two years.

More than two years ago, in August of 2002, I wrote a book titled 'War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know.' The book was published in September of 2002, six months before the Iraq invasion was undertaken, and took a simple stand:

"The case for war against Iraq has not been made. This is a fact. It is doubtful in the extreme that Saddam Hussein has retained any aspect of the chemical, nuclear and biological weapons programs so thoroughly dismantled by the United Nations weapons inspectors who worked tirelessly in Iraq for seven years. This is also a fact. The idea that Hussein has connections to fundamentalist Islamic terrorists is laughable - he is a secular leader who has worked for years to crush fundamentalist Islam within Iraq, and if he were to give weapons of any kind to Qaeda, they would use those weapons on him first." - p. 9

I wrote it after hearing former U.N weapons inspector Scott Ritter speak at Suffolk University in Boston on July 23, 2002. I stayed up all night after his talk to write about his dire predictions in an article for this publication that, I believe, helped in a small way to begin the unprecedented surge of activism against the invasion which eventually swept across the world.

"The Third Marine Expeditionary Force in California is preparing to have 20,000 Marines deployed in the Iraq region for ground combat operations by mid-October," Ritter told that Suffolk crowd in July of 2002. "The Air Force used the vast majority of its precision-guided munitions blowing up caves in Afghanistan. Congress just passed emergency appropriations money and told Boeing company to accelerate their production of the GPS satellite kits, that go on bombs that allow them to hit targets while the planes fly away, by September 30, 2002."

"The clock is ticking," continued Ritter to the Suffolk gathering, "and it's ticking towards war. And it's going to be a real war. It's going to be a war that will result in the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. It's a war that is going to devastate Iraq. It's a war that's going to destroy the credibility of the United States of America."

A publisher, after reading this article, asked me to write a book about it. The book was to be short - about 30,000 words - and would serve to cut through the propaganda bombardment for war that had only just begun. I reached out to Ritter, who was kind enough to give me a dozen hours of his time for an extended interview on the matter of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Thanks to Mr. Ritter, and to a broad swath of research and investigation I performed after our interview, I wrote in 'War on Iraq' the following: "The coalition that came together for the Gulf War is nonexistent today, and a vast majority of the international community stands furiously against another war on Iraq. If Bush decides unilaterally to attack, he will be in violation of international law. If Bush does attack Iraq, he will precipitate the exact conflict of cultures between the West and Islam that Osama bin Laden was hoping for when his agents flew three planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. An attack on Iraq could bring about a wider world war America cannot afford, and that a vast majority of Americans do not desire. These are facts."

"There is no question," I continued in the book, "that Saddam Hussein is one of the most wretched men to foul the skin of the earth. Herein lies the rub: The economic sanctions have rendered his conventional weaponry impotent by denying him access to the spare parts that are essential to any functioning mechanized military. The UNSCOM inspectors destroyed, right to the ground, any and all capabilities he possessed to create weapons of mass destruction. He has no connections whatsoever to the terrorists who struck America on September 11th. Saddam Hussein is not capable of acting upon any of his desires, real or imagined. He does not have the horses."

It is important to bear witness, more than two years hence, to some of the statements Scott Ritter made to me for this book in that summer of 2002.

Ritter: "Saddam is a secular dictator. He has spent the last thirty years declaring war against Islamic fundamentalism, crushing it. He fought a war against Iran in part because of Islamic fundamentalism. The Iraqis have laws on the books today that provide for an immediate death sentence for proselytizing in the name of Wahabbism, or indeed any Islam, but they are particularly virulent in their hatred of Wahabs, which is of course Osama bin Laden's religion. Osama bin Laden has a history of hating Saddam Hussein. He's called him an apostate, somebody who needs to be killed."

Ritter: "There has never been a link between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Even the alleged meeting we heard so much about that was supposed to take place in Prague. Intelligence services today say it's highly unlikely the meeting took place. Considerable evidence suggests Mohammed Atta was in Florida at that time. There are no facts to back up claimed connections between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Iraq has no history of dealing with terrorists of this nature."

Ritter: "It's ludicrous for Donald Rumsfeld and others to talk about democracy in Iraq. The western democratic model is based on majority rule. But in Iraq, 60% of the population are Shi'a Muslims, theoretically aligned with Iran. Iran is, of course, a hotbed of anti-American Islamic fundamentalism. Iraq is a nation with the second-largest proven reserve of oil. The idea of a democracy in Iraq where the Shi'a take control - meaning that these two large oil producers are theoretically aligned - is something not many people want. Not many in the region would support that. We really don't want democracy in Iraq, because we don't want the Shi'a to have control."

Ritter: "This is truly becoming the clash of cultures Osama bin Laden wanted. That's one reason he attacked us: he wanted to turn this into a war between the West and Islam. Almost everyone said that's ridiculous. But the United States is turning this into a war between the West and Islam. And we won't win. It's not that we'll suddenly be occupied, but we'll lose by not winning. It could be a humiliating defeat for the United States, a significant defeat that could mean the beginning of the retrograde of American influence around the world. It could be devastating to our economy. It unleashes some very dangerous potential."

Ritter: "We can kill more efficiently than anyone else in the world. The question is, what will constrain us? When you start talking about urban warfare and digging people out of a built-up area loaded with civilians, your options are very limited as to what you can do. Understand that we will also take considerable casualties. Our death toll will be in the high hundreds, if not thousands."

Scott Ritter, former Marine Corps officer, former Bush supporter who voter for the Bush/Cheney ticket in 2000, former chief UNSCOM weapons inspector in Iraq, carried the information he provided me to as many parts of the mainstream American news media as he could reach. He repeated to them what he said to me. For this, he was denounced as a traitor, as a fool, as insane. Some even went so far as to accuse him of being a child molester.

The release of the report by Charles Duelfer and the Iraq Survey Group shows, once and for all time, that Scott Ritter was right. Let it be said that the entire mainstream media establishment, every single talking head and pontificating pundit who dismissed his input, owes Scott Ritter a gold-plated, diamond-studded apology. If karma had a living stick, those who ran Ritter down and cut him out would be forced to line up and kiss hiss ass in the middle of Times Square, simulcast on every network, in Spanish where available. He was right.

The publication of this book led to a seismic change in my life. Along with Ritter, I became one of the few people out there claiming that Iraq wasn't a threat, that the weapons weren't there, that weapons inspectors could prove this without a catastrophic war. I did dozens, hundreds of radio interview about this book. People thought I was nuts to say Hussein wasn't a threat; it was only a little more than a year since 9/11, and the Bush propaganda machine was ranging unchecked and unchallenged across the entire media spectrum.

Some of the reviews of the book that appeared on the Amazon page provide an apt description of the response I received:

"In the end, Ritter offer nothing new except political opinions based not on facts, but some other agenda which remains a mystery to Scott Ritter followers today." - October 1, 2002

"If this was a novel, it might be a little more forgivable. As it stands, this 'piece of work' (if any real work went into this joke of a book), is nothing but some un-informed leftist spouting-off anti-republican, liberalist nonsense. This author has no investigative ability at all, is somehow ignorant to the facts, or is just a common liar." - October 24, 2002

"It is a sloppily thrown together collage targeted to the 'no war in Iraq' crowd, and does not even feign objectivity." - November 18, 2002

"The book isn't well written, is clearly unfactual in the above and other areas, and, as has been noted by others, lacks a reference or bibliography. It might have been more honest to market it as fiction. There's certainly no answers here." - December 20, 2003

As for the aforementioned mainstream news media, their reaction was predictably nauseating. One example defines all: In the winter following the book's release, I got a call from an MSNBC producer. Hans Blix and the weapons inspectors had only been in Iraq a few days, and this producer wanted me on one of the pundit shows show. The catch, however, was that she wanted me to talk about what the inspectors were doing wrong. "What if I think they aren't doing anything wrong?" I asked. Silence on the line. A short chuckle. A demurral. A click. If I wasn't going to slam the inspectors, I wasn't wanted on MSNBC. This is one of the thousand reasons I want to break furniture whenever people take that network, or any of its on-air 'talent,' seriously.

The book wound up as a New York Times and international bestseller, and got translated into twelve languages. I received no royalties despite the success of the book; my publisher, in an attempt to stave off the Iraq invasion, published the book in numbers that far exceeded his financial capacity. We gave copies away at the massive Washington D.C. protests by the fistful. In the end, this led to the bankruptcy of his publishing company. I didn't care about not getting paid. The point was to get the facts out as far and wide as possible.

I traveled something like 100,000 miles over the next two years, talking to anyone and everyone who would listen. I dove into the heart of so-called 'Red States' like Texas, Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, Montana, Indiana, Ohio and New Hampshire to talk about how this whole Iraq invasion was a snow-job that was going to wind up mass-producing new threats to our country. I gave up my beloved teaching job to do this full-time. When I wasn't speaking, I was writing for this publication, week after week, about the deadly fraud being perpetrated upon the American people and the world.

And now, almost a thousand days later, we get Charles Duelfer and the Iraq Survey Group's report. We hear in the media what I've been talking about since I first met Scott Ritter in July of 2002. The stuff wasn't there, hadn't been there for years, and was in no way about to be created. It was a total vindication of everything I had been talking about and writing about for more than two years, but there was no joy in it. I wanted to vomit.

I wanted to vomit because Bush and Cheney, since the release of the Duelfer report, have attempted to scramble towards a new rationale for the invasion. It was never about weapons of mass destruction, but about the possibility that someday - if the entire world decided to stop watching Iraq, and if the sanctions somehow magically disappeared - Hussein might maybe somehow make the stuff we've been looking for. I wanted to vomit because I have spent the last two years listening to things like this from George W. Bush and the members of his administration:

"Simply stated," said Dick Cheney on August 26 2002, "there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."

"We know for a fact that there are weapons there," said Ari Fleischer on January 9 2003.

"There is no doubt," said General Tommy Franks on March 22 2003, "that the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction."

"We know where they are," said Don Rumsfeld on March 30 2003, later denying to the press that he ever said such a thing. "They are in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad."

"We have sources that tell us," said George W. Bush on February 8 2003, "that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons."

"Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt," continued Bush on March 17 2003, "that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."

In his February 5 2003 speech to the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell warned of the "sinister nexus between Iraq and the Al Qaeda terrorist network."

On May 1 2003, when he announced the end of "major combat operations," Bush proclaimed, "We've removed an ally of Al Qaeda."

I want to vomit still because right now, at this moment, on the White House website, sits a page titled 'Disarm Saddam Hussein'. The page is the distilled essence of George W. Bush's statements from his January 2003 State of the Union Address. Even now, after the release of the Duelfer report, this page remains live. It claims that Iraq is in possession of 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve gas - 500 tons equals one million pounds - along with almost 30,000 munitions to deliver these agents, mobile biological weapons labs, uranium from Africa for use in a nuclear weapons program, and connections to al Qaeda.

1,076 American soldiers have died in Iraq since March of 2003 looking for any aspect of this long list of terrors. Andrew Halverston of Wisconsin and Andrew Brown are the most recent additions to the list of the lost. Halverston was 19 years old, and Brown was 22. Some 17,000 more have been 'medically evacuated' from Iraq after having their arms and legs and faces and lives blown to bloody rags. More than 20,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the invasion began.

Almost 40,000 human beings in total are either dead or damaged, sacrificed on the altar of George W. Bush's lies. How many new names, words and phrases have entered the American lexicon since this began? Shock and Awe. Valerie Plame. Abu Ghraib. Yellowcake. PNAC.

There is an old word which applies to the whole situation: Shame.

Shame on this administration for exploiting our fears after September 11 in order to get this war. Shame on them for lying to us all, day after day, for all this time. Shame on them for refusing to admit, even today, that we have embarked upon a disastrous course. Shame on every company who barnstormed to profit from this war by way of our tax dollars. Shame on our 'journalists,' who failed completely to report the truth that has been lying fallow since July of 2002 and before.

Shame on any American who continues to support this administration and its policies. Shame on us all if these policies are allowed to continue after November. No administration, in the history of the nation, has been less deserving of support or approval than the one which currently fouls the corridors of power in Washington D.C.

As for myself, I am almost bereft of words. I have spent every day of the last two years working against the invasion, the occupation, and the lies that rode shotgun . I have met the soldiers forced to fight it, now returned home with their trust in the commander-in-chief gutted. I have met the mothers and fathers, the sons and daughters, the brothers and sisters, the wives and husbands of the dead and wounded. I have felt their tears on my shoulder, and I have read their anguished words in letters and emails beyond counting. I have borne bloody witness to this horror, and it has left me scarred.

Hunter S. Thompson, when confronting the now-quaint scandal of Watergate, wrote about, "a compulsion to do something like drive down to the White House and throw a bag of live rats over the fence." I know how he felt, and yet my emotions range far beyond a desire for actions of mere symbolism. Cassandra, I am sure, wanted to tear her hair and scream, wanted to lash out, wanted to do anything that would re-make the world into a place where the truths she described were believed before the blood began to flow. I know how she feels, as well.

I am left with the memory of Bobby Kennedy, who faced the crowd in Indianapolis and had to tell them Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. All across the nation, news of King's murder led to riot and ruin. That night in Indianapolis, there was only a quiet mourning and a determination to continue the fight.

Kennedy, sharing of his own pain after the murder of his brother, spoke the words of Aeschylus: "He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God."

Perhaps, in our suffering, we have learned. Perhaps, one day, Mr. Bush and his people will come to know that wisdom which is brought by the awful grace of God.

I will take comfort in three truths: I tried to stop this thing. I stood with millions of Americans, and with millions more around the world, all of whom created the largest public opposition to a war that has ever been seen on Earth. I have no intention of offering any kind of surrender.

There will be a reckoning.


William Rivers Pitt is the senior editor and lead writer for truthout. He is a New York Times and international bestselling author of two books - 'War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know' and 'The Greatest Sedition is Silence.'

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