Applause could be heard from outside the Special Events Center Tuesday, as Scott Ritter walked onto the stage.
Ritter received a standing ovation as he began to discuss his views on the weapon inspections in Iraq and the possible war.
Ritter, a former major in the U.S. Marines and a former U.N. chief weapons inspector, said it takes a gathering of more than 800 people to bring the Green Party and a former Marine together.
The event, which was sponsored by the University Lecture Series, The Alliance of Concerned Students and the USF Campus Green, examined what the weapons inspectors do in Iraq and democracy as a U.S. citizen.
“I stood up with my hand in the air to uphold and defend the Constitution against enemies both foreign and domestic,” Ritter said. “The Constitution defines us as who we are as people.”
Ritter said people of the United States are the government, and they are the ones responsible for the possible war with Iraq.
“The president works for me. I don’t work for the president,” he said. “My duty is to speak out, and that is not unpatriotic. It’s the most patriotic thing I can do.”
Ritter has been considered an expert on American foreign policy and the Persian Gulf region, and he has consistently questioned and criticized the intentions of President George W. Bush’s administration concerning Iraq.
So much so that Ritter said Tuesday night that Secretary of State Colin Powell’s address to the United Nations Feb. 5 was nothing less than an attempt to destroy the trust and confidence in the weapons inspectors by the international community.
“Colin Powell did not present anything useful. It was pure theater,” he said. “The transcripts were not the whole transcript and were not used in their full context.”
Ritter said the trucks and the satellite photos were also diagrams and that “there are a lot of trucks in Iraq.”
“There is no smoking gun. There is no gun and there is no smoke, and Colin Powell knows it,” he said. “The whole Bush administration’s case against war on Iraq is built around a lie. What weapons of mass destruction?”
Ritter said the administration knows how well the weapons inspectors disarmed Iraq when he was chief from 1991 to 1998.
“The Israelis know from 1994 to 1998, I was the chief liaison with Israeli intelligence on issues pertaining to disarming Iraq,” he said.
According to an Israeli intelligence official, Iraq, in 1994, was Israel’s No. 1 threat based on weapons of mass destruction. Ritter said when he left in 1998, Iraq went from the No. 1 threat to No.6 and falling because they knew how well the inspectors disarmed Iraq.
“If Israel knows that and is on the front-line with Iraq, you know darn well that the United States knows it,” Ritter said. “So where are they getting the information from?”
Ritter said the weapons inspectors today have it much better off than when he was an inspector. He said in order for them to do their job there are three things that need to occur. One, Iraq needs to fully comply, which Ritter said they are doing. Two, the Security Council needs to enforce its laws when there is a problem, which again Ritter said the United Nations made clear in the resolution. Three, there is a need to make sure those who implement the law work in the framework of the law. By this, Ritter meant that the United States needs to let the United Nations mandate its laws and not let its goal (since 1991) of regime removal persuade the weapon inspectors.
“The Iraqis knew that the source of intelligence in Operation Desert Fox was by weapons inspectors being fed intelligence through the CIA, and that is why they ordered inspectors out of the country,” he said.
Ritter said that in no way is he giving Iraq a clean bill of health.
“We need to hold Iraq accountable to the law,” he said. “Inspectors need to prove it and demonstrate that Iraq has these weapons. We need to let that process work.”
With France, Germany and Belgium now requesting that the United Nations keep and double the amount of weapons inspectors in Iraq, Ritter said he thinks that people should ask the parents of the soldiers who are being sent to the Persian Gulf how much time they need before their sons or daughters die.
“We need all the time, and we’d better be patient,” he said. “Because who is going to write that letter to the families that their child has died? It better be a damn good letter that explains why he or she died.”
Ritter said inspections do not happen overnight and added that inspectors haven’t been in Iraq in four years and that they haven’t even been back for two months. Inspectors need a minimum of six months to develop a baseline of information and an additional six months to a year to investigate. Ritter said with the disarmament of South Africa, who fully cooperated, took two years to do the job. The rush for war, Ritter said, is because Bush wants war with Iraq, and it is about domestic American politics.
“We need to concentrate on the present and what agents Iraq has reconstituted since 1991,” he said. “Stop going to the past, Mr. President.”
Ritter said Bush has played on the fear and threat of the American public and that the No. 1 threats to most Americans today are the al-Qaida network and Osama bin Laden. Yet, the number one threat to the international community and policy is the United States and George W. Bush.
“Since day one, I have said that if we invade Iraq there will be an increase in U.S. terrorism and a clash between cultures,” he said. “We will be putting the fuel to the fire.”
Instead, Ritter said that if a war is to happen with Iraq, there needs to be a just and worthy cause for it, and that soldiers are ready to die for the county.
“War is not a game. We are treating war with Iraq like a big Nintendo game,” he said. “What is this, the WWF? Once you are shot and die you can’t go back and hit restart and do it again. It’s done. Is war with Iraq worth this cause of death of life?”
In recent weeks, Ritter has gained national attention when records of two arrests for sexual misconduct were made public. In 2001, police say they arrested Ritter after he tried to arrange to meet a 14-year-old girl. He was arrested again later in the year after allegedly trying to meet with a 16-year-old girl.
Ritter said for the past three weeks he has been frozen out of the national TV circuits and said he and his wife have encountered a lot of accusations, but that doesn’t stop him.
“The best part of being American is I am here today speaking,” he said. “They go after my character because they can’t debate me on this issue.”