Back to Metroland's Home Page!
 Columns & Opinions
   The Simple Life
   Comment
   Reckonings
   Opinion
   Letters
   Poetry
 News & Features
   Newsfront
   F.Y.I.
   Features
   Profile
 Dining
   This Week's Review
   The Dining Guide
   Leftovers
 Cinema & Video
   Weekly Reviews
   Picture This
   Clips
   The Movie Schedule
 Music
   Listen Here
   Live
   Recordings
   Noteworthy
   Clubs & Concerts
 Arts
   Theater
   Dance
   Art
   Classical
   Books
   Art Murmur
 Calendar
   Night & Day
   Event Listings
 Classifieds
   View Classified Ads
   Place a Classified Ad
 Personals
   Online Personals
   Place A Print Ad
 AccuWeather
 About Metroland
   Where We Are
   Who We Are
   What We Do
   Work For Us
   Place An Ad
Where’s the proof: Scott Ritter. Photo by John Whipple.

Show Me the Weapons Violations

Former U.N. inspector Scott Ritter says the Bush administration’s rush to war with Iraq is not supported by the facts

At 12:15 PM on a rainy Sunday afternoon, Scott Ritter arrives an hour late for an interview. The 6-foot-4 ex-marine, Gulf War veteran and former United Nations weapons inspector immediately apologizes, explaining that he just drove up to Albany from New York City, where he had an early-morning interview with CNBC.

Tracking down Ritter a year ago to discuss the situation in Iraq would have been a much easier task than it is today. Just in the past month, Ritter has appeared on The Today Show, CNN’s Talkback Live, Crossfire, and The O’Reilly Factor. His interviews have been popping up in newspapers around the world, including The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post. He also has been doing a bit of globetrotting—to London, South Africa, Baghdad—speaking out against the rush to war and encouraging Iraqi officials to allow weapons inspectors back into their country. For quite some time he has been known as one of the loudest voices opposing a possible U.S. invasion of Iraq, claiming that the rhetoric is not about weapons inspections at all, but rather the Bush administration’s obsession with ousting Saddam Hussein and its desire to dominate the world economically and militarily.

On a visit to London last weekend, Ritter spoke to more than 10,000 antiwar protestors and voiced his dissent about the United States’ and Great Britain’s plans to attack Iraq. But Ritter is no peacenik, or so he says. He is the first to point out that he is not a liberal, let alone a Democrat. In fact, the 41-year-old Delmar resident, who moved here two years ago with his wife and twin daughters from Gainesville, Fla., speaks proudly of his years of service in the United States Marine Corps and openly admits that he is a registered Republican who voted for George W. Bush in the last election.

“I am not a pacifist,” Ritter says, as he slams his hand down on the table. “But I have been to war and it is the most disgusting thing in the world. Sometimes you have to do it to defend your country, but you better make damn sure that you have done everything possible to avoid that situation before you ask people to do this and we start seeing hundreds of body bags being flown home from the Middle East.”

Ritter insists that the United States has not exhausted all possible means before heading into Iraq, and he further charges that the Bush administration has not provided substantive proof that Iraq has reconstituted its weapons of mass destruction.

“President George W. Bush has no proof of any new weapons-of-mass-destruction threat emanating from Iraq, and he is lying to the American people to get them to go to war,” he charges. “He is using weapons inspection as a mask to further his own agenda, which is to drive out Saddam Hussein. Iraq is a case study for the neoconservatism new unilateral global domination.”

Ritter is a former Marine Corps Intelligence officer who served as chief weapons inspector with the United Nations Special Commission in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, tracking down weapons of mass destruction. He defines these as chemical, biological and nuclear weapons as well as ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometers. By 1996, the teams ascertained that Iraq had achieved a 90- to 95-percent level of disarmament. This figure takes into account the destruction or dismantling of every major factory that Iraq used to create such weapons and all significant items of production equipment. However, Ritter says that according to international law, anything less than 100-percent disarmament represents noncompliance and therefore a risk to national security.

“There were things that we could not account for,” says Ritter. “But I think it is imperative to underscore the fact that just because we couldn’t account for it doesn’t automatically translate into Iraq’s retention of it. It is not like you can build these types of weapons in a basement or in a cave. We were looking for a massive effort by the Iraqis to build weapons, and they could not have been doing that without us detecting it.”

Ritter says it became clear that it didn’t seem to matter if inspectors obtained 100-percent compliance, because the United States had an alterative motive for being in Iraq, which focused on the removal of Hussein. And the whole weapons-inspection process was becoming corrupt as a result of this mission, he says, which is why he resigned in 1998.

“My job was to implement international law,” says Ritter. “I was ordered to go into Iraq and disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. Notice I never said once that there was a Security Council resolution that spoke of the removal of Saddam Hussein. The U.S. was unilaterally manipulating the weapons- inspection process, trying to deliberately provoke confrontation.”

For example, he explains, when United Nations inspectors were finally granted access into the Iraqi presidential palaces to check for weapons, the biologists did not take any samples to test for weapons. When they did not find any weapons, they simply concluded that the Iraqis had moved them out of the palace. He said that the Iraqis questioned why no samples were taken.

“‘You said that we have weapons,’” Ritter said, paraphrasing the Iraqi reaction to the inspectors not taking any samples. “‘We finally let you in, and even if we moved the stuff out, given the technology that you have available, if you took samples you would have found something.’”

Ritter adds that the inspectors did not take samples because they didn’t want to get negative results. “This is the same as the prosecutor refusing to put forth evidence in a trial,” he exclaims. “You make an accusation but then you deny the evidence. This is what was happening and this is why it was a dirty prosecution. The Americans’ process of regime removal was a cancer in the process of inspections because if we ever found Iraq to be in compliance, that cancer would have been destroyed.”

But the reality that Iraq has had time to rebuild its program is something that concerns Ritter. It is for this reason that he is insistent on getting weapons inspectors back into the country. He says it would take the Iraqis only about six months to rebuild the program, because the infrastructure is in place for them to produce chemical and biological weapons. But he doubts that they would have the capacity to build ballistic missiles, and definitely not nuclear weapons, as the Bush administration has implied.

“This is not a magic show,” he explains. “It is real science and technology, and it is detectable. The intelligence community that has been at the forefront of this should have sustainable facts to back up any allegations that Iraq has reconstituted. But where is it? If they have the evidence that constitutes war, why don’t they bring it out? I am not letting Saddam off the hook. I think he is a very dangerous man, but the current inspection regime is not about disarmament. It is all rhetoric.”

Many critics of Ritter point out that his message today is 180 degrees from what he was saying in 1998, when he first resigned as weapons inspector. In fact, Ritter was once praised by the right for his anti-Iraqi stance when he appeared to be spreading a message that is a lot closer to what the Bush administration claims today.

“I think the danger right now is that without effective inspections, without effective monitoring, Iraq can in a very short period of time measured in months, reconstitute chemical and biological weapons, long range ballistic missiles to deliver these weapons and even certain aspects of their nuclear weaponization program,” he said in a 1998 interview on PBS.

In the interview, Ritter went on to argue that the only effective way to ensure Iraqi compliance with inspections was to threaten military action.

“Either he lied then or he is lying now,” said David Kay, who was the U.N. inspection chief in Iraq before Ritter, when asked by the U.S. House Armed Services Committee about Ritter.

Kay, an expert in biological warfare, testified on Sept. 10 that he believed Iraq was still a serious threat that would not be controlled through inspections. Kay said that he found a great deal of evidence that Saddam had attempted to create biological and nuclear weapons in the past few years.

Others, like Stephen Hayes in William Kristol’s ultraconservative Weekly Standard, have speculated that Ritter’s change in message could be because he has been bought off by the Iraqis. By his own admission, Ritter accepted $400,000 in funding two years ago from an Iraqi-American businessman named Shakir al-Khafaji to visit Baghdad and film a documentary about the “true” story of the weapons inspections. The film, titled In Shifting Sands, also depicts the damage caused by U.S. sanctions in Iraq.

But Ritter says that his message has not “flip-flopped,” and that these assertions are outrageous.

“I am not letting Saddam off the hook,” he forcefully explains. “I have never given Iraq a clean bill of health. I think that Saddam is a very dangerous man and I think that it is imperative that we get back into Iraq and check for weapons. But I think that any responsible individual rejects outright absolute findings based upon unsubstantiated speculation.”

He adds that government officials have been stating as fact that Iraq has reconstituted its program, that Iraq is in possession of biological weapons, and that Iraq is working hard on a nuclear program. But he wants to see the proof.

“There is no substantive information that remotely suggests this is taking place,” he insists. “The government says they have evidence. Well, show us the evidence.”

By moving this argument into fact and truth, he adds, and away from rhetoric, it could mean that Iraq doesn’t have these weapons. And by sending the inspectors back into Iraq, the Bush administration would have to engage “the machinery of international diplomacy” that could possibly lead to a finding of compliance on the part of Iraq.

“Then you have to discuss the lifting of economic sanctions,” he says, “the breaking of containment, and bringing Iraq back in the fold of the international community with Saddam Hussein at the helm, which is the last thing that the Bush administration wants.”

Ritter admits that he has paid a high price for speaking out against the United States government. He says that when he first resigned in 1998, he told U.S. officials that he would speak out against U.S. policies, but would hold back on more sensitive matters regarding intelligence—so long as the government did not question his patriotism, call him a liar, or go after his family. But he adds that the day he resigned, the government released information that it was investigating him as a spy for the state of Israel, and has since opened a case against his wife as being a spy for the KGB.

“They lied and violated this agreement,” says Ritter. “So I waited an appropriate amount of time. Now I am allowing the truth to be my weapon. And as soon as I started to speak, they started coming after me. Because the problem with a message is that when it hurts and you don’t want to deal with the message, you go after the messenger.”

“This is not about disarmament. The United States never made disarmament its main objective. We are being lied to by the Bush administration, and it is the most flagrant kind of lie because it is a lie that is being used to justify war.”

—Nancy Guerin


Mr. Quandt Goes to Baghdad

As war rhetoric heats up, a local performer plans to become a human shield in Iraq

As an actor with the New York State Theater Institute, a singer and harmonica player with various local R&B bands, and an Albany taxi driver, Joe Quandt has long been a familiar figure here in the Capital Region. But Quandt, 51, is now a man politicized by what he sees as an inhumane policy of United Nations economic sanctions against Iraq, and he’s willing to take drastic steps to protest it. On Oct. 6, he will leave his more comfortable roles to go to Baghdad as a member of a Chicago-based group called Voices in the Wilderness (VitW) to try to raise awareness among U.S. citizens of the harsh effects of sanctions on civilians there. Moreover, he is undertaking his monthlong trip at what could be enormous personal risk—in addition to its primary goals of providing humanitarian assistance to Iraqis and speaking out against the sanctions, the group intends to act as a human shield to non-military Iraqi infrastructure such as bridges and power plants in the event of U.S.-led air strikes. And even if Quandt, who has made out his will, were to survive a bombing, he could face criminal charges for his actions upon his return.

The sanctions that lie at the heart of the controversy have been in place since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. Critics charge that they have deprived the Iraqi population of essential foods and medicines, and according to UNICEF estimates, 1.5 million of the most vulnerable Iraqis—the elderly, the ill, and the young—had perished as a result by 1998, the last year for which figures are available. Of these, a third were children under 5, and 5,000 children are still dying per month. France and Russia, who are among the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have been sharply critical of the sanctions, as have been many of the 15 nonpermanent members. The United States, however, has vetoed all attempts to lift them.

Quandt acknowledged that Saddam Hussein is “a brutal dictator,” but feels that the sanctions will never dislodge him. Innocent civilians, he asserts, are therefore being punished for Hussein’s sins.

Voices in the Wilderness (www.nonviolence.org/vitw) was founded in 1996 for the purpose of using nonviolent civil disobedience to spur a confrontation with the U.S. government over the sanctions, which they see as illegal and immoral. That year, they notified Attorney General Janet Reno of their intention to violate the sanctions by bringing medical supplies into Iraq. In response, the Office of Foreign Assets Control sent them a letter warning them to refrain from any such activities. VitW has since defied the government by sending several delegations to Iraq, and has also mounted several high-profile U.S. protests against the sanctions, for which several demonstrators have been arrested. Quandt, the only member from the Capital Region, will travel to Baghdad with about three dozen others from various parts of the country. He hopes to enlist the aid of local activists to help him report on the situation in Iraq through news outlets in the Capital Region, and he also plans on teaching English during his stay.

Asked if he thinks the United States would knowingly bomb its own citizens if members of the group were to act as human shields in Iraq, Quandt said he doesn’t believe so, explaining that similar tactics have been used successfully in Bosnia (Serbs tied U.N. peacekeepers to posts to prevent threatened Western air strikes). Asked if he was sure the U.S. and its allies would afford the volunteers the same consideration in the event of an attack on Iraq, he said, “No. There’s no guarantee. There’s never any guarantee.” Attempts to reach group cofounder Kathy Kelly for comment were not successful, but according to news reports, she has warned the activists that they could be facing death.

Questions of possible death and injury aside, members of the group may find themselves in legal jeopardy for their relief efforts and their attempts to act as human shields.

For example, according to Quandt, it is illegal to bring pencils into Iraq (graphite can be used to make airplanes undetectable by radar), or vitamins, or toys. Reflecting on the risks, Quandt said, “When you decide to do something like this, you have to make the decision that you are going to potentially place yourself in any number of dangerous situations, including fines and imprisonment by your own government. But if the United States is going to try to dictate to me where I can do humanitarian work, then there’s something vastly wrong with my government.”

—Glenn Weiser


Teri Currie

Taking It to the Streets

Fed up with the state of public transportation in the city of Albany, about a dozen demonstrators marched from Westgate Shopping Center to the Capitol on Saturday (Sept. 28). Organized by Citizens for Transportation and the Albany County Green Party, the march was a call to CDTA officials for more and better bus routes throughout Albany during evenings and over the weekend. The two groups are currently working on gathering signatures to petition local politicians for better public transportation services.


Building blocks: Union members on the picket line. Photo By John Whipple.

United We Stand by Ourselves

Union pickets local contractor without any clear support from company employees

A local carpenters’ union recently began employing new tactics in an extended campaign to convince one of the area’s largest general contractors to form a teamster-friendly company—and the union is doing so all by itself. So far, employees of the firm have given no indication that they want to join the union.

Throughout the summer, members of the Empire State Regional Council of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America spent Friday afternoons picketing two work sites of the non-union general contractor Bast Hatfield, Inc. The pickets have been taking place at the future Lowe’s site on Balltown Road in Niskayuna and on British American Boulevard in Latham. The union has dubbed them informational, and the message is clear: “To the public: Bast Hatfield does not employ members of or have a contract with Empire State Regional Council of Carpenters,” read the signs around the demonstrators’ necks.

In the past few weeks, the union’s campaign has shifted from weekly informational demonstrations to daily organizational pickets, the difference being that the carpenter’s guild is now asking that other organized trades not cross its picket line.

“There has been dialogue with Bast Hatfield employees for well over a year,” said Michael Donvito, council representative and picket captain. “They have issues and concerns, and we feel that we could address them.”

Donvito said Bast Hatfield employees cite differences in pay scale between two workers doing the same job, a weak benefit package, and a shady pension program as reasons for wanting to unionize.

While the union has a laundry list of complaints against the company, no Bast Hatfield employees have come forward to back up the union’s accusations. On several visits to the picketed Bast Hatfield sites, no company employees were seen walking the picket line. Bast Hatfield employees interviewed on these job sites did not want to be identified as saying so, but said that none of the company’s workers were involved in the pickets. Donvito said the reason the employees wanted to protect their identities was the same reason why they feigned alliance to their employer: fear.

“The workers are scared,” said Donvito. “They have a fear of being fired. We’re trying to have them get over their fear. We have allowed them to voice their issues and concerns, and that is the reason why we have gone forward with this organizational campaign.”

Chris Bast, owner and president of Bast Hatfield, said the union is being “completely irresponsible” by advancing these claims, ones that he said are “absolutely false.”

“They are putting out a bunch of propaganda,” said Bast. “You can go to every one of the pickets and ask if they work for Bast Hatfield. None of our own are picketing. Really, what they are trying to do is stifle people back into a system that worked in the ’20s and ’30s.”

Bast pointed out that his workers get all of the money from their wages and pension without any going to pay union dues. Bast feels his company is being, and has been, targeted by unions for his unwillingness to fold under union pressure.

“We are a merit-shop company,” said Bast. “We feel that [unionized labor] is a very archaic system. When a man starts out a trade in a union, that’s what he can look forward to all of his days. There is no upward mobility.”

The merit-shop system is one where workers get their raises and bonus “based on merit rather than entitlement,” Bast said. In the merit system, he added, workers are encouraged to learn as many skills as possible on the job to increase their wages.

But Donvito countered that leaving a worker’s wage up to his or her employer leaves the door open for the worker to be cheated.

“What we have as a union is a standard of wages and a standard of benefits,” said Donvito. “It doesn’t matter what job you go on, any union has a standard of living and a benefit package.”

These standards, Donvito said, are set by the National Labor Relations Board and based on an area’s standard of living. Working out of a union or for a unionized company, employees would be paid the union’s set wage or the area standard, whichever happens to be higher. Bast claimed his company’s policy is the same.

According to Donvito, a carpenter who signs on with the ESRCC would receive a $21.35 hourly wage plus benefits. While Bast would not release specifically how much his employees make, claiming proprietary information, he said that his workers can earn more then $28 an hour plus benefits.

The pickets have been gaining support recently from other area unions. But Bast said he has yet to hear from his workers that they want to unionize.

“A group did come to talk to me the other day and told me not to go union,” said Bast. “Here you can learn a skill, start out entry level and aspire, if you’re ambitious, we provide that. Our guys work for a company, not a union. It’s a different philosophy.”

—Travis Durfee

From the Heart

A weekend benefit concert raises money and awareness for Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk school district’s purchase of technology that may save a child’s life

Families, businesses and bands came together Saturday in a communitywide effort to help the Ravena- Coeymans-Selkirk School District purchase state-mandated lifesaving devices.

The nine-band benefit concert held in the RCS high school gym raised enough money to reimburse the school district’s purchase of nine automatic external defibrillators, devices that can help restore the rhythms in a heart that is not beating properly. Though the purchase of the defibrillators was mandated by the New York State Legislature in June 2001, school districts were not provided with any additional funding. All schools must be equipped with the devices by December 2002.

“I guess that wasn’t their initial intention, an unfunded mandate,” said Anne Marie Bonafide, an organizer of the benefit. “As soon as we learned they needed to be placed, it was a responsibility we had to help the community get these [defibrillators] and to educate the public.”

Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach), who sponsored the legislation, said he worried about the ability of smaller school districts to come up with the money to purchase the defibrillators, which cost $2,500 a piece.

“It was a mandate without funding, and everybody is against doing that,” said Weisenberg. “But you can’t put a dollar value on a child’s life. I really applaud the community for consciously being aware of bringing their school environment into a safer environment.”

The all-day event featured local performers Ernie Williams, Mark Emanation and Folding Sky, Dusk Till Dawn, Honey Creeper, the Brian Kaplan Band, Third 2 None, Yellow Stone Driver, Stood Up, and Public Access. Bonafide’s son, Jason, a member of Public Access, organized the music portion of the benefit. The family’s service to the public comes from intimate knowledge of a defibrillator’s importance: the death of their son and brother, Justin, in 1997 from sudden cardiac arrest when he was 9 years old.

“Justin had a very normal day, with his bro, did normal 9- and 11-year-old-things,” said Anne Marie Bonafide. “He complained 30 minutes before that his heart was racing. He was outside running with the dog and didn’t feel right. He came inside and was going to lay down and within seconds after saying that he had this attack.”

As with many cases of sudden cardiac arrest, Justin’s attack struck without any prior medical signs and no warning other than his offhand remarks about not feeling well. According to the American Heart Association’s Web site, sudden cardiac death, or cardiac arrest, is “the sudden, abrupt loss of heart function in a person who may or may not have diagnosed heart disease. The time and mode of death are unexpected, and it occurs instantly or shortly after symptoms appear.”

“First responders arrived in three minutes and CPR was administered right away,” said Bonafide. “But CPR doesn’t do anything. It was every parent’s nightmare. We went from having two healthy, vibrant young boys [to having] a child who lost his best friend.”

As the Bonafides and the school district were recovering from the loss of Justin, another young man in the same district, 17-year-old Gavin Raymond, collapsed while walking into English class and later died, also from sudden cardiac arrest.

“We told all the little kids that this is so rare, it will never happen again,” said Bonafide. “And then all these kids who had been told this, to see it happen again, and to see the fear in the eyes of so many young people. We were absolutely terrified that this same thing had happened again.”

Had a defibrillator been available, both young men might have been saved. The AHA states that early access to a defibrillator is key to saving someone stricken with sudden cardiac arrest: Chances of survival decreases by 7 to 10 percent with each minute that passes without defibrillation.

“Although sudden cardiac deaths occur more commonly in adults (225,000 adult deaths annually),” states the AHA Web site, “an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 children (without symptoms) die suddenly in the United States annually.”

RCS purchased enough defibrillators to cover the entire community encompassed by the school district, said school superintendent Robert E. Drake. “They’ll be in each school building, in the bus garage, business office and for sporting events they can be available on the field,” Drake said. “We want no more than a five-minute response time.”

Drake said the event was a huge success, raising money both through the benefit concert and donations from local businesses and politicians. Anne Marie Bonafide also was pleased by the community turnout Saturday, which coincidentally would have been Raymond’s 22nd birthday.

“It is important to let school districts know of this,” she said. “People were pretty upset by not having the funding to pay for this, but the education is important. It happens within a matter of minutes, and CPR is not enough. You need to have the heart electro-shocked to get it in sync. We think of this afflicting the elderly, but it can happen to anyone, young or old.”

—T.D.


Send A Letter to Our Editor
Back Home
   
0104_116E
In Association with Amazon.com
columbia house DVD 120X90
Half.com
Pick7_120x60
jcrew.com 120x60
 
Copyright © 2002 Lou Communications, Inc., 4 Central Ave., Albany, NY 12210. All rights reserved.