Richard Butler Interview

JANA WENDT: Richard Butler, can we say with certainty that Saddam Hussein poses a threat to anyone beyond Iraq`s borders?

RICHARD BUTLER, FORMER UN CHIEF ARMS INSPECTOR: Yes, certainly, because of the potentially long-range capability of his missiles, which he`s been working on extending, and because of his support for terrorist groups.

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JANA WENDT: Now, there have been a number of defectors who have told various stories about the supposed development of Saddam`s program relating to weapons of mass destruction. One, can we believe those, and, two, are they the only source of information now coming out of Iraq?

RICHARD BUTLER: On the whole we can believe them, Jana. There is a baseline of information that we had when Saddam terminated our inspections four years ago. And that remains the case. And that had a residual missile, chemical and biological capability and some parts of a nuclear weapons program. Now, since that time, through black market oil money in particular, Saddam has reinvigorated all of his weapons programs, and defectors make that clear to us. Their information necessarily is not complete, and we can`t fill it out because there are no inspections taking place. But on the whole, the main defector reports I have seen have been credible, they`ve accorded with the database that I and the other inspectors knew, and it`s deeply worrying.

JANA WENDT: And those defector stories mark a development, as you say, from when you left in `98?

RICHARD BUTLER: Oh, certainly. I have myself seen evidence of a reinvigorated nuclear weapons program. I saw that over 1.5 years ago. My last technical conversation in Baghdad, in June 1998 – as against political conversation, which I also had, of course – was with the general in charge of missiles. And I demanded of him then that he stop the further illegal development of the missiles that they were then carrying out. He refused. And that, of course, has continued since we left. That`s a very real concern. In addition to the number of long-range missiles that they had concealed from us anyway – and just quickly, the same is true in the chemical and biological area – they have reinvigorated and extended their program.

JANA WENDT: One of your former weapons inspectors, Scott Ritter, says, “Iraq is not capable of using weapons of mass destruction in any meaningful manner against any of its neighbours.” Now, you saw what Iraq had. He saw what Iraq had. How can your views now be so different?

RICHARD BUTLER: Well, I`m not a psychoanalyst and I don`t know what motivates Scott, but let me tell you this. He worked for me. The first piece of untruth that he has been telling the public is that he was the chief weapons inspector. He never was. He led certain teams. Secondly, when he worked for me, he repeatedly – right down to the last day – put submissions to me saying, “Iraq has dangerous weapons, you must authorise me to go and find them”, and so on. I refused to do some of the things he asked me to do because I thought he was more than overzealous. Now, since he left UNSCOM`s service, he has commenced telling the world that there are no such weapons. So Jana, it`s simple – either he misled me when he worked for me, or he`s misleading the public now. I can tell you what the answer is – he`s misleading the public now. Iraq has a dangerous weapons of mass destruction capability.

JANA WENDT: Richard Butler, do you think that the US would still prefer to see weapons inspectors going back into Iraq or has the US decided on a military course of action here?

RICHARD BUTLER: I`m not sure of the answer to the first part of the question, but I think I do know the answer to the second. The US has decided that there should be military action to remove Saddam Hussein.

JANA WENDT: Do you personally believe that the evidence that we have about Saddam`s weapons programs justify a military attack on Iraq?

RICHARD BUTLER: What I deeply believe is this – that if military action is taken against Saddam, then it must be explained clearly to the world why it`s taking place, and those reasons must be the right reasons, not the simple reason of American muscularity or settling some past score – I think that would be a disaster. Now, Jana, there are good reasons for seeking to remove Saddam. These are in the field of human rights violations. The man should be on trial in The Hague next to Slobodan Milosevic. The UN human rights rapporteur, two years ago, said that his crimes against humanity are second only to what we last saw under Adolf Hitler. Now, there`s international law. He is in violation of eight resolutions of the Security Council and that law-giver is crucial to all of us. It has the right to enforce its law. If a state gets away with thumbing its nose at the Security Council, something very bad will happen in international relations. And finally, weapons of mass destruction – we`ve just been talking about that. He is in violation of solemn undertakings in all of those WMD fields. All of those reasons, it seems to me, are good reasons for Iraq having a different government.

Do you think that a link must be made to justify an attack on Iraq between September 11 and Saddam Hussein?

RICHARD BUTLER: For the reasons I`ve just put to you, no, I don`t. But, having made that point, I readily concede that the reasons I`ve just been putting forward may not suffice in some portions of the Arab world, and it would be better if there was some – able to be demonstrated – some link to the events of September 11. There is a circumstantial link, but to the present time there`s been no direct, clear-cut link established.

JANA WENDT: Australia has spoken out in vigorous support of any US action in Iraq. The Iraqis have bitten back by reducing wheat imports from Australia. The Australian Wheat Board says “Doesn`t matter, Australian farmers won`t lose out.” Should we have reason to worry about this?

RICHARD BUTLER: Oh, I think so. Iraq has made a very serious threat that could affect some $800 million of Australian export income – farmers who are suffering badly under a drought now in some parts of the country. I think it`s deeply regrettable that Alexander Downer found it useful in some way to come out of some meetings in Washington where presumably he`d been briefed, and maybe pumped up, about the coming war and announced to the world that we were going to be right up there. I don`t think that was smart. Why? I mean, I`d like to know – why did he think it was useful to do that? No-one asked him. In our alliance relationship with the United States, it`s a two-way commitment. We`ve probably got to go along with it. What I do say is this – I`m not sure that it was useful to make this rather bombastic announcement that Downer did from Washington, and secondly, I don`t believe that our alliance relationship should make us the simple lapdogs of the US and follow any command that they make. When the balloon goes up, there has to be a very serious discussion between Australia and the United States on just exactly what our contribution would be, and on what I`ve called the right reasons – making sure that the US gives the right reasons for this campaign. Otherwise, it`s going to be a disaster. And I think we should use our influence in the alliance in that way.

JANA WENDT: Richard Butler, I thank you very much for your time.