Transcript: Fox News Interviews Scott Ritter

Following is the full transcript of Fox News Channel's David Asman's interview with former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter, Sept. 12, 2002. Since this transcript is based on closed-captioning feeds, Fox News cannot verify the absolute accuracy of each statement.

DAVID ASMAN, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: President Bush at the U.N. today mapping out Saddam Hussein's violations of U.N. resolutions. Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who at one time warned in similar tones about Saddam Hussein, sounds different now. The question is why.

Scott Ritter joins us here in our studio. Good to have you, sir.


ASMAN: Let me read to you a couple of quotes. I'm sure you've heard it before, but these are from four years ago, when you sounded about Saddam Hussein not very much different from the way President Bush did today at the U.N.

This one is from this week -- August 30, 1998 -- "Six months is a very reasonable time scale for Iraq to resume weapons capabilities."

The second two are from Good Morning America also in August of '98.

First, "Iraq's job is to avoid bringing the world's attention to the fact they've retained these weapons," and then, "Iraq retains the capability to launch a chemical strike." Sounds like Saddam Hussein is very dangerous and could mount a chemical strike right now.

RITTER: And what point are you trying to make?

ASMAN: Do you disagree with that in any way, shape or form?

RITTER: I don't disagree with anything I've ever said. Why in God's name would I disagree with something I've said?

ASMAN: Then how is it that people have gotten the impression that since those statements were made, you're now being somewhat apologetic for what Saddam Hussein is doing?

RITTER: Forget those people. Let's deal with the facts.

First of all, it's a matter of perception. When I resigned, I didn't resign as someone beating the drum of war. I'm not out there promoting war. I didn't promote war when I was a weapons inspector. I'm not promoting war now.

I'm promoting the process of weapons inspections as mandated by the Security Council. So I resigned in protest from being unable to do the job of completing the disarmament of Iraq.

ASMAN: So you think Saddam Hussein still has these chemical weapons capabilities?

RITTER: No, I said Saddam Hussein has the potential of having chemical weapons capability. We haven't completely confirmed the final disposition of these capabilities and they must be of concern. But to say that Saddam Hussein retains chemical weapons -- there's a big difference between weapons and capability.

ASMAN: You're talking about delivering the arsenal he has.

RITTER: I'm saying Saddam Hussein has the capability, inside Iraq today -- Iraq has the capability to convert aspects of its civilian infrastructure to reconstitute chemical weapons. Six months is not an unreasonable time. I said it then and I'm saying it now.

ASMAN: So he might still have all of those barrels of evil stuff, the biochemical weapons?

RITTER: It's not a matter of "still have," he might have been able to make those weapons in the intervening time.

ASMAN: Right, and chances are he has those weapons but he doesn't have the power to deliver them?

RITTER: No, first of all, I never said he has them and I'm not saying chances are he has them, I'm saying there's a possibility he could reconstitute this capability and that's why we have to have inspectors in place.

You can't go from the fact we can't confirm the final disposition of important elements of his program -- which is the case -- to suddenly giving Saddam Hussein massive strike capability that threatens the United States of America. You can't make that leap.

It is something you have to be concerned about. But the problem with what Bush is doing today is that he's made that leap, void of any intelligence information to substantiate that.

ASMAN: But it's not void of actions, Mr. Ritter. It is particularly in light of what happened on September 11, 2001 and the fear that there are evil people out there, some of whom may have consorted with Saddam Hussein in the past, that would get together and use some of these chemical weapons -- if they're in Iraq -- on U.S. citizens.

RITTER: But this is a purely hypothetical situation. Show me where is the link.

ASMAN: September 11, 2001 was not hypothetical, nothing hypothetical at all.

RITTER: Don't disgrace the death of those 3,000 people by bringing Iraq into the equation.

ASMAN: We know there are people out there willing to do the dirty deed and we also know Saddam Hussein has had contacts with these people in the past.

RITTER: No, you don't know that.

ASMAN: We know from Czech intelligence. Czech intelligence says that an Iraqi met with Mohammed Atta twice.

RITTER: What does the CIA and FBI say?

ASMAN: The FBI and CIA say the situation is not clear but Czech intelligence says it is. And why it is that the only person, only Arab leader that Usama bin Laden likes and approves of and speaks highly of is Saddam Hussein, why?

RITTER: That's an absurdity, David. Usama bin Laden in 1991 was offering his services to confront Saddam Hussein. Usama bin Laden has issued fatwas against Saddam Hussein.

ASMAN: We talked to representatives of Al Qaeda here in 1998 shortly after the bombings of those embassies in Africa. The only Arab leader -- I spoke to them personally, the only Arab leader they were willing to praise, not to condemn, was Saddam Hussein. Why?

RITTER: Well, I'm just telling you that the fact of the matter is the Iraqi government -- and I'm not an apologist for the Iraqi government, Saddam Hussein is the most brutal dictator I can think of today and from my lips to God's ear, I wish he was dead -- but the fact of the matter is Iraq is a secular dictatorship that has struggled against Islamic fundamentalists for 30 years.

ASMAN: Exactly. So why it that Saddam Hussein supports this secular individual?

RITTER: Well, first of all, I don't think that case has been made.

ASMAN: It's been made not only by Usama bin Laden himself but by representatives of Al Qaeda to me personally on air. We've got the tape. I can show it to you.

RITTER: I'm not disputing that.

ASMAN: You were disputing it.

RITTER: I'm not disputing that people have sat before you and said these things. I'm disputing that Al Qaeda is somehow in allegiance with Saddam Hussein.

ASMAN: Why shouldn't they be? They both want the destruction of the United States. You don't think they do? You don't think Usama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein want the destruction of the United States?

RITTER: Let's keep Usama bin Laden out of this equation because I'm not linking them.

ASMAN: He's directly a part of it. That's the point, Scott, the fact that Usama bin Laden has had, or is suspected to have had contacts, well, just a suspicion when thousands of American lives are at risk. Isn't a suspicion alone enough to really act upon?

RITTER: It's enough for us to be extremely concerned about, but when you want to take action, there has to be justification found in an international law. Let's remember there's two documents every American --

ASMAN: Isn't that what just happened today when George Bush went to the United Nations?

RITTER: No, actually George Bush was dictating to the United Nations, not trying to work with the United Nations.

ASMAN: In what way did he dictate?

RITTER: He said that you must hold Iraq accountable for its actions and if you don't, if you fail to do so, we will step forward.

ASMAN: That's not dictating -- that's just mentioning their obligations under the U.N. Charter.

RITTER: Well, let's remember the United States's obligations under the U.N. Charter, which is to go to the Security Council and seek Security Council action.

ASMAN: But remember who lost the war, Scott. You don't have to be told who lost the war in 1991.

RITTER: I fought in the war.

ASMAN: Exactly. Who lost? It was Saddam Hussein. He signed these agreements as a result of his loss so that he could keep his nation in power.

RITTER: First of all, he didn't sign a single agreement.

ASMAN: The conditions laid out by the U.N. were agreed to by the Iraqis.

RITTER: Correct. But don't say Saddam signed the agreement.

ASMAN: The point it that -- You know it's a dictatorship. Are you here to tell me Iraq is a democracy?


ASMAN: So Saddam Hussein clearly allowed his people to accept those documents from the U.N.?

RITTER: Absolutely.

ASMAN: So they were forced to accept those documents saying they would allow U.N. inspectors unfettered access -- and they didn't. Do you deny that?

RITTER: First of all, it's not that black and white. We achieved a 90-95 percent level of disarmament in Iraq. We could not have done that without unfettered access.

I got into the sites I needed to get to. Was it easy? Was it pretty? No. Did I achieve a certain level of disarmament? Yes. Did other inspectors achieve a certain level of disarmament? Yes. We fundamentally disarmed Iraq and that's the point that has to be made. We succeeded in eliminating the threat posed to the world by Iraq --

ASMAN: Wait a minute. Even you said 95 percent was destroyed but five percent could not be accounted for, correct?

RITTER: Five to ten percent.

ASMAN: That's a lot of potential biochemical weapons.

RITTER: First of all, it's not just biochemical, it's across the board.

ASMAN: Nevertheless, for a madman like Saddam Hussein, who you just said you'd be for getting rid of in a heartbeat, for him to have 5 percent of that arsenal is still a dangerous thing.

RITTER: Again, let's put this in the proper perspective. Biological weapons -- everybody's concerned about that. Anthrax -- we suffered a horrific anthrax attack here in the United States. Iraq produced liquid bulk anthrax, that's all they ever produced, not the dry powder that we saw here in the United States.

ASMAN: How are you sure about that? You're saying inspectors weren't sure of what happened. How do you know it did?

RITTER: Because this is the finding of the United Nations.

ASMAN: But, Scott, you just said that we're not sure.

RITTER: I'm going to deal with the facts that we know of. I'm not going to get into the hypothetical. What we know is that Iraq only produced liquid bulk anthrax. There is no evidence --

ASMAN: I gotta stop you Scott. You just said we don't know that, we don't know that they didn't produce powdered form of anthrax. How do you know? How?

RITTER: No, we do know that they didn't produce powdered form of anthrax. Because we inspected the facility, we did the testing on the facility.

ASMAN: It could not have been a facility you didn't know about?

RITTER: Well, now you're going off the map.

ASMAN: The guy's got trillions of dollars' worth of oil. Couldn't he have within his --

RITTER: Has millions of dollars' worth of oil.

ASMAN: Well, the reserves are trillions of dollars, if you add it up at 25 dollars a barrel. The point is he's got enough cash to do all sorts of things that we don't know about, correct?

RITTER: No. Again, we deal in the world of reality. Weapons of mass destruction aren't pulled out of a black hat like a white rabbit at a magic show. They're produced in factories. There's science and technology involved. They're not produced in a hole in the ground or in a basement. It's an industrial facility, we investigated the industrial facility, anthrax, liquid bulk deteriorates after three years under ideal storage conditions.

The last time he produced it, in 1991 -- we were there from '91 to '98 and never detected any evidence of production. So for Iraq to have anthrax today they would have had to rebuild these factories since the last time inspectors were there.

ASMAN: 1998. You yourself said it would take six months to rebuild those facilities. So they could have built that. They could have built that four, six times over.

RITTER: They could have.

ASMAN: And isn't that a risk that we have to be particularly cognizant of, and if the Iraqis won't allow our inspectors unfettered access, isn't our only option to go in there and take out Saddam?

RITTER: Yes. Now let's get to the bottom line here. The last time we allowed inspectors into Iraq unconditionally, with unfettered access, what happened? The United States took these inspectors and used them to spy on Saddam Hussein.

ASMAN: Wait a minute, are you including your former boss Richard Butler in that category?

RITTER: Richard Butler was totally complicit with it.

ASMAN: Richard Butler, you're saying, was a spy for the United States, not an independent U.N. weapons inspector?

RITTER: Richard Butler allowed the United States to use the United Nations weapons-inspection process as a Trojan horse to insert intelligence capabilities into Iraq, which were not approved by the United Nations and which did not facilitate the disarmament process, were instead focused on the security of Saddam Hussein and military targets.

ASMAN: So you think Richard Butler was an agent of the CIA?

RITTER: Don't put words in my mouth.

ASMAN: I'm asking you.

RITTER: Richard Butler facilitated American espionage in Iraq. Richard Butler facilitated American manipulation of the inspection process.

ASMAN: With the full knowledge of what he was doing? Was he a dupe?

RITTER: Well, that's a question to ask Richard Butler. I think he knew because on four occasions, from March 1998 until my resignation in August 1998, I wrote Richard Butler a memorandum saying, "Boss, if you continue down this path you are facilitating espionage. This is not what we're about and you can't let this happen."

He received this memorandum and disregarded my warning and ultimately, in the end, let's ask ourselves why the inspectors aren't in Iraq today.

It is not because Iraq kicked them out -- it's because the United States government through their mission in New York picked up the phone, ordered Richard Butler to withdraw the inspectors. He did so without going to the Security Council.

Two days later the United States bombed Iraq using an inspection that was manipulated by the United States as justification for triggering, and using intelligence gathered by the inspectors to bomb Saddam Hussein's targets that weren't weapons-of-mass-destruction-related.

Why would the Iraqis immediately roll over and say "Come on back in," unless they're given guarantees that the inspectors won't again deviate from the task?

ASMAN: I have to ask this question. Why it is that we should not believe Richard Butler who was chief weapons inspector, or believe people like [unintelligible], the former nuclear scientist who worked on Saddam Hussein's campaign who says he still has an active policy to get a nuclear weapon and has other capabilities -- why should we not believe all of these other people and believe you?

RITTER: Again just believe the facts. In 1998 [unintelligible] was a minor functionary there in the Iraqi nuclear program. He was brought in to head up a cell that was to do research on the Iraqi nuclear program. He came up with an $8 billion program that was found to be too expensive. He was fired and released. He was a fraud.

As for Richard Butler, you have ask him why he's now distorting the truth. I can document everything I say and if you'd kindly bring Richard Butler on stage with me sometime we can have a face-to-face.

ASMAN: Let's do that. We have contacts with him so let's try to do that.

RITTER: The facts have not been contradicted on the point of fact regarding Iraq. U.S. News & World Report reported on Richard Butler's close cooperation with the United States. The United States government has admitted doing what I said.

ASMAN: Wait a minute. The United States has admitted that they used Richard Butler as a pawn in an intelligence operation thwarting the neutral interests of the United Nations?

RITTER: Yes. Read the Washington Post -- [unintelligible] Gelbart's two articles written in November. Read U.S. News & World Report from December.

ASMAN: Richard Butler, as far as I know, and we can back it up, we have a good brain room here, has never admitted that he worked for U.S. intelligence to thwart the neutral interests of the United Nations.

RITTER: I'm saying that Richard Butler as the executive chairman of UNSCOM --

ASMAN: Knowingly allowing them neutral reputation of the United States -- United Nations to fall by the wayside in order to work with United States intelligence is nothing that he's ever admitted to.

RITTER: Well, then these four memorandums from his chief inspector responsible for squaring out these sensitive intelligence operations, four memorandums from March 1998 to August 1998 warning him that if he continues it is tantamount to espionage and -- he received these memorandums and disregarded the memorandums. He knew what he was doing.

ASMAN: But you're saying you have access to information he does not have and therefore you have the ability to say this information, he was lying about it.

RITTER: I'm saying when I wrote a memorandum to him [about] the program. When I confronted him with what was happening with the program, he disregarded my warnings.

ASMAN: We will work our best to get Richard Butler on here. Stay with us. We have a short break. We'll be right back with him more questions on Fox in a moment.

ASMAN: We're back with the former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter. We just took a break. You have to make sure you know all the facts. A lot of people saw you go to Iraq. They said, 'He's a traitor.' Take care from people who are sworn enemies.

How does that make you feel?

RITTER: Sworn enemies, that's a curious statement.

ASMAN: ... They say they want death and destruction for the United States. The vice president of Iraq said it is the duty of Arabs anywhere in the world, anywhere in the world, to attack U.S. interests and U.S. individuals. This is the vice president of Iraq. You just admitted it is a dictatorship.

RITTER: ... I love my country more than anything. I spent 12 years in the United States Marine Corps. I know what it means to defend this country.

ASMAN: That's why people, when they see you in Iraq with these Iraqi government officials, they wonder what the heck is going on.

RITTER: I went to Iraq on my own initiative. I made the decision to approach and say I think it is time for me to deliver a message to the Iraqi government that if they don't allow ...

ASMAN: Paid for out of your own pocket?

RITTER: Hell, yes. Or by an anti-sanctions group in the case of South Africa, they didn't spend a single damn penny. I wouldn't accept their money, it is against the law.

ASMAN: Some people say that some of this money has come from Iraqi-Americans, there's one Iraqi-American in particular, who is perhaps not pro-Saddam but at least people say he's against the U.S. position towards Iraq, that that in itself kind ... of [proves that] Iraq is giving people money to do their bidding.

RITTER: ... He's a Detroit-based American businessman. An American citizen. He has family in Iraq. People have to put this in perspective. They are looking death and destruction in the face. You can't blame a guy that is trying to prevent a war.

ASMAN: He has no contact whatsoever with anybody in the Iraqi government?

RITTER: I didn't say that. How do you think I got the government with him? He can get me the audience. I take advantage. ... I am waging peace in the same way other people wage war -- I am trying to stop a war that doesn't need to be fought. This is not anti-American.

[Unintelligible] ... put my life on the line for my country. And I would do so again if the cause is just, if the cause is founded. If there is a threat worth dying for, make the case, Mr. Bush. And I will support your war with Iraq to the hilt. But until you make that case, all we have is speculative rhetoric and that is not justification.

ASMAN: We have clear rhetoric coming from Iraq. Arabs have the duty to attack and kill Americans even on U.S. soil. They are saying that. The vice president said it this week. Don't you think they are the enemy?

RITTER: The situation that's evolving there's definitely an atmosphere of conflict between us and -- United States and Iraq. I'm not going to defend a damn word they say.

ASMAN: You're taking money from a guy affiliated from the foreign minister/deputy prime minister.

RITTER: I'm not taking any money. It's not going into my pocket.

ASMAN: They paid for the trip to Iraq.

RITTER: It was paid for by the Public Institute of Accuracy.

ASMAN: Just to clear this up for the record, this Iraqi businessman, he is friends with Aziz, he knows people in the Iraqi government. What is he paying to you, anything at all? Are you getting any money?

RITTER: [Unintelligible] ... Is there a hand up my back moving my mouth? No.

... not associated with or affiliated with any particular government outside of the United States. The point is we are not being used as a mouthpiece as some people say that Iraqi-American businessman is.

You yourself said he's friends with and ... essentially one of Saddam Hussein's henchman.

ASMAN: He's a henchman of Saddam Hussein.

RITTER: He's had to say things that are [a] total fabrication. I am trying to facilitate peace by making the case a for peace and the only way to do that, you can't get into Iraq unless you have the Iraqi government open the door. Aziz can open the door. If you want to condemn me for making a case so I can diffuse a war-like situation that is going to put hundreds of thousands of Americans at risk, then condemn me. I don't care. ... I am doing everything I can [to ensure] that we exhaust every avenue possible short of war before we go to war.

ASMAN: When was the very last time you received any intelligence about what Iraq is doing from the United States government?

RITTER: [Unintelligible]

ASMAN: It is conceivable, is it not, that they have created in the four years since we have been there quite a stockpile of chemical [and] biological weapons.

RITTER: It is conceivable they could have created chemical weapons.

ASMAN: Why do you think it is that they did that?

RITTER: Detectable ...

ASMAN: Under what conditions?

RITTER: I don't want to get any sources. Any professional will tell you [there are] ways to detect the -- the efforts by a nation, especially a nation like Iraq which had its infrastructure diminished, weapons of mass destruction capacity they would have to reconstitute, acquire technology, they would have to reconfigure technology.

ASMAN: You know all the back-door channels. Oil-for-food program and all the other ways in which to help Iraq to get the cash they need to do what you're saying.

RITTER: I worked with the Israeli government for four years setting up capability to monitor Iraqi -- they tracked them and monitored them. I'm not doing it anymore. I know the Israelis are, [and the] United States is. ... Make the case, Mr. President, make the case.

ASMAN: He made a case ... the question comes down to this, Scott Ritter, who do you trust more, President Bush and the case he is making against Saddam Hussein, or the rhetoric coming out of Iraq?

RITTER: I'd like to put it this way. Who do I hold accountable, the president of Iraq or the president of the United States. I hold my government accountable to the facts. I hold my government to a higher standard than I do Saddam Hussein. I am an American citizen who believes in the Constitution and believes in my obligation as a citizen to hold my government [accountable].

ASMAN: I'm a journalist. ... which information do you think is more reliable right now? That coming out of Iraq or that coming out of President Bush?

RITTER: ... The bottom line is I believe that the United States government -- the Bush administration is deliberately distorting the record in regards to weapons of mass destruction. I have trouble believing what they are saying. Not that I believe what Saddam Hussein is doing. Not that I believe Saddam Hussein more. I don't trust based upon my extensive experience what is coming from the Bush administration. They need to make a better case with substantive fact.

ASMAN: Scott Ritter, we do thank you for coming on today.

RITTER: Thank you very much.