- The White House orchestrated a plan to
provoke Saddam Hussein into defying United Nations weapons inspectors so
President Clinton could justify air strikes, former and current government
- Scott Ritter, a former U.N. inspector
who resigned this summer, said Thursday the U.N. Special Commission (Unscom)
team led by Richard Butler deliberately chose sites it knew would provoke
Iraqi defiance at the White House's urging. Mr. Ritter also said Mr. Butler,executive
chairman of the Unscom, conferred with the Clinton administration's national
security staff on how to write his report of noncompliance before submitting
it to the U.N. Security Council Tuesday night.
- The former inspector said the White House
wanted to ensure the report contained sufficiently tough language on which
to justify its decision to bomb Iraq. "I'm telling you this was a
preordained conclusion. This inspection was a total setup by the United
States," Mr. Ritter said. "The U.S. was pressing [the U.N.] to
carry out this test. The test was very provocative. They were designed
to elicit Iraqi defiance."
- Mr. Ritter resigned from Unscom in August,
accusing the Clinton administration of interfering in how and when inspections
were carried out. Mr. Butler, in charge of inspections to rid Iraq of weapons
of mass destruction, denied the charges at a U.N. press conference. "Now,
I want to say simply, slowly and plainly that any suggestion that that
report was not factual, was not objective, is utterly false," he said.
- Military sources say the White House
notified the Pentagon on Sunday -- the same day that Mr. Butler ordered
an end to inspections -- that air strikes would begin this week. The warning
came two days before Mr. Butler submitted his report -- the catalyst the
administration cites for Mr. Clinton ordering Wednesday's start of a four-day
- Asked about a Sunday decision before
the report was done, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told reporters,
"We have always been prepared to go during the month of December,
to take action. We were not going to take any action until such time as
a report was filed, we knew what it -- what was said, and the president
actually called for a strike."
- Mr. Butler defended his report amid charges
by Mr. Ritter that the White House helped him write it. "I want to
say it as simply and as plainly as I can. That report was based on the
experts of Unscom," he said. "It danced to no one's tune. It
was not written for anyone's purposes, including, as some of you have suggested,
for the purposes of the United States, for example."
- Republican lawmakers, retired military
officers and military experts have questioned the attack's timing. Some
GOP lawmakers bluntly accused the president of orchestrating a war to shore
up waning public support in his impeachment battle. Administration officials,
including Mr. Cohen, vehemently denied that charge.
- Pentagon officials, rebutting an impeachment
motive, said Thursday that Mr. Cohen and the Joint Chiefs of Staff had
been looking for another opportunity to strike since mid-November, when
Mr. Clinton called off a planned attack after Saddam pledged to cooperate
with the U.N. inspectors. They said they wanted to take action before the
month-long Islamic holiday Ramadan began this weekend and they grew tired
of seeing badly needed budget dollars drained by on-and-off military buildups
in the Gulf.
- Mr. Ritter's charge that the White House
co-authored the Butler report is at odds with the version of events given
by administration officials. For example, as Tomahawks began destroying
Iraqi targets Wednesday, Mr. Cohen was asked if he had any advance warning
of the report's contents. "No. There was some speculation about what
it might contain," he answered. "And frankly, we had assumed
that it might be mixed. We didn't know."
- Said Mr. Ritter, "If Bill Cohen
said he did not know this report was not going to trigger a military response,
he is being disingenuous." He added, "On Tuesday they worked
closely with Richard Butler to make sure the report had no wiggle room.
The concept this is the first time they saw the report is ludicrous. They
orchestrated with Richard Butler."
- Mr. Ritter said he is criticizing the
timing of the attack in the media because Mr. Butler has become a "tool"
of the White House and has "corrupted" Unscom's independence.Gen.
Henry H. Shelton, Joint Chiefs chairman, said planners had been eyeing
Wednesday for a possible attack for weeks because they had the right mix
of forces in the region and it also would commence before Ramadan.
- If Iraq had not defied inspectors, the
military would have lost its "window" of opportunity. "We
were looking at the calendar seeing Ramadan that we've got to be sensitive
to," Gen. Shelton said. "And so we had to prepare for a window
during which time, if there were a failure to comply, we could take action.
And so, it was not until Mr. Butler filed his report that this became a
reality as far as we were to go and then the decision had to be made."
- Mr. Ritter cited two inspections as proof
that Mr. Butler wanted to provoke Saddam. Mr. Ritter said Unscom demanded
access to Ba'ath Party headquarters, even though an intelligence report
that ballistic missile parts were inside was three months old and, as sources
told him, no longer accurate. Mr. Ritter also said inspectors chose to
inspect the building of the Iraqi commission overseeing weapons development
even though intelligence reports said it was empty. Indeed, he said, nothing
- The White House knew by Dec. 9, when
U.N. inspectors were in Baghdad, that the House had planned to debate impeachment
as early as Wednesday, Dec. 16. Air strikes began that day. The Washington
Post first reported Wednesday that administration officials "played
a direct role in shaping Butler's text during multiple conversations."
- "The decision to attack was driven
on Sunday," Mr. Ritter said. "Ask Richard Butler why he stopped
inspections on Sunday. The answer is, 'We have enough. We have enough points
here. Get your team out.'"