Sunday, January 08, 2006

Riveting Ritter-Hitchens Debate Audio Now Posted

On December 22, I reported on the debate with Scott Ritter, former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq and Iraq-war proponent Christopher Hitchens.

It's taken a while for the audio to become available but I'm delighted to tell you that sound of that excellent debate – in which I believe Ritter's superior knowledge and passion left Hitchens wholly out of his league – has been made available by the Tarrytown Music Hall, which hosted the event.

You can find that (large) MP3 file here. It's over one hour and 40 minutes and more suited for podcasting than a quick listen, but it's time well spent. (Though I should say that my notes from the event indicate that there's about a five to eight minute period lost in the audio -- where you hear a strange, five-second silence -- and they've omitted the question-answer session at the end, that also provided some fireworks. But the bulk of the contest is there.)

In the event you don't have time to listen to the entire thing, let me give you two highlights that I thought were important enough to transcribe. They provide incredibly compelling arguments from Ritter, who has both the professional background and encyclopedic knowledge necessary to speak with authority on what led to the Iraq invasion.

Ritter's introduction was fantastic. Here it is verbatim, with some chatter at the very beginning clipped:
Contrary to the polarization in America today, Iraq is not a black and white issue, it's a deeply complicated issue and one that is composed of many different shades of gray. Having said that, I'll state right off the bat that I am opposed to this war as much as one can possibly be opposed to this war. I am not a pacifist. I am a former Marine. I spent 12 years as a commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps and I've gone to war for my country.

I'm somebody who knows what war is and I understand why we fight. And when I take all of this accumulated belief, foundation that I have and I apply it to the situation we find ourselves in Iraq today, I find that I cannot come up with any justification worthy of a single American life as to why we should be in Iraq today.

There are many reasons that can be presented. Indeed, I myself have articulated a number of potential justifications for American involvement in Iraq that would lead to regime change of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

But, again, I must reflect on the process that got us involved in this war. You know, we don't get to rewrite history – I know some people are trying to – many of the proponents of this war have said "Let's not talk about how we got there and why we got there. That's water under the bridge. Let's instead focus on the fact that we are there and how do we determine where we are going."

I will tell you this, as an intelligence officer who spent 12 years wrestling with difficult issues, including trying to solve difficult problems: You can't solve a problem until you first define the problem. Any solution void of a definition is no solution at all because what is it you're trying to solve? On the case of Iraq, we must take a look at how we got there. That is the foundation of our involvement and, ladies and gentlemen, it is as corrupt a foundation as you can possibly imagine.

When I speak of war in Iraq, let's personalize it for a second. Let's speak of 161,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are over there serving their nation, our nation. They're ours. They belong to us. They wear our uniform. On their shoulders, our flag is sewn. And they're willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our Constitution and this is what we must focus on.

They're not there to die for Iraqis. They're not there to die for anything other than the Constitution of the United States of America. That's the oath they took. To uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. What is the Constitution? Why is it so important? Well, ladies and gentlemen, it is the document that defines who we are and what we are as a nation, as a people. A nation of laws – the rule of law is absolute, which means due process is absolute.

You'll have people today talking about "we're there for democracy. We're there to build a nation." But let's talk about the case that was made, because the case that was made by President George W. Bush for war in Iraq had nothing to do whatsoever with bringing democracy to the Iraqi people. It had nothing to do with liberating Iraq. It had everything to do with one thing: weapons of mass destruction. Chemical weapons, biological weapons, long-range ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons.

The president said he knew they were there. He said this without there being any possibility of there being an alternative reality. The vice president said there could be no doubt that these weapons were there. This implies not that they're guessing, but that they're in possession of the facts. It implies certainty of knowledge and yet when called upon to produce this evidence, they could do no better than to gin up the National Intelligence Estimate that has turned out to be not only highly politicized but 100 percent wrong.

All they could do is get Colin Powell to appear before the Security Council of the United Nations and issue a speech the totality of which has been proven wrong – he wasn't right on one thing. And yet we went to war.

A war, again, that was about weapons of mass destruction. This is a fact that was put forward in the letter sent by John Negroponte, then the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations to the Security Council saying that American troops have entered Iraq because Iraq has failed to comply with its obligation to disarm -- and that international law dictates that America takes the lead in responding to this crime.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, international law dictated no such thing.

International law dictated that the Security Council remained seized of the event, that the Security Council would once again have to pass a Chapter Seven resolution, which it did not. The United States invaded Iraq in violation of international law – but more importantly, in violation of the Constitution of the United States of America, Article Six of which is quite clear: When the United States of America enters into a treaty or an international obligation, that's been ratified by two-thirds of the United States Senate, that is the supreme law of the land.

Our troops took an oath to uphold and defend that Constitution and yet they went to war in violation of that Constitution. Ladies and gentlemen, this is about as un-American a war as one can possibly imagine and we must register that fact when we talk about why we're there and where we're going.

Thank you very much.
The other part I want to make sure you see, is this excerpt from an impassioned Ritter at about the one-hour point in the debate, when he seemed backed into the corner of "defending" Saddam Hussein. Watch how he punches his way out of that corner:
I'm not here to defend Saddam Hussein or his regime. I'm not. I'm here to defend the United States of America and our way of life and I'm here to tell you right now that if you support this war, if you support this occupation, you support a process that represents the erosion of what it means to be an American.

You represent a process that legitimizes illegal wiretaps in the name of national security. You represent a process that allows the President of the United States and his administration to deliberately falsify information when presenting it to the Congress of the United States – and I need to remind you that when you lie to the Congress in the conduct of your official duty that, sir, is a felony that constitutes a "high crime." That is what we talk about when we speak of impeachment.
Great stuff and, while you do need to sit though Hitchens' talking-point gibberish if you listen to the entire debate, it's extremely informative listening to Ritter and well worth your time.