TOKYO - Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter on Thursday dismissed U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's allegation before the U.N. Security Council that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction as "unsubstantiated" and based only on "circumstantial evidence."
"There's nothing here that's conclusive proof that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction," Ritter, a former U.S. Marine and outspoken critic of Washington's policy on Iraq who participated in U.N. weapons inspections there from 1991 to 1998, told Kyodo News in an interview.
"Everything in here is circumstantial, everything in here mirrors the kind of allegations the U.S. has made in the past in regard to Iraq's weapons program," he said.
Powell on Wednesday presented what he described as "irrefutable and undeniable" evidence that Iraq has been deceiving U.N. arms inspectors and hiding banned weapons. He played intercepted telephone conversations between Iraqi officials and showed satellite photos as part of the U.S. drive to convince the world of the need to disarm Iraq, by military force if necessary.
"He just hits you, hits you, hits you with circumstantial evidence, and he confuses people - and he lied, he lied to people, he misled people," Ritter said of Powell.
Ritter argued that the United States is giving weapons inspectors too little time to do their job.
He said many things in Powell's presentation should be properly investigated, such as a Nov 26 communications intercept in which two senior Iraqi military officers were overheard talking about the need to hide from U.N. weapons inspectors a "modified vehicle" made by an Iraqi company that Powell said is "well known to have been involved in prohibited weapons systems activity."
"What vehicle? I mean, obviously Colin Powell's concerned, he presented it, so let's find out what the vehicle is - but let's not bomb Iraq based upon that," Ritter said.
Ritter also questioned the veracity of Powell's allegation that Iraq still possesses vast amounts of anthrax and described as irrelevant his repeated references to dry powder anthrax contained in envelopes and sent through the U.S. postal system in the fall of 2001, which killed two people and created a national panic.
"What anthrax is he talking about?" he said, adding that Iraq is only known to have produced liquid bulk anthrax, which has a shelf life of only three years.
He said the last known batch of liquid bulk anthrax was produced in 1991 at a state-owned factory blown up in 1996.
"Colin Powell holds up a vial of dry powder anthrax and he makes allusions to the attack in the United States through the letters. That was U.S. government anthrax! It had nothing to do with Iraq," Ritter said.
Ritter accused Powell of engaging in "classic bait-and-switch" in his U.N. presentation, catching his listeners' attention with one piece of information and then putting up an irrelevant photograph "to make them think the two are the same when they're not."
"I mean, the photographs are real but what do the photographs show," he said. "The Powell presentation is not evidence...It's a very confusing presentation. What does it mean? What does it represent? How does it all link up? It doesn't link up."
"Iraq, anthrax, vial, dry powder - what connection do they have? None," he said.
Ritter termed a "fabrication" Powell's assertion that Iraq may have 18 trucks from which it can produce biological agents such as anthrax or botulinum toxin, and noted that U.N. inspectors who followed up on such U.S. intelligence based on defectors' testimony were only able to find two trucks used for testing food.
"They had nothing to do with biological laboratories. That's what (U.N. chief inspector) Hans Blix says. He says, 'There's no mobile lab."'
"You know who came up with the idea of mobile trucks? The inspectors...We sat back one day and said, 'If we were the Iraqis, how would we hide biological production? We'd put them on trucks,"' Ritter said.
"So we designed it and we went out looking for them. But the problem is, you look for something that you have no evidence exists, but by postulating the existence you create the perception of existence. Now we look for trucks...and we don't find them," he said.
In his presentation, Powell spoke of the futility of trying to find the trucks in question among the thousands that travel Iraqi roads daily without Baghdad voluntarily surrendering the information.
Ritter, however, said Powell was merely trying to create an impression that U.N. inspections could never work.
"You can never expect the inspectors to find these 18 trucks," he said, because "these trucks don't exist."
Defectors' reports, he said, could be misleading, especially those coming from people associated with the opposition Iraqi National Congress, who he said could have been "pre-briefed in advance to tell lies."
"Are these legitimate defectors or are they deliberately out there falsifying testimony? I don't know. What I do know is I'm not willing to put American lives on the line based on the testimony from an Iraqi defector. I want something a little bit more solid than that," Ritter said.
But he stressed he is not arguing that Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction - merely that the U.N. inspectors should be given sufficient time to do their job in Iraq and make a final determination based on solid evidence. (Kyodo News)