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Arundhati Roy, Hans Von Sponeck Respond to Bush’s State of the Union on Iraq

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In his State of the Union address, Bush claimed if the US did not invade Iraq, “the dictator’s weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day.” He did not acknowledge, however, that U.S. inspectors have uncovered no unconventional weapons.
A year ago at the 2003 State of the Union, Bush made the case for war by claiming that Iraq had 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tones of sarin, mustard and VX nerve gas and 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. After 10 months of weapons searches, none of this has been uncovered. We hear from acclaimed Indian author and activist Arundhati Roy and Hans Von Sponeck, the former head of the UN mission to Iraq. [includes transcript]

  • Arundhati Roy, acclaimed Indian author and activist, who is recently back from the World Social Forum in Bombay, India.
  • Hans Von Sponeck, is a former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations. In the late 1990s, he was the coordinator of the United Nations Humanitarian Mission in Iraq. He joins us from Geneva, Switzerland.

Behind Bush’s State of the Union: Part I of a Five-Part Special

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StoryJan 21, 2004A Look at Bush’s Iraq Lies in the State of the Union and Truth-Telling In the Media
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This from The Independent of Britain, it’s titled, “George w. Bush and the real State of the Union.” 232, the number of combat deaths in Iraq between May 2003 and May 2004. 501, the number of American servicemen to die in Iraq so far. Zero number of American combat deaths in Germany after the Nazis surrendered to the allies in may, 1945. Zero, number of coffins of dead soldiers returning home from Iraq that the Bush administration has allowed to be photographed. Zero, number of funerals or memorials that president Bush has attended for soldiers killed in Iraq. 100–the number of fund-raisers attended by Bush or vice President Dick Cheney in 2003. Two, the number of nations that Bush has attacked and taken over since coming into the White House. 9.2, the average number of American soldiers wounded in Iraq each day since the invasion began. 1.6, the average number of American soldiers killed in Iraq per day since hostilities began. 16,000, the approximate number of Iraqis killed since the start of the war. 10,000, the approximate number of Iraqi civilians killed since the beginning of the conflict. 100 billion dollars, estimated cost of the war in Iraq to American citizens by the end of 2003. 36%, increase in the number of desertions from the U.S. Army since 1999. 92%, percentage of Iraq’s urban areas that had access to drinkable water a year ago. 60%, the percentage of Iraq’s urban areas that have access to drinkable water today. And 130, the number of countries out of a total of 191 recognized by the United Nations with an American military presence. Let’s go to an excerpt of president Bush’s state of the union address last night.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: From the beginning, America has sought international support for our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. And we have gained much support. There is a difference, however. Between leading a coalition of many nations, and submitting to the objections of a few, America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush addressing the nation last night. And we have a roundtable of people from around the world who will discuss what president Bush had to say. We’ll go to India to speak with Arundhati Roy, who has just come from the World Social Forum that’s taking place in Bombay. We’ll speak with the former U.N. Assistant Secretary General, Hans von Sponeck, who is in charge of the U.N. Food for Oil program until he resigns. We’ll speak with a leading peace activist in this country, Leslie Cagan, and with the head of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero. We’ll speak with media critic, Norman Solomon and Brendan Fay a fierce proponent of gay marriage, responding to one of the major planks in president Bush’s state of the union address and also bid for the presidency. We’ll have more discussions as well. But first a little more from president Bush.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The work of building a new Iraq is hard, and it is right and America’s always been willing to do what it takes for what it right. Last January, Iraq’s only law was the whim of one brutal man. Today our coalition is working with the Iraqi governing council to draft a basic law with a bill of rights. We’re working with Iraqis in the United Nations to prepare for a transition to full Iraqi sovereignty by the end of June. As democracy takes hold in Iraq, the enemies of freedom will do all in their power to spread violence and fear. They are trying to shake the will of our country, and our friends, but the United States of America will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins. The killers will fail, and the Iraqi people will live in freedom.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush, speaking to the joint session of congress last night, and to the nation. We first go to Arundhati Roy in India, just come from the World Social Forum where she, too, gave a major address to tens of thousands of people. Arundhati Roy, as you listen to president Bush, your thoughts?

ARUNDHATI ROY: The Iraqi people will earn freedom, but-

AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati, could you start again. We had a little trouble understanding what you were saying?

ARUNDHATI ROY: I said if you listen to the last sentence that he spoke, he said the killers will fail, and the Iraqi people will live in freedom. He sounds as if he’s on our side except we differ about who he means by the killer. Because at the World Social Forum, when the Iraqi people spoke, they said that the killers, they meant the government of the United States. Really, I have come from, you know, four days of really–there were people from Afghanistan and there were people from Iraq and people from Palestine, and each one of them, you know, had a completely different story about what was happening in their countries, to the picture that president Bush was seeking to portray in America.

AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati, we’re going to call you back on another phone and play a bit more of president Bush last night in his state of the union address.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Months of intense negotiations involving the United States and Great Britain succeeded with Libya, while 12 years of diplomacy with Iraq did not. And one reason is clear–for diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible, and no one can now doubt the word of America.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Hans von Sponeck, in Geneva. Hans von Sponeck is the Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations. In the late 1990’s, he was the coordinator of the humanitarian mission in Iraq. Welcome to Democracy Now!

HANS VON SPONECK: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to president Bush, saying nine months of negotiations involving the U.S and Britain succeeded with Libya. 12 years of diplomacy with Iraq did not.

HANS VON SPONECK: My immediate reaction is that there is truly a frightening disconnect between the rhetoric of president Bush and the reality, as it exists, as we see it, as you know it, as we know it in Europe, as the Iraqis know it, the reality outside the White House. I would say that president Bush’s assessment of that reality is really deeply, deeply flawed. One is presented with facts which really are fantasies. Very, very dangerous fantasies. One wonders whether there is an element of psychosis here in the White House. He still makes the points, which are long refuted by both United States institutions and internationally. For example, the issue of Iraq and al Qaeda, he repeats this–he refers to the Kaye report, even though his advisers, including Condoleezza Rice should have carefully read the Carnegie Foundation report which clearly makes the point that this was hype, there was nothing in that, there is no active biological, chemical or nuclear program that they have discovered, and it is cynical when one hears words like democracy is taking hold in Iraq, when day after day one sees the opposite. Only two days ago, Amy, there were 100,000 people on the streets in Baghdad. What were they asking for? They were asking for free elections, not forced selections.

Forced selections is exactly what Mr. Bremer and Ambassador Greenstock tried to suggest for support to the secretary general when they met him on Monday. The world in president Bush’s mind is changing for the better. Well, Arundhati Roy will tell you how it went in the Social Forum, but this morning here in Switzerland, Mary Robinson referred to the fact that the international scorecard on life for human race doesn’t look very good. And she said that having also just come back from Bombay, and Cancun, the difficult negotiations in Mexico on free trade. Well, they have shown very well that this world isn’t changing for the better, and if Mr. Bush believes it, then he lives in an unreal world. And maybe one more sentence here on the situation in Iraq. He continues to argue that it is only a few remnants of a thug called Saddam Hussein, and foreign terrorists that are responsible for the trouble that the poor U.S. G.Is and others are facing in Iraq. Well, that is another very, very dangerous illusion, because the anger of the Iraqi people, and I’m speaking regularly to Iraq from here in Geneva, the anger is widespread. And it’s getting wider and wider every day. So, the State of the Union speech, to me, was an example, a classic example of a self-serving statement that was void of reality, as we know it, as you know it, as many Americans are knowing it.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking with Hans von Sponeck, former U.N. Assistant Secretary General. We’ll be back with Arundhati Roy and our other guests in a minute. As we go now to another clip of president Bush in his State of the Union address.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Some in this chamber and in our country did not support the liberation of Iraq. Objections to war often come from principled motives, but let us be candid about the consequences of leaving Saddam Hussein in power. We are seeking all of the facts. Already the Kaye report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction related program activities, and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations. Had we failed to act, the dictator’s weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day. Had we failed to act, Security Council resolutions on Iraq would have been revealed as empty threats, weakening the United Nations and encouraging defiance by dictators around the world. Iraq’s torture chambers would still be filled with victims, terrified and innocent. The killing fields of Iraq, for hundreds of thousands of men and women and children vanished into the sands would still be known only to the killers. For all who love freedom and peace, the world without Saddam Hussein’s regime is a better and safer place.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush in his state of the union address. Arundhati Roy joining us from India just returned from Mumbai where she was at the World Social Forum. Tens of thousands gathered. A different address than you heard during this weekend, Arundhati Roy.

ARUNDHATI ROY: The four days of the World Social Forum were like a living, breathing testament to the fact that we weren’t out of line when we used the word psychosis to describe what’s going on. Because you had people from Iraq people from Afghanistan, people from Palestine, and this picture they portrayed of what was happening in their country, let alone in other countries across the world. It’s almost exactly the opposite you know. And let’s not forget that apart from the World Social Forum, on the 10th of this month, we read the news that the pentagon had disbanded its 400-strong military team that had scavenged a battle-torn Iraq looking for these weapons of mass destruction. But now, he calls it weapons of mass destruction program activities from weapons that could be deployed in 45 minutes, it’s become related program activities. So as I said before, it is not the lies, the quality of the lies that has become so insulting, it really is beyond argument now, you know, it’s really beyond being able to say anything, because the description of the kind of world that president Bush is proposing in America sounds like a nightmare, tracking terrorist threats, bombing airline passengers, homeland security department patrolling. Doesn’t it sound Orwellian and doesn’t it sound like something that people should run a mile from? It sounds like he’s trying to recreate Afghanistan with the Taliban there, you know, like this kind of religious right wing sentiment that’s overtaking everything in the world today.

AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati Roy speaking to us from Delhi, India, new Delhi, coming from Mumbai, where she was at the World Social Forum this past weekend which has gotten almost no attention in the United States.

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A Look at Bush’s Iraq Lies in the State of the Union and Truth-Telling In the Media

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