Statement of Rep. John Conyers, Jr. – Congressional Teach-In on Iraq – PDF

1998 Conyers Statement – Congressional Teach-In on Iraq

I want to thank all of you for coming today. Before I introduce the speakers and describe the format of this event, let me say something about developments over the last few days, beginning with a few words about the fruits of diplomacy and the limb they require us to go out on.

The agreement brokered by Secretary General Kofi Annan has averted a needless military action destined for human tragedy and a probable political morass. The task now is to utilize the agreement as a basis for ensuring Iraqi compliance by building mutual confidence that contributes to long term stability in the region. I think the lesson is that smart diplomacy makes smart policy.

No one ever doubted that the United States had the ability and will to back up its statements with overwhelming military force. What makes this agreement important is that it demonstrates that international law can be used as an effective instrument of promoting cooperation and building peace.

International law, however, is an instrument of consensus. I take strong issue with President Clinton’s assertion that future unilateral military action would be either politically prudent or within the framework of a body of law intended to act as an instrument of peace. The preamble to the United Nations Charter states that the purpose of the UN is to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” That goal does not have to contradict the methods we employ to get Saddam Hussein to comply with inspections.

I would urge the United Nations Security Council, in its deliberations about what measures are appropriate to enforce any kind of violation of this new agreement to insist on a multilateral component to enforcement. The United States Congress should do the same, as well as making clear the necessity for specific and prior approval for any future military action. To ensure that Congress fulfills the responsibility to have that debate, I am announcing today my support for Congressman Ron Paul’s (R-TX) bill, H.R. 3208, which would prevent any Pentagon funds from being spent for offensive operations against Iraq without specific authorization from Congress.

I also think there are several important lessons for the American public about the Gulf War, the most important of which is that our military establishment obscures the truth in order to mislead the public. For example, we all remember the glorious success of the Patriot Missile, right? As chairman of the Government Operations Committee, I discovered that possibly only one (and probably not many more than that) out of the 159 missiles fired were successful interceptions. On top of that, the Air Force admitted that about 70% of the bombs dropped on Iraq missed their targets!

What we know now about the Gulf War undermines the notion that we can bomb Iraq into compliance, that technology can prevent civilian deaths, and therefore that the US can attack Saddam Hussein without attacking the Iraqi people. As elected representatives of the American public, we need to scrupulously examine any justifications for an act of war, and stand on vigilant watch for a credibility gap which can decrease confidence in government at home and undermine the spirit of consensus abroad.

We also need to be more cautious about our export policies and stop sending weapons to undemocratic regimes. This needs to be an important component of any long term policy towards the region. The US and Britain gave Saddam Hussein a stick of dynamite, then we got mad at him because he figured out where to get the matches to light it.

Now a few words about the format. We’ve called this a teach-in because it conveys the idea that facts and opinions about Iraq are being brought to the attention of Congress. Also, we wanted to maximize the ability for our audience to interact with our discussants.

First each discussant will make a brief statement, and then there will be an exchange among them so that we are all starting off from the same set of information and ideas. Then we will open it up for discussion and I urge you to be as considerate as possible in your participation so that as many people as possible get a chance to speak.

I would like to thank the Institute for Policy Studies and the Fourth Freedom Forum for all their help putting this event together. I also would like to mention Peace Action, Women’s Action for New Directions, and Women’s Strike for Peace who have all been active in educating the public about the likely consequences of military action against Iraq.

There are many distinguished and knowledgeable people in the room I’d like to recognize, but let me begin by introducing our discussants who will lead off today.

Raymond Zilinskas is a professor at University of Maryland’s Biotechnology Institute. He served on two United Nations weapons inspection teams in Iraq.

Michael Ratner is an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City. I enjoy working with the Center on Haiti, police brutality and many other issues and I am glad Mr. Ratner could join us today.

Jules Lobel is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and also lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights. He was co-counsel with Mr. Ratner in the landmark suit Dellums v. Bush (1990) ordering President Bush to obtain prior Congressional authorization to attack Iraq.

Ambassador Clovis Maksoud is a professor at American University and Director of its Center for the Study of the Global South. He is a former Arab League ambassador to the United States and to the United Nations.

Professor Peter Pellett is Chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Dr. Pellett led the recent “Food and Nutrition Assessment Mission” to Iraq on behalf of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Dr. Phyllis Bennis is a Middle East expert and a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Zainab Salbi is an Iraqi-American who has been active in the exile community and works on women’s issues and human rights concerns.

There are many others in attendance today such as my good friend Jim Zogby from the Arab American Institute, and I look forward to hearing from you all. I want to thank everyone for joining us, and I would like to start with our first speaker.

Related: Correspondence with Rep. John Conyers, Jr. Regarding US Right to Bomb Iraq