Interview with Wolf Blitzer on Iraq

CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS

Civilians Working for U.S. Military Gunned Down in Kuwait; Skiers Killed in Avalanche in British Columbia

Aired January 21, 2003 – 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

Link to full transcript: http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0301/21/wbr.00.html

And as the Bush administration’s drum beat for possibility of war against Saddam Hussein grows louder by the day, Gulf War veterans are speaking out. Some flat out oppose a new war with Iraq, while others say war should be a last resort. And of course, many veterans strongly support President Bush’s hardline policy.

Joining me now to talk about all of this are two Gulf War veterans, Eric Gustafson and Charles Sheehan-Miles. Thanks very much to both of you for joining us.

Both of you strongly oppose the president when it comes to the possibility of war. Charles, tell us why.

CHARLES SHEEHAN-MILES, GULF WAR VETERAN: What it comes down to, we’ve talked a lot about policy and geopolitics and what’s happening there, but it’s going to be infantrymen and tankers on the ground who are going to have to fight this war. They’re going be the ones who are going to be dying.

BLITZER: And you fought in the first Gulf War, in the army. Both of you served in the army, both of you were in Saudi Arabia in that flak (ph) into Iraq. But isn’t the commander in chief in the best position to make those kinds of decisions? That’s what a lot of your fellow veterans would argue.

SHEEHAN-MILES: Sure. We do live in a democracy and we need to make the argument — as citizens we need to make the argument that war should be the last resort.

The big concern here is whether or not those troops are going to be dying unnecessarily.

BLITZER: Eric, why did you get so actively involved in this opposition to the war?

ERIC GUSTAFSON, GULF WAR VETERAN: Well, I think that there’s safeguards within the Constitution that prevents us from getting into unnecessary wars. And in this case those requirements have not been met.

There’s no clear and present danger that’s been established. It hasn’t been — the evidence hasn’t been provided to the American public, much alone even Congress. And so the feeling is that there’s just no sense of justice this time like there was in 1991.

BLITZER: But you don’t believe Saddam Hussein still has weapons of mass destruction, that potentially could endanger U.S. national security interests?

GUSTAFSON: I think that there’s a distinct possibility that Iraq has retained some of its past weapons. I don’t think that poses a direct threat to the shores of the United States.

But I do agree; I think the pressure has to remain. And that’s why 2-to-1 Americans want the inspection process to work, wants the president to work through the U.N.

BLITZER: Now, you’re expressing, obviously — Both of you are expressing strong opposition. What else are you doing, Charles in order to try to generate opposition to a potential war?

SHEEHAN-MILES: The biggest piece right now is we’re gathering up as many veterans as we can, veterans of all wars, to basically speak out, to attend rallies, to sign letters.

BLITZER: How much support are you generating?

SHEEHAN-MILES: Well, we’re in touch with thousands of veterans. There’s a couple of different organizations out there that are working on this. Of course, there’s Veterans for Peace, but there’s also Veterans for Common Sense, which we formed, and then another group.

Between us we’ve got many, many thousands of veterans who are raising concerns here. Not necessarily all saying no war ever, but they are saying no war unless it’s the absolute last resort.

BLITZER: So it’s not as if you’re a pacifist, Eric, and you oppose all war? I mean, in this particular case, it might come down to the moment where you would support the president if he decides to go to war against Saddam Hussein. Is that your position?

GUSTAFSON: Yes. If the case can be made, then I would support the president. But just feeling that the case has not been made, and also fearing what the consequences might be.

BLITZER: Talk about that, because I know neither one of you suffer from what’s commonly called Gulf War Syndrome, but tens of thousands of other U.S. troops who served in the Persian Gulf did come home sick.

GUSTAFSON: There’s a prevailing perception that it was a clean war, casualty free, and we’ve learned in over a decade since that it wasn’t, that over 159,000 Gulf War veterans received payments from the Veterans Administration for injuries, illnesses and disabilities that are directly connected to their Gulf War service.

I, myself, was exposed to the fallout of chemical weapons when the Comacia (ph) ammunition dump was blown up in Southern Iraq. And to this day, I don’t know how that might impact my health in the future.

BLITZER: But do you have any symptoms, any complications, as of right now?

GUSTAFSON: So far I’ve been lucky.

BLITZER: Were you exposed to any kind of dangerous material along those lines?

SHEEHAN-MILES: You know, it’s hard to say. Our chemical alarm certainly went off, and if you listen…

BLITZER: When you say that, you were with the 24th Mechanized Infantry under General Barry McCaffrey that went in, that so-called left hook into southern Iraq.

SHEEHAN-MILES: Right.

BLITZER: And when you say your chemical alarms went off, what does that mean?

SHEEHAN-MILES: Well, actually, as soon as the air war started, within a day or so, the alarms we had positioned around our camp to detect nerve gas started alarming.

And of course, what you do is you suit up and then you test and you check to make sure, and a lot of those times those tests came back negative.

And the Pentagon as maintained for many years that all of those were false alarms. What’s interesting about it is that a recent audit that was done internally to the army shows that many of those alarms are still malfunctioning, many of the suits are broken, many of the masks don’t work. And so the troops are going to be facing many of the same exposures we did then.

BLITZER: Well, let’s hope they can fix that if, in fact, it comes down to another war.

Charles and Eric, thanks so much for joining us.

GUSTAFSON: Thank you.

SHEEHAN-MILES: Thank you.

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