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Interview with Congressman Nick Rahall - 2002-09-19


Representative Nick Rahall was part of a four-person delegation that recently visited Baghdad. Mr. Rahall traveled to Iraq on a humanitarian mission, wanting to find out how he can assist the medical and nutritional needs of Iraqi citizens. He also met with Iraq Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. He was the first U.S. Congressman to visit Baghdad in several years. Mister Rahall is serving his 13th term representing the third district of West Virginia.

MR. BORGIDA:
Joining us live, U.S. Congressman Nick Rahall, a Democrat representing the State of West Virginia. Congressman Rahall was part of a delegation that just returned from Baghdad. The Institute of Public Accuracy sponsored that trip. Thanks so much, Congressman, for joining us today. I know it is a very busy day on Capitol Hill, and we appreciate your time.

MR. RAHALL:
Thank you, Dave. Good to be with you.

MR. BORGIDA:
Congressman, the reason you went on the trip at the outset was to get a sense of the health issues that the Iraqi people are facing. What did you learn about that, first, and then we'll get into the politics in a moment?

MR. RAHALL:
Yes, as you have mentioned, Dave, it was a humanitarian mission sponsored by the Institute for Public Accuracy. And what we found on the trip is that there is a great deal of suffering by the Iraqi people because of the effects of the sanctions that are in place and the residual effects of the war 12 years ago. We did visit a hospital after meeting with the Health Minister. We visited a hospital. We saw children that were malnourished. We saw others suffering from leukemia and/or other forms of cancer created by the harmful environment that has been created in that country.

In the meeting with the Health Director, he went over in detail the problems that the sanctions have created, with getting adequate medical supplies and medical equipment into the country, because of the ability of any country of the U.N. Security Council to veto the acceptance of such supplies into the country of Iraq.

We also met with the Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, for over two hours, and the Speaker of the National Assembly. On both Saturday and Sunday we had meetings with him.

MR. BORGIDA:
Congressman, you represent the State of West Virginia, as I noted a moment ago, and I believe you are the dean of the House delegation from West Virginia. What are your constituents telling you as you go home and have conversations with the people of West Virginia about what should be done about Saddam Hussein?

MR. RAHALL:
Well, they have a number of questions about this whole campaign on behalf of the Bush administration. They have their concerns about the security of this country, yes, but they wonder also about their own security here at home. They wonder about health care, about prescription drug coverage, about jobs, about our economy. What is this war going to cost? Is it going to detract from our domestic needs and problems that we have and that we need to solve here at home? They have those questions.

They see a lot of unanswered questions about the administration's effort in Iraq, not only the ones I've just mentioned but what is a post-Saddam era going to look like? Are we going to be bogged down in Baghdad for years, if not decades to come, trying to effect a regime change? What is the effects on the international war on terrorism, the coalition that President Bush has so effectively put together to fight that war, the true terrorists? What is the effect on that coalition?

MR. BORGIDA:
Congressman, I don't have to tell you, I'm sure you know, that the Bush administration is taking a rather tough approach. And of course the Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has been a point man on Capitol Hill. He appeared before the House Armed Services Committee today and he said there is no option now, no alternative, to getting Iraq to disarm. What is your view about that and how we can get to that point?

MR. RAHALL:
I delivered a tough message to the Iraqi leadership during my trip there as well. I told them that the only hope, the only hope, to avert another devastating defeat of their people -- and it will be a defeat -- is for them to accept U.N. weapons inspectors, unconditional and unfettered access to their country, allow them in, allow them the ability to inspect the mosques, the presidential palaces, the school buildings, without any questions asked by Iraqi security people.

The Iraqis have come partway toward meeting that condition. They have said, unconditionally, inspectors can return to the country. But I recognize that they have not gone all the way just yet. And I certainly recognize the lies and deceptions that Saddam Hussein is guilty of in the past.

But here is some effort on their part, from a people who see these statements from Cheney and Rumsfeld, that it doesn't matter what they do, we're going to bomb anyway. You know, human nature tells you, then why should I succumb and agree to what you're asking me, when you're going to bomb me anyway? That's basically the message they're getting out of Washington. So, here they've come a small way. It's a positive step in the right direction. And I hate to see this administration just completely slam the door back in their face without any willingness to look at their proposal and discuss it further with them.

What's wrong with a dialogue? There is no imminent threat here. I had a security briefing today for over two hours with the CIA and DIA. There wasn't a thing more I hadn't seen in the newspapers. As a matter of fact, I could learn more by reading the newspapers. And if they said it one time, they said it over and over, there is no link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. It's different sects of the Muslim religion. They have their own agendas. So, what is the evidence here that pushes us to do this immediately, six weeks before election day?

MR. BORGIDA:
Congressman, I'm going to play the role of the devil's advocate. That's what I do here. And I have to tell you that the Bush administration is already calling the Iraqi offer a ploy. And as you know, the President spoke at the United Nations and said that Saddam Hussein has been defying and defying and defying the United Nations. So where would you have us go, Congressman, should inspectors go back to Iraq and not come back totally satisfied with the level of access they got?

MR. RAHALL:
I submit we ought to give them that chance to go back in and find out. If a truly objective set of weapons inspectors comes back and tells us there are WMD and there is a nuclear arsenal poised and ready to attack the United States, then it's over, Saddam, it's over, buddy. Let's go in, let's do it. I would be the first to say we ought to do that.

MR. BORGIDA:
Quickly, Congressman, in about 30 seconds or so, you, I believe, were supportive of the Gulf War 10 years ago.

MR. RAHALL:
Yes.

MR. BORGIDA:
Any different situation now between the Gulf War and now?

MR. RAHALL:
Yes. We had a broad coalition of support, U.N. Security Council support. President Bush, the 1st, made the case very clearly for the liberation of Kuwait. Here the case has not been made -- not anywhere near that clear -- and we do not have international broad support for this effort.

MR. BORGIDA:
U.S. Congressman Nick Rahall, Democrat from the State of West Virginia, just back in Washington from a trip to Baghdad. Congressman, we really appreciate the time you've taken to join us today.

MR. RAHALL:
Thank you, Dave.

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