The Magazine

Not So Innocents Abroad

Oct 14, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 05 • By DAVID TELL, FOR THE EDITORS
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It is true, sort of, that McDermott and his friend "were in that war." Each man wore his nation's uniform during the late 1960s, McDermott as a psychiatrist at Long Beach Naval Station and Bonior as an Air Force cook stationed elsewhere in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. But it is not at all true that denunciations of their recent visit to Iraq are principally grounded in ignorance about the horrors of combat. After all, no more prominent man has any more forcefully complained about Bonior and McDermott's adventures in Baghdad than Sen. John McCain, who, though he was nothing so exalted as a cook or a psychiatrist during the Vietnam War, nevertheless seems adequately qualified to call it "reprehensible" that two members of the House would dare "give comfort to the enemy."

In any case, Bonior and McDermott's status as veterans should be quite beside the point. As should their undisputed "American right" to play Ezra Pound to Saddam Hussein's Benito Mussolini. Their trip was an outrageous breach of official responsibility. Outrageous, in fact, to an extent only fractionally reflected in the random chatter it has so far occasioned. McDermott calling President Bush a liar on a television hookup from Baghdad was the least of it, really.

In Basra, he and Bonior as much as charged the United States with war crimes in connection with the first, 1991 invasion of Iraq. Asked by reporters about Saddam's suspected pursuit of an atomic bomb, Bonior replied that "the only nuclear piece that we've been able to detect here...is an incredible, unconscionable increase in leukemias and lymphomas for children that have been affected by this, the uranium that has been part of our weapons system that was dropped here." Bonior's (approving) reference was to Iraqi allegations that trace residues from U.S. explosive shells hardened by low-radiation "depleted uranium" have widely poisoned Persian Gulf War battlefields. We have done a "horrendous, a barbaric, horrific thing," Bonior said, and "the world community needs to know about it."

The world community already knows about "it," actually. At least 13 Western governments have sent scientific teams to analyze the environmental health effects of depleted-uranium munitions employed in wartime. So has the U.N. And the World Health Organization. And the European Commission. And the British Royal Society. And no such inquiry has ever produced a speck of evidence to substantiate the charges David Bonior would like to resuscitate on behalf of "the children" in Iraq.

On behalf of the grownups now running the government of Iraq, Bonior and McDermott have offered some startlingly aggressive character witness. At any point during their tour, did the congressmen see signs that Saddam Hussein might pose an imminent threat to America and its people? Mr. McDermott: "I mean, after the 7th of December, 1941, that wasn't any question. There was a clear reason [for war]. What is the clear reason here?" Could it be that such a "reason" has been hidden from the congressmen's view? Mr. McDermott, again: "We've gone and looked at diarrhea clinics, we've looked at hospitals taking care of kids who have cancer and so forth, and we've looked at water filtration plants. We have had complete access to anything we want here, and they have not kept us from anything we asked to do." Isn't it true, though, that the Iraqis are insisting that international observers be barred from more than 1,000 government installations, on 12 square miles of total property? Those are mosques, explains Mr. Bonior: "They don't want to be having knocks on the door during prayer." And if they turn out not to be mosques? If it turns out Iraq maintains a weapons of mass destruction program, would a U.S.-led preemptive assault be justified then? Mr. Bonior, again: "No. I wouldn't support military action in this endeavor at all."

Even as McDermott and Bonior were still on the ground in Baghdad, issuing their all's well cry, Iraqi vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan was telling the world, by way of Lebanese television, that his government reserved the right to launch a preemptive first strike--against American and allied targets, military or civilian, anywhere in the world. Where war is concerned, Ramadan promised, "we'll decide when it happens." Iraq "has the right to confront the aggressors on its land and in any place the aggressors are found. An enemy is an enemy....Any American, British, or Zionist interests on Arab land or within reach of Arabs, wherever they are, I consider as legitimate."

Ramadan's threat does not apply to Reps. Bonior and McDermott, presumably.