Former CIA agent, and U.S. Army intelligence officer Ray McGovern gave a speech that briefly turned into a fiery debate Tuesday in Forum at the Kansas State University Student Union.
McGovern, a prominent political activist, spoke as part of the 2008-09 Peace and Justice lecture series about the intelligence leading to the Iraq War. He argued that members of the Bush Administration knowingly used bad intelligence and ignored other information because they were determined to go to war with the oil rich nation.
In a question-and-answer session after his speech, audience member and assistant professor of economics at K-State, Mohaned Talib Al-Hamdi, stood up and spoke out against McGovern's protest of the war in Iraq.
Al-Hamdi, a native Iraqi, came to the United States in 1992 after spending over a year in one of Saddam Hussein's concentration camps. Al-Hamdi also said he was a victim of Hussein's chemical attacks which hit near his home in the southland marshes of Iraq in 1987.
Yelling from across the room, Al-Hamdi attacked McGovern for condemning the war in Iraq.
"What does Mr. McGovern Do?" Al-Hamdi charged. "He criticized people of fixing the intelligence. We know Saddam Hussien had chemical weapons and weapons of mass destruction and a nuclear program and the fact that he used them. He used them against his own people, he used them against Iranians. I am one of the people that they were used against."
McGovern responded that all of Hussein's weapons of mass destruction were destroyed in 1991. The U.S. knew this, he said, because one of Hussein's sons, who had been in charge of destroying the weapons, defected to the United States.
"I have the utmost grief for the people who suffered as a result of the injustice there," McGovern responded after his speech. "Maybe he lost family members, but if you look at what happened since we invaded, there are many more people that have lost their heritage."
McGovern said estimates show between 300,000 and 1 million Iraqis have died because of the war, and another 6 million have been displaced.
Al-Hamdi argued that the war was necessary to achieve regime change.
"I've been in jails of Saddam Hussein, and so don't stand here and say that this war is illegitimate," Al-Hamdi told McGovern. "You need to be living in Iraq to know what kind of regime it is."
While McGovern said he did not disagree that Hussein was a dangerous and terrible man, he was more concerned with the flaws in US policy.
"[Al-Hamdi's] comments are a result of his personal experience under Saddam Hussein, and I respect that," McGovern said. "But [his comments] didn't say anything about what U.S. policy has done since then."
Al-Hamdi did not stay long after McGovern told him to sit down and respsect the rest of the audience. With the exception of Al-Hamdi, the audience appeared very receptive to McGovern's lecture, as many stayed well after the conclusion of his speech to ask questions and share stories with the speaker.
McGovern made several charges against the reasoning and legality of invading Iraq. He said U.S. officials had intelligence from reliable Iraqi defectors that Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, but George Bush ignored the information so he could invade Iraq.
"There was no evidence at all that there were weapons of mass destrucion." He said. "The president was just hell-bent and determined to do it."
McGovern also argued that the Iraq War could be defined as a war of aggression, and a war crime.
The speech was sponsored by several groups, including the Manhattan Alliance for Peace nd Justice and the K-State Alliance for Peace and Justice.
"We are already planning for a post-inauguration effort to organize citizens of this, the second congressional district, especially for the withdrawal from troops from Iraq and the shifting of spending from the military to urgent domestic needs," said Carol Barta, chair of MAPJ.