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January 18, 2007

Target Iran: Former UN Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter and Investigative Journalist Seymour Hersh on White House Plans for Regime Change

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

The Pentagon has announced plans to move additional warships and strike aircraft into the Persian Gulf region to be within striking range of Iran. We air an in-depth discussion between two of the leading critical voices on the Bush administration’s policy in Iran: former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, author of "Target Iran: The Truth About the White House's Plans for Regime Change", and Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist for The New Yorker magazine. [includes rush transcript]

We turn now to the latest on Iran – the New York Times is reporting the United States and Britain will soon move additional warships and strike aircraft into the Persian Gulf region to be within striking range of Iran. Senior U.S. officers told the paper that the increase in naval power should not be viewed as preparations for any offensive strike against Iran. But they acknowledged that the ability to hit Iran would be increased.

The aircraft carrier Eisenhower and its strike group entered the Persian Gulf on Dec. 11. Another aircraft carrier, the Stennis, is expected to depart for the Gulf within the next month. The military said it is also taking steps to prevent Iran from blocking oil shipments from the Gulf.

Well today on Democracy Now we present an in-depth discussion between two figures who have critical of the Bush administration’s policy on Iran. Scott Ritter is a former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq. He recently wrote the book "Target Iran: The Truth About the White House's Plans for Regime Change." Seymour Hersh is a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist for The New Yorker magazine. In October, Scott Ritter and Seymour Hersh held a public conversation in New York about Scott Ritter’s new book.

* Scott Ritter. Former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq. His new book is "Target Iran: The Truth About the White House's Plans for Regime Change."

* Seymour Hersh. Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist for The New Yorker magazine.


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AMY GOODMAN: Today on a Democracy Now!, we present an in-depth discussion between two figures who have been very critical of the Bush administration's policy on Iran. Scott Ritter is a former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq. He recently wrote the book, Target Iran: The Truth About the White House’s Plans for Regime Change. Seymour Hersh is the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist for the New Yorker magazine. In October, Scott Ritter and Seymour Hersh held a public conversation in New York about Scott Ritter's new book. Seymour Hersh began the conversation.

SEYMOUR HERSH: So, Scott, in your book you write at some point -- you list a -- you have an account of some of the things that are going on today inside Iran. You say Israel and the United States were carrying out -- this is on page 147, etc. -- were carrying out a full-court press to try and identify and locate secret nuclear facilities inside Iran. Israel made heavy use of its connections to the Iraqi Kurdistan and to Azerbaijan to set up covert intelligence cells inside Iran, whose work was allegedly supplemented with specially trained commandos entering Iran disguised as local villagers.

The United States was conducting similar operations using Iranian opposition forces, in particular the MEK -- that’s the Mujahideen cult, which is a terrorist group, defined by us as an at-one-time anti-Saddam, now anti-Iran group that works very closely still with us, despite its being listed as a terrorist group.

And you describe using opposition forces inside Iran and the MEK to conduct cross-border operations under the supervision of the CIA. The US has also made use of its considerable technical intelligence-collection capabilities, focusing the attention of imagery and electronic eavesdropping satellites, etc., for operating along Iran’s periphery. The problem was that neither the Israelis nor the United States could detect any activity whatsoever that could point to a definitive location on the ground where secret nuclear weapons activity was taking place.

A couple of questions. Says who? I haven’t read this in the New York Times. You don’t source it. What’s the source? And what do you know? And how do you know this?

SCOTT RITTER: Well, as I mentioned in the back, where I talk about sources, most of that information is readily available in the press -- not the American press. You’re not going to read about it in the New York Times, you’re not going to read about it in the Washington Post, you probably won’t read about it in most mainstream English-language newspapers. But, you know, we used to have an organization in the CIA called FBIS, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, that would translate the newspapers of the various nations around the world to give you literally a bird's-eye view of what’s going on in that country.

So if you read the Azeri press, for instance, you’ll find out that the Israeli Mossad has upped its efforts to build a station in Azerbaijan. And the Azeri press will delve into that more. Why does the Mossad want to build a station operating? There’s a couple reasons. One, the Mossad is working with the Azeri population. You know, there is a Jewish minority in Azerbaijan that has emigrated to Israel. And so, there’s a number of Azeri Israelis that the Israeli government now is bringing back to Azerbaijan to work on this issue. This is spelled out in the Azeri press, so if you want to get some good insights, read the Azeri press. Read the Turkish press. The Turkish press will also talk about what’s going on in Iran and Azerbaijan. This will give you the leads.

And then, because I’m not an active in-service intelligence officer anymore, I will take these leads and call friends who are active serving intelligence officers. And while they’re not going to divulge classified information, I’ll say, “Hey, I read something, where certain activities are taking place. Can you comment on this news?? We’ll sit down over some beers, and they’ll comment. And then you dig even further. And I’ll tell you that I wrote the book before I went to Iran. But when I got to Iran and I talked to Revolutionary Guard commanders, what surprised me is that they knew all this. The Iranians were very cognizant of what was going on in the Azeri section of Iran, in the Kurdish section. They could quote, you know, chapter and verse about what the CIA is up to, what the Israelis are up to.

But, you know, again, the bottom line is, why don’t I footnote this? For probably the same reason why a lot of people don’t footnote things, because if I commit to a specific piece of information coming from a specific written source, that means that another piece of information that I don’t commit to a specific written source, where did that come from? Well, maybe it came from a human source. Now, I’ve just made it easier in this day and age for those who don’t want factual information to get in the hands of the average American citizen, those who want to keep American foreign policy and national security policy secret from the Americans they are supposed to be protecting. They’ll go after these people, and you know they go after these people. And I’m going to do everything I can to ensure that I don’t facilitate harm coming to those who have the courage to assist me in trying to get facts out to people so they can know more about this problem we call Iran.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Why doesn’t my colleagues in the American press do better with this story?

SCOTT RITTER: One of the big problems is -- and here goes the grenade -- Israel. The second you mention the word “Israel,? the nation Israel, the concept Israel, many in the American press become very defensive. We're not allowed to be highly critical of the state of Israel. And the other thing we're not allowed to do is discuss the notion that Israel and the notion of Israeli interests may in fact be dictating what America is doing, that what we're doing in the Middle East may not be to the benefit of America's national security, but to Israel's national security. But, see, we don’t want to talk about that, because one of the great success stories out there is the pro-Israeli lobby that has successfully enabled themselves to blend the two together, so that when we speak of Israeli interests, they say, “No, we're speaking of American interests.?

It’s interesting that AIPAC and other elements of the Israeli lobby don’t have to register as agents of a foreign government. It would be nice if they did, because then we’d know when they’re advocating on behalf of Israel or they're advocating on behalf of the United States of America.

I would challenge the New York Times to sit down and do a critical story on Israel, on the role of Israel's influence, the role that Israel plays in influencing American foreign policy. There’s nothing wrong with Israel trying to influence American foreign policy. Let me make that clear. The British seek to influence our foreign policy. The French seek to influence our foreign policy. The Saudis seek to influence our foreign policy. The difference is, when they do this and they bring American citizens into play, these Americans, once they take the money of a foreign government and they advocate on behalf of that foreign government, they register themselves as an agent of that government, so we know where they're coming from. That’s all I ask the Israelis to do. Let us know where you’re coming from, because stop confusing the American public that Israel's interests are necessarily America's interests.

I have to tell you right now, Israel has a viable, valid concern about Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. If I were an Israeli, I would be extremely concerned about Hezbollah, and I would want to do everything possible to nullify that organization. As an American, I will tell you, Hezbollah does not threaten the national security of the United States of America one iota. So we should not be talking about using American military forces to deal with the Hezbollah issue. That is an Israeli problem. And yet, you’ll see the New York Times, the Washington Post and other media outlets confusing the issue. They want us to believe that Hezbollah is an American problem. It isn’t, ladies and gentleman. Hezbollah was created three years after Israel invaded Lebanon, not three years after the United States invaded Lebanon. And Hezbollah’s sole purpose was to liberate southern Lebanon from Israeli occupation. I’m not here to condone or sing high praises in virtue for Hezbollah. But I’m here to tell you right now, Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization that threatens the security of the United States of America.

AMY GOODMAN: Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, in conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh. We’ll be back with them in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We return to the conversation at the Ethical Culture Society between Scott Ritter and Seymour Hersh. Scott Ritter is author of the book, Target Iran: The Truth About the White House’s Plans for Regime Change. Seymour Hersh is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist with the New Yorker magazine. This is Seymour Hersh.

SEYMOUR HERSH: So, in your book, speaking of Israel, it’s sort of interesting reading through it. Let’s see. Essentially, you describe Israel as viewing Iran -- the notion of an Iranian nuclear weapon as an existential threat. You describe how Israel collects intelligence -- we could also call it “spies? -- on the International Atomic Energy Agency. This is all sort of revelatory stuff, in a way -- not the first part, but certainly this, that Israel has penetrated and worked very closely with people inside the IAEA, has apartments, safe houses in Vienna, where it does business and basically operates politically inside the IAEA.

Three, you describe in great detail -- again, I think in more detail than has ever been made public -- how much the Israelis have worked very closely with the MEK, the cult, this terrorist group that’s now pretty much in play again -- we’ll get to that in a minute -- in not only in terms of supporting it and urging us, the United States, to support it, but also much of the intelligence, most of the main things that were learned in this administration about the Iranian nuclear weapons programs, were announced by MEK officials over the years, particularly in August of 2002. There was a major announcement of the underground facilities, a place that many of you now know, Natans. And the extent of digging inside Iran was made public by the MEK. And you write in your book repeatedly how Israel was the source for that intelligence and basically was using the MEK to proselytize and propagandize in America. You also describe, as we said earlier, extremely active operations by Israel inside Iran, running agents, etc., collecting intelligence.

So, tell us about you and Israel. Are you anti-Semitic? Are you anti-Israel? I know you served there. Tell us about it.

SCOTT RITTER: Well, first of all, I am not anti-Semitic, and I’m definitely not anti-Israeli.

SEYMOUR HERSH: You’re certainly not a self-hating Jew, let's make that clear.

SCOTT RITTER: No, I could be a self-hating goyim, but... Unless there’s something in my past we haven’t uncovered yet.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Like some senators, right?

SCOTT RITTER: But it’s irrelevant. The bottom line is I consider myself to be a friend of the state of Israel. I consider myself to be a true friend of the Israeli people. But I define friendship as someone who takes care of a friend, who just doesn’t use or exploit a friend. And, you know, there’s that old adage: friends don’t let friends drive drunk. We used to use that in the anti-drug campaign, the anti-alcohol campaign. That’s how I view my friendship with Israel. And when I see a friend preparing to drive drunk or doing something that’s going to be harmful to them, or to me, I’ll say, “No,? I’ll say, “Stop.? So my criticism of Israel is not from some, you know, Jewish-hating anti-Semitic foundation of myself. No.

As I point out to people, I spent a couple weeks in 1991 working with people to stop Iraqi ballistic missiles from landing on Israeli soil. A lot of good Americans lost their lives in that effort, and we took it seriously. I spent four years in Israel working with the Israeli government on the issue of Iraq. I was very close with Israeli intelligence, very close with the Israeli government, and I have a lot of sympathies for them. I know how they work. I know who the players are.

And I will say this: if I were Israeli, I’d be doing exactly what they’re doing. Alright? They have a legitimate concern here. Let's not kid ourselves. It’s a small little country. And if a nuclear device goes off inside that small little country, Israel ceases to exist as a viable nation-state. They can’t afford any room for error. There is no margin of error here.

That’s why Israel has taken the position that not only will they not tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapons program, they will not tolerate nuclear technology that is usable in a nuclear weapons program, in this case, enrichment technology that Iran is permitted to have under Article 4 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Israel says no. If Iran can enrich to levels that are usable in a nuclear reactor, that same technology can be used to enrich to levels usable in a nuclear device. Therefore, the Israeli position is “not one spinning rotor,? meaning not one centrifuge allowed to operate inside Iran. That’s a zero-tolerance policy.

Now, Iran’s a big country that carried out a covert program. You know, let's mention this, too. When the MEK gave the briefing in August of 2002 using what many people have said is Israeli information, guess what? They were right. Let’s not forget that. They didn’t come out and spew garbage. This was not Ahmed Chalabi making stuff up. This is the MEK representative saying there is a facility in Natans involved in the enrichment of uranium, that is being kept secret from the world. And they were right. So let’s give a little tip of the hat to the Israeli intelligence community for getting it right.

But there’s a difference between getting the intelligence right and getting the policy right. And I will tell you right now that the Israelis have the policy wrong, because they have created a system of analysis that deviates from the lessons learned from the Yom Kippur War. At the end of the Yom Kippur War, they basically said there will be no more “konseptsia,? meaning we’re going to have a concept of what the enemy thinks. We’re going to conceive what the enemy thinks, project what the enemy thinks.

And they got it wrong. They projected that the Egyptians would never attack on the dates that people talked about. Next thing you know, you’ve got the Third Egyptian Army rolling across the Sinai, and the Israelis got serious problems. They said, “It will be fact-based analysis from now on, and we will double-check and we will triple-check.? One of the more interesting Israelis I’ve met was the Doubting Thomas. He’s the guy -- he’s a colonel. All information that went to the director of military intelligence came through him, all assessments. He sat down and picked them apart. And basically, if you made an assertion, he said, “How do you know this?? If you said x, he said, “Why isn’t it y?? And you had to answer him. You had to come back and explain this, and only then did the analysis get to the director of military intelligence, who is the head of national assessments in Israel. He then takes it to the prime minister. So, imagine that, being the head of state, getting quality intelligence from your intelligence community that’s been double-checked, triple-checked, questioned, so there’s no room for error.

But an interesting thing happened in the aftermath of the Gulf War. Some personalities took over. One, in particular, I write about in the book: Amos Gilad, then a brigadier general. I think he left as a major general. But Amos Gilad brought back into fruition the notion of konseptsia. You see, he conceived the notion of a nexus combining Iran with Hezbollah with Hamas. And he said Israel is at threat. This whole thing is lumped together, and we have to deal with it all. And the head that has to be cut off, if we’re going to succeed, is Iran. Iran is the threat. Iran is the problem. Iran must be dealt with. And he started slanting the intelligence assessments that were being presented to the director of military intelligence, this time on what I’ll call faith-based analysis, his gut feeling, his belief, but not the facts. This isn’t sound factually based analysis. This is a deviation. And unfortunately, the politicians bought off on it.

And again, because we have yet, today, to be able to separate in the American policy formulation that involves Israel, separate Israeli interests from American interests, the Israeli government has been very successful in using the pro-Israeli lobby to make sure that the Israeli concerns, the Israeli point of view, becomes the American point of view. And that’s what’s happening here.

But, yes, Israel has agents operating inside Iran. They better have agents operating inside Iran. I wish we had more agents operating inside Iran, so we knew more what’s going on. Can you blame Israel, because they care about nuclear weapons, for trying to get close to the International Atomic Energy Agency? We do it. Why is the world surprised that Israel is going to do it? When you have inspectors that go into a nation that you have deemed hostile, you want to know what they know. You also want to help guide them. Israel did this in Iraq. And I have to say it was very honorable, what they did. They didn’t go in to corrupt the inspection process. They went in to improve, to enhance the inspection process.

But with Iraq, it was fact-based analysis. That’s why, at the end of the day, the Israeli government was willing to accept that Iran had been virtually disarmed, that almost all the WMD had been accounted for. In 1998, that was the assessment. Thanks to Amos Gilad, by 2003 Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction had been reborn, and he didn’t have to explain how they had been reborn. It was konseptsia. It was a gut feeling. They were there because Saddam’s bad.

The same thing is happening with Iran today, because all of this intelligence that’s being done has uncovered a nuclear enrichment program, not a nuclear weapons program. But the Israelis have already concluded, thanks to Amos Gilad and his konseptsia, that a nuclear weapons program exists. Therefore, if you’re not finding evidence of it, it means you’re not looking in the right places. So then you begin to speculate. How many people here remember underground facilities in Iraq, Saddam’s tunnels, everything buried? Well, there weren’t, were there?

Well, guess what. The Israelis talk about tunnels in Iran. And there are tunnels in Iran. The Iranians have been working with the North Koreans for the last couple decades to perfect deep tunneling techniques, and they are boring in the ground. You saw all those little Hezbollah tunnels in South Lebanon that were so effective against the Israelis? They were dug by the Iranians with North Korean assistance. That comes from the Iranians themselves. And they’re doing the same thing in Iran today. And the Israelis are detecting this deep tunneling activity, and they’re sending elements in to do reconnaissance on that, but they're not finding any evidence of nuclear-related activity, because there isn't any going on.

But again, thanks to konseptsia, Gilad, and the way the Israelis now do their assessments, they immediately equate deep tunneling and a nuclear enrichment program to mean that there’s a secret underground nuclear weapons program. Faith-based analysis has trumped fact-based analysis, and because of the pressure put on American policymakers by the Israeli lobby, our own government has now embraced this point of view. And this is very dangerous, ladies and gentleman, because if we accept at face-value, without question, the notion of a nuclear weapons program in Iran, that means the debate’s over. It’s over, because if Iran has a nuclear weapons program that operates in violation of international law, it’s very easy for American policymakers to talk about the imperative to confront this.

And if you can’t confront it successfully diplomatically, that leaves only the military option on the table. And right now, that’s the direction we’re heading, because the debate’s over, apparently, about whether or not Iran has a nuclear weapons program, even though the IAEA has come out and said there’s no evidence whatsoever to sustain the Bush administration's allegations that such a weapons program exists. Note, I didn’t say that the IAEA said there is no such weapons program -- they can’t prove that.

But note that the Bush administration has taken this and now changed course, like they did with Iraq. Saddam said, “We don’t have any weapons. The inspectors aren’t finding any weapons. Keep looking.? Why? Because the onus isn’t on the inspectors to find the weapons. The onus is on Iraq to prove that none exist. But how can you prove a negative? The same thing is in play today with Iran. We have told the Iranians it is their responsibility to prove to the international community beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no nuclear weapons program in Iran. How can you prove a negative?

But that’s not the point, because it’s not about a nuclear weapons program. It’s about regime change and the Bush administration using the perception of threat from a nuclear weapons program to achieve their ultimate objective of regional transformation, which is, again, a policy born more in Tel Aviv than Washington, D.C.

SEYMOUR HERSH: OK. Digression. One of the things you and I used to talk about was, when Scott was an inspector from ’91 to ’98, he got in a lot of trouble, an awful lot of trouble, with his government, because he would take highly classified information to Israel to be analyzed first, remember? Particularly some of the overhead stuff, U-2 stuff. And that caused you a lot of investigations, a lot of problems in terms of -- just of loyalty issues. But still, the fact is you thought so highly of Israel. I remember you telling me years ago that they could understand what was going on from satellite photographs in six or seven hours. If you gave it to the American system, we were dealing in a week, and you would get a bad analysis. No, that’s just -- you had a lot of faith in their intelligence capability.

So, what the hell is going on there? Is it as simple as that? Is it just as simple as a few people at the top playing Ahmed Chalabi? Or is it -- what happened? Why aren’t they calling it the way, if you’re right, they should?

SCOTT RITTER: Well, again, I think it comes down to -- you know, the Bush administration likes to talk a lot about the nexus, the nexus between weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.

I’ll talk about the nexus between the neoconservatives in Washington, D.C., and the right wing of the Likud Party in Israel. These elements, these political elements have been working hand-in-glove for many, many years. And now that the neoconservatives in Washington, D.C., have seized power, have gained power, attained power, now that they’re in power, the right wing in Israel has to play this game. They have to deal with the cards that they’ve been dealt. And so, they're not going to stand up to the United States. You’re not going to sit there and try and encourage the United States to make a move on Iran using fact-based information.

You’ve got to understand there are certain buttons you need to push in Washington, D.C., to get American politicians to move in a certain direction. And you’ve got to keep it simple. And the simplest thing is to say that there is a nuclear weapons program in Iran. And then, you’ve got to push some more buttons, because you don’t want to treat that in isolation. You want complicate it further: that nuclear weapons program is in the hands of a nation that is a state-sponsor of terror -- Iran. And the terrorist organizations that they sponsor are inclusive of Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Liberation Organization Fatah wing. This is all part of the same problem, you see.

And in doing so, Israel now complicates America's overall policy posture vis-a-vis the Middle East, because now it becomes very difficult to treat the Palestinian situation in isolation. It becomes very difficult to treat the Hezbollah situation in isolation or to treat Iran in isolation. Israel has lumped it all together, because they know how to play the American political game, I think, better than we know how to play the American political game. So this is about domestic politics trumping intelligence and sound analytical processes.

AMY GOODMAN: Scott Ritter is the author of Target Iran: The Truth About the White House’s Plans for Regime Change. Seymour Hersh is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist with the New Yorker magazine. His book is called Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. They’re speaking at the Ethical Culture Society in New York. […] We'll come back to Ritter and Hersh in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We return to our conversation between Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh and Scott Ritter. This is Seymour Hersh.

SEYMOUR HERSH: I think a lot about the neocons, and what’s interesting about the neocons and their influence, as you say, is that if you look at it, in the last few years, they’ve really lost a lot of the intellectual leadership from direct policy input. Wolfowitz is gone. Richard Perle certainly was no longer head of the Defense Policy Board. He’s on the outside. Douglas Feith, who was an undersecretary of defense and very important to Rumsfeld, is gone. So with some of their more important acolytes out of the way, why are we still talking about the neocons? What is it about us that enables them to keep on going, even though many of their leaders -- nobody would define either Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld as neocons before 2001. They were just realist conservatives. How have we gotten to -- what’s your guess about it? I mean, I don’t have an answer. Do you have an answer?

SCOTT RITTER: I don’t have a definitive answer, but I would say this. If you want to attribute anything to the empowerment of the neoconservatives, attribute eight years of Clinton presidency. You see, the neoconservatives had thrived under the presidency of Ronal Reagan, because we had an evil empire back then, you see? You had an enemy, a focal point. And so, they could sit there and talk about global hegemony, talk about global domination, and no one would hold them to task, because it was widely recognized that we were engaged in a global struggle with another global superpower.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, the neoconservative thinkers, these global hegemonists, said, “We can’t allow any power or group of powers to step into that vacuum.? This is 1991, 1992. In fact, in 1992, under the direction of Dick Cheney, who was at that time the Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby helped author a vision statement, a policy statement for the Defense Department, that talked about how we divide the world into spheres of strategic influence and how we will intervene unilaterally, prevent preemptively, militarily, if required, to dominate these regions, and that’s what we need to do with the fall of the Soviet Union.

There was a little hiccup along the way of that becoming policy, called an election, where George Herbert Walker Bush, the heir to Ronald Reagan, got defeated, and Bill Clinton came in. And when Clinton came in, all these neoconservative ideologues, who had been shaping and influencing policy for 12 years, were no longer in power. And what they did is they all went off to roost in various neoconservative or conservative or right-leaning think tanks, and they festered for eight years, perfecting this poison that became their policy. And then, when George Bush -- George Walker Bush -- got elected, they came in and assumed power, but they had eight years to basically put a spit shine on their vision of how the world would look.

And they didn’t have an easy time early on. There was a lot of hiccups. If you remember, in the summer of 2001, how critical people were of the Bush administration, of Donald Rumsfeld, of these neoconservative thinkers, because their ideology wasn’t melding with the post-Clinton reality.

Thanks to September 11, 2001, 19 criminals who hijacked four airplanes and flew them into three buildings and a farm field, all that changed. The neoconservatives were successfully able to exploit the ignorance-based fear of the American public to sell them a bill of goods about the world we live in. And as a result, they had a seamless transition from an ideology that America should reject at face value, and it now has become the official policy of the United States of America, the national security policy or strategy of the United States of America, first promulgated in September 2002, most recently updated in June 2006. This policy is almost word for word the same doctrine that Wolfowitz penned in 1992, that the Project for a New American Centry put out in 1997. And it is now that which defines how America interfaces with the rest of the world.

SEYMOUR HERSH: But, Scott, answer the question. If they fester, why are they festering? Why do they continue to have this influence? You’ve mentioned another one that’s gone: Libby -- when so many of the intellectual gurus of that group -- I mean, certainly Wolfowitz, Libby was very important, too. Why, given the collapse of policy in Iraq, which is becoming increasingly obvious to everyone, why are we still there? Why is this country still basically -- the policies of the country still neoconservative? What has been festered? What has been inculcated in us? What’s going on?

SCOTT RITTER: Well, again, the reason why I talked about the festering is to point out that they had 12 years of being in power, followed by eight years of being able to take their policy to think tanks and work on it. So that’s 20 years that the neoconservatives were able to develop and perfect its ideology.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Yeah, but we’ve got a constitution. We’ve got a congress. We’ve got a press. We’ve got a bureaucracy. What’s going on?

SCOTT RITTER: Because on September 11th, the United States of America suffered its worst defeat, not at the hands of terrorists, but at the hands of the neoconservatives, who basically allowed the terrorists to win by turning America on itself. We have a congress, but Congress only counts when it functions. And when Congress refuses to carry out appropriate oversight, when Congress refuses to hold the President accountable for policy decisions, when Congress stands by idly while we violate international law and indeed the Constitution of the United States, invading a sovereign state without just cause, allowing the torturing of individuals to occur by American service members, when Congress sits by and tolerates warrantless wiretappings, they don’t function as a legitimate branch of government.

SEYMOUR HERSH: OK, but let’s just go back. We all agree on Congress. But the fact is that when Olmert was here in May, the prime minister of Israel, and gave a speech about Iran to a joint session of Congress, the big applause lines, the standing o’s came when he criticized Iran and raised the specter -- the same language you were talking about -- this existential language, this threat, and that was a standing ovation. The fact of the matter is that no matter how you describe it, no matter how we perceive it, if the President orders a military attack on Iran, Congress will rubberstamp it. There’s no question about that, in my view. I don’t know what you think. And I guess, heuristically, if you will, what’s your guess? We want to do a lot of questions, because there may be somebody here who disagrees with what Scott’s saying. It takes an awful lot of courage, but anyway.

SCOTT RITTER: I try not to be controversial.

SEYMOUR HERSH: But, so, what’s your guess? What happens? October surprise next year? What do you think? What do you think? What’s in line for us?

SCOTT RITTER: Well, first of all, let's start with what you're talking about: the standing ovation that Olmert gets. Why? Why would he get this standing ovation? Because the United States of America has been preconditioned since 1979 to accept at face value anything negative said about the Islamic Republic of Iran. Now, there’s a lot of negative things that can be said about the Islamic Republic of Iran. But unfortunately, by allowing ourselves to create this filter that says we don’t recognize anything positive, only the negative, we create the conditions where we don’t question negative date. And therefore, when people say Iran is a threat, we agree. And this has been going on since 1979. So the American public, and indeed the American Congress, is preconditioned for war, for confrontation with Iran. That’s why we can have a policy that transitions from dual containment under the Clinton administration to regime change under the Bush administration, without any significant debate taking place whatsoever.

And because this condition exists, there will be war with Iran, unless a little miracle occurs, called the Democrats winning Congress, creating enough friction to stop the war, in the November elections. But even if that occurs, as you pointed out, there is no separation between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party on the issue of Iran. Everybody sits there and says. “Wait a minute, we’re losing the war in Iraq, and there’s 65% of the population that’s turned against this war. Certainly we’re not going to go to war with Iran.?

Again, I mean to correct the American public here. 65% of the American public aren’t antiwar. They’re just anti-losing. You see, if we were winning the war in Iraq, they’d all be for it. If we had brought democracy, they’d be cheering the President. It wouldn’t matter that we violated international law. It wouldn’t even matter that we lied about weapons of mass destruction. We’d be winning. God bless America. Ain’t we good? USA, USA! But we’re losing, so they’re against Iraq.

But what happens when you get your butt kicked in one game? You're looking for the next game, where you can win. And right now, we’re looking for Iran for a victory. We’re going to go to war with Iran. When? Not in October, I’ll tell you that.

There’s a couple things that have to happen before we go to war with Iran. There has to be a serious diplomatic offensive to secure the military basing required to support the aerial forces necessary for sustained bombardment and the logistic apparatus that goes along with that -- the fuel, the bombs, the support personnel, the maintenance. We haven’t done that. We’re doing it. There has to be political preparation here at home. The Bush administration is not a dictatorship yet. They still have to go to Congress, and they still have to get a degree of congressional approval for military operations against Iran. Not that much, though. I mean, everybody is aware that after 9/11, Congress pretty much gave the Bush administration a blank check to wage war anyway they saw fit, so long as it dealt with the global war on terror. And the President --

SEYMOUR HERSH: Be specific. The October 2002 resolution was not just limited to Iraq, you’re exactly right.

SCOTT RITTER: No, it’s a global war on terror.

SEYMOUR HERSH: It gave him the right to -- he’s got a blank check. He does have that.

SCOTT RITTER: A blank check to do it.

SEYMOUR HERSH: That’s literally correct.

SCOTT RITTER: Now, he has to be smart about this. Yes, he can wage war, but he needs to ensure that Congress continues to fund the war. So that’s why he will go to Congress. He will make the case for Iran. But, as I said, Congress is already preprogrammed to nod their head yes and stamp anything he signs.

The most important thing is the American military, getting the American military positioned. The easy thing is getting the air forces positioned, the naval force and air forces that will do the bombardment. The hard thing is getting the American military leadership to go along with that, and that might be the one little glimmer of hope that’s out there, because if we can get a Democratic-controlled congress that is not afraid to exercise its oversight responsibility and holds hearings, where it brings in military professionals and liberates them to speak critically of bad policy, which is the duty and responsibility of every general officer.

There’s a gross dereliction of duty taking place today in the United States, where our general officers remain mute while they are on active duty. Suddenly, when they retire, they get great courage. They can speak out. But you know what? It’s too late. Too many of your men have died. You should have spoke out sooner. And hopefully with a Democratic congress, the generals will speak out. Look at the standards set by the British military. The British chief of staff has come out and finally spoke truth to power by saying, “Mr. Blair, your war is not only not winnable, but it’s destroying the British army. And if we want to have an army in five to ten years, we have to change our policy.? Maybe American general's will follow that precedent.

SEYMOUR HERSH: I’ve had some smart Arabs I know, who are not anti-American, per se, but increasingly, of course, getting that way, say to me that one other -- there’s another -- they had another vestige of hope, which was that after the disaster in Lebanon -- and the Israelis are sort of now, their position is we suffered a technical knockout, it wasn’t a complete knockout. They’re finding a little grace in it. But some of the bright Arabs I know said maybe the Israelis will move to the center. Maybe that’ll, one way, will save us. “Save us,? being the world, in their view. Certainly the oil world in the Middle East, from continued war. And they said, perhaps -- giving up on the notion that America would move, but maybe the Israeli population would move to the center. No sign yet of it. I don’t see it.

SCOTT RITTER: Well, there is a significant -- I mean, that’s one of the things that strikes me when I travel to Israel. It’s like anything, traveling to Iran, you suddenly have this veil lifted, because, of course, you’re not going to get a true picture from the American media about what Iran is, and most Americans, I don’t think, have a genuine picture of what Israel is, unless you’ve gone to Israel, traveled to Israel, met the Israelis. It’s a very diverse society. It’s not homogeneous at all, especially politically. You know, you sit three Israelis around a table, you get seven different opinions. And that’s the truth. These people love politics. They’re concerned. They’re engaged. And there is a viable powerful moderate and progressive element within Israel.

The battle with Hezbollah this past summer, this conflict in South Lebanon that bled over into northern Israel, could go either way. On the one hand, there are elements that are seeking to exploit the fear factor, the fact that thousands of Hezbollah rockets landed on Israel, to say, “Never again, never again. We must redouble our efforts to confront.? But taking a look at how enfeebled the Israeli military was in its response, how Hezbollah was actually empowered, the Israelis might actually come to realize the lesson we’re learning in Iraq, which is you cannot militarily defeat an organization that has as its roots the legitimate concerns of an indigenous population. And I’m not here to condone Hezbollah or sing its virtues, but I will tell you this, Hezbollah is an organization of Southern Lebanese Shia. That belong in South Lebanon. They’re in South Lebanon. And Israel may have learned a hard lesson, that you just can’t bomb these people into submission, so they might move to the center.

SEYMOUR HERSH: [inaudible] is standing. We want to do one more question. Let me ask him one more question. One last question, which is, OK, briefly, we go to war. We begin a massive bombing campaign. Take your pick. Odds are it’s going to be systematic, at least three days of intense bombing, decapitation probably, which -- that is one of the things you do when you begin a bombing attack, like we did against Saddam twice and like the Israelis did against Hezbollah when they targeted Nasrallah. And I think we and the Israelis are now 0-for-8, almost as bad as Shrummy and his elections. But anyway, so the question then is -- we go to war -- tell us what happens next, in your view.

SCOTT RITTER: Well, it’s, you know -- it’s almost impossible to be 100% correct, but I’ll give you my best analysis. The Iranians will use the weapon that is the most effective weapon, because the key for Iran -- you know, Iran can’t afford, if this -- remember, the regime wants to stay in power, so they can’t afford a strategy that gets the American people to recognize three years in that, oops, we made a mistake. I mean, if that was Saddam’s strategy, it failed for him, because he’s out of power. Yeah, we realize we made a mistake now in Iraq, but the regime is gone. So the Iranians realize that they have to inflict pain upfront. The pain is not going to be inflicted militarily, because we're not going to commit numbers of ground forces on the ground that can cause that pain. The pain will come economically.

Our oil-based economy is operating on the margins, as we speak. We only have 1.0% to 1.5% excess production capacity. If you take the Iranian oil off the market, which is the first thing the Iranians will do, we automatically drop to around minus-4%, which means there ain’t enough oil out there to support the globe’s thirst for oil, especially America’s thirst for oil. And we're not the only ones drinking it? You think for a second the Chinese and the Indians, the world’s two largest developing economies, are going to say, “Hey, Uncle Sam, we’ll put everything on hold, so we can divert oil resources, so you can feed your oil addiction, because you attacked Iran??

And it’s not just Iranian oil that will go off the market. Why do you think we sent minesweepers up there? We’ve got to keep the Straits of Hormuz open. The Iranians will shut it down that quick. They’ll also shut down oil production in the western oil fields of Saudi Arabia. They’ll shut down Kuwaiti oil production. They’ll shut down oil production in the United Arab Emirates. They’ll shut down whatever remaining oil production there is in Iraq. They’ll launch a massive attack using their Shia proxies in Iraq against American forces. That will cause bloodshed.

The bottom line is, within two days of our decision to initiate an attack on Iran, every single one of you is going to be feeling the consequences of that in your pocketbook. And it’s only going to get worse. This is not something that only I recognize. Ask Dick Lugar what information he’s getting from big business, who are saying, “We can’t afford to go to war with Iran.?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Final question: given all this, are we going to do it?

SCOTT RITTER: Yes, we're going to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: Scott Ritter and Seymour Hersh. Ritter’s latest book is called Target Iran: The Truth About the White House’s Plans for Regime Change. Seymour Hersh is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist with the New Yorker magazine. His latest book is called a Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib. They were speaking at the New York Society for Ethical Culture at an event sponsored by the Nation Institute. Again, the latest news, the Pentagon has disclosed plans to send more warships and aircraft into the Persian Gulf within striking distance of Iran.


As Hundreds Die in an Oil Pipeline Explosion in Lagos, A Look At the Fight Over Nigeria's Natural Resources

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

Sandy Cioffi, the director of the film "Sweet Crude," joins us in New York just hours after she returned from Nigeria. She talks about how the popular resistance movement in the Niger Delta continues to fight multinational oil companies for control of the country's natural wealth. [includes rush transcript]

In Nigeria up to 500 people have died after an oil pipeline exploded earlier this morning in the country's commercial capital of Lagos. It is feared the final death toll could be much higher.
The explosion comes at a time when tension has been rising -- especially in the Niger Delta -- over who controls the region's vast natural resources. Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer and the United States' 5th largest oil supplier.

Last week, two car bombs exploded outside an oil company compound. On Saturday a car bomb exploded outside the state governor's office in Port Harcourt. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta or MEND claimed responsibility for the bombing. In an email to the press, the group stated that governors in the Niger delta and other political figures "have acted against the interest of the people of the Niger delta, sabotaging all efforts at resource control for selfish reasons.?

Saturday was the first time MEND has targeted a government building in over a year, the group has kidnapped foreign oil workers and occupied pumping stations run by multinational oil companies. MEND has also held four foreign oil workers hostage since December 7th. The group has said the hostages will not be released until the government releases two jailed leaders from the Delta, gives compensation to villagers for oil pollution, transfers control of oil resources to local communities and provides reparations for 50 years of enslavement by the oil industry.

In a minute I'll be joined by Sandy Cioffi -- She is a documentary filmmaker who just returned from Nigeria. But first – here's an excerpt from Sandy's documentary, "Sweet Crude," a film about the Niger Delta.

"Sweet Crude"
An excerpt from "Sweet Crude" directed by Sandy Cioffi who joins me now in the studio - Sandy is also a professor in the film and video communications department at Central Community College in Seattle, Washington and has just returned from Nigeria.
Sandy Cioffi, documentary filmmaker, Director of "Sweet Crude" a film about the Niger Delta. Sandy is also a professor in the film and video communications department at Central Community College in Seattle, Washington. She just returned from Nigeria.
This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
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AMY GOODMAN: In a minute, we’ll be joined by Sandy Cioffi. She’s a documentary filmmaker who returned last night from Nigeria. But first, this is an excerpt of the trailer of Sandy’s documentary Sweet Crude, a film about the Niger Delta.

NIGER DELTA RESIDENT 1: The effect of the oil pollution on the water, too. You be seeing it floating on the river, OK? So people cannot drink this water, and because of the floating effect of this oil that is on the surface, it kills the marine life and the aquatic life. And so, you see that people cannot even fish. People cannot do anything. Their livelihood is being destroyed.

NIGER DELTA RESIDENT 2: When you lose everything, you lose the environment, you lose everything. You lose your land. You lose the facility. You lose the health of the land. What do you have left?

Telling people the way forward, and the way forward is peace and prosperity and partnership.

NIGER DELTA RESIDENT 3: We will come together as educated and learned people with the support of [inaudible] people here, who can move forward.

NIGER DELTA RESIDENT 2: We’re not talking about partnership in terms of the Niger Delta. I speak about the people, the people in the communities, including the women I’ve spoken with, the youths.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The students are out on their march this morning through town, and they’ve got placards. One of them says “Obasanjo? -- which is the president of Nigeria -- “Obasanjo out of oil resource control.? One of them says, “South-South movement for resource control supported by students.?

NIGER DELTA RESIDENT 3: Could this peace process be real? Is it real?

NIGER DELTA RESIDENT 4: We’ve had some very violent inter-ethnic strife in the area, and when I say violent, I mean really violent. So there are some communities that are no longer in existence, because they’ve been burnt down.

NIGER DELTA RESIDENT 5: Well, the people of the [inaudible] in this area, they decided to build a clinic that the people of the area can use. You know, it was unfortunately during the crisis, it was burned down.

NIGER DELTA RESIDENT 6: Can you imagine in a situation of conflict, of real war, like we’ve had in this area, and then you’re stuck here, and then you have -- you possibly have an enemy or two, you know, two boats out there waiting for you, can you imagine? I mean, where do you go?

CHEVRON REP.: Niger Delta is providing almost one-third of the oil that we are producing, and a lot of that oil is shut in because of ethnic unrest, so we have flow stations, pipelines, platforms, where we can’t produce the oil, because of this enormous community unrest.

NIGER DELTA RESIDENT 2: To begin the move away from chaos and violence and death to life.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from Sweet Crude, directed by Sandy Cioffi, who joins us now in the firehouse studio. Sandy is also a professor in the Film and Video Communications Department at Central Community College in Seattle, Washington. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

SANDY CIOFFI: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ve just got the news out of Nigeria, this in the commercial capital Lagos, that at least 200 people -- it looks like the number could be higher -- have died in yet another oil pipeline explosion. Talk about the politics of what’s happening in Nigeria now.

SANDY CIOFFI: Well, Nigeria is the largest producer of oil in Africa, and actually it produces more oil than Iraq and Kuwait combined. And the people of Nigeria have seen none of the revenue from that oil. So what happens, the danger in the bunkering, which is the word that’s used for people who steal oil -- some people say it’s not stealing because it’s the oil that comes from their land, and they have no income. So very desperate people will actually get the equipment and go to pipelines, and they’ll puncture them to take oil and sell on the black market. It's a very complicated thing, because you can’t just sort of walk up with a drill and do it. You have to have fairly complicated equipment. And the government claims that it’s all thieves, but they have to be involved in what's happening, because people get in and out of the rivers in huge tankers and pass Nigerian navy. So it’s very common that people are stealing oil. It’s extremely dangerous, and explosions are not that uncommon. And that’s likely what occurred.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about who controls these pipelines and particularly the activism that is going on right now in the Niger Delta.

SANDY CIOFFI: For the last 50 years, oil has been produced in Nigeria, and that 50 years is also the period of time during which Nigeria has been free from being a British colony. The truth is that the legacy of that colony has the same structure laid on it, in terms of the corporate life now, so that what happened is that the corporate politics intersected with the existing illegal dictatorships. And those dictatorships were just happy to sign laws that said, OK, if there’s oil under your feet, the government and the oil companies own it.

So in the last 50 years, what has happened to the people in the Niger Delta is that they have had dredging, they have had a loss of their environment that’s unprecedented in one lifetime. They have no ability to fish, to farm. But all of the oil under their feet is owned in a joint collusion relationship in these what are called venture partnerships between corporations, one of which is an American corporation, Chevron, and several others. Shell is the largest actually. And they are essentially in a relationship where the government and those oil companies own all of that oil, the revenues of which are almost never seen by the people who are suffering from the consequences of it.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Sandy Cioffi, who has just returned from Nigeria. Talk about the organization, MEND.

SANDY CIOFFI: MEND stands for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. In Nigeria, there has been activism over the last 20 years that some people may recognize some of the names, Ken Saro-Wiwa being the most famous activist. He was an Ogoni activist who was executed in 1995. And in his footsteps came some people who began to, instead of believing in nonviolent activism, began to believe in more violent response to their choice of how they would resist what they consider to be the enslavement of their people.

There was actually one significant nonviolent protest in 2002, which was led by a group of women who commandeered an oil platform. But in the Niger Delta, the relationship of people who, to us, we would consider to be in very separate categories -- students, mothers, elders -- those people are all related and all work together. MEND is an outgrowth of the group of young men who have no future, no jobs, who saw their mothers beaten within an inch of their lives on those oil platforms. And some of them were volunteer force members under Asari Dokubo, who has been in jail for the last two years, but they really only formed about a year ago. It’s almost exactly a year ago that MEND formed, and it formed originally in what is called Delta State.

It's very confusing right now, because there is a group called MEND that is claiming responsibility for some of what is occurring, but the original members of MEND, who are recognized as MEND by the United States government, Chevron security, those people are claiming that some of what’s occurring is by counterfeits.

AMY GOODMAN: And the women, the role that the women have played in this?

SANDY CIOFFI: Well, the women in Nigeria, as you can imagine, much like in many countries that have been exploited as a one-resource economy, the women have really suffered the most. The infant mortality rate is extremely high; the life expectancy, very short; the disease level, very high. And these women have suffered. The men often go off to the city to have any income at all, and they’re left alone to care for their families.

These women came together in 2002 and decided that they had had enough, and they would paddle wooden canoes up to huge oil platforms and climb on them and actually threaten to take their shirts off, which in Africa is a very big threat, and actually scared -- the oil workers said, “Well, we’ve been trained for every possible security threat, but we were never trained for hundreds of women to come in here and threaten to take their shirts off.? And it was very effective. And for the first time, something called an MOU was signed, which is a memorandum of understanding.

And those women were demanding fairly basic things, like jobs, some remediation of the environment, water, electricity, healthcare, basic infrastructure that you would expect, that if you have $38 billion annually of revenue going to your government, that you would have, and they have none of those things. In fact, they have quite the opposite. They have their livelihood taken away from them. The huge rivers of the Niger Delta used to yield fish that were just enormous. One day's catch could feed your family for a week. Now, the fish are -- and I’ve filmed this, I’ve seen it -- the fish are tiny. They have almost no meat. And they’re pure poison. They’re just soaking up oil, acid rain. So these women have suffered an enormous amount.

They commandeered these oil platforms. They got the MOUs signed. Very sadly, those MOUs have mostly gone --

AMY GOODMAN: Memos of understanding.

SANDY CIOFFI: Memoranda of understanding have largely gone unfulfilled. So many of those women have sons and have, through those women’s groups and then student groups, have said, “We have to step this up to another level.? I was actually under the impression before I was there this summer that many of the women would take issue with the choice to move toward violence. I was surprised to find that many of them actually feel that that’s necessary at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: Sandy Cioffi, we’re going to break, then come back and also hear a clip of Wole Soyinka, the Nobel Literature Prize winner talking about his country, Nigeria. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. Sandy Cioffi is the director of a new film she’s making called Sweet Crude. She’s just returned from the Niger Delta. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: We are continuing with Sandy Cioffi, documentary filmmaker, director of a new film called Sweet Crude. I wanted to play a clip of Wole Soyinka. He is a renowned writer from Nigeria, won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his writing. He joined us in our studio in April. This is what he had to say about the situation in the Niger Delta.

WOLE SOYINKA: Well, some of these companies and the governments that they represent, in some cases, make a mistake when they think that the indigenous of the land from whom this wealth is extracted, illiterate, not knowledgeable, uninformed, this is the fundamental mistake which they make. The thing they do not -- those who actually live there and whose land has been degraded, whose fishing ponds are being polluted, whose farm lands have been totally rendered useless for farming purposes, whose very air has been completely toxified by decades of gas flaring, they make a mistake when they think they do not observe the digits of profit, the statistics of profit being turned in by the companies, in other words, to the detriment of their own existence.

And so, the militancy in the oil-producing region has escalated in recent months. You must have heard of hostage-taking, and I personally, I’m in a position to tell you that I have participated in the efforts to release those hostages, which came to a successful conclusion. So I am in touch with some of these people, these young people, highly motivated. They are not thugs. They are not riffraff, as they are sometimes portrayed. They are disciplined. And they are determined to correct decades of injustice, and that's all they’re really after. You may disagree with their methods, but believe me, nobody should underestimate the very deep motivation that impels these people.

AMY GOODMAN: Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka, in our studio this past April. Sandy Cioffi, he's talking about the original MEDN, the activists. He participated in some of the negotiations around hostage release.

SANDY CIOFFI: Mm-hmm, as did Oronto Douglas, a fairly well-known environmental activist, who we’ve interviewed. I think this really brings up an important question about the role of legitimate resistance movements post-September 11th. It is mass media’s inclination to instantly start using the word “terrorist.? And what seems to be true on the ground right now for the best of our ability to just determine what’s going on, is that there are some either splinter groups or some people are accusing the Nigerian government, with the support of US intelligence, in intentionally muddying the waters of this resistance movement, which was beginning to get fairly strong pan-Delta support. And as the elections are looming in Nigeria, this would be the first peaceful election if it were to occur in April. The stakes are quite high right now. And having a very strong legitimate resistance movement gaining some international sympathy seems to be very dangerous to the forces that want continued unfettered profits with absolutely no spotlight on looking at these land-use laws.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s something Ken Saro-Wiwa was leading before he was executed November 10, 1995, by the Nigerian dictatorship, when he was protesting Shell in Ogoniland. I did a documentary with my colleague, Democracy Now! producer Jeremy Scahill, called Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria’s Oil Dictatorship. What do you think is the role of these oil companies and the responsibility of corporations like Chevron?

SANDY CIOFFI: Well, since the time of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s execution, some of their role has been the same, but I think there are some important changes for us to look in terms of what US citizens can and should be doing right now in a very urgent moment, in what we have to call one of the most preventable tragedies in Africa. The role of the oil companies at this point is quite simple, but they talk about it as being very complicated. They are a major player in the future and the current state of this country. They claim, whenever you ask them critically what they’re doing, they claim that they should not be involved in the affairs of a foreign nation, which is of course absurd, because they’re engaged in influencing the affairs of foreign nations every day. In Nigeria, they literally sit down at the table with the Nigerian government and work with them every day to determine what’s going to happen with petroleum-use laws, with the environment, with actually how to deal with the resistance itself. So --

AMY GOODMAN: With the military as their own security.

SANDY CIOFFI: Oh, absolutely. The JTF, which means joint task force, serves as private security forces in, in essence, occupied villages. These villages are the places where pump stations are right literally in the middle of town. Gas flares right next to where people live. And the JTF is serving as security for Chevron and Shell.

I will tell you that those companies are starting to hear that -- because they’re right there on the front line, they are behaving as if they know that the time might run out for their ability to produce. In fact, Shell is down 25% in their production, because of the unrest. When I was there this last two weeks, the night sky, instead of being lit by seven gas flares, was only lit by two, because that many facilities have shut down.

So, the other interesting thing to note, is that what the people are saying is that with these oil facilities shut down, the environment is actually coming back, that there is some relief from some of the acid rain. You would think that people would say, “Well, if the oil companies leave, then, well, where will we get any revenue at all?? But I’ve heard many village people say, “Just fine. Just go ahead. Leave. We would prefer to see the environment be remediated and go back to fishing and farming.?

AMY GOODMAN: And so, the responsibility of the oil companies, not only there, but they are chartered in the United States. One of the stories that we exposed in 1998 was Chevron bringing in the Nigerian military, who opened fire on protesters who were protesting yet another oil spill, and they killed two villagers, critically wounded a third, rounded up others, put them in the notorious Nigerian jails, where some were tortured. Part of charters in this country are corporate responsibility.

SANDY CIOFFI: Mm-hmm. And it seems pretty clear right now that Nigeria is a fledgling democracy. And there is an election coming. It seems clear that there has been, I think, some hope in the corporate world that we still just wouldn't be paying attention. The Niger Delta seems to me one of those top-ten untold stories in the mass media, given the importance of the place and the potential humanitarian crisis. And the fact of the matter is that Chevron should be held responsible by US citizens to behave as a corporate player in the same way they would have to in San Francisco. And they would not be able to behave -- we would hope, certainly, they would not be able to behave as a player in this way in San Francisco.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. As we are doing this broadcast, we’re seeing the numbers mount in the Lagos oil pipeline explosion. It looks, at this point, like there are at least 500 people that have died. Sandy Cioffi, I want to thank you for being with us. Sandy Cioffi is the documentary filmmaker who is doing the film Sweet Crude. She is a professor of film and video at the Video and Film Communications Department at Central Community College in Seattle, Washington, returned last night from Nigeria.