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Interview with Scott Ritter June 24, 1999 From: "Nicholas Arons " Fellowship of Reconciliation "When you ask the question, “Does Iraq possess militarily viable biological or chemical weapons?" the answer is “NO!” It is a resounding “NO”. Can Iraq produce today chemical weapons on a meaningful scale? No! Can Iraq produce biological weapons on a meaningful scale? No! Ballistic missiles? No! It is “no” across the board. So from a qualitative standpoint, Iraq has been disarmed. Iraq today possesses no meaningful weapons of mass destruction capability." -- Scott Ritter Nicholas Arons: Let's begin with current developments and work our way backwards in time. What are your impressions of the recent developments on the Security Council. What do you think of the British proposal, which the US appears to support? Scott Ritter: All the new resolution shows is that the United States and Great Britain have no serious position. The US is not a sponsor of this resolution; they are in the background. They are putting an awful lot of pressure on people to put this resolution forward. It is strongly flawed for a number of reasons. One, it's illegal. It is a huge step backwards from [UN Resolution] 687 in that 687 says that if Iraq complies, the sanctions are lifted. This one basically ensures sanctions in perpetuity. With its 120-day blocks Iraq will never regain control of its economy. There are two steps in the economic rehabilitation of Iraq and the Iraqi people. One is the lifting of sanctions and the second is the reconstitution of the economy. The economy cannot be reconstituted from the outside, it has to be reconstituted from within. The Iraqi government and the Iraqi people have to take control of their economy and their way forward. This resolution gives no hope for that. Having said that you now understand where the US is coming from. They know that this resolution is not going to pass. This is an effort for the US to be seen as moving forward on the issue when in fact all it does is put something on the table that they know Iraq will reject, and Iraq has already rejected it. This gives the US continued justification to pursue its regime removal policy, which is the major factor in US foreign policy towards Iraq today. I just wish people would see the transparency of this effort. It's not serious arms control; it's not serious anything. This is hypocrisy at the highest levels and I am disturbed by it. This is what I tell Congressional staffers - about the flaws of the Iraq Liberation Act. They are doing nobody any favors by continuing to pursue this. Achmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress, despite their personal democratic beliefs, are not a democratic organization insofar as Iraq is concerned. It's a disparate group of people who if it were not for US diplomacy would be at each other's throats. This is not a unified voice, they have no chance whatsoever of removing Saddam Hussein from power, and by having Congress pass the Iraq Liberation Act they have politicized this. They have taken it out of the realm of reality and put it in the realm of politics, tying the administration's hands. How can you pursue a policy of arm's control and disarmament in Iraq under the blanket of international law when your policy of regime removal is the exact opposite of that. There is this political reality called the Iraq Liberation Act passed by the Republican-dominated Congress and force-fed to the Administration, and the Administration did not have the strength to reject it. Clayton Ramey: I understand that the bill appropriation called from $100 million. Has the military equipment transfer happened? Scott Ritter: No. The Administration is right to say, "These guys aren't ready for military equipment." The Administration is saying that the opposition has to get its own internal act together. Because the administration recognizes that by arming these people all your doing is setting up the Middle East equivalent of the "Bay of Pigs" Achmed Chalabi and others in the opposition are pushing very hard for the US to commit to large-scale military actions; that is the trap in all of this. This isn't an opposition, this is a front for major US military movement against Iraq. But there is no support for that in the region, either in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. It's just distancing us further from the neighbors of Iraq; people who aren't supporters of Saddam Hussein, but who recognize that Iraq needs to solve its own problems. People who also recognize that there are twenty-two or twenty-three million innocent people stuck in this game of power politics. The US policy is so far off base and removed from reality it is… it’s ridiculous. At least we realize with regard to the opposition that we cannot put guns in the hands of these people right now. Bert Sacks: Do you see any similarities between the bombing of the civilian infrastructure in Iraq and its consequences, and what we've just done in Yugoslavia? Scott Ritter: I have been very careful from the outset not to portray myself as a Yugoslav expert or a Kosovo expert. I know as much as about that as you do and anyone who reads the papers. I am a concerned citizen. I feel comfortable when I talk about Iraq -- I can be labeled as an expert on Iraq but on Kosovo. I just don't know enough about what the bombing campaign did in Yugoslavia and Kosovo to draw informed parallels. What I can say though, because the one thing that links the two is the foreign policy team in the United States: Berger, Albright, and company. In the case of the Balkans what you see Albright talking about already -- she has put forward some internal working papers on that, is the recognition of the need for a mini-marshal plan to bring the Balkans out of this catastrophe. They recognize the fact that there has been tens of billions of dollars in damage and that if you are going to have meaningful growth in terms of bringing stability to the region and keeping Serbs away from the Albanians' throats, Albanians away from the Serbs' throats, everybody away from the Gypsies' throats. If there is any hope of that it is the link to economic growth. These people have to pull themselves out of these doldrums. Now, why the clarity of thought exists in the Balkans and doesn't exist in Iraq, I don't understand. We should not be talking about further destruction in Iraq we should be talking about how we can bring Iraq out of its current situation, and I believe there is a requirement for international economic assistance to Iraq, to help reconstitute the Iraq economy. A Marshall plan. It's something I've called for. The difference between Iraq and the Balkans is that Iraq can pay for it. Iraq is sitting on the oil and thus the means to actually fund its rehabilitation. It will need a jump-start. It will need assistance, but the world isn't going to bankrupt itself rehabilitating Iraq, whereas in the Balkans the thirty to seventy billion dollars that are going to be required are going to have to come from somewhere else because it's not coming from the Balkans. They do not have the means to pay for that. But again, the clarity of thought, and maybe its that fact that Kosovo brought us to the brink of disaster. I personally think that Kosovo is a disaster. The foreign policy team of the United States recognizes the need for a Marshall plan type economic reconstruction campaign in the Balkans. I just wish that they would see that that same sort of effort is going to be required in Iraq, and that everything that we are doing diplomatically, politically, etc. in Iraq is counterproductive. It is not engendering any stability; it is in fact engendering instability. If you are talking about regime removal you are only making Saddam stronger. Everything happening now is just strengthening Saddam, it's not weakening him. We are going to lose in Iraq. I am not so worried about the prestige. We are the world's sole remaining super-power. There is not a nation or a combination of nations that could stand up to us on any front, except maybe morally. I am not worried about the prestige of the United States. What I am worried about is the fact that our policies are just continuing the suffering of innocent people and actually bringing the Middle East to the brink of yet another war. From an American's perspective it's going to cost American lives. And that's something I think the American people have no clue about. They are sitting here thinking Saddam and anti-Saddam thoughts, the evil of the Iraqi tyranny, etc. They don't understand that our policies are killing six-thousand kids a month. Every time I speak and bring that fact up people are like: "What?" They are just totally divorced from the reality of what is happening in Iraq. Then when you also say that in three to five years your sons and daughters, your husbands and wives, your mothers and fathers, are going to be over there fighting and dying. Again, I don't believe in the inevitability of war. I believe war can be avoided, but the current policies of this administration are pushing us to the point where there will be a war -- another war in the Persian Gulf and that is something that can be headed off now. Doug Hostetter: For many years you supported and headed up the United States efforts in Iraq in the UNSCOM program. Why did you support it at the time and what lead you to change your mind? Scott Ritter: I supported it because it was international law. The UN Security Council passed a resolution that is binding on the United Nations charter, and it called for something that I think was good -- the disarming of Iraq. I think disarmament is good. In retrospect the concept of imposing a severe disarmament regime on a sovereign state, no matter how noble in intention it might be, probably isn't practical unless the Security Council is willing and able to stay focused on the effort. I think that is one of the lessons of the UNSCOM experience: don't blame the inspectors, we were doing our job. Blame the security council that created us and failed to support us. Blame the member states that took something that was noble and perverted it for their own reasons, their own self-serving interests. Fingers point at the United States primarily in using the weapons inspection process not so much as a vehicle for disarming Iraq, but rather as a vehicle for containing Saddam and for gathering information that could be used to remove Saddam. The US perverted the system; not the weapons inspectors. I didn't head anything up, I was part of a team. I started out as mid-level member of the team and then rose to be in the upper echelon. I wasn't the head of UNSCOM, I wasn't the deputy head of UNSCOM, I wasn't third in command. I wasn't fourth in command. I wasn't in command of anything but my little team. My little team happened to have a lot more weight behind it given what we were trying to do. We weren't going after biological weapons, chemical weapons, ballistic missiles. What we were going after was the regime that was cheating. We were going after the command and control of the Iraqi concealment mechanism that was hiding the weapons, because the tactic that I felt would succeed was that we needed to break through that concealment, identify it, recognize it, break through it to get to the weapons. As long as we were chasing the weapons that concealment mechanism would always be one step ahead of us. This was very controversial. This was very confrontational. This was very contentious. It was somewhat successful, but it was escalating tensions and the Security Council wasn't able politically to keep pace with what we were doing, even though everything we did conformed with the mandate given by the Security Council. I never once deviated from that mandate. When you say I was supporting US goals, the answer is "no" -- the US goals were regime removal. I was a US citizen working for the UN conforming to the UN mandate. But that mandate started getting blurred with US policy. I never did regime removal, I never did sanctions continuation; what I did was arms inspection. I don't believe that there should be a linkage between economic sanctions and arms control -- the two don't mix. It's bad policy to put on economic sanctions, period -- you are making the wrong people suffer. But that's the decision someone else made. Our job was to disarm Iraq as quickly as possible. My job was to find weapons -- we undertook an intensive intelligence campaign to gather information on where these weapons were. Then we needed to send inspections teams to Iraq to find these weapons. The US didn't like that. Simply put: they didn't want that kind of resolution because if you disarm Iraq you lift the sanctions. The last think the US wanted to do was lift sanctions. Sanctions are a vehicle of containment. The accelerated inspection work that we were trying to carry out ran afoul of US national security interests as set forth by this Administration. I had a problem with the inspection process being used by the US to serve its interests rather than the interests of the world community which created UNSCOM. I didn't want to delay inspections or carry out half-baked inspections, which would give the US and others an excuse to prolong economic sanctions, because I, like other Americans, am not into killing kids. UNSCOM took advantage of this very strong resolution which gave us sweeping capability to go after the regime, not by removing it, but by getting into the mindset of Saddam's inner circle who were the ones directly responsible for the movement of weapons. To go after that regime we had to get into their minds – what they did, how they thought. We were the only ones in the world capable of getting into the mindset of Saddam's inner circle, and the US used that. They put pressure on Richard Butler, who should go down in history as one of the most duplicitous people in the history of the United Nations. This is a man who is supposed to be an international civil servant, who sold out to the US from the very beginning and then lied about it repeatedly. Butler did more to destroy UNSCOM than anybody. Butler allowed UNSCOM to be used by the United States and others to achieve objectives which had nothing to do with the Security Council mandate. That's why I resigned. I just wasn't really part of that game. Then I decided to speak out because I felt like everything we were doing was moving in the wrong direction. We had to get back on track to what the Security Council mandate is, and then confront the Security Council with the question, "Is it working?" Don't blame us -- the inspectors -- we're doing the job. It's obvious that the Iraqis are not going to comply to the level at which you want them to comply, so maybe it's time for the Security Council to re-evaluate what it is they want to accomplish in Iraq. I really think its time to approach Iraq's disarmament as qualitative disarmament. There is no doubt that they're hiding stuff from the weapons inspectors. What they're hiding are drawings, blueprints, some components, some material. I call it seed stock. It's the stuff you could put on the back of the truck, move it out to the farm, and then at some point, you can plant it and use it as a base to reconstitute weapons. Even in ballistic missiles, you have components that can be used to build the missile at a later date, but by themselves they do not constitute an operational ballistic missile. By themselves, the biological capability and chemical capability are not chemical weapons or biological weapons programs. When you ask the question, “Does Iraq possess militarily viable biological or chemical weapons?" the answer is “NO!” It is a resounding “NO”. Can Iraq produce today chemical weapons on a meaningful scale? No! Can Iraq produce biological weapons on a meaningful scale? No! Ballistic missiles? No! It is “no” across the board. So from a qualitative standpoint, Iraq has been disarmed. Iraq today possesses no meaningful weapons of mass destruction capability. The danger is in pursuing this quantitative disarmament effort. We are pushing Iraq towards having no alternative but the reconstitution of its weapons program. Why? One, Iraq is faced with the most powerful enemy in the world -- the United States. They'll never be able to match us conventionally. Never. The only way they'll be able to leverage whatever power they have, regionally, is through weapons of mass destruction. Two, while we're on our single minded pursuit of disarming Iraq, we're ignoring the fact that Iran, their neighbor, is in the process of building huge chemical and biological weapons capabilities, including long-range ballistic missile capabilities, and nuclear weapons capabilities. Everything that we are seeking to rid Iraq of, Iran has, Israel has. Iraq is surrounded by people who possess these weapons or are moving toward the possibility of possessing these weapons, and I believe that when you talk about disarming Iraq you have to bring the discussion into a regional context. But that regional context is missing from everything we're doing vis-à-vis Iraq. Nicholas Arons: You used the word containment to describe our policy in Iraq. Given what you've said here and written in your book -- that Iraq doesn't have the capacity to use chemical, biological, or nuclear missiles -- why are sanctions still being sustained? Scott Ritter: Because Saddam Hussein is still in power. Plain and simple. Doug Hostetter: Some of the discussion is that there are the scientists, or there are the textbooks, or there is a jar hidden somewhere that might contain seed stock for a biological weapon. But if you go to that level there is obviously no way that Iraq could prove that it had gotten rid of weapons of mass destruction. Scott Ritter: We were setting the standards for determining 100% disarmament so high that we couldn't even meet it. We signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, the CWC, and tried to abide by it, but we made mistakes right and left. However, we recognized the mistakes, and tried to fix them, to be honorable about them. On the CWC, we made a declaration. Inspectors come to our facilities and find that our declaration is false. Does that mean that we have a covert chemical weapons capability? Of course not. It means that we made a mistake, and now we have to correct it. We have to do what it takes to get back into compliance. We are the United States, and I'm not trying to give Saddam Hussein the moral equivalency that the United States has, but I do believe that it's disingenuous to acknowledge that we are capable of making mistakes, and on the other hand interpreting everything the Iraqis do as having nefarious intent. This is a nation that has been devastated by a war, bombed to hell and back, and then it has these brutal economic sanctions which leave the country in disarray. There will be mistakes. This is also a nation that is ruled by people whose single intent is to stay in power. They will cover as many bases as they can. Right now such people see their neighbors' weapons of mass destruction, they see the inevitability of conflict with the United States, and they're not going to give up their weapons. When Madeleine Albright made the awful statement in March of 1997, that economic sanctions would continue while Saddam was in power regardless of weapons disarmament, she basically closed the door on any hope that the Iraqis would get rid of their weapons. Bert Sacks: Both secretaries of state, and both presidents have maintained that as long as Saddam Hussein is in power, we will maintain economic sanctions. So what we're saying is that we're going to maintain economic sanctions to coerce the population of that country into rising up. The legal definition of terrorism is an act dangerous to human life done to coerce a civilian population or its government. If it is done outside the territorial boundaries of the United States it's international terrorism. I can't see any way to look at our public statements except as admissions that we are attempting to coerce the civilian population of the country to rise up and overthrow its leader, or to coerce the leader to abide by resolutions. And the price is, as you correctly quoted in the book, 43,000 children every year. Is this not terrorism? If not, why not? Scott Ritter: There is no way I'm going to call the US government a terrorist government. Bert Sacks: But that's not what I asked. Is this action not an act of terrorism? Scott Ritter: If it's an act of terrorism then the people perpetrating it are terrorists. I think that we are a good country; the best country on the face of the earth. No one will ever get me to change that. We make mistakes – horrible mistakes. I believe we are making a horrible mistake right now. Sometimes the people who formulate policy have to make very, very tough decisions. If the threat that Iraq posed to international peace and security was so great that it required us to undertake these actions in Iraq, I would be supportive of it. When you look at the grand scheme of things, and you have two hundred fifty-eight million Americans who are being threatened by the Iraqi regime, then I will balance the two-hundred-fifty million Americans as being more valuable than twenty-two million Iraqis if their government is wrong. But that's not the case. That is not what is happening. I think the US has totally skewed the equation by giving Saddam more weight to his threat to the point that they think their policies are justified. Saddam doesn't pose that threat. Therefore these policies are not justified. There's no way you can justify what the US is doing in Iraq right now. I will call them unjustifiable, immoral, but there is no way I can call them terrorist acts. The United States is not a terrorist nation, the government is not a terrorist government. We have some pretty poor formulators of policy in place right now. I often have internal debates. There's this concept of indicting Milosevic. I look at the hypocrisy of what we say about Milosevic and I compare our support of Tudjman and what he did in Krajina, where we basically encouraged him to ethnically cleanse a quarter of a million Serbs. Thousands were butchered, raped, brutalized. Where do we start drawing the line? Tudjman? Or do we go further, to people who encourage Tudjman? Are we saying that Bill Clinton is a war criminal? I am not saying that. We are very loose with our morals. We will say that Milosevic is a war criminal but we won’t say that Tudjman is a war criminal. Bert Sacks: Part of this work involves people in the peace camp talking to people in the military and vice-versa. Is there anything you would like to say to the peace movement? Scott Ritter: Keep the military out of it. The military doesn’t formulate policy. If you are going to go to war you need to have pureness of purpose. The military exists to kill. Plain and simple. There is no reason to have a marine sniper other than to put a bullet through the skull of an enemy at one thousand yards. Bingo. That’s it. He exists to do that. He doesn’t formulate policy or dictate where he goes. He operates within the framework of international law. He is trained to respect the Geneva conventions and trained to understand that he only obeys a lawful order. He is not a robotic killing machine. American servicemen are not that way. We are very disciplined in our approach to war. So keep the military our of it. The Peace Movement should be talking to the formulators of policy, the people who put the military in the situation. I believe that we have to have a military just like we have to have a cop, since no matter how great society is there will be that ten per cent that deviates from the norm. There will be that ten per cent in the world. But there is a major difference between fending off an Adolph Hitler and fending off an illusory Adolph Hitler. We have a tendency to demonize quickly because we don’t understand. What you see in Iraq is the fact that our formulators of policy have no clue what Iraq is, who the Iraqis are, who the leadership is. We try to apply own our perceptions of morality and ideology to an environment that we just do not understand. You are dealing with people that are addicted to power. People who get caught up in this national security atmosphere, it’s very heady, there are up there in rarefied air. People thinking, “If I write a memo today a bomb can be dropped tomorrow. Wow. I am so neat.” He is not special, he just happens to have an important job. He would be special if he did that job correctly. If he did good work. But people get lazy. They are as human as anyone else. I don’t know how to change that. You would be beating your head against a brick wall by going after the government directly. You are going to lose. They have all the power. You have no power. That is the reality. They control taxes. You don’t. They control law-making. You don’t. But who does the government work for? The people, and the people of the United States are very lazy. They pull that little lever and put people in office and it’s like automatic pilot. People live in their own little cocoon of life and they just assume the government is doing the right thing. If I turn on the light and the power goes on people think: somebody is doing something right, America works! But when you focus on Iraq, the government is failing miserably. The government is doing an abysmal job. How do you change that? What I have noticed going out speaking is that there is almost no dissension. Everyone is disturbed by what they are hearing. They are saying what can I do? Write an informed letter to your congressman. The realities of American politics are such that if that fax machine keeps going off and letters keep pouring out questioning the morality of American foreign policy in Iraq, that Congressman is going to become a big-time activist. That is what I recommend to you: take your argument to the people. Take your argument to the people in a way that is palatable to the people. Nicholas Arons: Can you tell us about Ameriyah. Scott Ritter: There is no comparison between Ameriyah and Auschwitz [as FOR literature has in the past suggested]. Auschwitz was genocide of the most brutal kind; Ameriyah was a legitimate military target, which had women and children in it and we didn’t know. The Iraqis were using it as a command and control facility, for routing messages. This is irrefutable. If we had known that it had women and children we would never have targeted it. Never! We were so focused on preventing those sort of casualties among the Iraqi civilians. We didn’t know. We dropped the bomb. People died. It was horrible. This is not Auschwitz. That’s one of the problems – you lose people with statements like that. I am not saying that Ameriyah was not a horrible thing – it was – there were so many children there. I have seen the shelter. It is not a nice thing. It is a gruesome reminder that if there is any way to avoid war we must. In war, innocents suffer, even unintentionally. Bert Sacks: I do not think of Ameriyah as Auschwitz. I do view sanctions as Auschwitz. Scott Ritter: Now we are on a different plane altogether. Bert Sacks: Not only are we willing to cause hundreds of thousands of deaths but we are willing to accept this because they are Arabs, Semite peoples- Scott Ritter: It’s racial politics- Bert Sacks: They are not Christian. Scott Ritter: We would never allow 500,000 Jewish children to starve to death. We would never allow 500,000 British children to starve to death. It’s racial politics, we all know that. We allowed about 1.9 million Sudanese to live on the brink of disaster. It’s pure racial politics, there is no doubt about that. The difference between Auschwitz and what is happening now is that legally speaking Saddam Hussein has the key to turn this off. The concept of us trying to save the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein is ludicrous. He is a brutal dictator. He may torture to death 1,800 people a year. That is a lot. That is terrible. I am not saying this is acceptable. We kill 6,000 a month. Let’s put that on a scale. Why does he torture these people to death – to stay in power. There is a cause and effect relationship to everything that goes on. Economic sanctions have created a tremendous amount of instability in the regime and so the regime cracks down harder to stay in power. Maybe if you lifted the sanctions there wouldn’t be this instability. These facts should be shouted out to the American people. This is insane what we are doing. Totally insane. Especially if you go back and reevaluate Iraq’s disarmament from a qualitative standpoint. They have no weapons of mass destruction capability worth the terminology. Iraq can be used positively to start regional disarmament. We need to get weapons inspectors back in Iraq, and I think the Iraqis will accept them. They will. We need to lift sanctions. There can be an immediate trade-off. We have discredited our moral authority. Bert Sacks: The other problem in Iraq is that the infrastructure is destroyed. Scott Ritter: The UN system for distribution is working. The UN receives food and distributes food. The UN receives medicine and distributes medicine. The UN system is functioning. But, Iraq is not functioning. So it does not matter if we can distribute food because the effects of economic sanctions are such that we will never relieve the suffering of the people unless billions of dollars are infused. But the US says: the system is working. The problem is that the Iraqi society is devastated. Nicholas Arons: Tell us about how the promotion for your book is going and what your plans for the future are? Scott Ritter: I am not promoting the book. The book I have written, Endgame, is a spring-board of ideas. It is a way of communicating with the American public. It has not been as successful at communicating as much as I would have liked. If people want to find out more about Iraq it is there. I have to stay on target. I made a commitment to get US policy changed so I will do what I can. Nicholas Arons: Tell us about depleted uranium. It has been used in Iraq and Kosovo. There is speculation that it relates to high increases in cancer rates. Scott Ritter: I just do not have the data. I know we used DU extensively. The former Attorney General Ramsey Clark has called the US war criminals for using depleted uranium. There is a lot of speculation. People go in and say that the background radiation already in Iraq is higher than what would be caused by depleted uranium. Others say the cancer rates have shot up after the Gulf War. That could be depleted uranium, or it could be the fact that oil refineries were bombed and people consumed lots of carcinogenic chemicals, or that the water table has been polluted. The environment of life is drastically different than before the Gulf War. It’s like Gulf War syndrome: is it only depleted uranium or is it other things too. No one knows. It is there. Is it a combination of a sand flees, stress, tension, and depleted uranium? We do not know the answers. In my opinion there is a problem in southern Iraq, no one can deny that there is a problem. The question is what caused this and what can we do about it? I am not jumping on the depleted uranium bandwagon since I do not have enough data to make those linkages. No one has enough data. We are not going to help the deformed children until the sanctions are lifted. I am not absolving ourselves of responsibility. There is a moral responsibility for the consequences of war. When we get into a war we have to think long-term. It is more than putting troops on the ground and winning a political dispute. We need forward thinking policies. Bert Sacks: Why did you take this risk of publicly resigning? Why did you step off the cliff? Scott Ritter: I know what makes me tick. I just know that when I look in the mirror in the morning I need to be pretty happy with myself. I was waking up looking in the mirror saying why are you in Iraq and what are you doing? You are supposed to be carrying our UN mandate and you are not being allowed to. Then there is a choice: do you go quietly or do you go noisily and try to change things. My training as a marine corps officer taught me that you cannot back away from a problem. You have to tackle it head on, whether that problem is sniper who I have to kill or that problem is failed foreign policy in Iraq. We were being ambushed by the Administration on Iraq so I jumped off the cliff and I am still falling. I would never hold other people to my standards of what made me do that. I am married, I have two children who are helpless, her parents are refugees who have nothing.