WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Chanting "inspections, not war," demonstrators Wednesday
interrupted U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as he urged a House committee
to back the Bush administration's proposal to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Rumsfeld, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, had started
to argue the case for removing the Iraqi president when a woman seated behind
him stood up and said, "Mr. Rumsfeld, I think we need weapons inspections, not
Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange, a group focusing on human rights and social
justice, talks to reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2002 after disrupting
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumfeld's testimony on Iraq before the House Armed
Services Committee. Benjamin was escorted from the hearing after she, and another
woman, unfurled a banner. (AP Photo/J.Scott Applewhite)
"Why are you obstructing the inspections? Is this really about oil? How many
civilians will be killed?" the woman asked.
She and another
woman began chanting "Inspections, not war" and unfurled a banner bearing the
slogan before Capitol police removed them from the hearing room.
Rumsfeld's testimony emphasized that U.S. President George W. Bush has made
no decision on taking military action against Iraq, but he raised the specter
of a September 11-style attack involving nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
He said the goal of U.S. policy is to disarm Iraq, not to seek inspections.
"Of course, people like that are not able to go to Iraq and make demonstrations
like that because there is no free speech," he said.
The protesters spoke after the incident outside the building. "I think I represent
all the ordinary people in this country," said protester Diane Wilson. "I'm a
fisherman. I'm a mother of five children and I went there to let those people
in Congress know that average citizens are out there questioning. We're just reading
average papers. We don't have the scoop on what's going on in the Capitol. Quite
frankly, I've lost my hope in Congress of listening to the will of the people
and so that's why I was there."
The other demonstrator, Medea Benjamin, said she was protesting because she
said members of the House committee would not ask Rumsfeld tough questions.
"They weren't asking the questions we asked: How many civilians would be killed?
How would they protect us against the backlash of anti-Americanism? Why is this
all about oil? Why is it coming up now? Can't we wait till after the elections?
Why is the Bush administration stopping this inspection process? Why don't we
put it back into the hands of the [U.N.] Security Council?" she said.
Capitol Police spokesman Dan Nichols said carrying protest banners into the
Capitol was not illegal because they cannot be used as a weapon.
Iraq agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles
under U.N. resolutions ending the Persian Gulf War in 1991. After years of complaints
about Iraqi obstruction, U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998 shortly before
a U.S.-British bombing campaign.
Bush urged the United Nations last week to force Iraq to comply with U.N. resolutions
or Washington would take action.
But Iraq's offer Monday to allow inspections to resume "without conditions"
has split U.N. Security Council members as the Bush administration has sought
to build support for action against the Baghdad government.
CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report.
© 2002 Cable News Network LP, LLLP