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Protesters to Rumsfeld: 'Inspections, not war'

Protesters hold up banners behind Defense Secretary Rumsfeld as he was about to push the U.S. case against Iraq.
Protesters hold up banners behind Defense Secretary Rumsfeld as he was about to push the U.S. case against Iraq.  

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 war."

Rumsfeld: U.S. goal is disarming Iraq 
Protesters briefly interrupted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's testimony before a congressional committee as he sought backing for the Bush administration's stance on Iraq. (September 18)

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"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.




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