Admit Your Lies", Ex U.N. Inspector Tells U.S., U.K.

GENEVA, June 6 ( & News Agencies) - The United States and Britain should admit they lied when claiming the ousted Baghdad regime had weapons of mass destruction, Scott Ritter, a former U.N. senior weapons inspector in Iraq, said in an interview published here Friday, June6 .

Ritter, speaking to the Swiss daily Le Temps, called on U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to "have the courage to be held responsible" for telling lies to the public into backing the conflict, Agence France-Presse (AFP) said.

An outspoken critic of Bush's handling of the conflict, the ex-Marine said the two leaders should "explain frankly and honestly why they went to war."

They should "admit their lies", he said.

Ritter's comments were published in French.

"If this is a noble crusade to liberate the world from a crazy dictator, admit it," he said.

But, Ritter added, Saddam Hussein could not have destroyed a possible arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) "without leaving traces... (U.S. Secretary of Defense) Donald Rumsfeld has furnished no proof of their supposed destruction, just as he has never furnished the slightest proof of their existence".

Ritter, a former intelligence officer in the U.S. Marines once dubbed a "cowboy" by U.N. officials for what they called his intrusive inspection procedures, headed up the inspections team in Iraq from 1991 to1998 .

He resigned in August1998 , citing a lack of U.N. and U.S. support for his disarmament methods.

In his "Endgame: Solving the Iraq Problem -- Once and For All", Ritter slammed Bush's policy of regime change as having corrupted the inspection process in Iraq.

He also dismissed U.S. intelligence information purporting to show the existence of WMDs, saying doubt would now be cast upon any further declarations made by the U.S. president.

"(Bush) says that Iran has weapons of mass destruction. On the basis of what information? And what about Syria, or North Korea?" he told the paper.

"Big Bluff"

Meanwhile, a German member of the U.N. team investigating Iraq's alleged program of weapons of mass destruction has accused U.S. authorities of presenting false evidence against the regime, the German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel reports in its Saturday, June7 , edition.

His criticism adds to a growing tide of accusations that the United States and its key ally Britain deliberately manipulated information to make it look as if Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

The fear that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had such arms at his disposal was one of the chief justifications for the war to topple him.

The German inspector, Peter Franck, was part of the U.N. weapons inspection team in Iraq from December last year until shortly before the U.S.-led invasion in March.

He told Der Spiegel that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell did not present truthful evidence to the U.N. Security Council in a famous February 5 speech.

It was "all a big bluff," Franck said.

"Basically, it was all a show for the American public.

He said Powell used satellite pictures to try to show that decontamination trucks in front of an ammunition bunker were proof that Iraq was experimenting with chemical weapons there.

However, an earlier visit by U.N. inspectors had already determined that the trucks were firefighting vehicles.

"What Powell said simply wasn't true," Franck told the magazine.

He said U.S. officials exaggerated the numbers of soldiers and equipment Iraq had at its disposal. A U.N. inspection of an air defense base showed the United States had over-estimated the number of planes there by five times.

Franck said U.S. officials appear to have concentrated too much on satellite images, which could be interpreted different ways.

London and Washington have strongly denied claims that they manipulated any evidence.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted the intelligence was "good," and promised Thursday that Powell's testimony "will be proved right."

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has been under increasing pressure to explain why none of the weapons Iraq was alleged to have possessed have been found in the six weeks since the end of the war, despite intense searches of suspect sites.