Sean Penn on Iraq war

Charles Brown BrownBingb at aol.com
Thu Dec 19 05:53:26 MST 2002


BAGHDAD - Reuters - If a U.S.-led war with Iraq smears blood on his hands as
an American citizen, Sean Penn wants to know why -- and he has come to
Baghdad to find out.

"Absolutely I think war can be avoided, but obviously it's going to take
enormous commitment on the part of the Iraqi government as well as the United
States," the actor-director told Reuters television in an interview on
Sunday.

"I will certainly do what I can to support that commitment to looking for
other options," Penn said.

The former Hollywood bad boy and Oscar nominee paid for a $56,000
advertisement in the Washington Post in October accusing President George W.
Bush of stifling debate on Iraq.

He declined to renew his criticism of Bush on foreign soil, saying he would
reserve political comments for his return home.

Bush has threatened war to topple President Saddam Hussein if he fails to
abandon his alleged doomsday arsenal.

Penn said it would "suit us all" if Iraq fully disclosed any banned weapons
it still has, but questioned whether U.S. national security concerns about
this justified war.

Asked if his three-day trip to Baghdad might expose him to charges of lack of
patriotism, Penn said he would be happy to debate anyone who made such
accusations.

"I'm here for a simple reason, which is because I'm a patriot and an American
who has benefited enormously from being an American, and because I had areas
of personal concern and conscience that led me to come to Iraq.

"I believe, however I vote and whatever my perspective, that I do deserve the
government I get," he said.

"And if there's going to be blood on my hands, I'm determined that it's not
going to be invisible. That blood is not just Iraqi blood, it's the blood of
American soldiers."

SMILING IN ADVERSITY

Penn's visit was organised by the Institute of Public Accuracy, a U.S. group
of policy analysts.

He has toured a Baghdad children's hospital, wandered the streets without an
Iraqi minder and had meetings with Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz and
Health Minister Umeed Madhat Mubarak -- who gave him a hard time for his
smoking habit.

Penn said he had been touched by the warmth of ordinary Iraqis despite the
tension and suffering of their daily lives.

"I do find it very moving, you know, the strength of a smile in those
circumstances, and the smiles that I saw were abundant," he said.

Penn's advertisement in the Washington Post took the form of an open letter
in which he urged Bush to stop a cycle where "bombing is answered by bombing,
mutilation by mutilation, killing by killing."

"Sacrificing American soldiers or innocent civilians in an unprecedented
pre-emptive attack on a separate sovereign nation may well prove itself a
most temporary medicine," he said.

More than 100 other American celebrities, including Hollywood stars Kim
Basinger, David Duchovny and Mia Farrow, signed an open letter last week
which said rigorous United Nations inspections were the best way to disarm
Iraq, not war.

"HEIGHTENED DESPERATION"

Asked to explain his interest in Iraq, Penn said it was the "current
headline" for the Bush administration's war on terror.

"It's a war that is going to affect the generation of my children," he said.

"Because of the technology and the heightened desperation of the world today,
I think it's very possible that we are facing the first century that will
complete itself without mankind -- and that's not the future that I want for
my children, or for their children," he declared.

Penn said his Iraq odyssey, by helping him to be aware of the times he lived
in, could play into his professional life.

"Whatever story you have to tell, you have to be aware of who you are telling
it to and what the benefit of it is, whether it's limited to amusement or a
political statement, because short of that it's simply what someone does
alone in a bathroom," the 42-year-old Californian said.

Did he hope to bridge the gap between American perceptions of Iraq and the
reality?

"I have to start with bridging my own gap," he replied.

"Ultimately if I can do that in the way you expressed, that would be
something I'd be very proud of."

12/15/02 06:47 ET


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