- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

Two of the three Democratic congressmen who traveled to Baghdad to meet with that nation's top officials said yesterday they consider themselves patriots who are trying to head off President Bush's push for war by getting Iraq to agree to weapons inspections.
"We wanted to go over and give them the message from people who don't want to go to war: 'You better listen to what the president is saying, because if you don't, you're not hearing what's going on in our country,'" said Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington. Mr. McDermott along with Rep. David E. Bonior of Michigan and Rep. Mike Thompson of California met with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and the president of Iraq's parliament, though they did not meet with dictator Saddam Hussein.
The congressmen have been compared to actress and anti-Vietnam War activist Jane Fonda for their trip and for suggesting in a weekend television interview that Saddam is more trustworthy than Mr. Bush. But at a news conference yesterday they dismissed those remarks, saying they are out of place.
"We both served our country in the service, and a lot of people who are criticizing us never were there when their country needed them," Mr. Bonior said.
"When you have an interview with them, ask them first what they did during the Vietnam era and see where they were. We paid. We did our part. Nobody's going to accuse us of being traitors to our country," Mr. McDermott said, as the Washington Democrat and Mr. Bonior recounted their findings from their trip.
The three men arrived in Iraq on Friday and returned to the United States Tuesday night. Mr. Thompson did not attend yesterday's news event, and a spokeswoman did not return several phone calls asking for comment.
All three congressmen served during the Vietnam War: Mr. Thompson was in the Army from 1969 to 1972; Mr. Bonior was in the Air Force from 1968 to 1972; and Mr. McDermott was in the Navy from 1968 to 1970.
Mr. McDermott and Mr. Bonior said Iraqi leaders promised them that United Nations inspectors, headed by Hans Blix, would have full access to investigate whether Baghdad has been building nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
But the trip itself drew harsh criticism yesterday from other lawmakers and Iraqi opposition leaders. Republican Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas, who served in the Air Force from 1951 to 1979 and who spent nearly seven years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, called their actions "unconscionable, unpatriotic and as far as I'm concerned, un-American."
"Can you believe what our troops overseas would think, seeing a picture of a United States congressman standing next to Saddam Hussein, who is one of our avowed enemies?" he said. "You can't cavort around with the enemy and be a great American. We've got to get together on this thing and we will."
Ahmad Chalabi, who is part of the leadership of the Iraqi National Congress, which opposes Saddam's rule, said the three congressmen saw only what the Iraqi dictator let them see.
David Boyer and Amy Fagan contributed to this article.

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