Here's a Marine who deserves one of W's "Freedom" awards.

President Bush has been handing out Presidential Medals of Freedom lately like they were Little League good-sportsmanship ribbons. The medal apparently is an award for good effort, even if the results aren't so winning. He awarded one to former Iraq viceroy Paul Bremer, who most notably disbanded the Iraqi army, leading to our present security implosion.

And he gave one to George Tenet, the former CIA chief, who most notably presided over two of the most devastating intelligence failures in the nation's history: September 11th and Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. It was Tenet who told the president that finding weapons stockpiles in Iraq was a "slam dunk." Right. Give that man a medal.

I'd like to nominate someone who really deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom: Scott Ritter. Remember Ritter? In 2002, I wrote about the square-jawed former U.S. Marine and United Nations weapons inspector, who was in Wichita several months before the invasion of Iraq, giving a talk -- no, a plea -- about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

He was adamant: Saddam Hussein had no WMD -- at least none of any consequence or that posed an imminent danger to the United States. Certainly nothing that would warrant a rushed invasion. "We can't go to war based on rhetoric and speculation," he told the crowd. "We'd better make sure there is a threat out there worth fighting."

He argued that 90 to 95 percent of Saddam's WMD had been dismantled by the U.N. inspection team, for which he served from 1991 to 1998, and that Saddam was otherwise well contained by U.S. forces. Now we know: He was right.

The Bush administration this week quietly called off the weapons search. There aren't any WMD stockpiles. As in none. Zip. And, no, they weren't moved to Syria. The weapons didn't exist. True to form, Bush insisted this week that it didn't matter. That's right. His main justification for taking this country into a bloody, costly war didn't matter! He would still have invaded Iraq. Huh? That makes sense only if he had planned to invade Iraq all along, as critics have charged.

I remember Ritter telling the largely anti-war audience at a Wichita church that he wasn't a pacifist. A proud U.S. Marine, he believed that it was sometimes necessary to go to war and fight. But he also believed that it was wrong to put American fighting men and women in harm's way without very good reason.

Ritter saw that his country was headed down a disastrous path and had the guts to speak out. At the time, he took a lot of abuse from Bush loyalists. They questioned his motives and his integrity. They compared him to Jane Fonda.

Now, he could be saying, "I told you so." Instead, he's speaking out on another security boondoggle -- the anti-missile defense shield program, which is costing U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars without the Pentagon even being able to prove that it works.

We're spending the national treasure on it, with nothing in the way of enhanced security to show for it. On the contrary, argues Ritter, it's unleashing a dangerous and pointless new arms race. Will we listen to him now? Probably not.

But make no mistake: Scott Ritter is an American patriot who cares enough about his country to tell it the truth.

Give that man a medal. He actually deserves it. n

Randy Scholfield is a columnist for the Wichita (Kansas) Eagle, where this story first appeared.

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