Sean Penn Questions U.S. Policy, Visits Iraq

ByABC News

B A G H D A D, Dec. 16, 2002 -- The prospect of war between the U.S. and Iraq has drawn increasing attention from those urging a peaceful solution and an unusual visitor to Baghdad. Actor-director Sean Penn was there this weekend.

During his three days in Baghdad, Sean Penn visited children in a hospital and toured a water treatment facility bombed during the Gulf War. He even got an audience with Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, one of Saddam Hussein's closest advisers.

Penn, 41, and star of such films as Dead Man Walking and I am Sam, says he made this trip as a father and as a concerned citizen.

"I needed to come here and see a smile … smell the smells, talk to the people and take that home with me," said Penn.

Last fall, Penn paid more than $50,000 to take out a newspaperad, accusing President Bush of promoting fear and stifling debate on Iraq.

"I cannot conceive of any reason why the American people and the world would not haveshared with [Iraqis] the evidence of the claim to have weapons of massdestruction," Penn said. "I think that the more information we push for, the moreinformation we are given, the better off we are all going to be and theright thing will happen."

But, on foreign soil, Penn took pains not to criticize anyone.

"I'm not going to make a specific comment on American foreign policy unless I'm in America where my opponents will have me available to debate," he said.

He was perhaps mindful of the uproar Jane Fonda created, when she went toVietnam in 1969, or the experiences of his father, actor/director Leo Penn, who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era.

Penn is not the only Hollywood star concerned about possible war. A group of more than 100 performers paid for a full-page antiwar ad in Sunday's New York Times . Penn says it is perfectly legitimate for entertainers to use their status to advance causes.

"Every bit as legitimate as it is for anybody in the United States to take whatever opportunity they have to serve the country that served them."

Penn is the second Hollywood personality to air his anti-war opinions.

Actor Martin Sheen spear-headed a campaign urgingPresident Bush to rethink his strategy on Iraq.

A number of prominent Hollywood stars unveiled a letter last week in LosAngeles with a message to the Bush Administration urging peaceful means forsolving the issues surrounding Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

Stars including Kim Basinger, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Ethan Hawke,Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Lange and Martin Sheen, are said to havesigned the letter.

It's an initiative sponsored by a coalition called "Artists United to WinWithout War" and co-founded by actor Mike Farrell and director RobertGreenwald.

As for those who would question his patriotism, Penn says Americans have a right to pursue knowledge, and if something like this makes him feel more patriotic, Penn says, "then I'm damn well gonna do it."

ABCNEWS' Dan Harris contributed to this report.