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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with WHDH-TV

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
March 23, 2003

(Interview with WHDH-TV (NBC), Boston, Mass.)

Q: What can you tell me about American prisoners after the battle or conflict at Al Nasiriya?

Wolfowitz: What we can say is we know there are a number of Americans who are missing, not that I know of from that battle, but from some other action. Our first obligation of course is to notify the next of kin which we're doing. We're trying to find out as much as we can about where they are, if they are prisoners, where they're being held prisoner. And to send this message to the Iraqis who are holding them--which is that there are very clear obligations under the Geneva Convention to treat them properly, treat them humanely, not humiliate them, and that the regime in Baghdad is not going to be around very long to protect the people who are holding our prisoners. So they better observe the Geneva Convention.

We are doing it ourselves. We have hundreds of Iraqi prisoners and they're being treated well. They're being given good meals and treated as they should be under the laws of war.

Q: Do you have any reason to doubt the tape that we've seen on Iraqi TV, shown on Al Jazeera, which show some prisoners apparently dead?

Wolfowitz: Until we have clear confirmation I don't want to base it on, certainly, from what I could say from that Al Jazeera tape. It raises real concern. We know some of our people are missing. We want to know what happened to them and we want our families to know everything we do know which we're in the process of telling them.

I think we can also add this, which I heard Senator McCain-- who has the grim experience of having spent years in a Vietnamese prison--say on television earlier, which is that there is no question what the outcome of this conflict will be. Those people who are being held by the Iraqis are not going to languish for years in prison like Senator McCain. We will win this war and we will bring home our people who are alive.

Q: I understand you do not know for certain the fate of Saddam Hussein but you've got a lot of information. Some of it we're hearing allegedly through British briefings. What do you believe is the fate of Saddam Hussein at this time? Dead, alive, wounded?

Wolfowitz: Don't know.

Q: What do you believe given the information you have?

Wolfowitz: He might be dead. He may be dazed or wounded or disoriented. And he may be the man who they display in these TV pictures--although I must say those have a very artificial looking quality to me.

What does seem to be the case is that their command and control is not functioning with what we would think of as their normal reaction time to things. And there seems to be a certain amount of confusion. But even that we have to say with a lot of caution, because they have learned over the years how to hide their methods of communicating. There are many channels they have for passing messages that we don't see. But we have this message for all the people who may think about fighting or dying for him--which is that this regime is finished, it's on its way out, the honorable thing to do to save themselves, to save their troops, to save their people, and save the whole world a lot of trouble, would be to surrender. And we're giving them a lot of instructions on how they can do that safely and honorably.

Q: Have you gotten information that there's a picture of Saddam Hussein injured after the bunker attack?

Wolfowitz: I haven't seen one.

Q: Have you heard that there is such a picture?

Wolfowitz: I haven't heard of one either.

Q: Chemical weapons. I understand troops have only been on the ground 72 hours but given the level of information you had before about chemical, biological and other banned weapons and your own self-interest in proving that they're there, why haven't we found anything?

Wolfowitz: Because we're 72 hours into a war and our goal right now is to defeat the enemy, to make the place safe for our people. Once we own the territory and the war is over, then we can focus on the very important job of scouring around for the weapons of mass destruction.

Right now anything we would come across would be almost purely by accident.

We were emphasizing all along, in fact, the difficulty of searching a country the size of California for weapons that have been very deliberately and carefully hidden. When we control the place and when people are free to talk to us, I suspect we'll be able to conduct that search a lot more rapidly than could have been done any other way. But right now our goal is to end this regime and get it out of the way and get our troops out of harm's way.

Q: I know you folks hate being pinned down to timeframes. The British are saying they expect to be ready to enter Baghdad as early as Tuesday. Is that a reasonable --

Wolfowitz: It's not that we hate being pinned down to timeframes, it's that I think it's foolish to be pinned down to timeframes. This is a war. Wars are brutal and ugly and unpredictable, and if the British are saying it's possible, I guess it is possible, which is in itself amazing. But is it possible he'll be much longer than that? It's also possible.

The very weapons that we talked about a few minutes ago-- chemical and biological weapons--one of the greatest points of danger of their being used comes as we get closer to Baghdad and that could affect the timetable of things. Just because it moved very quick up to here, doesn't give you a whole lot to go on on what's going to happen in the next 24-48 hours, the next week or two.

Q: That's why I wonder if it's unreasonable the hopes of people as you reach out and attempt to make surrender talks and to get people to surrender with the possibility that there's this leadership vacuum there. An idea that Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, the place collapses and we're surrounding it and ready to move in is a pipedream?

Wolfowitz: You raise a fair point. I think when it comes to our own expectations, we should try to keep them down just to prepare for the worst. It's the smartest thing to do.

When it comes to the expectations of the Iraqi military, the important thing is for them to understand, whatever time it takes, the end is very clear. Fighting for this man is a losing proposition. Doing war crimes on his behalf is a fatal proposition. And the sooner that message permeates the Iraqi military, the sooner it will be over.

Q: Let me ask you lastly, if we do come to believe that they are mistreating our prisoners, possibly killing some of them, will it change our battle plans at all? In the smaller sense, in the larger sense. Will we attempt to rescue --

Wolfowitz: Obviously, look, if we knew where prisoners were, we would go do what we could to rescue them--just as when we knew where a key leadership target was, we adjusted our plan to do that.

That's always in plans. Plans are a beginning point. This plan I think is extraordinary for its flexibility and the precision that we have with our air power, our ability to go after targets that we identify on short notice with extraordinary precision. It's never been seen before, and it's a powerful, powerful tool. If we can apply that tool to rescuing our people, I'm sure General Franks would do it. But one way or another we'll get them back because we will be in charge.

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