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Teleconference Briefing From Umm Qasr, Iraq on Enemy Prisoner of War Issues

Presenters: Army Col. John Della Jacono, Deputy Chief of Staff, CFLCC
April 09, 2003 9:00 AM EDT

Staff: I want to welcome you to our second in a series of briefings related to U.S. military treatment of enemy prisoners of war today. And we have with us Colonel John Della Jacono, who has joined us from Umm Qasr. Colonel Della Jacono is the deputy chief of staff for Coalition Land Component Commander, and he has a great deal of experience in working with enemy prisoners of war. Colonel Jacono comes to us from the newly built Theater Internment Facility at Umm Qasr, which is the main facility for this conflict. Today he'll have a number of staff members from the facility, and they'll tell you about their responsibilities.

We are being joined from Kuwait at the press center there, as well as the press center in Qatar, and we'll be taking questions from both here and from Qatar.

The last -- the spelling of the last name is J-A-C-A-N-O (sic). And with that --

Q: (Off mike) -- in the press release spelled J-A-C-O-N-O.

Staff: We'll get you the spellings afterwards. Okay? Let's go ahead and get started. Colonel Jacono?

Jacono: Yes. My name's Colonel Della Jacono. My first name's John. My last name's Della Jacono. Currently the deputy chief of staff of CFLCC. I'm an MP officer. I have approximately 28 years in the service. I've had some experience with EPWs during the last war, when I was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. And also I was responsible for the detainee operations in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom during the first nine months, before we did a transfer of authority to 18th Airborne Corps.

We've been up here now -- we've been in combat for about 21 days. And what I could categorically say to all of you -- we've been taking EPWs since day one, and as you have seen in the print media, you have seen the care and humane treatment that our forces, from the combat infantryman or Marine on the ground to the MP back here in the Theater Internment Facility, has been giving to the Iraqi enemy prisoners of war.

We have planned this operation to handle EPWs for a significant amount of time. Planning has been occurring or has occurred, I would say, over the last eight or nine months.

Where I'm standing right now is the final internment area for all the enemy captured -- enemy prisoners of war in theater. So all those being captured today in Baghdad will be evacuated from Baghdad to this facility here. This is the end state. The EPWs will remain here until the end of hostilities, at which point a decision will be made on the procedures for repatriation to either an interim authority or a legitimate government in Iraq.

The men and women responsible for EPW handling are trained pretty much as a common soldier task. The infantryman is taught how to deal with EPWs on the battlefield, but this is primarily a Military Police operation. And so, here at this facility, you have the 800th MP Brigade, which is our theater internment resettlement brigade responsible for the theater internment of EPWs on the battlefield.

Now as you go further up north, every echelon of command from the brigade on up, division, corps level, they all have certain EPW responsibilities and they all have MPs embedded in those organizations. So, this is an MP battlefield function; we train to this. And I think we're doing a great job in evacuating EPWs off the battlefield for their own care. And that's one of the tenets, to get them off the battlefield as quickly as possible. So, we do have a mechanism in place that all captured EPWs are expeditiously moved back to this location.

So that kind of concludes my initial statement. Do you have any questions?

Staff: Colonel Della Jacono, do you have any other individuals there that you want to introduce us to and kind of let us know briefly what their responsibilities are, so as we direct questions, if they have questions for -- that fall in those particular areas, they can ask those individuals also?

Jacono: Right now, I'm kind of standing by myself. The 800th MP Brigade representatives right now are building the theater internment facility, so hopefully, they'll be available as we go through this interview. If not, I'll try to handle most of the questions that come from you.

Staff: Very good, Colonel. We'll start from here, then, and we'll try to let you know who's asking you the question and from what news organization.

Q: (Off mike) -- that you are holding, how they're being treated, what they're being fed, how they're being medically taken care of? And also, can you provide any sense of what they're talking about, whether they're relieved that this may be coming to an end?

Jacono: Can you please repeat that question?

Q: Colonel, could you provide us with a sense of how the prisoners are being treated, being cared for, given food, medical treatment? And also, can you give us a sense of what they are saying about their sense of this war perhaps coming to an end?

Jacono: Well, first of all, we do medically treat all injured EPWs. We have quite a few in existing medical facilities at this time. The last count that I saw this morning, we had approximately 236 EPWs under medical treatment. They are in field hospitals on the battlefield. We have some on the Naval hospital ship, the Comfort. So immediately, if we encounter a wounded EPW, he's getting the immediate care to treat him accordingly.

Q: Could you give us a sense of --

Jacono: And I didn't get the second part of your question.

Q: Yes, Colonel, could you give us a sense, first of all, of how many you have there, and how they're being treated in terms of regular food and what reaction they might be giving you?

Jacono: Well, as of this morning, we have about 7,300 enemy prisoners of war under our control. That stretches from Baghdad all the way down to this location here. They are being fed -- as you go up north, you know, they are being fed the same meals as soldiers eat or Marines eat. They're given water, MREs. But at this location right now, there is an existing mess hall, as you will. And they were getting two hot meals a day, primarily rice and stew. They're also receiving some sundry items, bread, water. So, from what I've seen down here, most of these EPWs are not hungry. They are being well taken care of all the way from Baghdad down to this location.

Initially, what I saw a couple of days ago was that when we do receive enemy prisoners of war down here, they are also given a box, an initial box of food, juice, bread -- a pretty hefty little lunch kit, as you will, to initially feed him as he gets to this facility.

Q: Colonel, good afternoon. My name is Meredith Buel. I'm a correspondent with the Voice of America. Have you had a chance to talk with any of the prisoners of war with regards to their feelings about fighting for the Saddam Hussein regime, and about their feelings, at least lately, that it appears that the regime has fallen in Baghdad?

Jacono: I have not personally, so I cannot give you an answer to that question. I know all the way up from the division level back here, they have been initially talked to, interrogated, as you will. But I can't give you an answer on their sentiment on, you know, how they feel about the regime and Saddam Hussein at this point.

Q: Colonel, let me follow that up. Can you tell us, have they given you any valuable strategic or technical information with regards to the Iraqi military, that has been passed along to coalition forces as they continue to fight?

Jacono: There's a few that have given us some insights on the state of readiness, the cohesion of some of the units. So there has been some talk about how well the units are, how they were able to accomplish their mission, as you will. So there has been some of that discussion with some of the EPWs down here.

Staff: Colonel, we're going to try to take a question from Qatar. There's a long delay, so it might be a few seconds before we can actually hear the question.

Qatar, would you try to go ahead and ask the question.

Q: Sir, this is Audie Raval (ph) with ABC News. I wanted to know if you had a breakdown in terms of the foreign forces that you have captured that are now EPWs, how many of the 7,300. I understand that you haven't done an analysis of all of them yet, but just how many, you know, Egyptians do you have of EPWs and other foreign forces? Thank you, sir.

Jacono: I don't have exact numbers per se. I know there is some mix of nationalities within the EPW population.

Staff: Qatar, while we have you there and you have a good connection, do you have another question?

Q: Sir, it's a brief follow-up, from Audie (ph) again. I wanted to know, in terms of a decision as to when the POWs will be accorded -- you know, if any of them will be made battlefield detainees, enemy combatants and possibly transferred to Guantanamo. Can you shed any light on that?

Jacono: Can you please repeat that question, please?

Q: Sure. Are there any plans under way to transfer any of the EPWs to Guantanamo to subject them to interrogation there, any plans for some of the EPWs to be stripped of their POW status and be accorded enemy combatant battlefield detainee status?

Jacono: There are no plans at this point to transfer any of these EPWs to Guantanamo Bay. That's not even in the plans. The theater internment facility here is the final home, as you will, for these EPWs. They will undergo Article 5 tribunal hearing at a certain point in time. I think the lawyers are gearing up. And through that process, they will vet all of the EPWs to put them into distinct categories, as you will. They will be either categorized as pure EPWs, enemy prisoners of war, they will be categorized as a civilian internee, and that is someone that has committed an act against us, either criminal or he's a security risk and he's kind of under our custody and care.

So, those individuals, everybody here will be vetted at one point in time to determine their exact status. Once they are vetted, they are either fully accorded EPW status at that point in time, or they might, at a future point in time, be turned over for criminal prosecution for a crime committed against the coalition or against the Iraqi people. So, there is a deliberate vetting process that we do. It's called a tribunal, it's an Article 5 Tribunal, and that will commence shortly.

Staff: Let's go back here to the Pentagon.

Q: Yes, hello. This is Vince Crawley (sp) with the Army Times newspapers. How many enemy prisoners are you able to house at your maximum capacity? And are they in tents or some kind of fixed structure? And in addition, how long do you anticipate keeping some of these individuals?

Jacono: Well, I don't know if you've seen pictures of our two facilities 12 years ago. They were called Bronx and Brooklyn. They were the theater internment facility during Desert Storm. They pretty much housed about 50,000 people plus. We're not going to build to that capability here. We're going to probably build to an initial capability about 24,000. And we will expand as necessary, if need be.

Q: Colonel, this is Sandra Johns (ph) with Stars and Stripes. If you could provide a little more detail about how many EPWs per space; are they each going to have an individual cell? And what are you doing to accommodate some of the religious needs -- hours for prayers, some of the meals, the halal meals, or anything to that effect?

Jacono: Okay, right now we accord them, you know, their religious rights and practices. Once we get all of our stocks here, they will be given a prayer rug, a Koran -- and that's part of the plan. They are allowed to pray in their compounds. So, I mean, they're able to practice their religious beliefs here at the theater internment facility.

What was the second part of your question, please?

Staff: (Off mike) -- what type of meals --

Jacono: Let me give you a little idea --

Staff: (Off mike) -- what type of meals --

Jacono: Let me give you an idea on the compound here. The compound is basically set up in the desert. We have bermed the area -- and it's quite extensive area -- because, you've got to understand, you're building a mini-town, as you will. So the area is bermed. There is concertina wire around the berms, plus guard towers.

The inmates will be -- live in it. I mean -- excuse me -- the enemy prisoners of war will be living in tents. And we will house, you know, the normal occupancy of what you normally house in a TEMPER tent. So, you know, they would -- they probably live 15 to a tent -- 15 to 20.

And we will build compounds. The first initial compound will hold 4,000. That's a planning factor, which can be expanded and doubled in size to 8,000. We will build a series of those. Three of those camps equal an internment facility. So initially, doctrinally, three camps equals an internment facility. That's 12,000 folks. But also doctrinally, you could double that capacity to 24,000.

Now what are they fed? Right now they are using some of the Iraqi EPWs to assist in the preparation of their meals. So in the morning they were given fruit, tea, some sundry items, bread. At night they get their rice. They get meat, vegetables and a pretty decent broth, and your sundry items with that -- water, juice, as you will, some tinned food items. So they are being fed well here.

Staff: Let's go ahead and go back to Qatar.

Q: Yes. This is Nat Harrison with the AFP, the French news agency. I would like to know if they've been visited by the Red Cross. Or do you have plans to have them visited by the Red Cross in the future? Thank you.

Jacono: Yes, the Red Cross was here. I think I was here last week also, and the ICRC was here. They were given access. They've been through the facility. And that was when the British owned the holding area here at this location. So -- and they spent about three to five days here on site. So they're going to make daily trips to this location. And they came here pretty early on, so they saw the conditions, the treatment of the EPWs, and they were satisfied, even though at that particular point in time this was a very austere camp.

You've got to understand, one of the challenges we had here was that, unlike Desert Shield, Desert Storm, we were allowed to build facilities inside Saudi Arabia. For this operation here, the war plan called for us building facilities here in Iraq. So, it was a challenge. The British did an outstanding job; they put up some capability, because we immediately had EPWs on the battlefield. And I'll tell you what, they really did a bang-up job. They had a mess kitchen set up in record time; they had tentage up, they had security in. And so they were able to accept their own EPWs, but at a certain point in time, they also started accepting the Marine EPWs and the V Corps EPWs.

So that has transitioned now from a holding area to a theater internment facility. And the United States Army, the 800th MP Brigade, two days ago has assumed that mission here right outside of Umm Qasr.

Staff: Another question from Qatar, if we have someone.

Q: Japanese news agency, Jiji Press. My name is -- (inaudible). How long are you going to hold these POWs? And could you tell me something about the procedure by which you are going to release these people?

Jacono: Sir, all I got was how long were you going to hold the EPWs. Like I said before, they will go though a tribunal process, and at a certain point in time -- and this is a decision that will have to be made at the Department of State level, and the like, repatriation procedures will come into effect once, you know, hostilities are over and we have a legitimate interim government, as you will, so that we could turn over these Iraqi EPWs to a legitimate form of government.

Staff: Let's go back here to the Pentagon.

Q: Sir, Brian Hartman with ABC News. I wonder if you could go a little bit more into the vetting process, how you're weeding these people out, how they're separated, the officers and any regime leadership figures might be separated from the enlisted soldiers, and go into some detail about who is interrogating them, how they're being interrogated, and who's gathering that evidence and how it's being organized?

Jacono: Okay, one of the first things we do on the battlefield, the capturing unit has a responsibility to segregate captured individuals on the battlefield. And normally, we segregate them by rank; officers are separated from enlisted men. There's been an additional challenge here because, as you know, a lot of the EPWs that we have under our care right now are not in uniform; they don't have military ID cards. So they have to go through a deliberate processing so we get to, you know, the ground truth on who they are, where they live and the like.

So once an EPW gets to this location, he will go through a deliberate processing procedure, where, you know, everything's recorded: Next of kin information, where are they from in Iraq and the like. Because, you know, one thing we do, we have a responsibility at a certain point in time to notify the ICRC that we do have these individuals here and that they will notify their next of kin that we do have these individuals under our care. So there are different, you know, deliberate -- I won't say (deliberate ?) vetting occurs here. On the battlefields, it's a lot quicker; but they will segregate by rank.

But it's been a challenge, because walking through the facility the other day, I saw very few in a full military uniform. I saw some with uniform tops, I saw some with uniform bottoms. And it's the same challenge we had in Afghanistan. And I think to this day, we're still trying to figure it out at Guantanamo Bay who some of these individuals are. But they will go through that process.

At a certain point in time here also, they will put in a joint interrogation facility, where they will be interrogated by our folks and asked questions, as you will. So that facility will be co-located at this location.

Q: Sir, if I could just ask a follow-up. Do you have a sense yet of whether you have colonels, generals? How many high-ranking officers from the Republican Guard or even just the Iraqi general army do you have?

Jacono: There's been reports of some high-ranking officers here. But once we peeled back the onion, we found out that they were not lieutenant generals but they were lieutenant colonels. So I guess they understand a little bit about rank and the treatment accorded to high-ranking commanders or individuals. Not that we treat them any differently -- we treat everybody the same -- but they -- military officers are segregated from the general population.

At this point, I can't give you a hard and fast number of how many general officers we have. Last count, but now several days ago, I think we have about three or four under our care.

Q: Yes, Colonel, it's Meredith Buel again, from the Voice of America. I'd like you, if you could, to compare numbers between the first Gulf War and the current conflict. And can you give us an idea of why you think there are so many fewer prisoners of war this conflict than there were after the first?

Jacono: That's a great question. I've wondered that myself. As you know, in the first Gulf War, we took in about 83,000. But it was a different campaign. You got to understand that a lot of the formations during Desert Storm, they were out there weathering an aerial bombardment for a significant number of weeks. When I was in Desert Storm, a lot of the guys in their foxholes were not fed, they were hungry, they were starving. They'd just had enough at that particular point in time. So I think that's why you saw the influx of EPWs during Operation Desert Storm.

I think the information campaign has taken an effect here. I think a lot of soldiers are just leaving. There's been reports of just revetted tanks and positions just abandoned. So I think that has a lot to do with the low number. I won't say it's low, we still have over 7,000, but the number of EPWs that we currently have. But we learned from Desert Storm. So, you know, initially we planned high. (Short audio break) -- we kind of tried to, you know, "worst case" it and try to get in a capability to handle the numbers that we kind of saw during Desert Storm. And frankly, I think it's to our benefit that we do have these low numbers.

Q: Colonel, thank you for that detained answer. We lost you just for a very brief portion of your answer, at the time when you were saying how many POWs you had planned for. Can you repeat that part of your answer, please, and tell us how many you had planned for versus how many you actually have? Thank you.

Jacono: Well, you know, that's kind of a rough slag any time you try to put a capture estimate to a plan. There is a doctrinal kind of template that we use, and initially we were planning about 50,000 at that point, or higher. If you look at the Iraqi forces on the battlefield, with the number of divisions, we saw that, you know, maybe at a certain point in time we would have saw a lot of surrendering units, as you will. Taking that, the lessons learned from the last war, that's why we kind of developed a capitulation strategy, too, to allow these Republican Guard divisions or regular army divisions to capitulate on the battlefield. And however, at this point in time we have seen very few capitulate.

Staff: Let's go ahead and ago back to Qatar and see if we have any other questions from there.

Q: No more questions from Qatar.

STAFF; Any more from the Pentagon? We have at least one more from the Pentagon here.

Q: Sir, it's Mike Mount with CNN. Have the prisoners thus far been relatively calm, or has there been any uprisings at all since taking them in?

Jacono: They have been relatively calm. Any time you get a bunch of people in a wire together and you're in each other's space, you do have those challenges. But for the most part, you know, they're being fed, they're being well cared for, and they're following the rules, per se. And so they understand the process and it's been pretty decent. We have had no significant challenges down here with the number of EPWs that we currently have.

Staff: We've got one more here from the Pentagon, and we'll make this the last one.

Q: Yes, this is Vince Crawley again from Army Times. Are the individuals in internment getting any news from the outside? Do they know what the progress of the war is at this point?

Jacono: I don't know if they're getting any news or current news. I think as new enemy prisoners of war are being processed and they enter the general population, I'm sure they're sharing information to each other on what's going on further north. But as far as them receiving daily updates of what's going on, right now they don't have that ability. It's pretty much news by word of mouth.

Staff: Colonel, we know that you're very busy, and we appreciate you taking the time this morning here, this afternoon there, to be with us and to give us an update on this very important mission that you have. So thank you very much.

Jacono: Thank you.

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