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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with ABC This Week

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
December 09, 2001

Sunday, Dec. 9, 2001

(Interview with Sam Donaldson, This Week, ABC-TV)

Q: Thank you, David. Joining us now is the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz. Welcome, Mr. Secretary.

Wolfowitz: Good to be here.

Q: Do you know where Omar is? Do you know where Osama bin Laden is?

Wolfowitz: I wish I did know. And if we knew, obviously, they wouldn't be there very long. We are looking as hard as we can. We're tracing every report that comes our way. I think people need to understand that most of these reports have the quality of rumor and you just get -- if all the rumors concentrate in a certain area, you tend to think that's where they probably are. But these are people on the run. I think that's the important thing. People with a price on their heads. People are going to have great difficulty carrying out or planning an additional terrorist acts.

Q: But, of course, you get the most authoritative reports that are possible to get. How about the report that Osama is leading his people now, even on horseback, someone said?

Wolfowitz: We know about as much as your reporter knows. We can't confirm it. He may turn out to do that. He may take plastic surgery and disguise himself somewhere and hide in Pakistan. I don't know what he's going to do. I do know he's losing authority and capability every day that goes by.

Q: Now, you've seen this new tape in which Osama bin Laden appears to gloat over what happened on September 11th and take credit for it. Tell us about his demeanor.

Wolfowitz: Well, I'd say it's disgusting. I mean, this is a man who takes pride and pleasure in having killed thousands of innocent human beings. And it confirms everything we've known about him already. There's nothing new or surprising in it. It's further confirmation. And hopefully, maybe, we'll stop hearing anymore of these insane conspiracy theories that somehow the U.S. has made this up or somebody else did it.

Q: But is it very clear, in so many words from that tape that he planned it?

Wolfowitz: I think it's very clear, yes, Sam.

Q: And does he say there will be more?

Wolfowitz: It doesn't mean he's the only one who planned it. There are other planners and we think we've gotten a few of them already.

Q: Does he say there will be more?

Wolfowitz: We have to anticipate there may be more. And even if we get Osama bin Laden, there may be more. People may replace him. There may be people he's already put in place here and other countries to conduct terrorist acts. This is, as the president has said over and over again, this is about more than just one man. And it's about, frankly, more than just one terrorist network. It's about the whole complex of global terrorist networks that interact and support one another.

Q: Well, now, you've said as lately as yesterday that no matter where Omar or Osama are, we, the United States, will track them down, even if they are in other countries. You mentioned Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. How would that work? Would we go into those countries.

Wolfowitz: Oh, I think, take Pakistan as an example. Clearly, the way to track him down in Pakistan is with the cooperation of the Pakistani government. There's no way we can do it by ourselves. We might be able to assist them, but they're clearly the people with the primary capability.

Q: But isn't it true that as late as mid-October, the Pakistani intelligence service was helping the Taliban, passing them arms?

Wolfowitz: Musharraf has a problem. But he's been doing a lot to deal with that problem, very, very impressively, I think. And with every week that goes by, I think he's brought his administration, his organization, more and more clearly in line with the war on terrorism. And we, I think, owe him a lot for what he's done.

Q: How about Somalia and Yemen? Now, they don't cooperate with the United States very frequently. Particularly Somalia. Would we go in there with our forces?

Wolfowitz: Well, Somalia is a special case because it really isn't a governed country, at all. It also means there's not much to protect terrorists when they get there. Yemen is more complicated and the Yemeni record in the past was not a very good one, but they are promising new things and we'll see. We're trying to work with them to improve their capability. There are some serious problems with al-Qaeda cells in Yemen, but we think now, finally, the Yemenis have the message and they will go after them.

Q: May I press you one more time? If necessary, will we take matters into our own hands militarily?

Wolfowitz: Look, I think the president has made it clear this is going to be a long war and we're going to go after these people everywhere. And I think if people haven't gotten the message from the Taliban about the dangers of harboring terrorists, they just haven't been paying attention.

Q: All right. Many officials have said that we will insist, if Omar and Osama are captured, taken alive, that they be turned over to U.S. authorities. But let me remind you what the Secretary of Defense, Don Rumsfeld, said on the 6th, on Thursday. Here's what he said: "I would like to see us take control or know that the control is in the hands of people who will handle the conclusion in a way similar to what we would do." Would we accept other countries trying these gentlemen?

Wolfowitz: Well, take the case of Omar. I understand that Karzai, the Prime Minister of the interim government in Afghanistan, has said they'd like to try him. Well, he's responsible for evil acts against the United States, he's responsible for terrible evils against his own people. And we've seen these issues regularly in international relations where people are guilty of crimes in two countries and it's something you work out. I think the important point is to make sure, in the case of these people, that they're brought to justice.

Q: Well, "justice", to many Americans, I would think the majority of Americans, according to polls, means the death of Omar. Certainly the death of Osama bin Laden. Would we agree to another country trying them and not giving them the death sentence?

Wolfowitz: Lets -- you know, I don't think it's a wise idea for an official to start speculating about how we're going to handle difficult matters of judicial procedure. But certainly I believe that we would want to be sure that the kind of justice they would get in Afghanistan would be very similar to what they would get here.

Q: Similar in the United States, it seems to me, would mean a death sentence.

Wolfowitz: Well, it might mean something quite similar in Afghanistan. Look, the Afghans are not known for kindness to people who have abused them.

Q: All right. On Friday, the Pentagon came up with the term "battlefield detainee" to describe John Walker, the American who was fighting with the Taliban. Has he committed treason?

Wolfowitz: It is a very complicated case. And I can tell you one thing for sure is we want to make sure, as an American citizen, that he is treated fairly and in a proper judicial manner. And at the moment, he's under the control of the military. We'd like to get any information he can give us, because he knows some things about the people he fought with. The question of how he is to be handled is something that has to be decided according to full due process.

Q: Well, as you point out, Mr. Secretary, he is an American citizen. And the Constitution appears to be quite clear on that. I give you Article 3, Section 3: "Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason, unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act or in open confession in open court." Did he not clearly give aid and comfort to the Taliban whether he pulled the trigger of a Kalashnikov or not?

Wolfowitz: Sam, you know as well as I do the Constitution also has some very clear rules about due process of law and we don't decide whether somebody's guilty of even minor crimes, much less treason, without going through due process.

Q: What about the other Americans? We've concentrated on John Walker. But aren't there at least two other Americans that were with the Taliban?

Wolfowitz: There were rumors that there were two others. To the best on my knowledge, those rumors have turned out to be inaccurate.

Q: So we think there's just the one?

Wolfowitz: That's our best knowledge. But we're -- let's -- you know, I think it would be good, actually, to remind the American people that it's a pretty chaotic situation in Afghanistan. The war is very far from over. We've accomplished a lot in a relatively short time. But in some ways, the hardest job begins now. And one of the worst mistakes one can make is to leave a half-defeated enemy on the battlefield. This battlefield is a country the size of Texas with terrain that's like Montana. And we could be chasing terrorists and Taliban leadership for quite some time.

Q: Finally, Mr. Secretary, the question you always get asked because you are believed to be the leader of a coalition here in Washington that thinks the next target ought to be Iraq and Saddam Hussein. You do think that, don't you?

Wolfowitz: Sam, I believe we have a lot of work to do in Afghanistan and that it is a great mistake to take your eye off the ball. You know, General Meade made that mistake at Gettysburg and the civil war went on for an extra two years when it could have been finished. We've got a job to do in Afghanistan. We're focused on that.

The president has made it clear also that we have a real problem with Saddam Hussein developing weapons of mass destruction. For three years -- he expelled the U.N. inspectors three years ago. We've had no idea what he's doing in the meantime. Those inspectors have got to go back in. There is a problem with Iraq. But our military problem right now is in Afghanistan and it is very far from finished.

Q: But General Meade didn't think ahead. He didn't pursue when he had the opportunity to. Should we pursue now Saddam Hussein after Afghanistan?

Wolfowitz: I think the president and his whole administration are thinking ahead. But another good rule is don't tell the enemy what we are thinking about.

Q: Secretary Wolfowitz, thank you very much for being with us.

Wolfowitz: Thank you.

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