Tariq Aziz Brings Total of 'Top 55' in Custody to 12
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 25, 2003 With Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister and sometime-spokesman Tariq Aziz now in American custody, 12 of the 55 most wanted Iraqis are accounted for, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today.
Rumsfeld said during a noon Pentagon press briefing that coalition forces also have "a number" of other officials not on the top 55 list.
"Most are being apprehended with the help of ordinary Iraqis," he said. "I would expect that with the help of the Iraqi people many more will be captured in the days ahead."
U.S. forces in Iraq have "acquired, scooped up, have custody of" between 7,000 and 7,500 Iraqis "and even some non-Iraqis," Rumsfeld said. Many of these are prisoners of war being held in two main camps in Iraq. The status of others is less clear.
"(U.S. government) lawyers are currently sorting through the question as to how they want to deal with this," the secretary explained. "Do they want to have some sort of tribunal? Should the Iraqi people do it? Should some international organization do it? Should the United States do it?
"I think probably the latter is not our first choice," he said. "But that's going to be decided at a level higher than this."
As far as the POWs go, Rumsfeld said the "hard cases" are being kept separate from run-of-the-mill foot soldiers. Of the "less-hard cases," officials are vetting those soldiers and releasing many. Rumsfeld said roughly 100 individuals are being released to return home each day.
"We obviously don't want to hold any more people than we have to," he said.
The prisoners who might provide intelligence information are being "interrogated by interagency teams," Rumsfeld said. "And they are, in fact, providing useful information."
Rumsfeld said today he doesn't intend to have any individual in any status being held in Iraq sent to the U.S. military holding facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He said the people who have been transferred to Gitmo, as the naval base is often called in military circles, are members of a worldwide terrorist organization. For the most part, prisoners captured in Iraq don't fit into the same category. Most are prisoners of war, who will be released when hostilities officially end.
"It's a lot more convenient to hold them in Iraqi prisons than it is to build prisons in Guantanamo and transport them down there," Rumsfeld said. "So it just seems to me, first of all, it's respectful of the taxpayers' dollars. Why should we build a whole lot more prisons in Guantanamo and then pay to transport these folks down there?"
The secretary spoke briefly of reports that Iranian agents have been working within Iraq to foment discontent and facilitate the formation of an Iranian-style radical Islamic government.
"A vocal minority clamoring to transform Iraq in Iran's image will not be permitted to do so," he said. "We will not allow the Iraqi people's democratic transition to be hijacked by those who might wish to install another form of dictatorship."
Operationally, Iraq remains a dangerous place for American and other coalition forces. This morning a 20- to 30-man paramilitary force attacked a coalition patrol northwest of the northern Iraq city of Mosul, Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard Myers said. In this incident, coalition forces killed several attackers and destroyed two trucks with machine guns mounted on them.
In a separate incident, two paramilitary fighters engaged coalition forces south of Baghdad, Myers said. One was killed, the other injured.
Myers showed photographs of what appeared to be an ambulance, clearly marked as such with the symbol of the Red Crescent, the name the Red Cross uses in Islamic parts of the world. The vehicle contained no medical equipment, only electronic surveillance equipment, the general said.
"This should not be surprising," Myers said, because countless incidents of Saddam Hussein's regime using schools and medical facilities for military uses have been brought to light.
At a reporter's question, Rumsfeld and Myers spoke on allegations that some captives from the Afghanistan conflict being held by the United States in Cuba are under the age of 16. Rumsfeld said all detainees held by Americans, regardless of their age, are treated humanely "according to our values and generally accepted values in the world."
He said they are given access to Red Cross officials, fed well and receive quality medical care, and are free to practice their religion.
"We have a long history in this country," Rumsfeld said. "And we are treating these people properly."
Myers reminded the reporters why these prisoners were in Guantanamo in the first place. "Despite their age, these are very dangerous people," he said. "Some have killed. Some have stated they're going to kill again.
"So they may be juveniles, but they're not on a Little League team anywhere. They're on a major-league team, and it's a terrorist team," the general emphasized. "And they're in Guantanamo for a very good reason for our safety and for your safety."