Q: Bryan Whitman, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, we thank you very much for talking to us.
Whitman: My pleasure.
Q: Sir, let me start with a question about the state of anarchy, the chaos in Baghdad. How are you dealing with that question now?
Whitman: I think the security situation is improving with each passing day and I think it varies depending upon where you're at. Down in the south things have calmed down quite a bit. Where there are U.S. and coalition forces, they are providing for a more stable and secure environment.
Obviously there are Iraqis who have been oppressed and tortured for many many years and it's not surprising that they are displaying their anger in the ways that they are.
Q: Yes, but that explanation that was given by some administration officials here like the Iraqis venting off their anger, was given when they started looting the palaces of President Saddam Hussein or any of the Iraqi top officials' houses. But don't you think that looting the hospitals, looting the museum, the national museum there is a little bit more than just a way to steam off their anger?
Whitman: Many of these locations and facilities are still symbols of the regime. Many of these hospitals are places where the ordinary Iraqi couldn't get care. These are hospitals where only the elite or the Ba'th party was able to get care. And I think to some degree people viewed some of the cultural artifacts in the museum in that way.
It's very unfortunate, and I think that as time goes on you will see Iraqi citizens coming forward and bringing back some of those things that are very much a part of their culture. But I think we all have to understand that some of the anger is understandable.
Q: But don't you think, one of the reports that we've read and we saw on television was suggesting that those lootings sometimes at some points were taking place while the U.S. troops were just standing by and watching.
Whitman: I think you have to remember what the U.S. troops are there for right now. Our first mission is to create that stable and secure environment. There are still parts of Baghdad that are hostile today. There are places in the northern part of the country where we are still engaged in combat operations. So even today there were firefights that took place inside Baghdad proper and right downtown. The majority of the focus right now still has to be on combat operations.
Q: So you do subscribe to what, or you do concur with what Brigadier General Vincent Brooks from CentCom said that the U.S. troops and the U.S. military there is not there to be a police force.
Whitman: I think that anywhere you have U.S. forces, and particularly as the combat situation starts to die down, as the dead-enders disappear and as the small groups and pockets of resistance that we see start to disappear, there will be a greater opportunity for U.S. forces to work with community leaders and to work with clerics to try to establish again some of the security within their neighborhoods.
Q: Do you think the U.S. military disdains non-combat operations?
Whitman: No, but I think their primary focus always has to be on ensuring that they have taken care of the enemy forces that are out there. That's what they're doing right now. It's still, Baghdad is still not a safe place.
Q: So it's not a safe place. What are you planning to do from now until the local police force is in order and is ready to do that work? How are you going to be addressing that situation? Are you going to let the looting go on? The U.S. troops are the only forces there now.
Whitman: I think we're seeing it happen already, community by community. The citizens are, the pictures that I see, the citizens are taking into their hands enforcement. They don't like what they're seeing in terms of the looting any more than anybody else. We are starting to meet with community leaders in southern cities that have had some more time, and I think that you'll see in the days ahead a lot of that come to an end and the security situation improve. So I think some of that's going on right now.
As U.S. forces and coalition forces have to worry less about combat forces or remnants of Iraqi forces that are trying to do them harm, they'll be in more of a position to work with the community leaders to bring about that security.
Q: The news reports suggested that the half brother of President Saddam Hussein had been captured and he is in custody right now. What is his status exactly? Is he being treated as a criminal or is he being treated as a POW? Could you tell us more about that issue?
Whitman: Sure. I won't go into too much detail but there are obviously a fair number of the regime leadership that we are interested in capturing. These are the people that will know about weapons of mass destruction, the weapons programs that they have, the terrorist activities that may be taking place in their country. They'll know where the weapons of mass destruction have been hidden. They will have been part of those programs. They'll know where prisoners of war, missing people may be being detained, all the way back to the 1991 conflict and all the unresolved Kuwaiti prisoners that were taken.
So there's obviously a lot of the regime leadership, and 55 that we've designated, that we want to talk to. Justice will be served. Without going into any specific detail at this early stage, those individuals will have to answer for the crimes that they've committed.
Q: So you're saying the wanted list includes 55 Iraqi top officials?
Whitman: there are 55 that we have named by name. As well as others that I think we'll be interested in as we start to question people and find out what their involvement was in certain brutal activities against the Iraqi people.
Q: Do you have any information about the whereabouts of these 55 people? Do you know that they are still in Iraq? Or as suggested they fled to other countries?
Whitman: Some have likely fled, some are captured, some have been killed, and obviously the majority of them are on the run. We're looking for them. I have a lot of confidence that we will find them.
Q: How important is it to the Administration to find, or to know the fate for certain of Saddam Hussein?
Whitman: Well it certainly is something that we have to deal with and that we're interested in, but more important than Saddam Hussein was the regime and the Iraqi regime which is no longer in control of Iraq. The Iraqi regime is gone. Its leaders are either dead, captured or on the run right now. I'm confident that we'll learn the fate of Saddam Hussein soon enough, and if he's still alive I don't think there are may countries that want Saddam Hussein in their country, so I think in the end if he's not dead that he will be brought to justice also.
Q: So the situation in Iraq right now as it stands is quite unstable. How concerned are you of some pockets of resistance that would emerge in the coming days or weeks?
Whitman: We remain concerned about that. Like I said, there are still those pockets of resistance. There are people who will still want to do U.S. and coalition forces harm in the days and weeks ahead and we have to be vigilant of that, but we also have to try to create the type of environment that will allow the Iraqi people to get on with rebuilding the country, with establishing a form of government that represents all the people of Iraq, a government that is for Iraq and by Iraq.
Q: One of the issues that is of great concern to the world community was the humanitarian tragedy at hand in some cities in Iraq, the lack of food, electricity, and medical supplies. How are you dealing with that issue, especially that the United Nations is not involved in that effort yet?
Whitman: Largely the humanitarian disaster that was predicted hasn't occurred. We find that in most of the population centers that the level of critical services is close to and in some cases even exceeding the pre-war infrastructure.
You have to remember that much of the infrastructure was not in good shape as a result of Saddam Hussein's own policies and the regime's doing. Iraq is a very wealthy country but the people of Iraq were not experiencing that wealth and they weren't experiencing it in their public services. I think that's evident by the number of people that were reliant on the government for food programs. There is humanitarian assistance that is coming through the port of Umm Qasr. Many nations have started to contribute food for the Iraqi people, the UAE. There's medical supplies that are coming in from the Spanish for a Spanish hospital, so the international community is reaching out to the Iraqi people.
Q: But there are certain cities despite what you've just mentioned, there are certain cities like Najaf and Nasiriyah where there is a real human disaster there going on because of the lack of water and medical supplies and food.
Whitman: There are certainly areas that are worse than others. As quickly as those can be addressed, we are addressing those.
It would be nice to be able to do everything at once. The fact is we can't. We recognize those challenges in those areas that you're talking about and we're working hard to address all of those.
Q: So the idea of the embedded reporters, I hear that it was your idea, you engineered that project if I may call it so. The embedded reporters were under much criticism here in the United States and also abroad, and then at the end I guess everybody was saying it was a good idea.
Do you think that that project, that idea of having embedded reporters with the U.S. troops has been a successful one?
Whitman: Let me address a couple of issues there. One, I don't want to take too much credit. I had a lot of help. I was given the privilege and the opportunity to really execute the program, but the embedded reporter program would not have worked if it didn't have the support of the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the strong backing and initiative of my boss, Victoria Clarke.
I don't believe in this country that the embedded reporters were criticized. We felt from the very beginning that truth needed to be an issue in this conflict. We knew we were dealing with an adversary, Saddam Hussein and his regime, that were practiced liars. That they used disinformation and denial and deception and deceit and they used the media to portray things that were simply not true.
So the concept of having reporters out there with the troops, alongside our fighting forces, was to give the American people and the world at large, because this was not just U.S. reporters. This was reporters from Europe, Asia, and Arabic-speaking nations that had reporters embedded with our forces, to give them an opportunity to see firsthand what was actually going on and to counter all the disinformation that we knew Saddam Hussein would try to use. And we saw examples of it. We saw the Iraqi Defense minister day after day denying that U.S. forces and coalition forces were making any gains. That they were having any progress. That we were not accomplishing our objectives. Right up until the time when U.S. forces were at the Baghdad International Airport and he was standing in Baghdad and saying that we had been repelled and we had been defeated.
So when you're obligated to tell the truth it can sometimes be more difficult. We thought that having reporters out there with our forces was probably the best way that the world could see exactly what was going on.
Q: So the job of these reporters, the mission of these embedded reporters was not just simply reporting the truth or reporting the facts on the ground. Were they used by the Pentagon as some suggested to send a message perhaps to the Iraqi officials that there is no hope in fighting back, the U.S. is gaining this war?
Whitman: We expected them to report what they saw, whether it be good or bad or evil out there. We wanted them to report objectively. We didn't screen reporters. We didn't say this reporter could go or this reporter couldn't go. We put nearly 700 reporters out there in the field. We expected them to report just what they saw. What they saw was one of the best trained, equipped and led forces in the world. What they also saw though was when U.S. forces made mistakes, and when there were incidents of civilian casualties. They reported on that too. That's just a fact of warfare that unfortunate things are going to happen.
So I think the people that say the American media were used, I think don't give reporters enough credit for being objective and taking their work seriously
Q: So how much of the information that these reporters were bringing to the newspapers or television screens were filtered by the military?
Whitman: There had to be some guidelines, some ground rules for how a reporter would be able to cover what they were seeing. The ground rules were really designed to protect what we call operational security. In the 21st Century information age you can report real time from the battlefield, from any location. We saw that. So we had to set up some guidelines that would ensure that we didn't provide real-time information that would compromise the success of our military operation.
So it wasn't as if they wouldn't be able to report on what they saw, they may have to hold it though until that operation was over because we wouldn't want to compromise the success of the operation, nor would we want to endanger the personnel that were involved in the operation.
Q: So were you the one who came up with this term embedded? It's interesting.
Whitman: Embedded is a term that perhaps I've been credited with, but I do believe it was long before me. I think Webster had it in the dictionary long before Bryan Whitman started to use it. It is a term that means to insert, to put in.
Q: Yeah, but nobody coined embedded reporters before.
Whitman: It has become part of the American lexicon in terms of associating it with journalists and combat forces.
Q: It's amusing though. So Bryan Whitman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. We thank you for your time.
Whitman: Thank you.