U.S. Commander Says Iraqi Prison Investigations
Press Roundtable for General John P. Abizaid
Commander, U.S. Central Command
Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain
May 10, 2004
Hello. I think what I'll do is make a brief statement and then I'll be happy to
take questions. First of all I was here to visit with the Crown Prince, the
Minister of Defense and the Chief of Staff. As always I come to seek their
advice, to tell them about the situation as I see it in the Middle East, and to
assure them that the unfortunate, indeed terrible, incidents that have taken
place at Abu Ghraib prison are isolated incidents done by a few. The subject is
under investigation. We'll take the investigation wherever it needs to go and as
far as it needs to go. This is not what we expect of those who are wearing the
uniform of the United States nor those who are employed by the United States. I
am disappointed that something like this could happen and, as an Arab-American,
I am deeply disappointed.
Now let me say a few other things besides Abu Ghraib. The situation in Iraq is
violent. I think it is fair to say that as we move towards the June 30
transition to sovereignty, that those people who wish to work against the
transition to an Iraqi sovereign authority will work very hard to undermine
security. And so we have seen fighting in Fallujah. We've seen fighting against
Sadr's militia in the south. We've seen fighting here and there. But at the same
time there is a political process taking place in Iraq with the help of Brahimi,
the United Nations, the Iraqi Governing Council and many Iraqis who want a
better future for Iraq. That gives me hope that we can get through this violent
period, stabilize the country, move to elections, and allow for a better future
in Iraq. As I have said many times before, the United States had gained nothing
by being in Iraq other than the freedom of the people of Iraq. We do not gain
from the oil. We do not gain from the natural resources. We have paid a lot in
terms of our national blood and treasure to make Iraq a free and independent
state. We know that we must do this with the help of Iraqis. Iraq is not
America. It is Iraq for the Iraqis. We have to help them but ultimately we know
that they will choose the course that will not allow a terrorist state or a
dictator such a Saddam Hussein to come back to power. I have great confidence in
the Iraqi people to do the right thing just like I have great confidence in the
American people and the Bahraini people to do the right thing.
Questions & Answers
Q: How will you make sure that what happened in Abu Ghraib will not
happen again. How can Iraqis trust American again after the damage to the image
of America in Iraq?
ABIZAID: Well, first of all we have to examine the system as to who
was responsible for what and those people who committed crimes need to be
processed through the judicial system. Then we need to look at our processes and
the way that we do our business. And we have to ensure that anything that would
allow for abuse is corrected. The way that we will gain the trust and confidence
of the Iraqi people is to give them authority, to show compassion and kindness
person-to-person where we can, to be firm with those who try to destroy the
governmental process, and to ensure that they know that their success is our
success. Their success is a government that allows us to leave.
Q: After the handover of power on the 30th of June, what sort of
troops recession will take place? Will they be stationed outside cities?
ABIZAID: We are having conversations right now with Iraqi authorities.
You know that right now we are building a Ministry of Defense. I say we are
building the Ministry of Defense but that is not the right term. There is an
Iraqi Ministry of Defense where we are trying to bring Iraqi general officers
back into the staff and we have various units. In the period of heavy fighting
in mid-April we had lack of coordination between some Iraqi authorities and
military units. There needs to be an Iraqi authority all the way from the top to
the bottom because we can't expect Iraqis to fight for the United States of
America. They have to fight for their own country. So the most important task
we'll have is establishing an Iraqi chain of command. We will do that and I
assume there will be some differences in the way that we operate. However, the
Iraqi security forces, unfortunately, will not be ready to defend their new
government alone. So I expect that there will be a period between now and
elections where a multinational force endorsed by the United Nations, that
includes Iraqis, will work to defend the sovereignty of the nation.
Q: I would like to ask you about operations on the ground in Iraq if
I may but before that can I ask you if you also plan to visit other Arab
countries after Bahrain.
ABIZAID: I am going everywhere. I'll go back to Qatar tomorrow and
talk to the leadership there. And exactly where I will head next I don't know. I
have to make sure that I meet with the right leaders so I'm going to go to as
many Arab countries as I can.
Q: Is there a reason for sending a military officer to deliver this
ABIZAID: The reason is that I am the commander of this region of
American military forces and I think it is my responsibility to deliver this
Q: In the South of Iraq you are positioned against Sadr's fighters.
How much longer are you willing to wait before you move in and finish the
ABIZAID: In Basra the British have been fighting on and off in Al
Almata. We've had fighting in Kut and in Karbala. There is also fighting in
Najaf and some up in Sadr city in Baghdad. We have arrested leadership members
of Sadr's militia forces. Holy shrines are not only holy to the Muslim world
they are also holy to us. People have asked us to do everything we can to keep
from moving our forces into the holy areas where Sadr seems to have most of his
strength. So we are awaiting the opportunity for Iraqis to solve this problem
just like in Fallujah where we looked for there to be an Iraqi role in solving
the problem. It is not just American military power to crush some Iraqi
particular splinter group. We will use our power in as wise a way as we can to
preserve Iraqi cultural and historical areas, to prevent civilian casualties and
we'll be patient. But our patience will not last forever. There is a limit to
our patience with Sadr but we also know that there is an Iraqi way for Sadr to
come to justice.
Q: Is there any improvement or progress in the negotiations with
Shiites in the south?
ABIZAID: I don't think it is good for me to comment on that. I can
only tell you that there is plenty of progress on the military side. We have not
found his military challenge to be viable.
Q: President Bush said what happened in Abu Ghraib is isolated and you
have repeated that it is isolated. However, we hear statements from those in
charge of the investigation that it is not isolated, it is something that seems
to be systematic and a wide practice.
ABIZAID: Of course the investigations are not completed. There are
about four or five other investigations that will all have to come together.
There's a criminal investigation against people who are accused of crimes.
There's a systemic investigation, which is the one that has been made public,
called the Taguba report. That's been widely reported in the press. There is
another investigation on intelligence procedures that has yet to be completed.
There is a panel that has been brought together by the Secretary of Defense to
look at the wider detainee problem that might exist. So my belief is that this
particular problem is isolated, but we can't preclude that there may be systemic
problems that have to be corrected as well. So my obligation is to tell everyone
that we will not be afraid to investigate everything that need to be
investigated and we will correct the system so that abuses like this cannot
happen again. And that is what I think the United States must do and will do.
Q: Secretary Rumsfeld apologized in front of Congress but refused to
resign. Are you ready to resign as a supreme commander if the investigation
reaches a conclusion about the responsibility about the military leadership in
ABIZAID: We military commanders are responsible for everything that
happens in our area. My area stretches from Afghanistan to Kenya to Sudan and
across into Jordan. It is a very big area and I am responsible for the actions
of the United States military in that area. I believe that I should be held
accountable for what happens.
Q: You had talked about a multinational force endorsed by the UN
ABIZAID: I don't know that we will be able to say for sure that many
countries will refuse to send forces. In other words we had a period immediately
after the war where we had about 160,000 American forces and 30,000 foreign
forces in Iraq. When I say foreign forces I should say coalition forces. The
idea is after this next period of new UN resolutions there would be more of a
willingness by the international community to join in the rebuilding of Iraq.
Sometimes I hate to use the word rebuilding. Sometimes the word really needs to
be building because Iraq has a long ways to go if you were to compare it to what
you see here in this wonderful country. The difference is that the new UN
resolution coupled with an Iraqi sovereign authority will provide opportunities
for other countries to participate and I hope they do. I believe we have to move
from what is perceived largely in the Arab world as a period of occupation. We
have to move away from that and into a period of partnership where the Iraqis
are sovereign and the Iraqi people have the opportunity to improve and develop a
system that will give them a better future and where we come in and assist when
we need to. When I say we I mean the international community. As you know this
problem has never been a military problem alone. It's a military, political,
diplomatic, and economic. All those things must come together and they best come
together with the international community and the United States but most
importantly with Iraqis.
Q: After the transition period of June 30 in Iraq, for how long are
you expecting to stay in Iraq?
ABIZAID: I think it will depend upon the development of Iraqi security
forces. Our number one priority will be to develop reliable police, reliable
local security forces and a reliable national army that will allow a sovereign
and independent Iraq to emerge and to be defended against whatever threats may
be presented against it. It is my opinion that the faster that goes and the more
proficient that force becomes the sooner we will be able to leave. I think that
you will see over time that as the Iraqis gain stability in their political
process that we will be able to bring the international force level down as the
Iraqi force level goes up. I can't predict how fast that will be because so much
depends upon the political process. There is a lot of uncertainty in the
political process right now and I think there will be continued uncertainty
until Brahimi gets to the point where he and the Iraqis have come to a way
ahead. I think that as we move towards election there will be certain people who
will want to influence the elections by violent means. It will be a tough time
but with patience and courage and determination we can get through this. This
entire region will benefit from a peaceful and prosperous Iraq. It has great
potential. They need to realize their potential by taking charge of their own
destiny and we look forward to helping them doing that. But they won't do it
without our help and the help of the international community.
Q: Can you talk about your meeting with the Crown Prince?
ABIZAID: The meeting with the Crown Prince was very beneficial. I
seek his advise in understanding the various issues of the region and Iraq in
particular. I conveyed to him my sense of what happened in Abu Ghraib and what
we are determined to do to understand the complete scope of what may have gone
wrong. Remember we are at the beginning of that process. It will be long and it
will be painful. In our system we have to ensure that justice is done. Justice
will only be done if we can collect the evidence, protect the rights of the
accused, and get them into court in such a manner that the media hasn't tried
them already. Otherwise what could happen is we can have this great furor in the
media that causes no justice to be served because the rights of the accused have
been violated. So I just ask people in this part of the world to understand that
is always a tough call between protecting the rights of the accused and dealing
with the media, but one of the things we're fighting for is the right to a free
and fair trial. We have to ensure that this is available.
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