TOPICS > Politics

Capture and Consequence

December 15, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: The president’s news conference this morning at the White House. He took questions about the possible consequences of Saddam Hussein’s capture for nearly 50 minutes. Here are some excerpts.

REPORTER: Thank you, Mr. President. What’s the United States going to do with Saddam Hussein after questioning him? Will he be turned over to Iraqis for trial? And based on what you know now about mass executions and hundreds of thousands of graves, do you think that execution should be an option?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: He will be detained. We will work with the Iraqis to develop a way to try him in a… that will stand international scrutiny, I guess is the best way to put it. The Iraqis need to be very much involved. He was the person that… they were the people that were brutalized by this man– he murdered them, he gassed them, he tortured them, he had rape rooms– and they need to be very much involved in the process.

And we’ll work with the Iraqis to develop a process. And, of course, we want it to be fair and, of course, we want the world to say, you know, he got a fair trial, because whatever justice is meted out needs to stand international scrutiny. I said I have my own personal views, and this is a brutal dictator.

He’s a person who killed a lot of people. And… but my views, my personal views aren’t important in this matter. What matters is the views of the Iraqi citizens. And we need to work, of course, with them to develop a system that is fair, where he would be put on trial and will be brought to justice– the justice he didn’t, by the way, afford any of his own fellow citizens. Steve.

STEVE HOLLAND, Reuters: Thank you, sir. Will Saddam’s capture accelerate the timetable for pulling U.S. troops out and increase the likelihood of getting more foreign troops involved?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We will stay the course until the job is done, Steve. And the temptation is to try to get the president or somebody to put a timetable on the definition of getting the job done. We’re just going to stay the course. I’ve told that to the Iraqi citizens, with whom I have met on a regular basis. I tell them two things.

One, you can count on America remaining until the job is done. It’s important for them to hear that because there will probably be some that will continue to test our will. You know, they’ll try to kill in hopes that we will flee. And the citizens of Iraq need to know we will stay the course.

I also tell them that now is a chance to seize the opportunity and show the world that which this government believes, and that is, you’re plenty capable of governing yourself. And the level of the troops in Iraq will depend upon the security situation on the ground, and that those decisions be made by our commanders. You got a follow-up? This is part of the holiday spirit, to give you a follow-up. ( Laughter )

REPORTER: …Opportunity to get more foreign troops involved?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, listen, we’re constantly working to get foreign countries involved. But I want to remind you we’ve got over 60 nations involved now. When you hear me talk about our efforts, I’m talking about the efforts of a lot of countries. We’ve got a large coalition involved.

And, of course, we will accept the willingness of nations to put troops on the ground. And we’re continuing to work, whether it be troops on the ground or construction contracts or loans. We’re constantly reaching out to more nations to get them involved in the process. And after all, there is a reason why nations should be involved in the process. A secure and free Iraq is in their national interest.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC News: When Saddam emerged from his hole on Saturday, he told a U.S. soldier that he was willing to negotiate. Might there be room for negotiation, perhaps in exchange for a public statement to the Iraqi people that may serve your interest?

And secondly, this soldier also said to Saddam, reportedly, that President Bush sends his greetings.

You say this is not personal, but you’ve also pointed out this is a man who tried to murder your father. What is your greeting to him today?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Good riddance. The world is better off without you, Mr. Saddam Hussein. I find it very interesting that when the heat got on, you dug yourself a hole and you crawled in it. And our brave troops, combined with good intelligence, found you. And you’ll be brought to justice, something you did not afford the people you… you brutalized in your own country. And what was the first part of the question?

REPORTER: I know you’ve scoffed at the idea of negotiation…

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, how do you know I scoffed at it? Laughing does not mean scoffing. ( Laughter )

REPORTER: No, I’m just saying… well, there were others who were scoffing. I mean, if he were to do something that you might view as constructive, like making a public statement…

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Dave, it’s way too… way too early to tell. First of all, I don’t trust Saddam Hussein. I don’t believe he’ll tell the truth. He didn’t tell the truth for over a decade. I just can’t believe he’s going to change his ways just because he happens to be captured.

And so I don’t think we ought to trust his word. I think what needs to happen is he needs to be brought to justice, and the Iraqi citizens need to be very much involved in the development of a system that brings him to justice. And there needs to be a public trial, and all the atrocities need to come out. And justice needs to be delivered, and I’m confident it will be done in a fair way.

JUDY KEEN, USA Today: Mr. President, do you have a sense yet of how involved Saddam Hussein was in planning and directing attacks on coalition troops? Should the American people expect that those attacks will now decrease, or should they be prepared that they might, in the short term, get worse?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The Defense Department will try to learn more from Saddam Hussein as time goes on.

And secondly, I believe there will be more violence because I believe there’s holdovers of Saddam that are frustrated, and I believe there are foreign terrorists that cannot stand the thought of a free Iraq emerging in the Middle East. Now, this is a… a free Iraq will be a defeat for those who believe in violence and murder and mayhem, and they will try to resist us there.

And that’s… I do believe that there are going to be some people who are persuaded that since Saddam Hussein has been captured, that he will never return, and, therefore, they need to be a part of the emergence of a free Iraq and a free society.

BOB DEANS: I have to ask you since you’re here, sir: Have you chatted with your dad since Saddam’s capture?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I talked to my dad. He called me Sunday morning. I got the call from Donald Rumsfeld Saturday afternoon, and made the decision there until I was more certain about the facts that I would talk to very few people. I talked to Condi and asked her to call Andy, and I talked to Vice President Cheney.

And… because what I didn’t want to have happen is that there would be this rush of enthusiasm and hope, and all after sudden it turned out not to be the person that we would hope it would be. And so I didn’t talk to my family. I told Laura of course, and pretty much went to bed early Saturday night and Condi woke me at 5:15 in the morning, which was okay this time. And… just don’t do it again.

But she said that Jerry Bremer had just called her and they were prepared to say this was Saddam Hussein, in which case I got dressed and hustled over to the Oval Office to start making calls. One of the calls I did receive was from my dad, and it was a very brief conversation, just said, “Congratulations. It’s a great day for the country.” And I said, “It’s a greater day for the Iraqi people.” And that’s what I believe.

JIM LEHRER: The president said he definitely did not expect Saddam to tell the truth about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction or ties to al-Qaida.