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Pentagon Briefing

December 16, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Next today’s Pentagon briefing by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. A key topic was the interrogation of Saddam Hussein. Here are some excerpts.

REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, is Saddam cooperating in any way whatsoever? Is he providing any information that’s leading you to resistance or perhaps billions of dollars that he stashed away and has used to help pay for the resistance? And the first ID’s indicated that the papers found with him were a treasure trove of such information. Could you give us anything on that?

DONALD RUMSFELD: I have seen those reports that intelligence information has been gathered up during the course of that operation. I have asked George Tenet to be responsible for the handling of the interrogation of Saddam Hussein. And his people… he and his people will be the regulator over the interrogations, who will do it, the questions that’ll get posed, the management of the information that flows from those interrogations. And my instinct is to leave it there.

REPORTER: Is there any evidence that Saddam Hussein was in any way involved in the current insurgency or attacks against U.S. troops? And if that is the case, would that in any way change his status, prisoner-of-war status, as far as the United States is concerned? Would the U.S. seek some sort of legal remedy against Saddam Hussein?

DONALD RUMSFELD: I think that there are a whole host of people in countries that have reason to feel they have some standing, to use the legal word, with respect to Saddam Hussein and how he might or might not be prosecuted for various things. He is being accorded the protection of a POW, but he’s not being legally described as one at this stage. He clearly is being treated under the Geneva Convention as… with the protections of the Geneva Convention, and is being treated humanely. The lawyers are carefully looking at the question you posed, and it is conceivable that to the extent he was involved in the post-major combat operation terrorist activity that’s taken place in the country, that that could, in one way or another, affect charges that could be brought against him.

REPORTER: Can you help me understand, then, how you square several issues: Showing his picture to the world, taking him before other Iraqis, whether he is compelled to answer questions or has the right to simply give his name and position, and whether you plan to provide him with counsel?

DONALD RUMSFELD: The latter is a matter for lawyers to think about. And certainly to the extent there ultimately is some sort of a tribunal, the lawyers would, I would assume, follow normal practice. With respect to the first part of your question, he has been handled in a professional way and he has not been held up as a public curiosity in any demeaning way, by reasonable definitions of the Geneva Convention.

On the other hand, he is an individual who is representative of a regime that has been replaced, and it’s terribly important that he be seen by the public for what he is: A captive, without question. And if lives can be saved by physical proof that that man is off the street, out of commission, never to return, then we opt for saving lives. And in no way can that be considered even up on the edge of the Geneva Convention protections.

The identification process involved some people in his cabinet and some people in the governing council. It is not a matter of parading various people before him for the sake of curiosity. The decision was made to have him publicly identified.

REPORTER: …The whereabouts of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Do you have any reason to believe that his capture will be crucial in finding them?

DONALD RUMSFELD: That’s like asking, if we were close to catching Saddam Hussein. Close doesn’t count in this business. Either you find them or you don’t.

Now, how did we find him? We found him through scraps of information over a period of time, and persistence in being well-organized and well-trained and ready to move fast. Someone is finally going to come and say something. I don’t know if it will be this year or next year or what.