10 May 2004
U.S. Commander Says Iraqi Prison Investigations Just Beginning
As Arab-American, Abizaid "deeply disappointed" over
The Commander of U.S. Central Command forces, General John Abizaid,
pledged that U.S. authorities will continue to investigate charges
of abuse committed by U.S. soldiers against Iraqi prisoners and
said "we will correct the system so that abuses like this cannot
Speaking at a press roundtable in Bahrain May 10, Abizaid, who
commands U.S. forces in the Middle East, South Asia, Central Asia
and the Horn of Africa, said U.S. authorities are determined to "understand
the complete scope of what may have gone wrong."
"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," he said.
The general expressed his view that the incidents at the Abu Ghraib
prison were isolated acts perpetrated by only a few soldiers. However,
he said, the investigation is ongoing.
"Remember we are at the beginning of that process. It will be
long and it will be painful," he said.
As commander of U.S. forces in the region, Abizaid said, "I believe
that I should be held accountable for what happens."
Regarding the June 30 handover of power to Iraqi authorities,
the general said coalition forces were trying to build up Iraqi
security forces and establish an Iraqi chain of command.
"It is my opinion that the faster that goes, and the more proficient
that force becomes, the sooner we will be able to leave," he said.
However, he said that by the June 30 handover, Iraqi forces will
not be ready to defend their country and their new government without
the help of the coalition forces.
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," he
The coalition forces will place a priority on developing reliable
Iraqi police, security and army forces to help support the country's
independence and guard against potential threats, he said.
Following is the transcript of General Abizaid's press roundtable
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
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
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 message.
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 resistance?
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
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 Iraq?
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
Q: You had talked about a multinational force endorsed by the
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
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.