Interview with President George W. Bush by the U.S. government-funded AlHurra Arabic television station at the White House, Washington, D.C. Wednesday, May 5, 2004
Q: Mr. President, thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us. Evidence of torture of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. personnel has left many Iraqis and people in the Middle East and the Arab world with the impression that the United States is no better than Saddam Hussein's regime, especially when those alleged torture took place in the Abu Ghraib prison, a symbol of torture of Iraqis under Saddam. What can the U.S. do, I mean what can we do to get out of this?
PRESIDENT BUSH: First, the people in Iraq must understand that I view those practices as abhorrent. They must also understand that what took place in that prison does not represent the America that I know. The America I know is a compassionate country that believes in freedom. The America I know cares about every individual. The America I know has sent troops into Iraq to promote freedom - good, honorable citizens that are helping the Iraqis every day.
It is also important for the people of Iraq to know that in a democracy, everything is not perfect; that mistakes are made.
But in a democracy, as well, those mistakes will be investigated, and people will be brought to justice. We are an open society. We are a society that is willing to investigate, fully investigate, in this case, what took place in that prison.
That stands in stark contrast to life under Saddam Hussein. His trained torturers were never brought to justice under his regime. There were no investigations about mistreatment of people. There will be investigations. People will be brought to justice.
Q: When did you learn about the - did you see the pictures on TV? When was the first time you heard about the --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yeah, the first time I saw - heard about pictures was on TV. However, as you might remember, in early January, General Kimmitt talked about a investigation that would be taking place about accused - you know, alleged improprieties in the prison. So our government has been in the process of investigating.
And there are more than two investigators, multiple investigations going on, some of them related to any criminal charges that may be filed. And in our system of law, it is essential that those criminal charges go forward without prejudice. In other words, people need to be - are treated - innocent until proven guilty. And facts are now being gathered.
Secondly, there is investigations to determine how widespread abuse may be occurring. And we want to know the truth. I talked to the secretary of defense about this, this morning, by the way. I said, "Find the truth, and then tell Iraqi people and the world the truth."
We have nothing to hide. We believe in transparency because we're a free society. That is what free societies do; they -- if there is a problem, they address those problems in a forthright, up front manner, and that is what is taking place.
Q: Mr. President, in a democracy and a free society, as you mentioned, people investigate. But at the same time, even those who are not directly responsible for these events take responsibility. With such a problem of this magnitude, do you expect anyone to step down? Do you still have confidence in the secretary of defense?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Oh, of course I have got confidence in the secretary of defense, and I have got confidence in the commanders on the ground in Iraq, because they and our troops are doing great work on behalf of the Iraqi people. We are finding the few that want to try to stop progress toward freedom and democracy. We are helping the Iraqi people stand up a government. We stand side by side with the Iraqis that love freedom.
But people will be held to account. That is what the process does. That is what we do in America. We fully investigate, we let everybody see the results of the investigation, and then people will be held to account.
Q: Every year, the State Department issues a human rights report about practices around the world and abuses. And we call upon countries every once in a while --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Right.
Q: -- and put pressure on them to allow International Red Cross to visit prisons and detention centers. Would you allow the International Red Cross and other human rights organization to visit prisons under the control of the U.S. military in Iraq?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Of course we will cooperate with the International Red Cross. They are a vital organization, and we work with the International Red Cross.
And you are right, we do point out human rights abuses. We also say to those governments, clean up your act. And that is precisely what America is doing.
We have discovered these abuses. They are abhorrent abuses. They do not reflect - the actions of these few people do not reflect the hearts of the American people. The American people are just as appalled at what they have seen on TV as Iraqi citizens have. The Iraqi citizens must understand that.
And therefore, there will be a full investigation and justice will be served. And we will do to ourselves what we expect of others.
And when we say, "You have got human rights abuses, take care of the problem," we will do the same thing. We are taking care of the problem.
And it is unpleasant for Americans to see that some citizens, some soldiers have acted this way, because - I keep repeating, but it is true - it does not reflect how we think. This is not America. America's a country of justice and law and freedom and treating people with respect.
Q: Transferring control of Fallujah in Iraq to former army officers under Saddam Hussein led many people in Iraq and even in the Arab world to believe that the United States is lowering its expectations.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes.
Q: How would you --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Quite the contrary. We are raising expectations. We believe the Iraqi people can self-govern. And we believe the Iraqi people have got the capacity to take care of people who are willing to terrorize innocent Iraqi citizens. And that's what you're seeing in Fallujah. As a matter of fact, the general in charge of the operation in Fallujah had been imprisoned by Saddam Hussein, so he felt the vindictiveness of the Hussein regime. And I have got confidence that Iraq will be a peaceful, self-governing nation.
And I also have confidence that, with help, the Iraqi security forces will be strong against foreign terrorists and others who are willing to kill, and criminals who are willing to try to wreak havoc in the society. There are thousands of innocent Iraqis who are dying at the hands of these killers. And we want to help decent, honorable Iraqi citizens bring peace and security to Iraq.
Q: So there is no reversal in policy of de-Ba'athification?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Oh, no, there are citizens, for example, amongst the teacher ranks in parts of Sunni Iraq that were denied the right to teach because they may have been affiliated with the Ba'athist Party in the past, but who are very important to the future of Iraq because they're teachers. And of course they are now being let back in the classroom, not to spread political propaganda, but to teach, to teach children.
And obviously, there is a process, a balancing, those who may have been affiliated with the Ba'ath Party and those who were terrorists and killers. And obviously, terrorists and killers and extremists will not be a part of the government, but people who are by and large peaceful people who care deeply about the future of Iraq will be. And that is what you are seeing taking place now.
Q: It has been over a year since Saddam Hussein's regime is toppled down, and U.S. allies are in place right now in Iraq.
What is your assessment today of U.S. allies and the Governing Council and the various factions of the Iraqi government?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, first, I think we have made a lot of progress in a year.
Q: Do you trust them? Do you still feel they --
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, I trust the Iraqi people. Let me put it to you that way. I believe the Iraqi people want to be free.
By far the vast majority of Iraqi citizens want to have a life that is peaceful so they can raise their children, see that their children are educated, have a chance for their children to succeed. The business people of Iraq just want a stable environment for them to be able to run their businesses and make a living. People want jobs.
I mean, there are normal aspirations in Iraq that give me great confidence in the future of Iraq. People aspire for the same thing in Iraq as we do in America - a chance to succeed. I also have confidence that the process we are under will work, which is to transfer sovereignty on June 30.
The people of Iraq must understand sovereignty will be transferred on June 30. And there is a process now in place to make sure that there is an entity to which we transfer sovereignty. And then there will be elections. And I think the timetable we are on is a realistic timetable. It is one that will be met. And I believe that the elections will help the Iraqi citizens realize that freedom is coming.
Q: If I may ask you, my final question on the issue of the peace efforts that you are conducting: You supported Prime Minister Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza and you sent senior officials to Israel and Israeli officials came to Washington and negotiated that plan. Do you think it was a mistake to support a plan before the prime minister secured the support of his own party?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I think when you see a step toward peace, it is important for a peaceful nation like America to embrace it. And I felt that a withdrawal from the Gaza by the Israeli prime minister, as well as the withdrawal from four settlements from the West Bank by the Israeli prime minister, was a step toward peace.
And at the time he did so, I called for the United States and others to seize this moment; the Quartet and the European Union and Russia and the United Nations and hopefully the World Bank to seize this moment and to help the development of a Palestinian state that will be at peace with its neighbors, a Palestinian state that will provide hope for long-suffering Palestinian people. I think this is an historic moment for the world, and I think this is a good opportunity to step forward.
I am confident that a peaceful Palestinian state can emerge. I am the first president ever to call for the establishment of a Palestinian state. I still feel strongly that there should be one. I also recognize that we have got a duty, all of us, to fight off the terrorists who are trying to stop the spread of a peaceful Palestinian state or the creation of a Palestinian state. And now is the time to make progress, and I believe we can.
There was a good statement yesterday out of the Quartet that confirmed our desire for a Palestinian state to emerge, and -- it is -- what the prime minister of Israel did was took a political risk. Obviously he did. I mean, his own party condemned the statement, but that does not mean condemn the policy. However, I still believe it was the right thing for him to do, and we support peace in the Middle East. And we support the vision of two states living side by side in peace.
Q: Thank you very much, Mr. President.