C. David Welch, Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs and David Scheffer, Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues
On-the-Record Briefing on the Tenth Anniversary of the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait
Released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC, August 2, 2000
MR. REEKER: Good morning, and welcome to the State Department to our briefing room today. As you know, today, August 2nd, 2000, marks the tenth anniversary of the brutal invasion of Kuwait by the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. Ten years ago, the world watched as Iraq carried out unprovoked aggression against a neighboring Arab nation.
To brief you today on the tenth anniversary of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait we have Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs C. David Welch and Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues David Scheffer. We will have comments by both gentlemen briefly and then we'll take your questions. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Thanks for coming. I'll start with a statement and then David has a couple things to say too, and then we'll entertain questions.
Ten years ago today, Saddam Hussein made an extraordinary decision. He decided to use military force to invade, occupy and absorb the neighboring state of Kuwait. In turn, the international community undertook an extraordinary response: a coalition of nations led by the United States liberated Kuwait and compelled Saddam to abandon his dream of conquest.
A decade has now lapsed with Saddam unable to invade a neighbor. That fact alone marks an important success for the international community. Through the measures it has taken to constrain the aggressive intentions of the Baghdad regime, the United Nations Security Council has effectively fulfilled the obligation to uphold international peace and security.
But this story which began ten years ago is far from over. It's not over because Iraq has not given up its weapons of mass destruction. It's not over for some 600 Kuwaiti missing persons and POWs seized by Iraqi forces in Kuwait. Nor is it over for the people of Iraq who continue to suffer the brutal misrule of the Saddam Hussein regime.
Following the liberation of Kuwait, the UN Security Council set clear, reasonable and attainable conditions for the lifting of sanctions. Above all, the Council demanded that Iraq relinquish weapons of mass destruction. As much as Iraq seeks to deny it, every authoritative investigation has concluded that Iraq has not complied with these conditions.
In refusing to give up prohibited weapons, Saddam Hussein consciously and intentionally chose to subject the Iraqi people to unnecessary hardship. In recent years, he has increasingly sought to manipulate that hardship in an attempt to induce the UN to lift sanctions without compliance.
This cynical tactic has failed. Instead, the UN has created the Oil-for-Food Program, the largest humanitarian assistance program in the United Nations' history. Oil-for-Food works and is capable of meeting the needs of the Iraqi people.
Where the UN is able to operate with minimal interference from Saddam's regime, as in the north, humanitarian needs are being met. In fact, in important ways, people are better off than they were ten years ago. In other parts of the country, more subject to regime obstructionism, conditions are worse, but improving.
We share with the international community the commitment to making Oil-for-Food work better for the benefit of Iraqi civilians. Our expedited contract review process and release of more than a billion dollars in contract holds since March are evidence of that commitment. Acting as trustee for the Iraqi people, the international community is obligated to work for full Iraqi compliance with all UN Security Council resolutions.
Were Saddam to repeat his past misdeeds and crimes, the experience of recent years indicates that the international community would respond even more energetically than it did ten years ago. The tide of history is flowing against Saddam Hussein and others like him. The United States is convinced that a change of regime in Baghdad is the best solution in the long run, and we will continue to work with those Iraqis who seek to foster more responsible government in their country.
A story which began in Kuwait ten years ago today is not over. But we're patient, steadfast in our view that the extraordinary response of the international community will ultimately lead to a secure and prosperous future for all the peoples of the region.
Thanks. David will have some things to say.
AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Thank you, David, and thanks for everyone appearing here today.
Permit me to remind everyone of what happened in Kuwait 10 years ago. Terms such as brutal, aggression and war crimes barely begin to describe the reality of what Saddam Hussein's forces did during six and a half months of occupation of Kuwait. We need to remember that reality to understand why the international community, and not just the United States, should hold accountable those who gave the orders for these crimes to be committed.
After the liberation, US Army war crimes investigators and lawyers conducted a comprehensive assessment of Iraqi war crimes. Kuwaiti authorities have since conducted even more comprehensive investigations. Between August 2nd, 1990, and the liberation of Kuwait, we now know that Iraqi forces killed approximately 1,000 civilians. Investigators documented at least two dozen torture sites in Kuwait City. Photographic evidence confirms torture by amputation or injury to various body parts, including eyes, ears, tongues, noses, lips and genitals. Electric shocks were applied to every sensitive body part. Electric drills were used to penetrate chests, legs or arms of victims. Some victims were killed in acid baths. Women were sexually assaulted. Members of families were sometimes forced to watch as other family members were dragged from their homes and shot dead by Iraqi forces.
In addition, as Saddam Hussein's forces were forced to flee Kuwait in February 1991, he ordered his forces to destroy or release into the Gulf what turned out to be between 7 and 9 million barrels of oil; 590 oil well heads were damaged or destroyed, 508 were set on fire, and 82 were damaged so that oil and gas flowed freely from them. If ever there was a case of a gross violation of military necessity and wanton destruction, the oil fields of Kuwait was such a case.
There is also clear evidence that Iraqi forces engaged in systematic looting, which is a war crime. The orders to loot Kuwait are so clear and widespread that it seems as though Saddam Hussein's son Uday must have thought Kuwait was his personal used car lot. Equipment from universities and hospitals were systematically looted and sent to Iraq.
In addition to the crimes against Kuwait and the Kuwaiti people, Iraqi forces took thousands of hostages and used many of them as human shields, which is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. A number of third-country nationals were murdered or sexually assaulted by Iraqi soldiers. All but 2 of the 21 US soldiers who were taken prisoner during the Gulf War were mistreated, in violation of the Geneva Conventions. More than 600 Kuwaitis remain unaccounted for to this day. The fact that Iraq continued to hold Iranian prisoners of war more than ten years after the end of the Iran-Iraq War gives us hope to this day that these Kuwaitis are alive.
Today, we have access to the evidence of crimes that have been committed against the Kuwaiti people and their environment. The Kuwaitis have done an outstanding job in gathering the evidence of the atrocities committed against them. Block by block, they have documented Saddam's campaign against the Kuwaiti people. Through translations of thousands of documents captured by Kuwaiti forces during the liberation, the Center for Research and Studies on Kuwait and other Kuwaiti universities and research centers have compiled an extensive record of the crimes committed on the orders of Saddam Hussein.
For our part, the United States is doing a lot to assist in the documentation of the crimes committed by Saddam Hussein's forces in Kuwait. For example, I am announcing today that we have begun to declassify and make available through the nongovernmental organization The Iraq Foundation the first of many documents captured by American forces during the liberation of Kuwait.
These first few documents give a sampling of what is in these thousands of documents. They describe hostage-taking, looting, wanton destruction of property not justified by military necessity, and orders for the destruction of Kuwaiti oil wells. These documents are being made available through The Iraq Foundation's website, which is www.iraqfoundation.org.
By collecting and examining the evidence we are working hard to bring Saddam Hussein to justice. We believe the evidence justifies an international tribunal like what exists now for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. In addition, where other countries have laws that permit prosecution under international treaties like the Torture Convention, we encourage them to apply those laws.
By collecting and examining the evidence, we are working to hold Saddam Hussein and his top henchmen accountable for two decades of crimes against the peoples of Iraq, Iran and Kuwait. Thank you.
MR. REEKER: Questions?
QUESTION: David One, could you tell us about where the effort to help the Iraqi opposition stands and perhaps bring us up to date on UNMOVIC?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Sure. Beginning with the Iraqi opposition, as you know we have an extensive dialogue with elements of the Iraqi opposition, both inside and outside of Iraq. We believe it's important to heighten international attention to their role so that the people of Iraq who have the ability to speak independently, whether they're inside or in those parts of Iraq that are not subject to the government's control, can get a voice.
Most Iraqis, I would bet you, are members of the Iraqi opposition. The problem is is that most Iraqis can't speak for themselves. We have taken advantage of some of the authorities given to us by Congress and our own means to give support to those elements internationally who can promote their cause better. And my colleagues from NEA can give you some details on exactly how that's being done.
The principle here is pretty simple. There's a large number of Iraqis who really see a very different future for their country, who realize that they've been shackled with one of the most odious regimes in modern Arab history, let alone world history, and seek to do something about it. And we'd like to help them. We'd like to help them in a way that's responsible, however, and doesn't raise undue risk to them, either inside or outside.
On UNMOVIC, as you know -- for those of you who are not as familiar with Resolution 1284 -- it created UNMOVIC as a successor to the former special commission UNSCOM. That organization now has a new executive chairman, picked this Spring, who has set about organizing itself and staffing up to meet its responsibilities.
I think, based on our own contacts with Mr. Blix, who is an experienced, credible international civil servant with a long record in the area of nonproliferation, that he will have his organization ready to run in the next month or so. He has spent most of his time hiring experts, beginning training courses and, coincident with that, reviewing the body of evidence that's been accumulated over the years, especially by UNSCOM but also by others, with respect to Iraq's WMD activities.
QUESTION: Yes. You said that the evidence, the war crimes evidence, justifies an international tribunal on the model of the Rwandan and former Yugoslavia ones. Could you say what you plan to do to promote the establishment of such a tribunal? Is there some -- do you have some kind of plan to get this through the Security Council?
AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: For quite some time, we have been discussing this proposal with key governments. And we believe that as those discussions evolve in the coming months, and as more and more of this compelling evidence makes its way into the public domain, which is what we think is absolutely critical, the compelling character of the evidence against Saddam Hussein will simply not permit a pass on his accountability. Some way, the international community has to face up to more than 20 years of some of the most egregious criminal conduct of the 20th century that Saddam Hussein is responsible for.
So our hope is that as this evidence becomes more and more compelling, as it is clearly available, translated, and unavoidable, that it simply will make the compelling case that one way or another there has to be a court of law before which these individuals are investigated, indicted, and someday brought to justice.
QUESTION: Do you have a time table, any kind of time frame for that? Is this something you would like to do within a year or so?
AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: We would like to see this accomplished in terms of an actual initiative with respect to the launching of official investigations that would lead to indictments. We hope that that can truly be accomplished within the next half year or so.
QUESTION: This is a two-part question. The Iraqi opposition has complained in the past about the slow pace of military aid under the Iraqi Liberation Act. Can you give us any update on that specifically? And, also, can you talk a little bit more about an idea to give humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people through either NGOs or the resistance? How serious -- where is that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, let me start with the second part first because I think there is probably a common belief that NGOs operate freely in Iraq and so one is able to provide humanitarian or other assistance through them. That's really not the case at all. Iraq is one of the most closed societies in the world and has been that way for some time. If there is any place in Iraq that the NGOs are able to operate, it's in the north. And there, for the last decade, we've been providing both through the Oil-for-Food Program when it's been in operation and through our own bilateral resources support and assistance of various kinds.
On aid to the Iraqi opposition, we are providing assistance to them in terms of staffing themselves up, being able to provide a larger public diplomacy voice, getting some training going. But we're also doing that conscious of the need to be prudent about what sort of assistance is provided and the risks that they might run in using it.
The Iraqi opposition has a number of different parts and some of those who have made the remarks that you suggest are mostly outside. I'd like to point out that there is a big Iraqi opposition inside, and it has no shortage of military resources. But compared to what is still, even after a decade of sanctions and two wars, one of the largest armies in the Middle East, even the armed Iraqi opposition inside has a hard time. They are quite conscious of these risks and aware that they face a mighty military machine if they're not careful.
With that said, there are no shortage of resources for them if they want to use them and they are using them every day because --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: That's right. I've been to northern Iraq several times myself, and I can guarantee you anybody who can walk can carry a gun there if they want. And they're determined to protect their own homes against this regime. And I would guess that's the same in the south, but I've not been able to go there yet.
QUESTION: What groups are you referring to inside Iraq?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: The Kurdish groups, the Shi'a opposition, and there are tribal components as well.
QUESTION: I would like to follow up on the question of the opposition. There have been a lot of criticism that they're not very organized. Do you see them coming together a little bit more unified than a few years ago? And do you see them planning for an actual overthrow of the Saddam regime or actually planning for what happens in the event that he would die or that he would no longer be there?
And I'd also like to follow up on UNMOVIC. Is there any indication that the Iraqis are going to actually let the inspectors in? I know there's been a lot of planning and a lot of hiring and a kind of outline of what such an agency would do, but there hasn't really been any indication from the Iraqis that they're willing to adhere to this new regime.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, I'm not sure what more I can add on the opposition. I just think these are dedicated people. You know, with or without our help they're going to oppose this regime, and we'd like to help them. There are plenty of them out there. Most of our attention here, of course, gets focused on the groups that are outside. Again, there are lots inside and those people listen to what the international community is saying. They listen to radio, they watch satellite TV. They focus on whether or not we're paying attention to their cause. And I think that, in that respect, they deserve our support.
In terms of whether the Iraqis will let UNMOVIC in, well, you know, that decision, to the extent that they're talking about it, Baghdad is saying that they are not going to cooperate with Resolution 1284. They have, however, cooperated with its humanitarian component. I think they're a little more uncertain about what about to do about the Special Coordinator that's been appointed for the Kuwaiti missing and POWs, a very senior former Russian diplomat named Vorontsov. They haven't admitted him to Iraq yet, and it's a puzzling thing because one would expect that, you know, they would want to try and cooperate with this element. But they've been less certain about how to handle that.
On the disarmament components of 1284, they've not signaled any intention to cooperate so far. They've simply said that they want sanctions lifted, and then they're going to talk. Well, no member of the Security Council is prepared to enter into that kind of bargain.
QUESTION: All right. So what is all the planning and all the money spent on this new inspection agency if eventually Iraq isn't going to let them in? Are there any diplomatic channels through other -- obviously not through the United States -- but other members of the Security Council?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Yes, I think, there are voices being raised saying, Iraq, you ought to do this because the only path to having sanctions adjusted in any way is to cooperate with the United Nations. And people are saying that, and I would expect that they're using their diplomatic means to convey that position to Baghdad. What you asked me about is what is the Iraqi response. I can only tell you what it is so far.
You say a lot of money being spent on UNMOVIC. Let's recall. This isn't really a big organization here. It never was really big, even in UNSCOM's days. It's a bargain for the price, frankly. It doesn't take that much, even at the height of its activity, to run it. I wouldn't expect it would take that much if it were restored to activity in Iraq. And the beauty of this deal is that Iraq pays for it. It has to pay for it from revenues earned from its oil exports.
QUESTION: For Ambassador Scheffer. You spoke about the need for a war-crimes tribunal for Iraq. Wouldn't this be a good use for a general international criminal court, if one was allowed to be established?
AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Obviously, if one was established during the time frame in which these crimes were committed, then there would be great utility in using a permanent international criminal court. The one that is currently being signed and ratified by various governments around the world in which we've been involved with will have very little, if any, relevance whatsoever to do with Iraq, and certainly none with the crimes committed by the Iraqi regime up to the present day and until the day on which the court is established because the court only has prospective jurisdiction.
But I think your question is suggesting another point, which is something that we always need to make very clear. The United States has consistently supported the establishment of an appropriate permanent international criminal court and, in fact, we are deeply engaged in all of the follow-on negotiations since Rome with that court. We joined consensus on the important documents that were concluded on June 30th up in New York at the UN relating to that court.
But it's interesting -- during the -- and we're working now to try to work out our remaining fundamental concern about the court in the supplemental negotiations. And I remain optimistic.
But your question, Norm, reminds me that during the negotiations leading up to the Rome Treaty, the common mantra of the strongest supporters of the permanent court was, "No more Saddam Husseins, no more Saddam Husseins." And, in fact, there was even a chant to this effect in the large negotiating theater at one point in Rome.
And I would strongly suggest that it is the policy of the United States to make good on that, and we want to make good on the existing Saddam Hussein. He must be brought to account for his crimes, and we would think that the strongest supporters of the permanent court would join with us and maintain the consistency of their point of view on this issue by looking for a means to indeed investigate, indict, and ultimately bring the existing Saddam Hussein to justice.
QUESTION: On that court, Ambassador Scheffer, I wonder -- and on the material that you were planning to release, can you give a better sense of just what you've released -- you know, the quality and the quantity that has now come out? And also what you're planning in the next six months.
Secondly, there was one issue at the time of the occupation of Kuwait that was very controversial, and there were a lot of reports in the media about a phony reported war crime. It had to do, I think, with the maternity ward in a hospital in Kuwait City. And I just wondered, what is the outcome of that? I mean, because in a sense, if you want your documents to be accepted and taken seriously, you have to deal with some of these issues where there's a claim of inflated or hyped or maybe even wrong facts.
AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Thanks, Roy. On your first question, we'll be very frank that the documents that have just been released on The Iraq Foundation website are only the tip of a very, very large iceberg. You're not going to see much there when you go in. And the reason is that there are various stages in bringing this information together and then making it available. One is simply to collect it and get it organized. Second is to bring the labor to bear that is required for translation of these documents, and then synthesizing them in a way that makes them readable and digestible by the public. That is a very, very labor-intensive exercise. War crimes, in general, is very labor-intensive. You can go so far with technology but, at the end of the day, it's judgment, prosecutors' intelligence, and labor that's required on these documents and on war crimes in general.
And therefore what I would confirm to you, Roy, is that there's a lot more to come; it's being systemically dealt with in terms of getting it translated; we always have phases where we need to make sure we've got the appropriate amount of labor involved in doing so. And we go through valleys and peaks in terms of the availability of labor, whether it's within the US Government or in nongovernmental organizations or in the Kuwaiti government. But there's a lot more to come.
Now what we're trying to give a great deal of focus to right now in this very labor-intensive exercise is the documents that relate to the actual invasion and occupation of Kuwait during the Gulf War, the documents that were seized during the Gulf War. We already have translated -- I don't know if it's tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of pages of documents from the Anfal campaign, and that's now very available on 176 CD-ROMs. So the Anfal campaign of the late 1990s we have basically socked away as a body of evidence ready to go any time a prosecutor is prepared to run with it.
The Gulf War is going to take a longer period of time, but we are also -- and I did this last year and we continue to do this -- collecting overhead imagery of what is occurring in the southern marshes with respect to the Shi'a. I displayed some of this last year in October in New York, and that process continues.
So there is a lot more to go in this process. What was your second question, Roy?
QUESTION: It was about the Kuwait hospital maternity ward.
AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Oh, yes. I don't have any specific information for you on that, but I think we'll look into it and get back to you, okay? Because I've seen different things on that and I want to be careful.
QUESTION: Thank you. On the larger policy, are you comfortable with the notion that all the US did the last -- during the last ten years is creating a very, very weak nation with very, very strong leadership? And how does that affect what you describe as the internal opposition inside Iraq?
And, secondly, do you still believe that the civilian casualties of this policy are still morally acceptable regardless of who is to blame for it?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, no, I don't. With respect to the latter part of your question, it's my belief that there is no acceptable civilian casualty any place, and that's not a price that we want to pay. But, I mean, look at the situation here. The question is, you know, who is responsible. In the case of Iraq -- and we've documented sufficiently what the nature of this regime is, that should go without question. The issue is: Can the international community do some more and could the Iraqis, if they wanted to, the regime itself, address the humanitarian situation there?
The answer is, for our part, we have done a number of things. And, frankly, I wish you and the press would pay a little bit more attention to this humanitarian issue and its details, because it's important. For example, Iraq is going to export more oil this year than it ever has, in value terms. And all that money will be controlled for the purposes of the humanitarian program, making it the largest humanitarian effort ever in the United Nations' history.
It only reached that scale in the Fall of last year. There are already considerable improvements in conditions inside Iraq for the average person, and those will continue unless the regime is given -- you know, is allowed to continue abusing the situation. You know, if they wanted to change things, for example in education, all they have to do is write it into the distribution plan and it gets funded by the UN. They make those decisions, not us.
We've streamlined the contract approval process, yet I read in the press continually the United States is holding up all these contracts. Since March alone we've approved more contracts on whole in value than the first six months of the Oil-for-Food Program. So we're making a lot of progress in this regard. We've increased the number of things that the Oil-for-Food can be spent on.
But at the end of the day we're not going to be able to do everything. The Iraqi regime is itself responsible. They won't let anybody in to scrutinize the humanitarian situation. They won't let NGOs operate. They won't let the UN personnel circulate freely. They deny visas to UN teams who come in to want to do special kinds of projects. Only recently they finally let Benan Sevan in to do a wholesale examination of the program. And wherever possible, they put obstacles in the way.
And the reason is, if you were trying to get sanctions lifted without having to comply and retaining your weapons of mass destruction too, that's exactly what you would do as well. And they don't care whether it's on the back of the people.
QUESTION: We've had reports here periodically about spikes in oil smuggling, and I wanted to know what the status of that is right now with new imagery and the pictures we've seen here at the State Department. And applying to that, if you say you believe the international community would be more behind or is more firmly behind the efforts now, do you think that the countries along these routes are doing everything they can to stop smuggling?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: No, I don't. Oil smuggling is a real program.
QUESTION: So how do you back up that statement that everybody is behind it and they're turning a blind eye to the smuggling?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, first of all, it's not everybody who is smuggling. It's a few isolated cases. And it has been a significant problem. It goes back some time. And with the increase in the price of oil, the value of that smuggling has gone up commensurately. It's a serious issue because that is totally unregulated trade; that is, the revenues that come out of that go right into the hands of the regime and they can spend them on whatever they want.
Most of the smuggling that is occurring now is going through Iranian territorial waters, and we think it's incumbent on the government in Tehran to implement international law and do something about that. They are a main source of the problem. We've had discussions with some of our allies who have representation in Tehran about bringing that case to them. The UN Sanctions Committee has made representations to the Iranian Government. And from time to time, they do act against it. I don't know whether all elements inside Iran are controlled in this respect or whether this reflects different intentions on the part of the government. It is my belief, however, that if they wanted to they could control it, and they should.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? Some of the ships, at least a couple of them that I remember, were traced back to Russia. What have we done perhaps bilaterally to check this out?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: There have been vessels interdicted from a lot of nations, including Russia. However, I think that's the activity of private companies and not the government. The Russian Government has been responsible in trying to deal with this. We've had a lot of discussions with them. I personally have worked on this problem both in Moscow and here with the Russian Embassy. They are investigating the cases that have occurred and they have pledged to try and instruct their companies in such a way that they're clear about what the law is so it's avoided in the future.
But I think it's not fair just to single out the Russians. Let's be honest here. There are many countries that are involved in this trade and most of the vessels are small and cheap so you get a lot of fly-by-night operators who do it.
QUESTION: There is a general perception in the Arab world that keeping the sanctions against Iraq means the suffering of the Iraqi people. Somehow, the Iraqi president escaped that equation. What have you done recently besides releasing multimedia materials on what Saddam did ten years ago? What have you done, first, to reassure the international community that you are serious in bringing down the Iraqi regime and, second, to reverse that trend in the Arab world?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, which trend is it you're talking about?
QUESTION: The general perception in the Arab world, even among main allies of Washington.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, I think generally there is a concern about sanctions, and that's not restricted, I don't believe, to the Arab world. Internationally there is more attention to how do you make sanctions more targeted and focused.
I believe in the case of Iraq you have unique sanctions, both in their breadth and in their focus. And because Iraq does have a large oil capacity, there is also a unique ability to take advantage of that so you can address some of the humanitarian impact of sanctions. But as I said in response to an earlier question, I'm convinced that because of the control that the government has and its inattention to the situation of its own people, you can't do that 100 percent. They have the responsibility at the end of the day, and it's up to them to take care of their own, too.
Whether I can correct the public impression of that is another question entirely. I can only tell you what we've done and I can re-list it again for you. And I would ask you again to try and pay attention to those things that the international community and the United States specifically has done: lifted the cap on oil sales, streamlined the contract approval process, focused on new sectors for the operation of the Oil-for-Food Program, given the ability to the UN to use some of the revenues for cash purchases and local operations inside Iraq. These are just a number of the things.
And I can tell you what Iraqis say about it. I mean, the people of northern Iraq consider that they have never had it so good. They would never expect such a thing from the regime of Saddam Hussein because they know better.
What was the other part of your question, sir?
QUESTION: Yes. If you can list some of the steps that you have taken recently directly to target the Iraqi regime and to speed up the process of bringing down the Iraqi president.
AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Perhaps while David is just looking, from a war crimes perspective I can certainly answer your question. We're doing a lot. A lot of what we do on war crimes we do diplomatically, so we're not out here announcing it every day and sort of publicizing it because a lot of what we do is in the diplomatic realm of talking with other governments and working with other governments with respect to the collection of evidence, as well as the cultivation of the political will to actually get this job done of bringing him to account before a court of law.
And I suppose what I can say to you is that as the diplomat who goes out there and does this stuff, yeah, there's a reaction. There is some, I think ten years later as memories fade about particularly the criminal conduct of the Gulf War, sometimes you experience annoyance; sometimes you experience reactions as to why now, isn't it too late, shouldn't we move on, et cetera. And what I can confirm to you is that the United States Government has a very firm position. Yeah, we're going to move on. We're going to move on towards accountability. That's the direction we're moving towards, and the evidence is overwhelming with that respect.
Let me just also say that one of the most recent tactics that Saddam Hussein is using to try to thwart these efforts is blackmail in the form of torture and sexual assault against the relatives of opposition leaders and military officers to try to control and terrorize his opponents. And some of you may know from what has been in the press in recent days from Iraqi General Najib al-Salihi is the first person to go public with the victimization that he has suffered and his relatives through this blackmail.
So sometimes we can see this in a public way. But I must say if you're ever interested in understanding the totality of the crimes that have been committed and the points that we're making with other governments about the totality of that criminal record, we can certainly easily answer that question and confirm to you that that is a point that is being made very consistently with other governments.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: I was searching for some specific information on how we have used American financial assistance with respect to the opposition. And, I'm sorry, I didn't bring that information down with me, but we can make it available to you because we do have -- we have spent some money in support of their cause.
But if I can just say something, which I think is actually more important than did we spend $1 million here on something or not. And that is the following: there may be some internationally who speak with ease and comfort about the possibility of living with the Saddam Hussein regime, even of rehabilitating Saddam. The United States is not and will not be part of that. The President of the United States is on record standing up and calling for a change of regime. There is no more powerful statement of our intentions with respect to what should happen in Iraq.
Recently, members of the Iraqi opposition were here in Washington for conversations with the administration. They met with the Vice President; they met with Acting Secretary Pickering, and with a number of the rest of us. This is something we do regularly. We saw them last year at the United Nations General Assembly as well. And we'll continue that dialogue because we think it's important, as I said earlier, to give visibility to these folks because otherwise, they're going to assume there is no Iraqi opposition when, in truth, as I said, almost Iraqi citizen is a member of the opposition.
QUESTION: Since the liberation in 1991 and to date, the top concern for the Kuwaiti government and people is the 600 people still detained by Saddam Hussein, and the main focus of the West and the international community has been arms and humanitarian help for the Iraqi people, and in shedding the light on these issues, and shedding less light on the issue of detainees.
And being a Kuwaiti, I know for sure that most Kuwaitis now, they have the impression that the international community is no longer -- or is less interested in this issue at the expense of other issues. And today, a lot of people are saying the West, and particularly the US, is -- what is the US doing about this? I mean, ten years after Kuwait's liberation, that's fine, but those innocent people, including Kuwaitis and other Kuwaitis, are still being detained by Saddam Hussein. And today, Saddam Hussein is bragging about this. He's denying that he's holding those people, yet we know that he's holding those people. We have records, we have documents, and -
MR. REEKER: Do you have a question?
QUESTION: Yes. What is the US doing -- what is the US telling the Kuwaiti people?
AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Well, you know, obviously if we had these people in our control, we would release them. We're not the ones who took them away. So let's be very clear about that.
You know, the United States helped to draft Resolution 1284 which, for the first time, elevates the issue of the Kuwaiti missing POWs -- and property too, but the missing people are the main humanitarian concern -- elevates that to exactly the same level as the humanitarian concern, and as the arms control concern. That resolution has three parts. Now, granted, the other two parts are physically longer than the other, but the intention is equally clear. And, you know, I don't know of a dissenting voice in the Security Council on this issue. Even those who are most apologetic about the Iraqi regime are confounded by their resistance on this point.
A Russian diplomat of some stature, Mr. Vorontsov, was appointed to lead this effort by the Secretary General. Now, how can the Iraqi regime object to talking to him? And I agree with you completely; these are well-documented cases. And the Iraqi side raises continual series of falsehoods about that situation.
For example, they say that there are many Iraqis are missing and unaccounted-for, too. I bet most of those people voted with their feet and have no intention of going back to Iraq. I don't think the same is the situation with respect to the 600-or-so missing Kuwaiti POWs. That's a humanitarian tragedy of great dimensions. If that happened in a population of our size, that's a quarter of a million people.
Now, I understand what you say, but I think it's a little unfair to single us out as not paying adequate attention to it. We've paid as much attention to it as you have.
QUESTION: Back to indictment. The delay in indicting any of the Iraqi leaders is leading many people in the region to doubt the sincerity of the efforts to pursue the Iraqi leadership for war crimes. You talk about documentation, you talk about collecting evidence, translating this stuff. I mean, you know from the Anfal campaign of the late 1980s that the Iraqis have been extremely meticulous in documenting every action they took against their own people.
One could argue, and human rights organizations have argued before, that we have enough evidence to indict some of these leaders before the occupation of Kuwait. The Anfal, the attacks on the Iranians, before what happened in Kuwait and after. Ten years. It's been ten years. What can you tell the average Arab, let's say, or Iraqi, who doubts these efforts, in layman's terms, and not in any legalese, what is preventing the issuing of these indictments?
AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: There's nothing per se preventing it. It's a questions of the political will of the Security Council to address the issue and create a court of this character. And, frankly, the responsibility of Arab governments and of others to put their case on the table and say, we need this, we need this, would be very helpful and persuasive.
But in addition to that, or as an alternative to that, looking at various national courts around the world that might be able to exercise such jurisdiction, is not only a complex exercise, but it's also again one of whether or not there is political will with respect to the individual national government to take this on.
Now, we're very prepared to assist anyone out there to pursue this issue. We have now, or we're now providing financial assistance to six nongovernmental organizations, including INDICT in London, to not only bring this information together, but also to be available and to themselves inquire with governments as to whether or not the political will exists, and also just the capability within various national courts to take this on.
We have a particular problem in the United States, which is unfortunate, but in this particular situation, we have a statute of limitations that has already run. So it makes trying to build this within the United States courts a very, very, very difficult proposition at this time.
But that is not the case in many other jurisdictions. But the easiest way to do this, and the most effective way and the most compelling way, would be an international tribunal very focused on the leadership of the Iraqi regime that could proceed very expeditiously.
QUESTION: Don't you have enough evidence now to present to the European states, for instance, to prevent the senior Iraqi officials from visiting Europe? I mean, a situation similar to what happened to Pinochet in England.
AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: There's a tremendous amount of evidence. The question is: How do you synthesize it so that it's truly available and useable by a prosecutor in any particular jurisdiction? You can't just take millions of pages of documents in boxes and dump them, because no prosecutor has the ability or the staffing or anything anywhere in the world to actually take that on and run with it. You have to have a more systematic approach, and that's what we're trying to accomplish with this.
QUESTION: I have two questions, in fact. In recent weeks, there were reports saying that Saddam Hussein is getting prepared to attack northern Iraq, taking Sulaimaniya as the center of the area, which is under the authority of the UK. Do you have any concerns such that, or again in 1996 during the American presidential elections, he attempted to do so, and this year again it's American presidential elections? Do you have any concerns that Saddam Hussein could try to use violence again?
And the second question is, again in recent weeks there were reports claiming that he is heavily sick, cancer, and he has six more months to go. Although God knows who will go when, do you have anything to say on his health condition?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, I'll look more closely at the medicine lists on the Oil-for-Food now. With respect to what he may or may not be planning against his own people, I think it's unfortunately the case that probably even as we speak the regime is in some way doing something against its own people. In the north, that's more observable because there's an international presence there and the two Kurdish parties who control most of that area have good contacts with the international community and can let them know of their fears or of any information they have about what might be happening.
We watched that very, very closely. We've gone on the record before saying that if the Iraqi regime were to attempt to do something like that and come uninvited into the north, that we would take an appropriate response. It may not be exactly as they expect; it may not be in the same place as they think, but we have the will and the means to do so.
In the South, and in Baghdad where there are actions by the regime against its opponents, it's a little harder to monitor how that is developing. But I know that these things are going on because we also hear from members of the Shi'a opposition about the situation, and particularly in the areas around Basra and Nasiriya and events that are happening there. You know, this is a risk that is omnipresent, and I don't think is necessarily tied to our political calendar. And if Saddam does anything like that on a large scale again, he runs a huge risk internationally of being held up for the kind of scrutiny that he's tried to avoid by all this secrecy and repression at home.
QUESTION: Yes, Mr. Scheffer, I'd like to get back to the prospective international criminal court for a minute. I know you've been working on some reservations that the United States has as to how the court would affect its own people, Americans. And my question is, if this were worked out to Washington's satisfaction, what would those safeguards look like?
AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Our fundamental concern has been articulated to other governments and narrowed to one point, which is the exposure of American service members and government officials to surrender to this court during that period of time that we are a non-party to the treaty. That's the only issue on the table now. We don't believe it's justifiable to subject our service members to the jurisdiction of this court while we are a non-party to the treaty. And it is only realistic to assume that for a number of years, at least, we will be a non-party. We have to act responsibly to address that reality, that we will be a non-party for a number of years to this court.
So all we're trying to do at this point in these negotiations is to ensure that if there is an attempt to request the surrender of an American service member or government official to the international criminal court, while we are a non-party to the court, that we have the right to either consent or object and thus prevent that actual surrender to the court. If that can be resolved, and I think there's reason to resolve it because I think that will strike the right balance at this moment in time, at this time in history, between our obligations for international peace and security and involvement in humanitarian missions, and the pursuit of international justice, then we'll be in a position to be able to cooperate with the court even as a non-party.
And there's great advantage to be gained from that for this court. The supporters of this court should be looking for ways to strengthen the capability of this court to effectively operate, and one way is to ensure the cooperation of the United States with this court. That cooperation can be obtained if we can resolve this one issue regarding our exposure as a non-party.
QUESTION: I understand, but -
MR. REEKER: Can we do Iraq questions? Because we're really running out of time, and we'd be happy to focus on some of those issues, but this was a briefing on Iraq. Can we just go with the last two questions, please, Elise and Roy.
QUESTION: You spoke about, both of you, a variety of ways to bring down the Saddam Hussein regime. But do you see him as weakened, or do you see him as just as strong, if not stronger, over the last ten years? I mean, when we look at someone like Milosevic, there's a lot of talk from the United States about how he's in a weakened state and his demise is coming. But is working with this opposition, even while admitting that they're facing heavy force, or working with other countries who may not be able to affect his demise, do you really see it as realistic that he'll be overthrown before maybe he even dies?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WELCH: Well, you asked two different kinds of questions. One is the nature of the threat from Iraq, and the other is what about the fact that the guy's still there after ten years. With respect to the latter, I don't think his continued presence is necessarily a sign of his continued strength. Let's recall what Iraq was like on August 1, 1990. It had the fourth largest army in the world; it had just fought a significant war against Iran; it was a major regional threat. It had, though we didn't know it, extensive weapons of mass destruction capabilities.
Ten years later, its threat in that regard has been significantly reduced. I'm not here to tell you it's absent; it remains a grave potential threat in any number of respects. But a lot has been done to erode its capability. And the containment regime has worked. It would be very hard for Saddam to repeat some of the things that he did August 2, 1990.
Yet he's still there, and I think one of the lessons is -- and the Iraqi people would tell you this, if they were able to say it -- is that they feel in some respects that he's more on their necks than ever before. And, in a sense, his greatest threat is to his own people right now. And that's something that we have to deal with and we're committed to dealing with. In fact, we're leading internationally in that effort. And to say that, well, it doesn't succeed every day means you should stop it would be the wrong lesson. That's kind of like saying, well, you know, he's not gone, so lift sanctions. That would be exactly the wrong response, in my view. That would only reassert him as a major threat to the region.
QUESTION: Yes. My colleague here was asking about demonstrations of the seriousness of the United States in bringing about these indictments. And I have two very specific questions which might illuminate his question better.
One is, in the case of an American indictment, David, you said that the statute of limitations has run out. But is there a statute -- does that apply to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and specifically genocide? I mean, many leading scholars at least regard the Anfal campaign as an example of genocide. And so I don't see quite how the statute applies there.
And the second question was -- why don't we go with the first one.
AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Well, on that question, without -- maybe we can do this somewhat afterwards, Roy, because it does get into detailed explanations. But in each of those categories of crimes that you've described -- genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity -- US domestic law has its own basis for prosecuting those crimes. And if you look at each of those categories of crimes and stack them up against who were the victims in the Gulf War, where are the individuals who perpetrated the crimes, of what nationality are those individuals, et cetera, you'll find as you go through each category that it's not a simple process under US law whatsoever.
Even under the Genocide Convention, we're limited as to whom we can prosecute under the Genocide Convention in United States courts. We can't prosecute anyone in the world who committed genocide in US courts. There are limitations as to whom we can precisely prosecute for genocide in US courts.
So, as you go through each category, there are problems that are confronted. I'm not saying that it's absolutely impossible, but I am saying that I think a much stronger base for prosecution can probably be found closer to the region, and also among countries whose own nationals form much more of the base of victims of Saddam Hussein's crimes than does the United States.
QUESTION: The second brief question is, when did you actually decide to have this declassification operation begun? Or when was the -- when did you kick that off?
AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Let's be precise. The declassification of --
QUESTION: -- of the documents relating to war crimes that are now being posted and that you're planning to release more of them in the next six months.
AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: Well, it's just been a process that's been going on for at least a year or more. I'd have to get back to you. I don't know the exact time frame.
Tom, do you have a quick answer to that?
TOM WARRICK: (Inaudible) -- about right.
AMBASSADOR SCHEFFER: About a year or so. Yes.
MR. REEKER: Thank you to both our briefers, and thank you all for coming.
(The briefing was concluded at 11:15 A.M.)
[end of document]
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