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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Coalition News Briefing

Aired May 9, 2004 - 09:03   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THOMAS ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you now to Baghdad for the live briefing this morning. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt and coalition spokesman Dan Senor taking the podium.
DAN SENOR, COALITION SPOKESMAN: ... rule of law conference in The Hague. The 28 judges represented various tribes and various geographic regions from throughout Iraq.

The Iraqi judges met with U.S. Supreme court justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy. In addition, Lord Wolf from the U.K. attended the conference, as did other international legal experts. This conference marks the first time in over three decades that Iraqi judges have had the opportunity to meet with their counterparts on an international level.

The conference focused on federalism, separation of powers, and rule of law as a crucial component to a healthy and open democracy. A number of these principles you know are enshrined in the transitional administrative law. The conference was organized by the Iraqi Ministry of Justice in coordination with the U.S. Embassy in The Hague.

The Ministry of Justice is planning another conference for Iraqi judges in September in Prague, where Iraqi judges will meet with judges from East European countries. Countries that only 10, 15 years ago were facing many of the same issues and challenges the Iraqi judiciary is facing today.

As far as Ambassador Bremer's schedule is concerned, today he continued meetings with Iraqi political leaders, governors and Governing Council members, as he's been doing over the past several weeks as we continue wide consultations in pursuit of formation of the interim government. This is something that the U.N. secretary- general's special representative here in Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, has been doing, as well. It is something the Governing Council is engaged in as well. This is all as we proceed to forming an interim government prior to June 30.

General Kimmitt.

BRIG. GENERAL MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY: Thank you.

Good afternoon.

The coalition continues to conduct offensive operations in order to establish a stable Iraq, in order to repair infrastructure, stimulate the economy, and transfer sovereignty. To that end, in the past 24 hours, the coalition conducted 1,729 patrols, 31 Air Force and Navy sorties, and captured 25 anti-coalition suspects. Additionally, 325 detainees have been released from coalition facilities in the last 14 days.

In the northern zone of operations, enemy contacts continue at a reduced level. Of note, on 7 May, a gray Opal Vectra with four males pulled up to a KBR delivery truck and took two males hostage at checkpoint in the vicinity of Al-Dalula (ph). While attempting to drive away with the hostages and the truck, Iraqi police forces intervened and rescued them both. The coalition combat patrol escorted the truck, and the Iraqi force detained the four personnel at the local police station. There were no injuries as a result of this nor damage to equipment.

In Baghdad, the 1st Cavalry Division conducted a cordon and search at the former Sadr bureau headquarters last night in the Al- Falwa (ph) district, based on intelligence suggesting that a large group of armed Muqtada militia were attempting to re-establish operations and reoccupy the building. Coalition forces restored coalition control and detained six militia members and several documents. One detainee is suspected of being a Muqtada militia financier, and another is suspected of being one of Sadr's lieutenants responsible for eastern Baghdad operations.

In the western zone of operations, the level of contact with the enemy in the Al-Anbar province has remained at a low level for several days, and Fallujah has gone four days without a violation of the cease-fire agreement. Coalition forces continue to coordinate security with the Fallujah brigade and man joint traffic control points. Fallujah brigade forces, along with Iraqi police and ICDC, continue to man checkpoints within the city and conduct patrols.

You can see from the diagram here that the Fallujah brigade has established patrols throughout the city. The traffic control points along the outside of the city are jointly manned with U.S. forces and Iraqi Civil Defense forces. And inside the city, along with the Fallujah brigade, the Iraqi Police Service are working side by side.

The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force intends to continue humanitarian assistance operations in the Al-Anbar province in general and in Fallujah, in particular, make (UNINTELLIGIBLE) payments and begin the assessment and contracting process to restore the infrastructure in and around Fallujah. These steps will begin the flow of massive amounts of money required to rapidly restore the quality of life for the citizens in Fallujah and its surrounding communities.

In the central south zone of operations, the situations in Karbala and Najaf have been relatively stable, with the exception of sporadic mortar attacks on the governor's residence and on Najaf. There's been a reduction in the number of attacks in these two cities, and the majority of local residents are responding positively to the presence of coalition forces.

In the southeastern zone of operations last night, there were a number of enemy attacks in Basra City. The attacks appear reaction to anti-coalition messages from Friday's sermons. Yesterday, beginning at 7:15, there were a series of minor attacks against patrols, convoys and coalition bases. Coalition forces responded to these attacks by conducting an operation to secure the government building, and at the same time while this was going on, it was observed that two bridges in Basra were being occupied by groups of 30 men armed with RPGs and machine guns in defensive positions on the east bank of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) River.

The bridges were cleared and secured by coalition forces. And by midday yesterday, sporadic contacts were still occurring, but coalition forces had regained control of the city and handed control back over to the Iraqi police.

In Alamar yesterday, coalition forces conducted an operation to clear a rout early in the morning in (UNINTELLIGIBLE), replenished the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and cleared the OMS building. The patrol deployed into the city from the south and was engaged on numerous occasion by Sadr militia.

By 5:30, coalition forces completed the replenishment of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and moved into blocking positions on both sides of the Tigris River, simultaneously cordoning off the OMS building. Coalition forces and Iraqi police completed the clearance in search of the OMS building by 11:15, and a large quantity of RPGs, mines and IEDs were found and destroyed.

As the search was completed, coalition forces observed the Muqtada militia fleeing into a mosque. The mosque currently is surrounded by IEDs placed in tires (ph), but the situation in the area is stabilizing. The mosque remains under observation, and the Iraqi police are being encouraged to recommence patrolling the city and take control of the situation. As a result of the operations, coalition soldiers wounded an estimated 20 enemy, with one coalition vehicle damaged.

Finally, relating to Abu Ghraib, on 5 May, 2004, charges were referred against Specialist Jeremy Sivits to a special court-martial empowered to a judge a bad conduct discharge. The three charges against Specialist Sivits are conspiracy to maltreat subordinates and detainees, dereliction of duty for negligently failing to protect detainees from abuse, cruelty and maltreatment, and maltreatment of detainees.

The court-martial, U.S. -- the specialist, Jeremy Sivits is docketed for May 19 and subject to final coordination and approval. The trials will be held at a location within this convention center here in Baghdad. Court-martials are open to the public, and details for media covering the proceedings will be provided at a later time.

SENOR: And with that, we'll be happy to take your questions.

Yes, Carol (ph)?

QUESTION: It's Carol Rosenberg (ph) with the Miami Herald. When did Ambassador Bremer see those pictures? Has he seen the videos? And did he complain to Secretary Rumsfeld or anyone else at the Pentagon at any point about conditions at Abu Ghraib?

SENOR: On your first question, Ambassador Bremer saw the -- first saw the photos when they were made available in the press within the last 10 days, I think. He has not seen any video.

And as to your last question, I think the overall issue of the situation with the detainees is something that was addressed by civilian leaders on the ground here in Iraq and military commanders on the ground on multiple occasions over the past year. It was something that civilian leaders, including Ambassador Bremer and the military commanders addressed with Washington, with the National Security Council principals over the past year.

It was something that everybody was aware of, everybody was concerned about. And everybody was working towards the improvement of the situation. These were discussions that included Ambassador Bremer, included Secretary Rumsfeld, included Secretary Powell, included the military leadership.

I think it's safe to say that everybody was quite aware of the situation about improving the overall situation, particularly as it related to the number of detainees that were being held, the length of time they were being held, which was the focus of many of the discussions. And we were all working on improving the situation.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up and ask, at what point did he know about the sexual humiliation of the prisoners?

SENOR: In January -- on January 16, when it was announced publicly, he had received notice that a press statement was being issued that day by CJTF-7 regarding the investigations. And that is when he first learned of it.

Yes?

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from The Times. General, could you just flesh out for us a bit about this court-martial that will be taking place here? I'm not familiar with the American procedure of how many officers sit in judgment. What is the maximum penalty, if found guilty on the three charges you mentioned, and any other details you can give us really about that?

KIMMITT: Because I'm not versed in the law, we actually brought a lawyer with us tonight. We suspected there would be a number of questions with regard to these issues. So what I suggest is, after this press conference, we'll make a lawyer available to sort of take you through each of these questions.

SENOR: Yes, sir?

QUESTION (through translator): Brahim Hamsan (ph), (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Newspaper. Spokesman of the Kurdish people, how much -- how far is the statement that has been made by some of the people? They say there have been violations against the detainees. They said that these violations have been conducted under the knowledge of the CIA. And especially, these have been timed with the report that have been forwarded by the International Committee of Red Cross that certifies the fact that these violations have taken place since last January.

KIMMITT: There are, as you know, two investigations related to the criminal acts that you saw in the photos and on the supervisors, the administrators, who had responsibility and authority over those persons. There's a third investigation that is ongoing, currently being run by Major General George Fay (ph) that is exploring the entire question of interrogation procedures and the military intelligence aspects of those procedures.

That is where these types of questions will be brought up. These -- this is the investigation where those questions will be answered. It's an ongoing investigation. Let's wait and see what the investigation bears out.

QUESTION (through translator): I mean, sir -- I mean, sir -- I mean, sir, some of those who have been accused, they say -- especially the soldiers -- they just made a justification and said all these violations have been done under the knowledge of the CIA and the intelligence. So all these crimes have been committed under the knowledge of the CIA because these were confessions made by some of the guilty people, especially the female soldier.

KIMMITT: And that's exactly right. Those were the allegations that were heard well before they were brought to the public. But those allegations were made, and when legitimate authority heard those concerns and heard those allegations, we opened up another investigation. That investigation is ongoing now.

You can't just wish away, you can't just push away these type of allegations. If you get allegations that somehow they were coerced, ordered, manipulated, or whatever into conducting these acts, it is imperative that we investigate those allegations. That investigation is ongoing at this time.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from Reuters. The pictures and the video that Donald Rumsfeld referred to, the other pictures and video that have come out, do they relate to the same time period as the pictures that have already been released into the media? And secondly, will there be any sort of investigation into other detention facilities in Iraq other than Abu Ghraib?

KIMMITT: It is my understanding the pictures and video all sort of encapsulate the same time period that runs from the first time the organization got into country -- there's some pictures related to that -- all the way up to about the time that the CDs were brought forward as evidence. So I think at this point we don't particularly know each day that these pictures were taken. It could be a longer period of time. And again, as part of the -- that's part of the evidentiary chain, and that will be determined.

And your second question?

QUESTION: Was whether there's going to be -- whether they're going to open investigations in other detention facilities, or any complaints that have come forth from other detention facilities other than Abu Ghraib.

KIMMITT: Any time there is an allegation or complaint, we open up an investigation. We have done that before; we will continue to do that. As allegations come forward that these type of detentions or these types of activities are committed at other locations, at that point investigations will typically be started.

SENOR: Yes?

QUESTION: Thank you. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from NPR. On Fallujah, has there been any progress in terms of getting the heavy weapons or any leads on the people who are involved in the black water incident?

KIMMITT: I think if we take a look right now in Fallujah, there is progress being made. That progress is -- many of the conditions that we set forward, getting Iraqi control back into the city, that's moving forward, as you see, by the Fallujah brigade and the ICDC and the IPS moving through the city.

On the specific issue of progress on the heavy weapons, we have not seen a lot of progress being made there. We remain committed to enforcing that requirement, that the heavy weapons be turned in. If they are discovered, we'll take appropriate action.

In terms of getting information directly leading to those persons responsible for the killing and mutilating of the black water, I would say at this point we have some intelligence. But we don't yet have clear names saying these are the people responsible. But we remain committed to going after those people.

QUESTION: Thank you. One question for each of you, please. For General Kimmitt, could you tell us a little bit about reports of violence today in the Baya (ph) neighborhood of Baghdad? Apparently up to seven Iraqis were reportedly killed near a marketplace. And do you want to answer that first?

KIMMITT: Why don't you go ahead?

QUESTION: For Dan, we have been hearing about Ambassador Bremer's role last year in informing the state and defense departments about his concerns about crowding at some of these detention facilities. But I've also heard from some commanders who expressed frustration that on the purely criminal side of it, the Iraqi ministry of prisons, which Ambassador Bremer oversees, did not perhaps do enough sooner to relieve the burden in terms of common criminals who were not security detainees.

Could you comment on that specifically and give us any information about the criminal prison system here and its growth over the past few months? Thanks.

KIMMITT: Yes, there were about four different incidents going on in Baghdad today. It resulted in a total of three Iraqi police service killed, six civilians killed, eight Iraqi police wounded, nine civilians wounded. A total of 19 enemy personnel had been killed in these four engagements. As you see on the board, at 8:29, while conducting a patrol in central Baghdad, coalition forces were attacked with small arms fire by four individuals dressed in black from the top two buildings. Two Iraqi police officers were wounded in this attack.

The one I think you're referring to, at 8:30 an IED exploded in western Baghdad, resulting in three civilians killed, nine wounded, and six Iraqi police officers wounded. A quick reaction force was sent and assisted the IPS.

Today at 8:40, a coalition patrol was attacked with small arms fire. Coalition forces returned fire, killing one of the attackers. Three Iraqi police officers and two civilians were killed as part of that engagement.

In the Falwa (ph) district, at 11:30, coalition forces responded to reports that Sadr militia had again established illegal checkpoints and attacked IPS stations. Coalition forces have stabilized this situation at the two Iraqi police stations in the district and have killed 18.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, a quick follow-up. Does the close proximity of the first three attacks suggest that they were coordinated, General Kimmitt?

KIMMITT: It may look close on the map. Those are miles and miles differences when you actually get on the ground.

SENOR: On your second question, let me just clarify a point. The issue wasn't overcrowding -- this is relating to the first part of your question. When discussions were made, or when there were discussions regarding too many detainees being held, it relates to the other concern, which was the length of stay the detainees were being held.

And those detainees scheduled for release, the issue was, were they being released as quickly as possible once the decision was made? That's what we mean when we say too many detainees. It wasn't an issue relating to overcrowding at the facilities. I have seen that come up in a number of reports. I just want to clarify that.

Secondly, we try to make a determination as quickly as possible whether or not a detainee falls into the category of a security detainee or criminal detainee. And as you know, if they are not accused or suspected of attacks against coalition or other related crimes or security threats, they move into the criminal detainee category. And then we try to process them through the Iraqi criminal justice system as expeditiously as possible.

And we set standards for ourselves to do that much quicker, make that determination, and proceed with processing them much quicker than is required by the Geneva Conventions. And we stuck to that.

Now, I know there were concerns raised from time to time, I think, about capacity and whether or not detainees could be processed into the criminal system based on the infrastructure for receiving them, space within prisons, issues related to that. And I can speak to you about that afterwards. But as far as getting them out of security detention, into the criminal justice system as quickly as possible, once a determination was made, it was something that was a priority. And the actual process by which we made the determination was something that we typically did much quicker than required by international law.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION (through translator): (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Newspaper. Two questions. The first for General Kimmitt.

I want an explanation about the detention of Mr. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and how was he detained and why. This is the first question.

The second question is regarding the soldiers who are charged of violent conduct. You said that this month will witness their trials. We want a wider role for the Iraqi press in this subject because the responsible sides for covering the subject. What are the final arrangements that will be imposed on the soldiers if they are convicted of violent conduct against the detainees?

KIMMITT: On the first question, I don't know the specific name you're referring to. But if the gentlemen was in the Sadr bureau last night, and he is among those people that we detained out of the Sadr bureau, that building, which there was very clear instruction from the coalition will not be used as a Sadr bureau, then he is in detention and he will be processed through detention.

On your second question about the final arrangements -- or your second question on access to the media, it is our endeavor, it is our desire to make the upcoming courts-martial as available as possible. There were some discussions about the best and most proximate location that met both the requirements of justice, as well as the fact if we say they are open, they truly must be open and accessible.

That is one of the reasons why we are considering holding those trials here in the convention center. It gives particularly the Arab press the capability to already have access to this building, access to filing, large open rooms so that whether you are in the main courtroom or in an overflow room, you would be able to observe this.

And the -- as Dan has written, there's a note that we try to make these types of proceedings as transparent as possible. There's significant precedent for that. We have done this over the years.

It is not our intention to hide anything. We have a tremendous amount of pride in the military and American legal system. And we would hope that would be demonstrated in the days and weeks to come, as we not only try to make this open and transparent, but also legal, protecting both the rights of the innocent until proven guilty and the rights of the government.

SENOR: Yes?

QUESTION: Yes, Jim Rupert (ph) of Newsday in New York. Mr. Senor, you've said a couple of times that Ambassador Bremer first heard of reports of abuse of Iraqi detainees by U.S. troops in mid January, when the investigation was launched by the military. The ICRC tells us that they began delivering reports privately to the CPA even before Ambassador Bremer came into office, continued to do so throughout the months of last year. Amnesty International said they delivered their first reports to the CPA in June of last year, made them public in July. (UNINTELLIGIBLE), who was the human rights minister of the -- of course, the U.S.-sponsored government in Iraq, said he spoke to Ambassador Bremer face to face in November and asked for investigations of reports of abuse by U.S. troops at prisons in Iraq.

So I'm wondering, what happened that those prior indications seem not to have been followed up on? Because each of these organizations says they either got no response or very little response from the CPA.

SENOR: Well, first, I saw a report as well that said that Ambassador Bremer had met with the ICRC on the issues you were referring to sometime last fall. We checked the records and he never met with the ICRC on this issue at that time.

Secondly, I can check on the receipt of the actual reports and get back to you. And finally, I think it's just important here to clarify.

The abuse that we were made aware of in January was in a league of its own. There were concerns about issues, like I said, length of time the detainees were held, whether or not too many detainees were being held at any given time, general conditions. That was something we were all aware of, we were all working on improving. I know Ambassador Bremer and the CPA were in a constant, fluid discussion with CJTF-7, all concerned about how to improve the situation.

We were all in discussions with DOD and state and other agencies in Washington. All concerned about it, all aware of the situation, and we were all working to improve the situation. But any reports we received were nothing in even remotely comparable in magnitude to the kind of abuse that Ambassador Bremer was made aware of in January with regard to this latest Abu Ghraib incident. And I think it's important to make that distinction. As for when various reports were sent to us, I can check on that and get back to you.

ROBERTS: You've been listening now to the Sunday morning coalition briefing. Dan Senor, coalition spokesman, also along with Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, addressing reporters today, talking about activity in Iraq.

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