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Armitage Interview On Australia's Ch 9 60 Minutes

Interview on Channel 9 Australia's 60 Minutes with Peter Harvey

Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State

Washington, DC May 21, 2004

(4:00 p.m. EST)

MR. HARVEY: Richard Armitage, thank you very much for joining us. Your time is very much appreciated. I guess we'll cut to the chase, right from the top.

Can you guarantee, Mr. Armitage, that the two Australians who have been held in Guantanamo Bay now for the best part of two years, haven't suffered any abuse, haven't been beaten up, as is being alleged?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Good evening, Mr. Harvey. I was approached by Michael Thawley, your excellent ambassador, and Ashton Calvert, on this very question yesterday. I am seeking answers and clarifications. I have not found that they were abused in any way, but I'm not running Guantanamo.

I will say, as I understand it, that the defense attorneys of these two people are involved in discussions with military officials here. And if there is any information they have, they ought to turn it over so we can investigate this and get to the bottom of it. I don't think there is any abuse at Guantanamo, but, as I say, I'm not running the prison.

MR. HARVEY: Well, I guess people didn't think there was any abuse in that prison in Baghdad either.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, the ICRC did, didn't they? They reported on it.

MR. HARVEY: That's right, to your government and nothing happened.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Oh, on the contrary, when Secretary Powell first met Mr. Kellenberger of the ICRC in January of this year, he said that some improvements had been made.

MR. HARVEY: The question of these two people, these two Australians at Guantanamo Bay, has gone right to prime ministerial level here, and the Prime Minister said he was going to raise it himself with U.S. authorities. You have heard, as you say, from our diplomatic people. But have you or anybody else heard from the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister? Have they raised this directly with you?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: The Prime Minister raised it through his diplomatic representation, made it very clear, that if he wasn't satisfied with the answers, he would raise it during his visit here in the early part of June. Alexander Downer has done the same thing, exactly.

MR. HARVEY: You know, something that intrigues me about this whole issue of the last year or so, I mean, what on earth has gone wrong? The United States and Australia and the coalition went into Iraq with the best of intentions, with the best will in the world to show Iraq and the rest of the world just how decent and fine our system is. What's gone wrong? I mean, what's causing all of this trouble?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Well, it depends on which trouble you mean. If you're talking about the violence in Iraq, I think that's not totally unexpected. As your Prime Minister said in his excellent speech in Melbourne the other evening, if we have democracy come to Iraq, it's the end to everything these terrorists want.

If you're talking about Abu Ghraib and the abuse there, it doesn't intrigue me at all; it horrifies me. And it seemed to me that we had a command climate there that was conducive to this kind of bad behavior. And nobody was taking normal corrective actions, no one was exercising command, and I find that a horrifying specter and I couldn't be angrier about it, and I couldn't be sorrier about it.

MR. HARVEY: The United States military around the world, and especially the contact with the military, the U.S. military that Australians have had over the years, has been pretty fine and pretty decent. I mean, what's happened to that system where reservists can run around, beat people up, and take pictures of it? I mean, what sort of mindset operates there? Do you believe that these people were doing this on their own initiative?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: First of all, you, yourself, have some experience with U.S. forces, both in Vietnam and in the Gulf War, first Gulf War.

MR. HARVEY: That's right.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: And you know this is not indicative of our armed forces. I don't know what went on at Abu Ghraib, but I can guarantee you that we're going to get to the bottom of it. And once we have gotten to the bottom of it, we'll punish those who are guilty and go as far up the chain as necessary to do so.

MR. HARVEY: All the way up to Donald Rumsfeld, if necessary?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Look, the Secretary of Defense finds this enormously agonizing. He's got a heavy heart about it, and he's as intent at getting to the bottom of it as anyone else.

MR. HARVEY: Okay. On a related issue, there is a lot of debate here about the Australian participation in the coalition of the willing. There is a lobby, a strong lobby saying that Australia should get out. Equally, there are a lot of people here who are saying that we have got to stay the course, that we mustn't cut and run. Would you like to see more Australian troops sent to Iraq? Would you like to see more of a contribution from Australia?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Look, Australians have never cut and run, in my knowledge, and certainly in my experience. And we're not asking for further troop contributions from Australia. Australia stood up when it mattered, did the dirty, hard and dangerous work. You still have soldiers in Iraq, and we couldn't be prouder than to stand alongside of them.

MR. HARVEY: Something I touched on earlier, the relationship between our two countries. I mean, Australia and Americans, as you know better than most people, have been long-time allies and long-time friends. There has always been a great depth of feeling. What's gone wrong? I mean, what's starting to burn the bridges? Or, more appropriately, do you think that bridges are being burned, largely, because of the revelations about the abuse of the prisoners?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: No, I don't think bridges are being burned. Look, we've -- if you look at our long history together, after the Vietnam war, there was a lot of introspection in Australia and in the United States. I can remember back in 1983, when the Labor Government came in, there were commentators on your side speculating the end of the alliance.

We weathered, then, the disappearance of New Zealand from our alliance. These are things we manage because our interest keep us together, and, I must say, I think our principles keep us together. The revelations at Abu Ghraib just sear us. They're a blot or a stain on our own honor, as our President has said, and we have to work our way through this in a uniquely American way.

We've got to investigate it. We've got to talk about it. We've got to find what went wrong, and we've got to punish those who are guilty; and then we have to take remedial action in our services to make sure it does not repeat itself. This is what democracies do.

MR. HARVEY: And you'll go right up the line with that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Absolutely. The President would have it no other way.

MR. HARVEY: Thank you. Richard Armitage, thank you very much for your time. It's much appreciated.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ARMITAGE: Thank you, Mr. Harvey.

MR. HARVEY: Thank you.

2004/578

[End]

Released on May 23, 2004

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