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Congressional News Conference on Iraqi War Crimes

Location: Washington, DC

SEN. BIDEN: I apologize for being late. We were holding a hearing in the Foreign Relations Committee, and Mr. Kristol and General Clark were engaged in a response to a question I had asked them, so I couldn't leave. I apologize.

I am very happy to join my friends today to put the world on notice that war crimes are being committed in Iraq, they have been noticed, and they must be prosecuted. Soliciting suicide bombers, hiding munitions in holy sites, using civilians as human shields, and all the other things that we see nightly on the TV are clearly violations of the rules of armed conflict that the world has agreed to in The Hague Convention and the Geneva Conventions, to which I might add Iraq is a signatory.

This resolution makes clear that anyone who participates in such violations or encourages or terrorizes others to take such actions, will be prosecuted. And it puts the Senate on record as saying that the American people expect these criminals to be held to account. And I am pleased to see that the administration has begun thinking about this, where Ambassador Prosper, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, indicated that one of the military's missions is to secure and preserve evidence they find of war crimes and atrocities. Although this obviously cannot be their primary mission at this point, it's critical in making sure that where possible war criminals are going to be held accountable, and there's the evidence to prove it.

The Iraqi people, U.S. personnel and the world deserve justice, and this resolution is about making sure that it's met. Iraq and the U.S. are parties to the Geneva Convention, and in the first Gulf War Iraq violated the laws of war, and we did not act, in my view, in response to it appropriately. They are doing it again, and they need to know the world is watching and this—those responsible will be—will in fact be prosecuted.

The senator and I, among others in the Senate, and I suspect Congressman Weldon and the House, although I don't know, years ago proposed, and believed that we should have actively prosecuted Saddam Hussein for war crimes and named him as a war criminal. It does make a difference.

And I'll conclude by suggesting that in a meeting when we were still embracing Milosevic, and the whole world was embracing Milosevic, I had a little meeting with him in 1993, and came back and wrote a report called Lift and Strike. In the midst of the meeting when he was trying to explain to me why he had nothing to do with the atrocities that were going on in Bosnia at the time and that the Serbs had no impact, he looked at me in this conference room, and said, "What do you think of me?" And I indicated to him I thought he was—I used a bit of profanity—which I shouldn't have—a war criminal and should be tried as one, and that I would do all in my power the rest of my career to see that he was tried as one. The same, it has had a salutary impact on the rest of the world.

And finally, I might note parenthetically, that the new Serbian president has come forward and has said he is going to do all he can to move on Mr. Mladic and Mr. Karadzic, who in fact have been wandering at large in Srpska and in Serbia—those two locations—for the past 10 years. It matters when we follow through on making sure the world understands there is a price to pay for war crimes.

Q Have either—any of you as recently as this morning seen the briefings as to the status of Saddam Hussein? Anything to share with us from DOD or intelligence or --

SEN. BIDEN: I have not.

SEN. BIDEN: The answer is this is in large part also to let the world know what the feeling of the United States Congress is, and let the president knows—not that he disagrees with us—let him know. And I for one believe that the appropriate place is The Hague. This is important that this be an international decision that the world—that the world condemns those action. and the reason why it had such overwhelming impact with regard to Serbia and with Milosevic is the world responded. It was not a U.S.-imposed decision relative to whether or not he was a war criminal. And that's an important international standard to establish.

REP. WELDON: Absolutely. And I would hope that the French and the Germans would come out publicly and support this resolution, because it was only four short years ago that they impressed upon the U.S. the importance of militarily removing Milosevic from power because of his war crimes record. We responded—and so had the French and the Germans—even though they avoided going to the U.N. Security Council, because they knew full well that Russia would issue a veto. That war crimes tribunal is currently underway in The Hague with the support of the French and the Germans. Now everyone in the world, from the U.N. through the international organizations that focus on human rights, have acknowledged that Saddam Hussein's regime has consistently been far worse than any other regime, as Max Vanderstall (ph) said, U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, with only the equivalent of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. So I would think it would be appropriate, as Senator Biden said, that the entire world community join behind this effort, including France and Germany.

Q Going back to my question, without—with some of the world opinion going into this war, sometimes they are opposed to it, would it be difficult to get a Hague-like war tribunal?

SEN. BIDEN: I would argue not, because even the French and the Germans never disagreed that Saddam Hussein was a violator of human rights. The disagreement related to the utility and the wisdom and the probable outcome of a war against Iraq. But there is no disagreement—I know of no one, including Chirac, who has ever defended Saddam Hussein in terms of his actions with regard to his own citizens and his record on human rights.

Q The Pentagon held a briefing yesterday morning in which Ambassador Foster was suggesting that maybe an international tribunal is not necessarily the best way to go, and basically proposed a two- part operation—one for past crimes or some for Iraqi-led condition, tribunal court to try Hussein and the top leaders, and for current atrocities and war crimes that the U.S. and coalition can handle it on its own without an international tribunal. Do you have any thoughts on this?

SEN. BIDEN: We may disagree on that. I think it would be a tragic mistake for us to do it alone, because I'm confident the world will do it. And for us to do it alone would just—it does not have the same legitimacy that it has. And I want the French and the Germans and the Russians, and everyone else in the world, on record as acknowledging what in fact Saddam Hussein has done. And this idea that somehow it's a—even though it's within our authority and power to do it, that it is useful to us to do it that way I find counterintuitive. The whole idea of this is not only to punish those who have engaged in war crimes, but to internationalize a standard and a moral disapprobation of the world as to what this guy has done. Imagine if we did the Nuremberg Trials with only the United States participating, and we did it in New York? It would have been justified, but it would have been considerably less efficacious, and have considerably less impact on war public opinion, and on the future conduct of Germany, had we done it that way. So this is important in my view that it be an international tribunal that does this. I think it's critical.

Q If I could ask each of you a question: Who should take the lead in helping the Iraqis in filling out their new government? Should it be the United States and the coalition, or the U.N. that takes the lead?

SEN. BIDEN: I think the United States by definition practically has to take lead. But I think it would be a serious mistake if ever a transition government were put in place it was viewed as having the stamp of the United States. It must be internationalized. We ought to learn from history. Every single solitary Western nation that has ever moved into a Muslim nation has never succeeded, and the degree to which they have fallen has been in direct proportion to the government they put in position being viewed as a puppet government of them. That is not our intention. That is not the president's intention. So it's very, very important that the international community a la what we have done in Afghanistan, for example—the United States was the major player—the United States in effect not dictated, but influenced the outcome at that Bonn conference. The United States led. And the United States led though and got the imprimatur of not only NATO, but the world community. So there was a legitimacy when in fact Mr. Karzai went back to Kabul—an international legitimacy justifying the ISAF force. Now we are talking about turning over that to NATO. Had that not been done—had we picked Karzai and put him in place, you would not have any of the other thing follow on, which were in our naked self-interests. And I want to make sure that we bring other people in and have the benefit, notwithstanding the fact we carried all the burden, the benefit of paying some of the bills, the bills of having some of their folks blown up at checkpoints, and not just to be an American soldier standing there, the benefit of when a young Marine is shot guarding the oil wells, since we are going to have to guard them, to not just be an American young Marine, and the benefit of having not to have to carry somewhere between, before it's all over, $100 billion and $300 billion in the cost of rebuilding Iraq. It's going to cost us 20 billion bucks a year just to keep American boots on the ground. I'd like to share that opportunity with the rest of the world out of our own naked self-interests.

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