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 You are in: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > What the Secretary Has Been Saying > 2006 Secretary Rice's Remarks > September 2006: Secretary Rice's Remarks

Interview on CBS Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC
September 10, 2006

QUESTION:  And good morning again.  On this day before the fifth anniversary of 9/11, we begin with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  Madame Secretary, thank you so much for coming.

SECRETARY RICE:  Of course, Bob.

QUESTION:  Let me ask you this.  After 9/11, we went to Iraq because we were told Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and because Iraq was a place that harbored terrorists.  We've known for a long time now that Saddam did not have weapons of mass destruction and now in this bombshell report that the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee released Friday, we find that U.S. intelligence agencies concluded long ago that there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.  So it begs the question:  Was this whole thing a colossal mistake?

SECRETARY RICE:  Well, first of all, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein is very important and better for the world.  One cannot imagine a Middle East that would be different and would not be a place in which extremism thrives without Saddam Hussein's removal and the chance for a different kind of Iraq.

But at the time, Bob, the intelligence services in fact did not say that there was no connection between al-Qaida and Iraq.  That's simply not the case.  George Tenet, then the Director of Central Intelligence, testified that there were multiple contacts going back a decade between Usama bin Laden and Iraq.  In fact the 9/11 Commission itself talked about contacts.

What did we know?  We know that Iraq was a state sponsor of terror, had been -- of terrorism, had in fact been listed by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism.  We know that Zarqawi ordered the killing of an American diplomat from Iraq, that he ran a poisons network in Iraq; that the Abu Nidal organization, the terrorist organization, had operated out of Iraq.  So there were clearly links between terrorism and Iraq.

But more importantly, we had been at war with Iraq in 1991 because Saddam Hussein destabilized the region by invading Kuwait.  That brought us into the region into places like Saudi Arabia with our forces in ways that were unprecedented.  In 1998, President Clinton ordered American forces against Saddam Hussein, air power against Saddam Hussein.  For the entire period after the end of the Gulf War, the first Gulf War, our pilots were flying no-fly zones and being shot at by Saddam's forces.  The idea that somehow this was a peaceful relationship with Saddam Hussein if we had just let him be, the world would have been fine, I just find a not very sustainable argument.  

QUESTION:  But you know, in his book Fiasco, Tom Ricks writes that all of what you say is true, but he says in a sense we had contained Saddam Hussein, that he wasn't posing really a threat to much of anybody.

SECRETARY RICE:  Well, perhaps people can disagree.  But I do not consider a Saddam Hussein who was still firing at our aircraft, who was still threatening his neighbors, who had caused 300,000 deaths in his own country, having used weapons of mass destruction, who was breaking the embargo, the so-called Oil-for-Food program that had turned into an enormous scandal where the people of Iraq were being hurt but certainly not Saddam's regime, I don't consider that contained.

QUESTION:  Well, let me just ask you for your reaction to what the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller, said.  He says that the despite the evidence the Administration used -- and these are the words he used -- cynical manipulation, deliberately cynical manipulation, to shape American public opinion.  He went on to suggest that we might actually be better off if Saddam were still in power.  Listen to what else he said:  "He wasn't going to attack us.  He was surrounded by people who didn't like him.  Do you think the Saudis like Saddam Hussein?  Do you think Iran likes him?  Do you think Jordan likes him?  No.  He would have been isolated there.  Yes, he would have been in control of that country.  But we wouldn't have depleted our resources, preventing us from prosecuting a war on terror, which is what this is all about."

Now that was an interview that he gave on Friday to our correspondent Sheryl Attkisson.  What's your response?

SECRETARY RICE:  Look, I have respect for Senator Rockefeller, but I just have to respectfully disagree.  I mean, the notion that somehow someone who had caused more than a million deaths in the Iran-Iraq War, someone who had invaded Kuwait and we believe was probably on his way to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, somebody who threatened his neighbors every day, who shot at our aircraft, who had broken out of an embargo and was using his oil wealth to build up an arsenal of weapons, that this was not a threat in the world's most volatile region?  I just think it's a very, frankly, odd analysis, and given the post-9/11 environment a very dangerous analysis, because what we learned with September 11th is not to let threats fester until they come back to haunt us.

Now is it difficult going in Iraq?  Absolutely.  Are the Iraqi people struggling to build a stable democracy on the ruins of an old tyrannical dictatorship in which people solved their problems by conflict and oppression, not by politics?  Of course it's difficult.

QUESTION:  Well, let me ask you this, Madame Secretary.  Have we created some kind of a terrorist haven there?  Because some would argue that there really was no terrorist threat in those days but now that there actually is.

SECRETARY RICE:  Well, Saddam Hussein -- the State Department and the United States Government had said that Iraq was a state sponsor of terror going all the way back to the 1990s.  So he was a state sponsor of terror.  He had terrorists operating in his country, including Zarqawi, who had a poisons network in the country.  And I would just remind that at the time the Director of Central Intelligence talked about these contacts between Iraq and al-Qaida.  And in fact the 9/11 Commission talked about contacts.

There is in retrospect an attempt to somehow paint Saddam Hussein as just sitting there calmly in the region.  Yes, he was a bad guy, people didn't like him, but he wasn't much of a threat.  It's simply ahistorical if you look at the conflict into which he dragged that region, starting in the 1980s.

QUESTION:  Well, let me ask you and let's shift to something else.  This week -- or last week of course the President announced that these people that were in these secret prisons were now going to be transferred to military control.  I'm told that within the Administration you were one of those who argued that this needed to be done.  I'd like to ask you, Madame Secretary, when did you learn that the CIA was operating these secret prisons?

SECRETARY RICE:  Well, Bob, we've talked in the past.  When I was in Europe I talked about the fact that, yes, we had intelligence activities that were trying to gain essential information from detainees because the President's --

QUESTION:  But did you know early on about the --

SECRETARY RICE:  I'm not going to talk about intelligence activities.

QUESTION:  Well, what do you think is the -- why did you think it was necessary to get these people out into the open and into some sort of justice system?

SECRETARY RICE:  Look, the President gave the rationale for this in his speech, which is that now some almost five years after September 11th when we have exploited the intelligence value and, exploited it by the way in a way that I think has kept America and its allies safer because these people have been a font of extremely important information, but now many years later we believe we've exploited that intelligence value to the degree that it's now time to bring them to justice.

QUESTION:  Well, let me ask you this, Madame Secretary.  The President said there's nobody currently in what he called this CIA program.  I read that to mean the secret prisons.  Will others be put in that program or has it now been shut down?

SECRETARY RICE:  The President is going to retain, and I think the American people will want him to retain, all the tools that are available to him within our laws to be able to get information from captured terrorists, to be sure that we can use that information to make the country more secure.  After September 11th, it was very clear that the big missing link in our abilities to fight the kind of attack that took place on September 11 was information.  You can't go around like a needle in a haystack trying to find out who might attack.  You need information.

QUESTION:  Well, is what you're saying here is that it's all right for a democracy to operate secret prisons, but we just got all we could get out of these people so we took them out of the prisons?

SECRETARY RICE:  Bob, it is clearly an important thing for a democracy to protect itself and to use all legal means available to it, and including those that live up to our treaty obligations to do that.  Of course we're going to continue to run intelligence activities when they're needed.  But let me just say when the -- the debate that has taken place, the McCain Amendment that became the Detainee Treatment Act, the importance of the Supreme Court decision, what this shows is that in democratic societies there is give and take and now we're getting an institutionalization of the means to fight terror and the President is cooperating with Congress to do that.

QUESTION:  Madame Secretary, thank you so much.  Hope to see you again. 

SECRETARY RICE:  Thank you very much.


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