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Transcript 21327

Interview with Tracey Grimshaw Today Show, Channel Nine

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 20/05/2004

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 21327

GRIMSHAW:

Good morning, Mr Howard.

PRIME MINISTER:

Hello Tracey. How are you?

GRIMSHAW:

I'm well thankyou. I didn't realise we had you standing outside. I hope it's not too chilly for you.

PRIME MINISTER:

It's balmy. Balmy Melbourne.

GRIMSHAW:

Okay, I understand. Given the fertile ground that you say now exists in Iraq for extremism and terrorists - how can you feasibly see a clear path to a stable democracy there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it's going to be very hard, but there's a lot more progress being made than is widely recognised. The rehabilitation of the education system. The holding of municipal elections. The gradual building of the Iraqi security forces. The arresting of the horrendous hyper inflation rate. The beginning of genuine investment in public health services. All of this has quietly been achieved whilst in other parts of the country there is still murder and mayhem. I accept that and it's a very mixed picture. But you always have mixed pictures in a situation like this and the acts of terrorism will go on because the terrorists are determined to stop Iraq emerging as a democratic country.

GRIMSHAW:

Okay. If we accept that terrorism and extremism is self replenishing if you like - will the Bin Ladens and the al-Zarqawi ever be eradicated and if they are not and if there are others always going to step up then will it ever be safe to leave Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I'm sure it will be safe at some point. I can't say exactly when. I don't think anybody can and the critics of the Government who keep asking that question know darn well that you can't put a precise date. Obviously, we'll be in a position to go when conditions are more stable, the Iraqis themselves have taken over and that the new system of Government has begun to work and to work effectively. Now, I can't put a time on that. But you have to ask yourself the alternative which is being put forward which is basically to scuttle and run. I mean if we go, why shouldn't the Americans go? Why shouldn't the British go? Now, everybody knows that if the Americans and the British with their large numbers were to go, say by the 30th of June which is effectively the Labor Party's policy for us, then the whole country would be effectively undermined and the terrorists would have won a massive real victory in Iraq and a massive propaganda victory around the world.

GRIMSHAW:

Presumably, you've set parameters haven't you, have you not set for yourselves at least a check list of conditions that would have to be fulfilled before you'd say okay the job is done and can you tell us what the check list is?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the check list is that each individual element of our forces has a particular task and when that task has been completed then you are willing to contemplate withdrawing those forces. Now, for example, we have air traffic controllers at Baghdad airport and their job is to make sure that the airport is being got ready to be handed over or rather the air traffic controllers, the local Iraqis are being got ready to take over control of the airport. Now, that's one job. Another job we have is to train, help train the new Iraqi army and the Iraqi police. Now, obviously, when that task is completed you can look at some possibility of those people coming out. But you've got to allow for the situation where that might take longer than originally planned and, I mean, it's an odd sort of commitment to be spending the whole time talking about when you are going to end it.

GRIMSHAW:

Prime Minister, it would appear that Iraq is hurting the Bush administration in the opinion polls. It would appear that it's hurting your Government in the opinion polls. The US Defence Department reportedly has located more images of abuse of Iraqi prisoners. In the light of all of that do you shudder to think of what they may reveal?

PRIME MINISTER:

Tracey, the prisoner abuse thing is terrible. But it is being dealt with and that is the difference. America is a transparent democracy. If American military personnel break the law they are punished. They've already court marshalled one man and others are on the way. Under Saddam Hussein, far worse was done and people were patted on the back and promoted - they weren't punished. You'll always have people who transgress in a democracy. It is an imperfect system of Government but at least the Americans have the honesty to face the mistakes that have been made and they are trying to do something about it.

GRIMSHAW:

There are allegations today from an eyewitness that Australian David Hicks was tied and beaten during his initial interrogation at the hands of US forces in Afghanistan. Is this the first you've known about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course and the man you refer to is a Taliban supporter. I find it strange that these allegations of abuse against Mr Hicks and Mr Habib have arisen only since the prisoner abuse scandal erupted in relation to the American forces. On earlier occasions and indeed, in very explicit terms in, I think, December of last year Mr Hicks's Australian lawyer Mr Kenny said that Mr Hicks had been well treated by his guards in Guantanamo Bay. Now, we will investigate any allegations that are made, but I make the very strong point that it seems on my recollection that these allegations have arisen since the prisoner abuse scandal erupted in relation to American forces. These complaints were not made previously. They were not reported to Australian consular personnel who visited Mr Hicks and Mr Habib in Guantanamo Bay. They were not on my recollection reported by the Red Cross people who visited Hicks and Habib in Guantanamo Bay. So we do have to place that caveat and take those allegations with a grain of salt.

GRIMSHAW:

Nonetheless, Mr Hicks's lawyer, Steven Kenny says that apparently these interrogations were videotaped. Would you be asking the Americans for any video tapes?

PRIME MINISTER:

We will pursue with the Americans as we have in the past any allegations of ill treatment of Hicks and Habib and I make the point again Tracey, that this has all come recently. Hicks and Habib have been in detention and have been in contact with people for quite some time. Why weren't these allegations made earlier and I think people are entitled to ask that question but we will obviously seek further assurances from the United States and ask for further information. But we have been told repeatedly by the American authorities that allegations of inappropriate treatment are wrong. Obviously, I'd be seeking a reassurance again on that point. But I have to emphasise that these allegations from Hicks have come recently. Why didn't they come earlier, if in fact they occurred is as now alleged in Pakistan?

GRIMSHAW:

Okay, Prime Minister, one final question - is it true that Mamdouh Habib is now eligible as of yesterday to apply for release from Guantanamo Bay and if it is true would the Australian Government support that application?

PRIME MINISTER:

That's news to me.

GRIMSHAW:

Okay. All right. We'll leave it there. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

Transcript 21327