Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, April 10, 2003 (Full Transcript)
1 Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, April 10, 2003
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MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President began his day
with an intelligence briefing, then an FBI briefing; had a meeting of
the National Security Council. He's met today with the Secretary of
Defense, the Secretary of State. He's having lunch today with the Vice
President. He has also called two world leaders. He spoke with
President Kwasniewski of Poland, and Prime Minister Howard of
Australia. He thanked both nations for their contributions and the
bravery of the men and women of their Armed Forces in their effort to
help bring freedom and liberty to the people of Iraq.
Later this afternoon, the President will meet with the Presidents
of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, where
he will talk about the importance of the CAFTA, or the Central American
Trade Agreement. And he'll talk about the importance of strengthening
the already good bilateral relations between the United States and each
of these nations.
And also later today, the President will do a meeting, will have a
meeting with a group of business leaders who are here in the White
House. These employers represent 2 million Americans working for their
companies, and the President will talk about the jobs and growth plan
that he has pending on Capitol Hill to help create more growth in the
And that is it on the President's schedule. And I'm happy to take
your questions. Helen.
QUESTION: Is the President contemplating any other
regime changes in the Middle East? Because you hear -- I mean, there
seems to be something in the atmosphere that he may not stop with
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me remind you specifically in using the
words regime change that this was an act of Congress signed by the
previous administration that coined the word "regime change," and it's
obviously something that this administration supported.
As the President has made very clear, Iraq is unique. Iraq
presented a whole set of threats to the world that were unique in the
world. And there are other, of course, elements in the world that are
not complying with the efforts of -- what the United States and
others around the world would like to see in terms of peace and
security. But every region of the world presents a unique set of
challenges or difficulties for the United States and for partners in
peace, and each is dealt with separately.
And so Iraq is a unique set of circumstances, and that's how the
President treats it.
QUESTION: So the answer is, no?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's exactly as I said -- Iraq is unique,
and that's how the President treats it.
QUESTION: Kofi Annan is saying that there's a lot of
looting in Baghdad and it appears that no one is in charge. What's
being done to impose some sort of control and authority immediately in
Baghdad and other areas to control looting?
MR. FLEISCHER: One of the things that I think you have seen
in what's been a rolling effort in Iraq -- there were originally
reports of looting, and there was, indeed, looting in Basra and other
cities in the south. And as the security situation stabilized, the
looting did, indeed, decline.
Of course, our coalition forces are there for a military mission.
And they also are mindful about what is taking place on the ground.
These things need to be measured over time. Beyond that, I would refer
you to DOD officials who provide for security on the ground.
QUESTION: As areas come under coalition control,
their mission changes somewhat. The President says in his broadcast to
the Iraqi people, coalition forces will help maintain law and order.
So they are becoming the Iraqi police force.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think that you take a look at
-- and we've always said that the forces will stay there to help
provide security for the Iraqi people. And we mean it. The
definition, again, part of our overall policy, is you should talk to
DOD officials about operational aspects.
But there are also signs -- and if you take a look in Western
Iraq -- this was briefed this morning out of Doha -- there is a town
in Western Iraq in which the mayor and the town council have already
started working very closely with coalition forces that moved through
their town and remain in their town. They're beginning their
self-governance once again. And I anticipate that you will see
different places inside Iraq, different reactions from the local
officials, the assumption of government infrastructure accelerating in
different places inside Iraq, depending on events on the ground. And
we will continue to work with the local Iraqi authorities to make that
QUESTION: Fair enough. But the President said, the
coalition force will maintain law and order. And in Baghdad, after the
extraordinary scenes yesterday of liberation, today you have a suicide
bombing. Does the mission of policing the streets of a city of 5
million people like Baghdad make American troops more vulnerable to
this kind of suicide attack?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me remind you, we are still in the
middle of an actual military mission. And suicide attacks took place
in other places along the battlefield. This is a tactic that some of
our enemies employ. And this remains a dangerous country, a dangerous
place, as I indicated yesterday, in many places. The assassination,
the very regrettable assassination of a sheik from Najaf -- which the
United States strongly condemns, and we express our sympathy to the
people of Najaf over this assassination -- is another reminder of how
dangerous the situation is inside Iraq.
It was dangerous before this military mission. It remains
We are still in the middle of the military mission. The United
States is committed to helping the people of Iraq with their security.
And DOD will be able to talk about that as they talk about their
regular day-to-day activities.
QUESTION: Would you bring us up to date on who is
responsible for programming the television broadcasts which the Iraqis
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President today has broadcast a
message to the people, directly, of Iraq. This is a way for President
Bush and Prime Minister Blair to speak directly to the people of Iraq
about the freedom and the liberation that is coming to them. And we
will continue to communicate directly with the people of Iraq. It is
The Department of Defense is in charge of this program. The
Department of Defense has the facilities on the ground to transmit the
information that is being broadcast. And just as they have done with
Commando Solo, which is a series of radio broadcasts that have been
made for weeks to the Iraqi people, this was a Defense Department
operation then. It remains a war; it remains a Defense Department
QUESTION: Right. But who is deciding what the
program content is to be?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Department of Defense.
QUESTION: Who in the Department of Defense?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a question, I'm sure, that will come
up when they brief later this afternoon. It's a series of people on
the ground in Doha, as well as here in the United States.
QUESTION: For example, is Wilkinson part of this,
even though he's not part of the DOD?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I don't brief the DOD details. That
will be available to you by the DOD officials.
QUESTION: We're told that the three network news
broadcasts are supposed to be carried unedited on this service. Is
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard that myself. I don't know
if you're raising it to object or to support.
QUESTION: Just to confirm.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, that's a question the DOD -- they're
in charge of the --
QUESTION: Especially the unedited part.
MR. FLEISCHER: I can talk to you about the President's
involvement in it, and the video that you know we released earlier
today about it. But the President is very pleased that DOD will be
providing this service to the Iraqi people. For decades, the Iraqi
people have heard nothing but totalitarian propaganda that was designed
to prop up the regime of Saddam Hussein. Their messages to the Iraqi
people were far from the truth. They were not to observations of
people who were in a position to have facts, to report facts, or to
share those facts to the Iraqi people. That will now change, and that
is for the good of the Iraqi people.
We also see a day coming -- it is not here yet because we're
still in the middle of a war -- but we see a day coming that we look
forward to, which is where the Iraqi people themselves will welcome in
their own journalists, where they, themselves, will set up an
independent media; where they, themselves, will avail themselves of the
rights that we think go with democracy around the world, as we have
here, which is the right of a free press to broadcast and to print.
That is an important part of Iraq's future. So we see that day
QUESTION: Aren't you concerned that the Iraqi people
may simply see this as propaganda from a different source?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one of the reasons that we feel so
strongly about the free press is because we want the free press to be
there to see it with their own eyes. As you know, the United States
military made the decision, with the support of the White House, to
embed countless journalists with our troops there, to see things with
their own eyes and to report the truth as they know it. And I think
you'll be in a good position, your reporters are on the ground in
Baghdad, to get their reactions after they see a message from the
I think if the scenes we're seeing on the streets carried through
free media cameras are any indication, the Iraqi people welcome a
message from President Bush.
QUESTION: Ari, on weapons of mass destruction,
British Prime Minister Blair said a couple days ago in Belfast that
after the regime fell that, we, the coalition, would be led to them
-- his words. Yesterday, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was offering a
reward for Iraqis to prevent the regime from either destroying
documents or destroying materials or shipping them out of the country.
So what's the bigger picture here? Are we in a position, is the United
States in a position where we have to rely on people on the ground to
ultimately get to the very weapons that we say Iraq has and that we've
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think there are two principal things
that involve the Iraqi people and the efforts to determine where their
weapons of mass destruction are. One is, the people who are involved
in it and want to do everything they possibly can to destroy all the
evidence of their involvement in it. Obviously, those people are the
problem. And then there are other people who may have knowledge about
it who want to provide that knowledge to the United States or to
coalition allies, so that evidence of weapons of mass destruction can
indeed be unearthed or found. And I think we'll see both on the ground
I think it is something that will be found. We've always said that
we have information that they have weapons of mass destruction. The
precise location of where it is is information that the Iraqi people
can be helpful with.
QUESTION: Well, but -- okay, but you're saying now
that -- I mean, it appears that we really are relying on people to
lead us to them, rather than knowing where these materials are. And if
we don't have that sort of cooperation, I mean, are we going to come up
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you have always heard, and you
continue to hear from officials, a measure of high confidence that,
indeed, the weapons of mass destruction will be found. What we have is
a regime that was a master at hiding it, that had set up a very large
and elaborate infrastructure for the sole purpose of hiding it. And as
the military conflict goes through its various phases and we turn the
corner from actual military conduct, military operations, to more of a
pursuit of where the weapons of mass destruction are, then I think
additional information will come in. And we don't rule out that it can
come in thanks to the help of the Iraqi people.
QUESTION: I'm just trying to nail this down. You
either -- the bad actors are going to flip and tell you about it,
lead you to it, or present it to you, or people who are essentially
good actors are going to tip you off once you're there and lead you to
the materials; that right now, the government, forces on the ground are
not in a position independently to get to where the major caches of --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, you can't rule out that the coalition
forces might find something along their travels on the ground.
QUESTION: But would it be serendipitous, or would it
be because you know where it is?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, they're involved in military
operations. And Iraq has been hiding it. But what we have is
intelligence about their having it. Whether it was a specific location
or not is often not the case. But keep in mind the rescue of Jessica
Lynch, for example, that was developed as a result of information
provided to us by an Iraqi citizen. So we, of course, were on the
lookout for our POWs; we had our antennae up, doing everything we could
to find them. We have means to be able to do certain things. But
there's a limit to these means; the more there is help from the Iraqi
people, the easier the effort.
QUESTION: I'm not asking for specifics, but I want to
know specifically if the United States knows where a cache of WMD is.
Is there a location that they could send troops to if the site was
clean, they could go to it and get it?
MR. FLEISCHER: What we have always said is that we know
that they have it and they are expert at hiding it --
QUESTION: Do we know where any of it is?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, we've always said we know they have it,
they are expert at hiding it. I can't discuss all intelligence
information. And this is something that Secretary Powell talked about
when he went to the United Nations and talked about their abilities to
hide. But make no mistake, we maintain high confidence that they have
it and it will be found.
QUESTION: Yesterday Secretary Rumsfeld said, Ari,
that Syria was believed not only to be shipping some goods into Iraq,
which he had discussed previously, but also helping the exodus of
people from Iraq, presumably leaders. I was wondering if you could
tell us, first, if the White House has any evidence that Iraqi
leadership are escaping across the Syrian border or attempting to;
secondly, whether the President has communicated in any way with Syria
to make it clear what kind of consequences there would be if there was
such an effort?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, again, I don't have anything to add
beyond what the Secretary said yesterday about this. And Secretary
Powell said something similar about it, as well. The Secretary
referred to the scraps of information that we had yesterday, and I
think he said what the President wanted to say.
QUESTION: The President, himself, has got no plans to
make any communication to Syria about the seriousness of this?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's nothing that's been brought to my
attention directly in the communication area there, but I don't know.
QUESTION: Ari, the images we saw in Baghdad yesterday
are being interpreted by the Arab media -- much of the Arab media
-- very differently. How are the messages by President Bush and Tony
Blair addressing that? And secondly, how dangerous is this power
vacuum in Iraq -- as we see the Shiite leader being killed, and we see
what's happening in Northern Iraq right now, in Kirkuk, how dangerous
is that? And does that speed up or raise the urgency of putting
together some kind of an interim government?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, whatever the situation on the ground
is in Iraq today, it is better than it was yesterday, and it will be
better tomorrow. And that's because freedom is coming to the Iraqi
people. And it is inevitable in a military conflict that there is
going to be some areas of danger that remain. Even after most of the
military fighting may have ebbed, it still remains dangerous.
As for the way some of the messages have been received in Arab
countries, you know, it's very interesting to note -- because Al
Jazeera was, indeed, broadcast live to many Arab nations, and many
people who have satellite dishes, at least, were able to watch for
themselves what took place in Iraq. And again, the President's view is
that the celebrations in the streets of Baghdad are the sights of
freedom. And freedom is a message that should be welcomed everywhere.
QUESTION: Ari, there's a lot of concern around the
world, the administration has been so eager to find weapons of mass
destruction that we might be so eager as to plant it. Is there any
plans to allow U.N. inspectors back into the country in order to
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, that entire notion is nothing but
nonsense. It's stuff of conspiracy theories and I don't deal in that.
As you know, the United States -- we have many press in the region,
and they're there for a reason. We want to free press to see what we
see, to know what we know. And that's one of the reasons that they are
QUESTION: How about the U.N. inspectors?
MR. FLEISCHER: We have never ruled out the possibility of
U.N. inspectors playing some type of role in the future in Iraq. But
right now it remains exactly what you see, a military mission in the
heat of battle in many places.
QUESTION: Who called the meeting of free Iraqis
inside and outside Iraq in Nasiriyah?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's been something that we've always
talked about. As you know, there were meetings even before the war
began in Northern Iraq with free Iraqis. It remains part of how we
prepare the groundwork for what ultimately will become the IIA or the
Interim Iraqi Authority. So this is something that is done with the
coalition, with free Iraqis and the people outside Iraq and inside Iraq
as it's coming together.
QUESTION: Can you say who exactly called it there?
We hear reports that Mr. Chalabi, himself, originally organized this
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't confirm that. I don't know that
that's the case. I know that there are several people -- several
leading Iraqis, two of whom, for example, are inside Iraq, who are part
of the leadership council that was set up as part of the independent
Iraq. And Mr. Chalabi is one of those people, indeed.
QUESTION: Can you explain why the Vice President
specifically said that it was going to take place on Saturday when the
White House came out later and said that there wasn't a particular
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, for the exact reason I gave yesterday.
I think his staff addressed that immediately after the speech.
QUESTION: But they didn't actually give an
explanation for why he was able to say the specific date in the
morning, and then in the afternoon we were told that there actually
hadn't ever been a specific date.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think his staff did address that, and
I think that was reflected in many of the stories that I saw.
QUESTION: Can you tell us who it is that is
nominating, if that is the correct term, the people who will be part of
this meeting -- this leadership meeting, when it is likely to occur,
and what the agenda is? What is the first step in trying to get people
together to look at future leadership in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: This meeting is going to be an opportunity
for Iraqis from both inside and outside the country to discuss the
vision of the Iraqi people for a post-Saddam Iraq. The meeting will be
hosted by the coalition and it's purpose will be for Iraqis to express
their views freely and start a process that can lead to the
establishment of an interim authority.
So this is the beginning, this is the beginning of something very
welcome. It's the beginning of the Iraqi people working with liberty
on their own future. And that's what this meeting represents. It's a
welcome thing to happen. We still don't have a date for it. So as
soon as we have something to report, it will be reported. The date is
still being worked on.
QUESTION: Do you have some sense of how many people
will attend? And who is it that is nominating -- again, if that is
the correct term -- the people to come to this? The President, as
you know, in Belfast suggested even that the U.N. might be nominating
some people. Who is actually putting forth names to attend?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's fair to say that the
Secretary General of the United Nations will be invited to send a
representative to this meeting. He would be most welcome. I said
yesterday that the invitations will be coming from General Franks.
That's the case.
QUESTION: Do you know -- I mean, are the names
coming from the State Department, from the Pentagon, from the White
House, from the British government, from the CIA? How is this process
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's a collaboration of different
people. And this is not new. Keep in mind, there have been previous
meetings set up with free Iraqis that took place several weeks ago. As
you know, there was a White House envoy who was sent to the meetings in
Northern Iraq. He will also be present at these meetings now, when
they take place in Southern Iraq. There's been a long-time group of
people from outside of Iraq who have been involved in seeking Iraq's
freedom. I anticipate that many of these same people who have been
involved and worked before will be involved and will work again, as
well as people on the ground inside Iraq.
QUESTION: Your answer to the question of why DOD is
doing these broadcasts dealt entirely with the practical means of
transmitting -- that doesn't really answer the question of why DOD is
controlling the content. Can you address that, why DOD and not a
civilian agency is doing it?
MR. FLEISCHER: For the same reason that DOD has
successfully been doing it in a very able fashion for weeks, involving
getting radio messages transmitted into Iraq -- because we were in
the middle of war. And DOD is very good in the middle of war not only
of fighting and winning a war, but in providing information for people
who have a thirst for information. The Iraqi people want to get these
radio broadcasts. They want to know the facts. They want to know the
truth. And DOD is in excellent position to provide it, and we're
pleased they are.
QUESTION: How long will these broadcasts go on? How
long do you envision them continuing?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know that I've heard any type of
timetable that is put on it. I think they will go, and I think over
time you will see an increased number of Iraqi people who hear about
them and are able to watch them. And that will be a good situation to
see develop. But the end- goal is for everything militarily to leave
Iraq, and for Iraq to be run entirely by the Iraqi people with a free
Iraqi press. Make no mistake, that is the goal. And that is something
that I think you will see happen.
QUESTION: You said in the morning that some of these
broadcasts will be transmitted over what used to be Iraqi state TV. Is
there some plan at some point to turn those transmission facilities
over to a new interim government?
MR. FLEISCHER: That will be something that the
reconstruction folks on the ground will work on. Clearly, there is a
desire to turn as much over as fast as possible so that the Iraqi
people can run their own affairs. And literally, the way it works is,
it will be transmitted on the same channel that people were used to
tuning in on Iraqi TV. That's the way the technology works. It will
be broadcast from American and coalition facilities involving DOD
equipment. So there's either airplane or transmitters on the ground.
And it will be transmitted in such way that if an Iraqi citizen was
used to tuning in channel 3, for example, they'd be able to again tune
on channel 3, and there it would be.
QUESTION: Do you have any even approximate time frame
as to how long it might take for an interim Iraqi regime or government
to be up and running with its own --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I would not hazard a guess.
QUESTION: Ari, prior to the war, many of the
opponents said that the danger of going to war would be that the
attitudes toward the United States around the world would seriously
deteriorate. Now that we've gone to war and the war is winding down,
does the White House feel as though attitudes towards the United States
from countries other than those who were on our side has changed or has
deteriorated like many predicted?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that different nations will
feel differently. And I think some nations that were irrevocably
opposed to the use of force to disarm the Iraqi regime will continue to
be irrevocably opposed to it. We disagree with those nations. The
President disagreed with that prior to taking action. And in the wake
of the action that's been taken, he disagrees even stronger.
Other nations, of course, I think want to wait and see what the
results were. But I'm not going to speak for all nations. The
President did this because he thought it was the right thing to do.
And it's fair to say he did it with a rather large coalition of
political supporters from around the world.
QUESTION: Do you feel as though you've had
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I can't say that. I haven't seen that,
QUESTION: Yes, Ari. What is the latest information
about the search for Saddam Hussein? And would the U.S. government be
willing to put a reward on information that would lead to his
whereabouts or his capture?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no new information to report on
that. And I have not heard any discussion about the latter.
QUESTION: Ari, part of the reason for the war was
WMD. Now, well into the war, WMD has not been found. The American
public is going to the television every morning, listening to the radio
every morning, trying to find out if, indeed, WMD was found. Does the
administration feel there's some awkwardness right now with these
statements of they're professionals at hiding, and we know it's there?
I mean, is there some sort of awkwardness about the fact that this has
not been found as of yet?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. We know Saddam Hussein is there, but we
haven't found him yet, either. The fact of the matter is we are still
in a war, and not everything about the war is yet known. But make no
mistake -- as I said earlier -- we have high confidence that they
have weapons of mass destruction. That is what this war was about and
it is about. And we have high confidence it will be found.
QUESTION: Thank you, two questions based on the
President's statements. Going back to Kurdistan, because the President
talks about a unified, solid nation, at this point would you now
consider accepting a unified -- an independent Kurdistan if Turkey is
protected from them?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. From the beginning the mission has been
clear, and that is to protect the territorial integrity of Iraq.
QUESTION: And then on the statement, our military
forces will leave, but that doesn't say all forces will leave. Does
that preclude U.S. bases in the future in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I was asked that yesterday, and I have
nothing different or new to say about that yesterday.
QUESTION: Ari, does the United States have any
interest in arresting Mohammed Al-Dori, or any other Iraqi official in
the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I still don't have anything further
than this morning. He is, of course, the ambassador of Iraq to the
United Nations. And unless there is cause provided for why a diplomat
would be arrested, he is a diplomat.
MR. FLEISCHER: He remains a diplomat to the United
Nations. That's correct.
QUESTION: On behalf of?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, literally, legally, the way it works,
he is Iraq's representative to the United Nations.
QUESTION: Is he free to leave the United States if he
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have any information on that. It's
probably something you need to talk to State Department about.
QUESTION: There have been reports that Mr. Chalabi
has been talking to Israelis who were previously -- or to Jewish
people who were previously in Iraq, may now be in Israel, about them
returning, and also supporting a pro-Israeli stance. Where is the
administration on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, I would imagine that there
are many Iraqis who are talking to many people who are no longer in
Iraq and talking to them about the future of Iraq. It is important for
people who care about the future of Iraq to reach out and get in touch
with many of the people -- the people in Dearborn, Michigan, who were
dancing in the streets. One of the things that you see, when it comes
to successful nations that emerge from tyranny, is the willingness of
people who left those countries to escape the tyranny to want to
return, to contribute to the future of that country. It's a measure of
So I imagine there will be a number of conversations about the
future of Iraq. And the President's goal is for an Iraq to emerge that
respects its neighbors, that lives in peace with its neighbors,
including -- all its neighbors, including Israel.
QUESTION: Ari, I'm interested more in the process
that led to this decision to have the military manage this broadcast
program. Did the President personally sign off on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is a continuation of something that
you're very familiar with and have seen, and is typical of military
operations. And that's why I referred for weeks about Commando Solo,
which is a military operation that involves the flying of aircraft that
beam radio messages to the people of Iraq, so that people of Iraq can
find out what the truth is. The only thing different today is that
instead of being radio that's transmitted, it's television pictures
that are transmitted by the same DOD that the President is proud that
they played the role that they played not only in fighting and winning
a war, but in providing information to the Iraqi people. I don't know
if this rose to the President's level or not, but I can tell you this,
the President is proud of it.
QUESTION: It's also beyond what's been going on.
It's a new generation, if you will, of the effort. How do you, as sort
of one of the information managers for the administration, think that
the military's expertise on what is often described as the Arab street,
the psyche of that part of the world, compare with departments like the
State Department, information agencies and other entities that have
more expertise in that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think if you take a look at
the expertise of DOD in providing radio messages to the Iraqi people,
it's quite good and it's quite accurate. And DOD, I want to remind
you, is playing host to all the embedded reporters as a sign of DOD's
commitment to a free press.
And so I think it's entirely appropriate, from the President's
point of view, for DOD to be involved in this. It remains a dangerous
country, where DOD assets are needed to field these missions. And I
think it's best judged by observing the content of what is shown to the
Iraqi people. Certainly when the Department of Defense transmits to
the Iraqi people a message of the President of the United States that
you yourselves have seen with your own eyes, what's wrong with letting
DOD transmit that for the Iraqi people, to see with their own eyes.
Let them be the judges of that content.
You, too, will be the judges of that content. You have people on
the ground in Iraq. It is now known that this is going to be
transmitted. We want your people -- we want journalists to watch
what is being transmitted from this. And you will be free to cover it
as you would covering any broadcast.
QUESTION: Just one more, real quickly. Do you see it
evolving to any other agencies, civilian agencies?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think this is part of a classic wartime
procedure. That's what your watching.
QUESTION: I mean, after the war and before a
transition government takes over, do you see another agency taking this
over from the military?
MR. FLEISCHER: I couldn't make any guesses. I don't rule
out that there could be multiple sources to get information to the
Iraqi people, including American press, if American press decide, when
safety allows, to transmit their own messages into the Iraqi people.
Hopefully, it's a free country, and as much communication can be had as
QUESTION: Ari, two things. How many people have been
killed in this war?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a question you need to address to
QUESTION: You have no -- the government has no
estimate on civilian, military, both sides?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's an operational question. As you're
familiar with, that needs to be addressed to DOD.
QUESTION: Last month, Rachael Corrie, an American
student living in Gaza, was bulldozed to death trying to defend a
Palestinian home. Also, Israel said it was a mistake, but an
eyewitness says it was a deliberate act. Also last week, Brian Avery,
another American, was shot in the face by the Israeli army. A number
of members of Congress have introduced House concurrent resolution 111,
calling on the administration to investigate Rachel Corrie's death.
And I was wondering whether the President will launch such an
MR. FLEISCHER: The President already was in touch through
high officials with the State Department about this matter. I think
the President spoke directly with Prime Minister Sharon about it, too,
and expressed our concerns about this. And they are being looked
QUESTION: Ari, I have a follow-up on Ron's question.
In the past week, as you know, the Army and the Marines in Iraq both
reported that their equipment on the ground had detected, perhaps,
nerve agents, and that samples were being flown elsewhere for
confirmation. Can you say whether the President's been briefed on the
results of those tests and when we might learn whether, in fact, their
equipment on the ground was correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, I just make it a policy not to discuss
what the President is informed of in his classified briefings. DOD has
been very open in providing its information about what they find and
what they don't find. There have been a number of reports that
indicated there was a finding, which DOD steered reporters away from.
There are others that are ongoing and are being evaluated. But that's
for DOD to report.
QUESTION: But I was told inside the White House that
the concern was about absolute accuracy. So are you saying that the
DOD will always be responding to the test results and announcing them
as they have them?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm saying that anything operational will
come from DOD. If there's anything the President would say, he would
say it if he chooses to do so. But at this stage, it's a DOD matter.