Transcript: Is a Tribunal an Effective Way to Deal With Saddam Hussein?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, April 20, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Iraqi police and civilians cautiously returning to Fallujah hoping the calm won't be followed by a storm. We'll see what happens there, and in other hot spots. But also this business with Saddam Hussein (search) himself. Retired Major Andy Messing (search) joins me from Washington to talk about the call to disarm, the pullout by some of our allies and Saddam's tribunal. The big question, is a tribunal an effective way to deal with Saddam Hussein? What do you think, Major?

MAJ. ANDY MESSING, US ARMY (RET): Anything that's fast, efficient to get to a conclusion is important because the longer it drags out, the more you give aid and sympathy to the crazies over there.

GIBSON: Major, isn't this a kind of dangerous thing to run? As much trouble as we've had even moving a convoy, a moving target, up and down the roads, if you are going to take a certain building and put Saddam Hussein in it and run a trial in a country that is still beset by what amounts to armed armies of his fellow or followers, aren't you asking for trouble?

MESSING: It's a very delicate situation. Obviously, there has to be some very detailed thought to how it goes about or else it could wind up being a major disaster, a PR disaster.

GIBSON: What do you think about the predictable outcome? You can hardly imagine Saddam Hussein acquitted. He certainly is going to be found guilty. Do you think the world is going to accept a death penalty from Iraqis on Saddam Hussein?

MESSING: The trials at Nuremberg after World War II should set the tone with respect to highlighting the man's criminal activities and have a certain measure of dignity to it to come to a rapid conclusion, so we can get on. The Iraqi people for the most part will be sympathetic if it's couched with proper evidence. Otherwise it could be, like I said, a PR disaster and exacerbate the situation.

GIBSON: Major, what's going on in Fallujah? We're looking at some video there. The Marines have the place surrounded. They're threatening to pound the insurgents, go in and kill them all unless the insurgents immediately turnover their heavy weapons, mortars and RPG's. Only today those kinds of people -- we're talking about Saddam's followers -- fired on a prison in -- dropped some mortar rounds in there and killed 21 Iraqi prisoners. And, yet, we have to worry about the people of Fallujah. How do you handle this problem when there's people in there armed insurgents hiding among innocent citizens?

MESSING: Obviously, the tactical ground commanders have the best picture of everything. Especially when they're getting satellite intelligence and signal intelligence, so they'll have the best picture. I would think that they would try to use the level of restraint in just cordoning off the area and seeing how it goes because time is on our side in this particular case. We don't need to rush in and fight out of anger. Sun Sui wouldn't like that. A lot of cogent ground commanders that would want to back off and let the troublemakers stew in the juices, wind of starving a little bit. So we have even a more of a tactical advantage. We'll see what happens.

GIBSON: Major, listen, you are the military expert, not me. Nonetheless, the troops surrounding Fallujah are occasionally taking fire, are occasionally getting picked off. We're losing people conducting the siege. Don't you have to -- don't you have an obligation to the troops to go ahead and move, get it done, whatever is going to happen happens and get it over with so our troops are not exposed to this any longer?

MESSING: Well, I was in Somalia in 1993 right before Black Hawk down, and you have to understand what kind of environment you are dealing with. First of all, there's a lot of foreign fighters and dissidents that are from the Saddam Hussein regime that are in there that are dedicated to killing as many Americans as they can. If you can operate and the ground commanders seem to be doing this, to isolate these people and to try to get them to come to a situation where they wind up putting down their weapons, I think that's a better thing than just rushing in, trying to get it over with. You can -- you can wait things out. I mean, I made reference to Sun Sui. Sun Sui talks about these kind of low-intensity conflicts. And you have to pay attention to the idea that you can't just react out of anger or react out of -- because you think you are in a time restraint. You have to do the cogent thing. We're already up at 700 casualties right now. And we're going to be leaving here under certain situations in the future. I don't think we should do anything precipitously.

GIBSON: Major Andy Messing. Major, thank you very much. Appreciate you joining us.

MESSING: Thank you.

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