This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, May 25, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.
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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Moments ago, I spoke to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers. I asked him what he thought when he saw Saddam Hussein in court today.
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GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: It represents a couple of things. One is that the Iraqi -- interim Iraqi government is in charge, which is a great symbol for the Iraqi people and for the region and for the world. And the second thing is that Iraq is now in charge, and America has gone from the occupier label to the liberator label. That was an Iraqi show. I think that's a very powerful image for what we promised we would do when we crossed the border there from Kuwait to Iraq back in '03.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do we still maintain the physical custody of Saddam Hussein? And if so, how long are we going to keep him before -- I know we turned the legal custody over...
VAN SUSTEREN: ... but what about the physical custody?
MYERS: Yes, we have the physical custody, and that's what the Iraqis asked us to do. They said, You keep the physical authority, we want all of the authorities over the high-value prisoners. And as Iraq builds capability, as it will do in the rest of its security forces -- as they build that capability, then they'll take that over when they want to, when they're capable.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do you have any concern that putting it on television is going to sort of foster sympathy for Saddam Hussein over there, and might even perhaps create more danger for our troops?
MYERS: Well, I think what we're seeing is what we see in this country, and this is -- I mean, this is a soon-to-be democracy, and we see, basically, democracy in action. I know there were some folks going out and talking to the man on the street in Baghdad and saying, What do you think about this? And there are all sorts of reactions. That would happen in this country. I think that's a great thing, if you think about where that country was before March of '03, where nobody could say anything because of that man we saw in the courtroom today. This is a -- this is great.
And so, you know, it'll be up to the Iraqis whether they want a television there. It's going to be up to the Iraqis how they handle this whole -- this whole process. But what we've seen so far, I think, is not unlike this country, not unlike the rest of the free world, and I think that's a very good signal to send to Iraqis and to the region.
VAN SUSTEREN: I think his good health -- he looked good -- sent a big signal out to the world, as well.
MYERS: Yes, I -- my understanding is he's lost about 12 pounds on purpose, and he's been working out...
VAN SUSTEREN: But he looked healthy.
MYERS: Yes. He's worked out, I think, twice a day. He's had more time to work out than I have.
VAN SUSTEREN: But it didn't look like -- you know, we -- it looked like custody -- that in American custody was not a bad thing, in terms of -- I mean, he didn't come in poorly shaven or look like he'd been abused as he was in custody.
MYERS: Oh, no. No, they were -- they -- he was treated well.
VAN SUSTEREN: And I think that's a good signal to send to the world.
MYERS: You bet. You bet...
VAN SUSTEREN: The individual ready reserve, they're going -- explain what that is, and what does that mean for about 5,000 members of the military?
MYERS: When men and women sign up to serve in the armed forces, they sign a contract with the government. Part of that contract says you'll serve so long on active duty, and part of the contract says, Then you'll spend the rest of your time in the ready reserve, individual ready reserve. The Army is doing what the Marine Corps has done for some time, and that is to call up individual ready reserve members to help flesh out units in special skills that are needed that are in that reserve force. And that's why it's there. That's why the contract is set up, so when we have a nation that is at war against extremism, that we can draw on this force. And that's what the Army has now done with the 5,500 or whatever it is, 5,600.
And it's interesting to note, about a thousand are -- are -- of the individual ready reserves are volunteers to be called up. And this is -- it's -- we understand there's sacrifice here, too, because these people had gotten out of the service. They were not expecting to be called up, even though it's in the contract. So they were pursuing whatever life they wanted to pursue. And so it's a big sacrifice on their part, on their family's part and on their employer's part, just like it is for our reserve component.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is there any reason, though, why we're not seeking more volunteers because of that hardship? I mean, I realize that you're calling up certain people with certain skills, but are we looking for the volunteers?
MYERS: You bet. And we do that -- when we call up the reserve component, we try to look for reserves. I mean, we try to look for volunteers who can -- who will come forward. That's a -- it's a big part of the process. You can't do it in all cases because -- you can do it with individuals easier than you can do it for units because units -- we need whole units that are a team, that can go take on their mission as a team.
VAN SUSTEREN: How about morale over in Iraq?
MYERS: Very good. I talked to General Abizaid today, and he was officiating at the change of command between General Casey, who is taking command from General Sanchez for the multi-national force Iraq, which is the security force over there. And there were many Iraqis there, many coalition members. Very positive event. John -- John Abizaid said that morale was sky-high, people very optimistic about the future, and that includes the coalition, that includes the Iraqis.
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VAN SUSTEREN: We continue now with General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs Of staff, He was seated right behind the president when Bush learned that the handover of Iraq had occurred. I asked him when he knew it had happened.
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MYERS: I knew that the turnover was going to occur that morning. I think what had happened is somebody passed the president a note and said, It's happened. And I mean, we knew it had happened in Iraq. It was over. Iraq was sovereign. You know, the interim Iraqi government was in charge. And that's when the president was notified, and he and Prime Minister Blair had a handshake on it.
VAN SUSTEREN: So when you see the heads moving and the paper pass?
MYERS: I'm sorry?
VAN SUSTEREN: When you see the -- you see the heads moving and the paper passing...
VAN SUSTEREN: ... you knew it was a done deal?
MYERS: I assumed that's what it was. We knew that it was going to happen that morning. I mean, we'd been informed and been working some of the aspects of that. Sure. I think it -- and I think it's also -- it's a great symbol that the promises made, that we were there to liberate the Iraqi people -- what a great symbol for that because we -- we kept our promise. The coalition kept its promise.
VAN SUSTEREN: How about you personally? You've been involved with this since, you know, day one.
MYERS: Oh, I think it's great progress. I think probably what people saw today with the arraignment of Saddam Hussein and 11 members of the senior Iraqi government -- they're in an Iraqi courtroom being arraigned by the new interim Iraqi government. It's a great symbol for a couple things. One is we now know we have an Iraqi government, and they're making decisions. They're taking charge. And also that promise I talked about, that, hey, we're no longer occupiers. We were there to liberate, and this is part of your liberation.
VAN SUSTEREN: We're not occupiers now, but we still have lots of troops there. And "The Washington Times" had a report this morning that terrorist Zarqawi is seeking to target women, trying to lure a woman member of the military to some commit a horrible act of terrorism, which we all, of course, suspect is murder. Did you see that article?
MYERS: I did not see that article, but I'm not surprised. We know about Zarqawi. We know about the letter that we intercepted that he had sent to al Qaeda asking for help in January. We intercepted a letter. That's the letter where he said, We can't defeat this coalition militarily. We must start a civil war between the Sunnis and the Shia population inside Iraq. That's one way we can try to keep democracy from coming to Iraq.
He is brutal. He's claimed to be -- have been involved in some of the beheadings that we've seen on videotape. He's claimed to be involved in a lot of the vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, in most cases killing innocent men, women and children. This is -- this is what we expect. And he represents that extremist threat that I think is a big danger not only to Iraq and Iraqis, but in a broader sense, to the world, to the United States, in particular.
VAN SUSTEREN: What are we telling -- or what are you telling, I should say, the troops? I mean, how to protect themselves from Zarqawi on the ground in Iraq.
MYERS: Well, we're -- the way we're protecting ourselves from Zarqawi is going after Zarqawi. We have a big effort to go after Zarqawi. We picked up a several of his -- a couple of his top lieutenants. We had an air strike in the last 24 hours that hit a group of people that could have been affiliated with Zarqawi. That's still to be determined. Certainly, not Zarqawi but people affiliated with him. Two other air strikes in that same area in Fallujah, where we've been very successful, very good intelligence, and then followed up with bombs. We're going to go after him and we're going to find him, and with the help of the Iraqi people and the Iraqi security forces, we're going to bring him to justice.
VAN SUSTEREN: Those decisions for those air strikes, do they come all the way up to you?
MYERS: Oh, no. No, those are tactical decisions that are made there on the ground in Iraq.
VAN SUSTEREN: Wassef Hassoun, the U.S. Marine who is -- has now been changed, his status, to "captured" -- any information about him at all?
MYERS: We have -- we have heard nothing. And I'm -- I'm -- the only reason I hesitated there -- no, we've heard nothing. And I was going to say, you know, I've been out of the office for the last hour, but there's been no reports up to that point of his whereabouts.
VAN SUSTEREN: There's been some suggestion that he was lured out by some so-called friendly Iraqis and then betrayed and turned over to terrorists. How do we protect the rest of our soldiers from -- if, indeed, that happened, from being duped?
MYERS: Well, I think our soldiers are smarter than that, and they're well led, and it's good leadership down to the lowest level, down to the senior NCOs and platoon leaders, and so forth, that -- and the squad leaders, to make sure people aren't duped. I think our people are well trained in that regard. I don't -- we don't know the specific circumstances here. We'll have to wait and see what the facts are.
VAN SUSTEREN: How rough is security over there for our soldiers?
MYERS: Well, I think -- right now, it's a rough period. We have -- since April have had a high number of incidents against not only the coalition, our troops, our allies, but increasingly against Iraqi civilians, men, women and children and Iraqi government officials both at the senior -- at the national level and at the local level. So it's a tough environment.
Our troops are -- and right now, as you know, it's getting very hot over there, too. So it's hot. It can be very dusty. You're in a threat environment, particularly in that Baghdad and then out to Fallujah, al Ramadi, up to Tikrit and Mosul, that same area that's been the problem all along. It's a very, very tough environment. Further north, in the south, not as bad. Our folks are, I think, coping -- coping very well, trying to defeat this threat, trying to help the Iraqi people have a much better life. But we should make no mistake, it's a very tough environment that our troops are handling extraordinarily well.
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VAN SUSTEREN: More of our exclusive with General Myers when we come back. And later, more on the new terror threat from Zarqawi.
VAN SUSTEREN: Back to our interview with General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I asked the former fighter pilot if he was going to learn to fly the FA-22 Raptor, the plane I had the opportunity to chase earlier this week at Nellis Air Force Base.
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MYERS: As you know now, having, I guess, chased the Raptor around the sky, it's just a one-seater. And so no, I'll never be able to check out in it.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do you miss not -- not having an opportunity? Because it's a very different plane than the -- all of the other fighter planes.
MYERS: Yes, it's a -- I mean, it's -- it's truly the next generation, and as you described, very different from the F-16 I think you were in, that was chasing that particular plane. So sure, there's a part of me that says, Boy, I wish I were -- had the time and was young enough to go do that again. But that's in my past, and I'm -- we got a lot of challenges right now, so I think I'll just stick to what I'm doing. And I do still fly the Gulfstream that helps get me around.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, this is -- this is an Air Force plane. The Navy doesn't have the Raptor. This is an Air Force plane. You're an Air Force general. How important do you think the Raptor -- because there's some controversy. How important is this to our military?
MYERS: Well, I think the thing -- if you step back and you look at the mission that the FA-22 is supposed to perform, it's a the air superiority mission. It also has attack capability. The air superiority mission is a fundamental mission that -- and we've been lucky in Afghanistan, we've been fortunate in Iraq that we've had air superiority that allows almost everything else that happens in the air, on the ground to happen it way it does, not be attacked by enemy air. So it's a very important role that the FA-22 is going to fulfill, replacing aircraft that are getting quite old, some of the ones that you mentioned that I flew that I think we still think of as new -- F-15, F-16. But the F-15 started back in the early '70s, and it's still -- it's still a good airplane, but it's an old airplane now.
VAN SUSTEREN: The one I flew on is the F-16, which I -- you know, which is an amazing aircraft, the first time I ever flew it. When I flew it chasing the Raptor, it seemed -- well, it seemed like a dog. I mean, it did not seem -- I mean, I know it's a fast airplane and it can do a lot, but it just couldn't keep up.
MYERS: No, it's like I said, it's a generation different. But the F-16 and the F-15 are still terrific platforms flown by many air forces around the world. They're still doing a terrific job. But the next generation -- and to ensure that we have air superiority in the future against modern surface-to-air missiles, modern aircraft that are out there, modern long-range air-to-air missiles, as opposed to surface-to-air missiles, we got to go to the next generation.
VAN SUSTEREN: Some people will say that beside -- I mean, people always talk about the cost any time we have new airplanes, but that no other country has an air force, so that we don't need a plane of this capability. I assume you disagree with that.
MYERS: Well, as I tried to indicate in the previous answer, there are lots of threats to air superiority. They can be surface-to-air missiles, and there are some very modern systems out there today that threaten the current inventory, that there's -- very hard to defend against. Other aircraft with long-range air-to-air missiles are more and more deployed around the world. So there is a threat. And the one thing you can't bet on is whether you're going to have air superiority or not. It's very, very important.
VAN SUSTEREN: You mentioned Afghanistan, so I've got to ask you, why can't we find Usama bin Laden?
MYERS: We can't find him because we don't know exactly where he is. And that's been the case -- and we're working on it hard. And I don't mean to be flippant with that comment, but we are working really hard at trying to find UBL and other al Qaeda leadership. We have a large -- large amount of energy going into that -- that effort. It is very difficult to find an individual like that, when he can hide in some very tough terrain that is not necessarily ungoverned space, but space where -- if he is's Pakistan, for instance, in the tribal areas, where the government of Pakistan has not spent a lot of time, although lately, they've been in there doing a very good job hunting down al Qaeda, so...
VAN SUSTEREN: Is it -- is it -- has the military pretty much decided that he's in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region, or is there a chance that he's slipped somewhere else?
MYERS: Oh, there's always that chance. Since we don't know specifically, our best guess is that he's in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region, and that's where things point. But he is -- he's, as we say, laying very, very low and very careful about how he communicates and how he travels. So it's going to be tough. It was like trying to find the snipers in this area, if you recall, not -- in, what was that, about a year ago or a year-and-a-half ago. Trying to find a couple of individuals turned out to be very, very tough. In the end, it was somebody that pointed them out, and that's what we're going to have to have happen here. We're going to have to have individuals help us out.
VAN SUSTEREN: It's always nice to see you, General. Thank you for coming on.
MYERS: Nice to see you. Thank you.
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