Transcript: Terrorists Hope Tactics Will Influence Int'l Policy

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, June 22, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: The terrorists responsible for killing the hostages are hoping to influence international policy.

James Lilley (search) is former US Ambassador to South Korea. He is now a senior fellow at the American Institute. Mr. Lilley, today's big question: Will the killing of these hostages — first the American, and now the South Korean — backfire on the terrorists?

JAMES LILLEY, FMR. US AMBASSADOR TO SOUTH KOREA: I certainly hope so. I think the terrorists intimated the Spanish. I don't think they know how tough the South Koreans can be. They've taken on a real tough country. And this sort of thing would probably bring the Koreans closer together in terms of taking some kind of revenge on the terrorists.

GIBSON: The South Koreans are also — of late, have been a bit uncomfortable being so close to America. There is a lot of anti-American sentiment in South Korea. Would you expect that a little daylight will open between the South Koreans and the Americans?

LILLEY: Look, this anti-American business has been going on for 40 years. It was there when I got there 18 years ago. My effigy was burned in the streets. It's going on and on and on. There is an element in the Korean society that's going to be against us, against any foreign presence, and they're going to raise the devil on this one, you can bet it. You'll see them with their mouth wide open, their eyes fast shut, and their fists in the air denouncing the Americans, but most Koreans are solid with their government, I believe on this one.

GIBSON: Ambassador Lilley, is the reason this hostage suffered the fate of Nick Berg (search) in Iraq and now Paul Johnson (search) in Saudi Arabia because the South Koreans are close to the Americans?

LILLEY: I don't think so at all. I think they'll kill anybody to make a point. And they're testing to see if the South Koreans would break under this sort of murderous, brutal pressure. I think they've going to call it wrong because I don't think the South Koreans will break. There will be a certain amount of uproar in South Korea. It will be picked up by the media and played, but again, there are 40,000 Muslims in South Korea, and I wouldn't want to be one of them right now.

GIBSON: Ambassador Lilley, what about the rest of the world? I mean, how come the rest of the world isn't screaming bloody murder about this series of beheadings done at Zarqawi's behest or al Qaeda's behest, and yet, we're still hearing this endless and almost, at this point, tedious obsession with the offenses at Abu Ghraib (search).

LILLEY: It just happens. Look at the Vietnam War and the tiger cages, the way they focused on this — on callous village murderous behavior, on all sorts of things that special forces did. This is the way we work. The one thing the Americans do, of course, is take those people who did at Abu Ghraib and punish them. You don't see any terrorist being punished.

The rest of the world is going to come around. They've always been slower. Look at what Europe did between the World War I and II. It always happens. They try to ...

GIBSON: But Ambassador Lilley, we watch our friends in Western Europe work overtime to forget the beheading of Nick Berg and Paul Johnson. After all, they're the Americans, and the Americans are wrong to have gone into this war, so public opinion goes. Will anything change now that these terrorists have gone after a completely innocent party, an interpreter from South Korea?

LILLEY: I can't believe it won't begin to change. Their behavior has been outrageous, and what they've done in terms of blowing innocent people up for years. The outrage on the blowings up in Kenya and Tanzania. You didn't really see that. You saw some at 9/11, yes, you did. But it seems to me it's an accumulative thing, and the real murderous behavior of the terrorists, I think, will begin to eat into even the Europeans.

GIBSON: What do you think the effect of this terror tactic is, chopping off heads? I mean, where do you think that the world comes down on this?

LILLEY: Well, it's the ultimate humiliation. You know, head on a spike, head on the gate, this sort of thing. You absolutely humiliate the human being by taking off his head. In the Arab sense, it is a humiliating way to die. You notice the way the Saudis behave — behead their prisoners. It's a way they show disrespect for these people in the most brutal terms, but it seems to me that will accumulate. The unfortunate thing it does play out in their own constituency. We hope that when they start taking on the South Koreans and others, it will begin to blow back on them, and I believe it will.

GIBSON: Anybody who reads the Arab newspaper Web sites that are published in English — I read the Arab news constantly ...

LILLEY: Right.

GIBSON: You hear and you see, you know, the Arab on the street, so mad at the United States, saying things like if I could find an American now, I would cut his head off. Is this now going to have some blowback in the Arab world, do you think? Or is this just a common talk playing itself out in the front pages?

LILLEY: Oh, I think it's something that people can pick up. You can stick a microphone in anybody's face and you could say something outrageous. That's the usual pattern. You know, it's serious the way the Arabs feel about this, but it's born of their own failure and frustration, their inability to keep up with society or produce anything. The whole failure of their society, their resentment against their own governments.

And then, of course, the Israel issue. And, of course, the United States is caricatured on this endlessly and by the left in Europe. They get together. The left never liked the United States, and they have common cause with these people, and they have influence over a lot of the media in Europe. And they're going to really give us a hard time.

GIBSON: Do you think beheading somebody who was not an American will provoke anymore outrage than we saw with the same offense on Americans? Virtually nothing said in Western Europe. Is this going to be any different?

LILLEY: I wouldn't count on it in Western Europe. I think where it really might matter is in Asia, and particularly South Korea and places like this. And that's enough. If we could begin to turn that situation against the terrorists and away from us, I think something will have been accomplished. And this may be a first step, but it's a long, long journey.

GIBSON: James Lilley, former US ambassador to South Korea. Ambassador Lilley, thank you very much.

LILLEY: My pleasure.

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