This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, December 15, 2003.
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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST:
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GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good riddance. The world is better off without you, Mr. Saddam Hussein. I find it very interesting that when the heat got on, you dug yourself a hole and you crawled in it. And our brave troops, combined with good intelligence, found you. And you'll be brought to justice, something you did not afford the people you brutalized in your own country.
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VAN SUSTEREN: How are France, Russia and Germany responding to news of Saddam's capture? I sat down with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage for an exclusive interview on world reaction and much more. But first, I asked him about Secretary of State Colin Powell, who underwent surgery for prostate cancer today.
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RICHARD ARMITAGE, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: I guess, fine, after prostate surgery. He was in surgery for about two hours. Doctors says there are no complications and a full recovery is expected.
VAN SUSTEREN: But it was kept a secret for a long time. Isn't that -- this was scheduled surgery, right?
ARMITAGE: Yes, it was scheduled, and he worked towards this, thought it would be a quiet time of year and a good time to do it without -- with little disruption to the business of the Department of State.
VAN SUSTEREN: So do you assume the responsibilities of secretary of state while he's ill?
ARMITAGE: Yes, I am in charge, but as a practical matter, Secretary Powell was kind enough in the first week of this administration to sign to me delegation of authority, which gives me the ability to act with the same authority as the secretary of state when I sign documents or when I speak publicly, whether he's down the hall in his office or whether he's on international travel, or in this case, if he's in the hospital for a short stay.
VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of his return, that'll be pretty quick, right?
ARMITAGE: Yes. Several days.
VAN SUSTEREN: Let's talk about the big news over the weekend. There was some big news, wasn't there?
ARMITAGE: There was some.
VAN SUSTEREN: And when did you first hear that Saddam Hussein was in custody?
ARMITAGE: Secretary Powell told me Saturday afternoon.
VAN SUSTEREN: What was your thought when you first heard that, that this was a done deal, or were you sort of suspicious that maybe we might not be sure this time?
ARMITAGE: No, I think it was a relief, but I noticed that after the killing of both Uday and Qusay, that violence actually spiked for a time in Iraq. So I think it's another day at the office for me, and I'm looking for a slight increase in violence, at least in the short term. And I think it'll take some time for 35 years of despotic rule to -- to be -- for the end of it, the real end of it, to really be intellectualized, both in the minds of Iraqis and in the region.
VAN SUSTEREN: You know, we see so much about the impact on the secretary of defense and on the president, but from a diplomatic standpoint, how does this change or have an impact on what we're doing diplomatically?
ARMITAGE: Well, I think we would hope to use it to increase the international support we have. The president was saying today we've got 60-some nations in our coalition, and this is a perfect opportunity to pivot a bit and try to garner even more international support. I've noticed almost all countries in the world have spoke very positively and in a congratulatory way to the coalition forces. I think it's something we can make use of, hopefully, for betterment of all Iraqis.
VAN SUSTEREN: And a trial of Saddam, who should do that?
ARMITAGE: Well, the president said today that we'll want to work with the Iraqis. I think, in the main, there are hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who cry out from the grave for justice, and there are thousands of Kuwaitis who cry out, as well. I think something basically run by the Iraqis, such as their tribunal, which they set up last week, would probably be a pretty good way to go, as long as it's fair and it's transparent.
VAN SUSTEREN: You have a long history in the region. What's their justice system? I mean, none of us has any idea how they do justice there.
ARMITAGE: Well, their old -- under the Saddam era, there was only injustice. It was relatively arbitrary for crimes against the state. My understanding is for petty crimes and more run-of-the-mill crimes, they had actually a functioning system. The tribunal they've set up is one that was done with the assistance of international (UNINTELLIGIBLE), including our own, and it's one that much more closely conforms to international standards.
VAN SUSTEREN: Does it make a difference when this happens?
ARMITAGE: I'm not sure it makes so much of a difference when it happens, as long as it's fair and transparent. We'll want to exploit the capture of Saddam Hussein for intelligence value for as long as necessary, so I don't think we're in a big hurry.
VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of intelligence, what would you want to ask him? Where are the weapons of mass destruction?
ARMITAGE: Well, that would be an obvious one. I think you'll want to ask him who was associated with him, how they made illegal purchases, how he evaded sanctions, what motivated him in the -- really motivated him in the attempt to make Kuwait the 19th province. There are unlimited questions.
VAN SUSTEREN: Were you surprised that he was in Iraq, that he didn't flee to Syria or go someplace else?
ARMITAGE: No, I actually wasn't. I was surprised that he was hiding in a so-called "spider hole," but I wasn't surprised that he was in Iraq.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why?
ARMITAGE: I didn't feel that a fellow who'd spent almost his entire life, and I think had only traveled out of the country once or twice, would feel comfortable in other than Iraqi culture and Iraqi society.
VAN SUSTEREN: When you think of, though, before the war started, he was -- it was -- many things were offered to him, and then he ends up in a hole. Pathetic.
ARMITAGE: Well, I think that's only the latest in a string of misjudgments that he made in 35 years of rule.
VAN SUSTEREN: What's the impact, big picture, in that part of the world, towards the United States, do you think, as a result of the capture?
ARMITAGE: Well, I think, clearly, this shows sort of the inevitability of having to bow to the international community's (UNINTELLIGIBLE), led by the United States. I think, over time, if we handle the reconstruction of Iraq correctly, if we're able to keep communal violence down as it has been, then there'll be a great deal of respect for the United States.
VAN SUSTEREN: He gave an awful lot of money to families of suicide and homicide bombers, Palestinians. What can we expect, in terms of the reaction from that community?
ARMITAGE: I think there'll be -- no one seemed to me to rejoice at his living, so I don't think too many will be too upset with his being in captivity. Remember, Iranians are still providing money to Hezbollah, Hamas, and as I understand it, to families of people who will engage in suicide activities against Israel. So I think, in the longer run, it's another bad guy down, done away with, and perhaps it'll make some of the terrorists rethink their position. But I don't think it'll be something that we see overnight.
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VAN SUSTEREN: As an aside, as I was leaving the State Department, Deputy Secretary of State Armitage stopped me at the elevators and told me that he had just received a call from hospitalized Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Powell was back in charge.
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