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This transcript is produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

Jeremy Paxman interviews Colin Powell 21/9/01

JEREMY PAXMAN:
General Powell, last night the President talked about justice being brought to the terrorists if the terrorists were not brought to justice. Do you have enough evidence against Osama Bin Laden for a conviction in an American court of law?

COLIN POWELL:
I think so. He has been indicted for previous offences against the United States, previous offences against humanity. We have enough intelligence information as well as legally sufficient evidence to bring him before an American court.

PAXMAN:
Would you prefer him dead or alive?

POWELL:
I would prefer him brought to justice or justice brought to him. I wish nobody dead just for the sake of being dead. I think justice is the issue here, and not whether he is alive or dead.

PAXMAN:
What is taking justice to him going to mean?

POWELL:
It might mean that we're going to have to go find him rather than have him delivered by the Taliban. We will find him. We will use all the resources at our disposal, not only to go after him. We shouldn't just personalise it in him. The President only mentioned his name once last night.

PAXMAN:
Sure, but he was the only person mentioned.

POWELL:
True, but he talked about a very broad network that he heads called Al-Qaida which is located in countries all around the world. It's that network that we have to go after because you can't leave a part of that network untouched to perpetrate another terrorist attack at some point.

PAXMAN:
Do you know where Osama Bin Laden is now?

POWELL:
We presume he's in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban.

PAXMAN:
But you don't know?

POWELL:
We presume that and have good reason to believe that. I can't be absolutely sure, but I think that's where he is.

PAXMAN:
When the President talked about a war against terrorism and mentioned 60 countries, we're talking about something vast, aren't we?

POWELL:
It's vast. It doesn't mean a huge presence in each country, in some cases it may be financial presence or just a presence that is intended to draw support from that country as opposed to a terrorist cell. But it is a very broad network. I've likened Al-Qaida to something like a holding company. Mr Osama Bin Laden is the chairman and chief executive officer and treasurer of it.

PAXMAN:
Is this war against all terrorism?

POWELL:
Yes. The President sees this as a campaign that goes after terrorism as a curse on the face of society - as a scourge of civilisation.

PAXMAN:
That would include Irish terrorism, Kashmiri terrorism, Basque terrorism?

POWELL:
That's correct. Any organisation that is interested in terrorist operations to overthrow legitimate governments or democratically elected governments or governments that represent the will of their people is a threat and we should go after them. This is not new for the United States. We recently designated the Real IRA a terrorist organisation. We've done the same thing with three organisations in Colombia - the FARC, the ELN and recently their paramilitaries, the AUC. The USA has been in the forefront of going after terrorism, but after what happened on the 11th September we now need a world-wide campaign, not just the United States or the UN, but everybody coming together.

PAXMAN:
How will you judge when that war has been won?

POWELL:
We can make a judgement that the war is being won or has been won when we don't see that kind of terrorist incident occurring anywhere. Now, will we ever get there? I don't know. But can we reduce the likelihood of these incidents if we go after those terrorist organisations? The answer to that is clearly yes.

PAXMAN:
But you're embarking on a war you're not sure you can win.

POWELL:
We're embarking upon a long campaign that we will win if we start to see these incidents disappearing from our public life. Will we ever get to the situation where there's not one terrorist left? I can't answer that. I can't say that we will.

PAXMAN:
Iraq wasn't mentioned in the President's speech. Is that a target country?

POWELL:
Iraq is a country we have had on our list of nations that sponsor terrorism. It's an enemy we keep well contained with the strong support of our British friends and others. We have contained them for ten years and we'll continue to do so. We will watch them. We have hit them before and if it's necessary, we'll do what is necessary.

PAXMAN:
When the President says that all necessary weapons will be used, does that include nuclear-armed weapons?

POWELL:
I don't think nuclear weapons would be a necessary weapon against terrorist organisations.

PAXMAN:
You can give a guarantee on that?

POWELL:
I think I just answered the question rather adequately.

PAXMAN:
When you look at a country like Afghanistan, realistically, the poor people of Afghanistan don't have any choice in their government. They don't live in a democracy, the country is being bombed to pieces. What good does it do for the world's richest country to rain bombs down on people like that?

POWELL:
What good does it do for a regime like that to go after civilisation and kill over 6,000 innocent people, who include people from some 80 countries throughout the world, who include several hundred Britons? There's an outrage about this. We are not going after the Afghan people. We will be very careful in whatever we do, whether it is diplomatically, economically, with the use of sanctions or military force, we will be very careful to make sure people see, in our action, that we are not going after the Afghan people, we're not going after Muslims or after Arabs, we are going after terrorists.

PAXMAN:
There will be civilian casualties?

POWELL:
We don't know what we will do yet. I can't say there will or there won't be.

PAXMAN:
Do you know of a war where there haven't been?

POWELL:
It depends on the kind of war you're talking about. You're suggesting one kind of war and we haven't yet identified what kind of actions we'll be taking. There is always the danger of civilian casualties. It is better that you not use military power if you can find another form of power to achieve your objective. We can avoid casualties of all kinds if the Taliban regime will do the right thing and turn over these terrorists all of them - not just Osama Bin Laden but all of those who are using Afghanistan, using the poor, poor people of Afghanistan as a sea to swim in. If they will move out of Afghanistan, turn themselves over, and let's see whether they are guilty or not - turn themselves over to justice, and then we can do lots of things to help the people of Afghanistan. The USA has been the biggest donor of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and we'll continue to be so.

PAXMAN:
But when you hear someone, like the widow referred to by the President in his speech last night, when you hear her say, "When I think of a mother in Afghanistan, I don't want her to go through what I'm going through", it must give you pause for thought?

POWELL:
We don't want any mother to go through what she went through. So we are going to be very, very careful about what we do and we hope there will be a way to get these people to justice that does not use force of this kind. But as the President said, we will prevail - we will be persistent, we will use the power at our disposal and if it requires military power, we'll go in and use it, but directed against the terrorists not against innocent civilians.

PAXMAN:
But that force will be applied on the basis of intelligence estimates and we have just seen the most catastrophic failure of intelligence in American history.

POWELL:
It was a failure in the sense that we did not anticipate this kind of attack on that particular day. We were quite aware that there was a heightened level of interest in American targets around the world, but, obviously, we were not able to predict that particular incident on that particular day. When you have an organisation like this that's spread itself all over our country - they didn't come from somewhere to do this, they were in the USA - I wouldn't call that intelligence failure. We knew something was happening, though we couldn't predict that particular one. We have to do a better job of trying to get inside their networks. What we are doing now in building this coalition, we're all coming together, with the EU, bilaterally with the United Kingdom, with organisations all over the world, so we can get into their financial systems, their information systems and their propaganda systems. This will give us the intelligence to help us predict activities or at least get greater insight as to what they might be getting ready.

PAXMAN:
But you can understand some people who might well say we've got to act upon intelligence which we have just seen fail.

POWELL:
Intelligence is never perfect. I've been around a lot of military operations and anybody who expects perfect intelligence is incorrect. But you can't just stand back and do nothing because you don't have perfect intelligence. You get as much intelligence as you can, you make an informed judgement as to what it is you're facing and then take appropriate action. So the lack of perfect intelligence is not a reason for not acting.

PAXMAN:
In sum then, we are embarking upon a war against possibly a vast number of targets on imperfect intelligence and of whose outcome you cannot be sure?

POWELL:
We are embarking on a campaign with a great deal of information and intelligence. It is not just a war in a sense of military conflict. It is a campaign that is as much financial, political, diplomatic, public diplomacy, infrastructure ripping up. We have quite a bit of information and intelligence and we'll gather a lot more. It is a campaign that will be successful in the end because we will dry up their havens, we will ostracise those countries that have been providing support. It is a campaign that will go on as long as it takes to be successful. Success may never come in the form that there is never another terrorist incident. Success may well be in the form that we bring this under control and make it far more difficult for such organisations to exist because the civilised world has made a judgement that we cannot tolerate it any longer. It wasn't an assault on America. It was an assault on civilisation. It was an assault on democracy. It was an assault on the right of innocent people to live their lives.

PAXMAN:
Are you suggesting American foreign policy, the behaviour of the USA in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, has nothing to do with the selection of American targets?

POWELL:
Oh, I'm sure it has something to do with it but we must remember that the greatest target they have been going after are American values - that we stand for democracy and representative government and a value system that they find threatening to theirs and one that they have to destroy for their own radical purposes.

PAXMAN:
When you think about how this war can be prosecuted, how long a time frame are you thinking about?

POWELL:
I can't predict that. I think that it will certainly be years. I think it is a campaign that will probably continue for as long as I can imagine - you will always have to have police working this, have intelligence organisations working it, justice departments will have to work it, for as long as there are people who are willing to take these risks and cause such damage. We have seen it within our own nation - you don't have to be an outsider, we've seen in our own nation - terrible things happening. The Oklahoma City bombing was here in the States. No outsider came to do that, we did that to ourselves. So all nations that face this kind of threat will have to be ever vigilant from now on. We have to be vigilant, but not terrified. We have to have security but not live in bunkers. We are free, open societies and we have a constitution that guarantees freedom and openness. We're not going to do anything to violate our constitution but we are going to be smart and do everything we can to protect our societies and work with many countries around the world, especially with the UK, in helping to protect our societies, our people and our cities and the place in which we live, work, play and enjoy the blessings of freedom.

PAXMAN:
Secretary of State, thank you.

POWELL:
Thank you, Jeremy.


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