Mokhiber: You said last week that, "Every
step will be taken to protect civilian and innocent life in Iraq." But Pentagon
officials have said that under a battle plan called 'shock and awe,' "there will
not be a safe place in Baghdad when we attack." Baghdad is a city the size of
Paris, with five million residents. If there will not be a safe place in Baghdad
when we attack, then how do you plan to protect every civilian life?
First of all, I think that any construing of any statements that are made by anybody
at the Pentagon to suggest that the Pentagon does not and will not take every
step to protect innocent lives is an unfair representation of what the Pentagon
would say. It's well-known how the United States conducts itself in military affairs.
We are very proud of the fact that any time force is reluctantly used, the force
is applied to military targets and innocents are protected.
Mokhiber: Second question. You have admitted
that Saddam may attack our invading troops with chemical and biological weapons.
On Sunday, 60 Minutes reported that many military leaders believe that our troops
have neither the proper equipment, nor the proper training to survive a chemical
and biological attack. The report quoted an Army audit that found that 62 percent
of the gas masks examined "had critical defects that could cause leakage."
Now, since 100,000 U.S. veterans in the Gulf War may still be suffering from
Gulf War [illnesses] -- many of them believe that this is from inhaling toxic
fumes. Tens of thousands of them were exposed to sarin gas when we bombed a Iraqi
munitions dump. How can the President send troops into harm's way knowing that
they are not adequately protected from a chemical and biological attack?
Ari Fleischer: The President has full faith and confidence in the Department
of Defense and in their planning for the worst. And I think premised in your question
is the fact that perhaps you now are coming around to the realization that Iraq
does indeed have weapons of mass destruction and a willingness to use them. It's
not anybody in the United States government who has admitted -- in your word --
that Iraq might use these weapons -- it's that Iraq has such weapons, they've
used them in the past. And hence the danger not only to the troops who are in
the region, but to people abroad, people in the United States, and friends and
allies and civilians in the region who remain vulnerable to Saddam using such
weapons on innocents.
Mokhiber: What about the 60 Minutes report that we're not
Ari Fleischer: As I indicated to you, the President has full faith
and confidence in DOD's measures to protect our troops in all circumstances.