Secretary of State Colin Powell
Interview with the BBC
Washington, D.C.
September 21, 2001

QUESTION: General Powell, last night, the President talked about justice being brought to the terrorists if the terrorists were not brought to justice. Do you currently have enough evidence against Usama bin Laden to secure a conviction in an American court of law?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think so. I mean, he has been indicted for previous offenses against the United States, previous offenses against humanity. And I think we have enough intelligence information as well as legally sufficient evidence to bring him before an American court.

QUESTION: Would you prefer him dead or alive?

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

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

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

QUESTION: True, but he was the only person mentioned.

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

QUESTION: Do you know where Usama bin Laden is now?

SECRETARY POWELL: We presume he is still in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban.

QUESTION: But you don't know?

SECRETARY POWELL: We presume that, and we have pretty good reason to believe that. We can't be absolutely sure, but I think that is very good.

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

SECRETARY POWELL: It's vast. Now that doesn't mean there is a huge presence in each country. In some cases, it might just be a 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 sort of liken Al Qaida to something like a holding company. And Mr. Usama bin Laden is the chairman and chief executive officer and treasurer of it.

QUESTION: Is this a war against all terrorism?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes. The President sees this as a campaign that goes after terrorism as a curse in the face of society.

QUESTION: So that would include Irish terrorism, Kashmiri terrorism, Basque terrorism?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think that is correct. Any organization that is interested in terrorist operations to overthrow legitimate governments, democratically elected governments, or governments that represent the will of their people is a threat. We should go after them. This is not new for the United States. We recently designated the Real IRA a terrorist organization. We've done the same thing with three organizations in Colombia, the FARC, the ELN and recently their paramilitary, the AUC.

So the United States has been in the forefront of going after terrorism. But in light of what happened on the 11th of September, we now need a worldwide campaign, not just the United States or even just the UN, but rather everybody coming together.

QUESTION: How will you judge that that war has been won?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think we can make a judgment 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. Can we reduce the likelihood of these sorts of incidents as we go after these terrorist organizations? The answer to that is clearly yes.

QUESTION: But you are embarking upon a war that you are not sure you can win.

SECRETARY POWELL: We are embarking upon a long campaign that we will win if we start to see these kinds of incidents sort of disappear from public life. Will we ever get to a situation where there is not a single terrorist left in the world willing to do this kind of activity, I can't answer that, I can't say that we will.

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

SECRETARY POWELL: Iraq is a country we have had on our list of nations that sponsor terrorism, its 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 will continue to do so. We will watch them, we’ve hit them before and if its necessary we will do what is necessary.

QUESTION: When the President says that all necessary weapons will be used, does that include possibly nuclear armament?

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

QUESTION: You can give a guarantee on that?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think I've just answered the question rather adequately.

QUESTION: When you look at a country like Afghanistan, realistically, the poor people of Afghanistan, they don't have any choice in their government. They don't live in a democracy. Their country has been bombed to pieces.

What good does it do for the richest country in the world to rain arms down on people like that?

SECRETARY POWELL: What good does it do for a regime such as that to come after civilization and kill over 6,000 innocent people, who include people from some 80 countries throughout the world, to include several hundred Britons.

There is a sense of outrage about all of this and that is where they are hosted. We are not going after the Afghan people. We are very careful in whatever we do, whether it's diplomatically, economically, through the use of sanctions, through the use of military force. We will be very, very careful to make sure that people see that in our actions we are not going after the Afghan people, we are not going after Moslems, we are not going after Arabs, we are going after terrorists.

QUESTION: There will be civilian casualties?

SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know. We don't know what we're going to do yet; I can't say that there will or there won't.

QUESTION: Has there ever been a war when there haven’t been?

SECRETARY POWELL: It depends what kind of a war you’re talking about. You're suggesting one kind of war. We haven't yet identified what kind of action we're going to take. There is always a 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 Usama bin Laden, but all of those who are using Afghanistan, using the poor, poor people of Afghanistan as a sea in which to swim. If they will move out of Afghanistan, turn themselves over and let's see whether they are guilty or not. Turn themselves over to the justice if they say they are innocent. And then we can do lots of things to help the people of Afghanistan.

The United States is the biggest single donor of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.. We will continue to be so.

QUESTION: But when you hear someone like Lisa Beamer, who was 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.

SECRETARY 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 that there will be a way to get these people to justice without using 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 will go in and use it. But it will be directed against the terrorists, not against innocent civilians.

QUESTION: 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.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, 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.

And anybody who thinks intelligence is so good when you have an organization like this that is doing everything; they spread themselves all over our country. They didn't come from somewhere to do this; they were already here in the United States. I wouldn't call it an intelligence failure. We knew something was happening; we couldn't predict that particular one.

We've got to do a better job of trying to get inside of their network.. And frankly, what we are doing now, building this coalition, we are all coming together, the EU, bilaterally with the United Kingdom, organizations all over the world, so we can get into their financial systems, get into their information systems, get into their propaganda systems. This will give us the kind of intelligence that will help us to predict these kinds of activities or at least get greater insight into what they might be anyway.

QUESTION: But you can understand the anxiety of some people who might well say we've got to act upon intelligence which we have just seen fail?

SECRETARY POWELL: Intelligence is never perfect. I’ve been around a lot of military operations over the years. Anybody who thinks you’ll have perfect intelligence is incorrect. At the same time, you can't just sit back and do nothing because you don't have perfect intelligence.

You get as much intelligence as you can, information, you make an informed professional judgment as to what it is you’re facing and then you go face it. And you take appropriate action. So the lack of 100 percent perfect intelligence is no reason for not acting.

QUESTION: But in sum then, we are embarking upon a war against possibly a vast number of targets, on imperfect intelligence and upon whose outcome you cannot be sure.

SECRETARY POWELL: We are embarking on a campaign with a great deal of information and intelligence. And it is not just a war in the sense of a military conflict; it is a campaign that is much financial, political, diplomatic, public diplomacy, infrastructure ripping up. And we have quite a bit of information and intelligence and we will gather a lot more. And it is a campaign that will be successful at the end of the day. Because we will dry up the havens the have been using; we will ostracize those countries that have been providing support. And it is a campaign that will go on for as long as it takes to be successful.

And success may never come in the form of there is never another terrorist incident. Success may well be in the form of, we have brought this under control and have made it far more difficult for such organizations to exist because the civilized world has made a judgment that we cannot tolerate it any longer.

It wasn't an assault on America. It was an assault on civilization, it was an assault on democracy, it was an assault on the right of innocent people to live their lives.

QUESTION: Are you really suggesting that American foreign policy, the behavior of the United States, for example, in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, has nothing to do with selection of American targets?

SECRETARY POWELL: I am sure that it has something to do. We also have to remember that the greatest target that they have been going after are American values. The fact that we stand for a form of 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.

QUESTION: When you, as you must have done, think about how this war can be prosecuted, how long a time frame are you thinking about?

SECRETARY POWELL: I can't predict that. I think it will certainly be years and I think it's a campaign that will probably continue for as long as I can imagine. You will always have to have police working this, you will always have to have intelligence organizations working it. Your Justice Departments will have to continue to work it. For as long as there are people who are willing to take this kind of risk and cause this kind of damage. We have seen it within our own nation. You don't have to be an outsider. We see it within our own nation terrible things happen. The Oklahoma City bombing was all here in the United States; no outsiders 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. But we have to be vigilant but not terrified. We have to have security but not live in bunkers. We are a free and open society. We have a Constitution that guarantees freedom and openness. And we are not doing anything to violate our constitution. But we’re going to be smart about it. And, we are going to do everything we can to protect our citizens and our society, and work with many countries around the world, especially the United Kingdom and (tape ends).