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Bin Laden Will be Brought to Justice One Day - U.S. Ambassador Wells

Mar 27, 2008, 6:42 AM

The hunt for Osama Bin Laden was just one of the topics addressed by the recently appointed United States Ambassador to The Gambia, Mr. Barry Wells, in a wide ranging interview carried out by the News Editor of The Point Mr. Ebrima Sawaneh. Please read the full transcript below.

Mr. Ambassador can you give me a brief background of who you are?

I was born and raised in the Midwest of the United States of America in Ohio where I did all my schooling and got the opportunity to work as a social worker for a number of years.I was a University Professor at HowardUniversity for six years before I went overseas as a peace-corps worker and subsequently joined the State Department.So that is the short version of my career chart.I've spent most of my life either in education or public service.

When did you start your diplomatic career?

Well my first international assignment was as a Peace Corps director in 1978.Where I was stationed in Belize in Central America and subsequent assignment with the Peace Corps in Jamaica where I served from 1981 to 1984.I joined the State Department in 1988 and most of that time I spent at our Foreign Service Institute which is the training academy, if you will, for our diplomatic corps and other agencies who may serve overseas.

Where was your last assignment before coming to The Gambia?

I served at the State Department in Washington as the director of the office of civil rights.That's an assistant secretary level position that gives me responsibility directly to the secretary for enforcing our civil rights laws within the department of state for our employees or applicants both American and foreign service nationals.I was as well the department of state's first chief diversity officer while serving in that capacity.

What were your feelings when you heard that you were being posted to The Gambia?

Oh I was delighted, excited and proud frankly it's quite an honour to be selected to represent your country to another country and to be the president's personal representative so it was quite an honour and one that I still consider quite an honour.

Under you stewardship what can we expect to gain in this country from the US Embassy in Banjul?

Well as a diplomat our primary responsibility is to represent the interests of the US including protecting American citizens and providing services to American citizens and to improve communications and work on established communications between our two countries.I guess the only thing I can promise is that I intend to take both of those responsibilities seriously.I believe that we have a good bilateral relationship but of course there is always room for improvement and I hope to improve the communication between our two governments.

Are you satisfied with the level of co-operation that exists between your country and The Gambia? - If not what areas do you feel the two nations can specifically improve on?

The US and The Gambia have enjoyed a long history of co-operative relationships particularly in areas of things like regional stability and counter terrorism where forces of the Gambian armed forces are now serving overseas in peace-keeping operations.So those are areas that we have long co-operated on and look forward to co-operating on. Having said that there are always opportunities to improve co-operation and I look forward to just finding out and ferreting out those areas where we can improve our co-operation.

Do you have any target areas that you particularly want to address during you tour of duty?

In general I think our mission in Africa in general is that our policy has to do with basically promoting democracy, improving human rights and good governance and helping with sustainable development.One of the biggest challenges that we see to eradicating things like poverty and disease is the necessity of sustaining programs and initiatives once a country receives aid so that it becomes self sufficient and doesn't consistently have to rely on outside assistance.

Health is a key area to us as well as education. We promote education because some of our embassies provide scholarships for girl's education but, in general education and health, is where Peace Corps volunteers are working a long.

Your country is viewed by many as a champion of freedom of expression and a free press, how would you gauge The Gambia?

Freedom of expression is really a key part of championing democracy and as I think in any case it is always a work in progress.

Since the tragic events of September 11th, Gambians and people from many other nations, have found it extremely difficult to travel to the United States, vis-à-vis the issuing of visas from your consular section, what is the state of affairs as I am speaking to you?

Well first of all, let me say that I don't have an involvement with visa's, I'm glad to say, we rely on our vice consul to enforce our visa regulations and laws and to apply them accurately across the board. So, that's an area that I can't really comment any more on because that's not my area of expertise.

Many citizens of the United States are not pleased that your nation led the charge and invaded Iraq what are your feelings on this issue?

That decision was based at the time on well researched and highly believable intelligence and he decision to take that action was based on our concerns that indeed Iraq had in its possession or was developing weapons of mass destruction. The fact that they did not turn to be there did not negate the fact that it was a terrible regime that had murdered many of its own citizens and others and was continuing to violate the human rights of its neighbours. It was a decision that was well founded in terms of what we had available to us and it was appropriate for us to take that action.

With the number of people dying on a daily basis in Iraq does this confirm that the United States and her allies have failed there?

I think it's premature to talk about failure in a situation like that. In recent months there as been significant progress in the security situation in Iraq there is no doubt that it continues to be a very difficult security situation but progress is being made. Our job now that we are there is to help improve the security situation so that the people of Iraq can continue their efforts of developing a stable democracy for their people.

Do you think Osama Bin Laden will ever be found and captured?

I don't know if he will be captured or not I do know that through our efforts we have disrupted, if not virtually dismantled, his terrorist network, uprooted him from his base in Afghanistan and left him pretty much a fugitive on the run. Whether or not he will be captured and killed is anyone's guess. I do believe at some point in one way or another he will be brought to justice.

Who is you favourite candidate out what is now essentially a choice of three vying to become the next President of the United States?

Well first of all it's not appropriate for a sitting ambassador to comment on a political candidate. I can only say that it's certainly an historic campaign that we are engaged in now and certainly all of us as Americans and I know around the world are interested in this campaign and we are excited that it is gaining the kind of attention that it is and we look forward to the election in November

Any final words?

Well only to say that I'm very pleased with the warm welcome that I have received since coming to The Gambia. Of course my wife had assured me of this because se had visited The Gambia on business before I did and spoke well of her experiences here when she conducted a conference here several years.