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Rumsfeld: U.S. Had No Prior Knowledge of Hostage Rescue Attempt

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

TALLINN, Estonia, June 7, 2002 – The U.S. Defense Department found out about the Philippine hostage rescue when the rest of the world did, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him during a 10-day trip overseas that the Pentagon had no prior knowledge of the rescue mission in which American missionary Martin Burnham and Filipino nurse Deborah Yap were killed.

Yap, Burnham and his wife Gracia had been hostages of the Abu Sayyaf guerillas on Basilan Island in the Philippines for more than a year. Gracia Burnham was injured in the attack and was evacuated by an American military helicopter, Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard Myers said earlier.

Rumsfeld said no U.S. personnel were involved in the mission, and that the request for a medical evacuation for Mrs. Burnham and several others injured in the rescue came only after the fighting had stopped.

Even though two of the hostages were killed in the rescue attempt, Rumsfeld refused to second-guess the decision to attempt a rescue. "The Burnhams had not been well, and they'd been in captivity a very long time," he said. "And it seems to me that the attempt that was made to save their lives was understandable."

Rumsfeld said he believes action is appropriate in hostage situations because "hostage takers ought not be rewarded" for their actions.

"It makes them believe that is an activity they can engage in," he said. "Hostages get taken all the time. It is a world where people believe that they can make money or make political points by taking hostages, and I agree with the political point that says we have to avoid rewarding hostage takers."

The secretary said that dealing with hostage situations is dangerous business and noted that historically many hostage situations had worked out "imperfectly."

He also reiterated Myers' earlier statement that the U.S. training mission in the Philippines would not be jeopardized by this latest turn of events.

Rumsfeld was speaking on the plane en route from the NATO defense ministerial meeting in Brussels, Belgium, to Tallinn, Estonia, where he will attend a Baltic-Nordic ministerial.

The secretary also made a brief stop in Geilenkirchen, Germany, to thank NATO Airborne Warning and Control System crews that had patrolled U.S. skies after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Following the meeting here, Rumsfeld will head south for visits to several strategically important Persian Gulf states and will end his overseas trip with visits to India and Pakistan. The secretary is part of a broad U.S. effort to defuse rising tensions between the two countries.

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