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Pentagon Town Hall Meeting
Transcript of Remarks by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, The Pentagon, Washington, DC, Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Thank you.  Thank you very much.

I'm told the midshipmen are from George Washington University -- except for one -- from Georgetown.  Is that possible?  And that the cadets are from the University of Maryland.  Welcome.

Look at the size of this crowd.  It's going to be warm in here before we're finished.

Well, thank you for being here.  We originally suggested this meeting at a time we wanted to talk about what was taking place in Afghanistan and Iraq.  And I'll get to that shortly, but -- because there's a good deal that's important to report on both countries.

I know you've been following the news so I want to begin by discussing the situation regarding Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.  I look around and see some faces I know and some faces I don't, but even with those I have not met personally.

I know enough of the people here to know that you come here to work because you care about the country, that you have the values that Americans have, and that you're determined to do what you can as individuals and collectively to see that the American people are free and safe.  The people you support and the people in this room on active duty around the world are what keep the world at relative peace and deter the defeats of those that would destroy our freedom and our security.

So it is a body blow when we find, that we have, as we have just within the last, what, week or seven days, a few who have betrayed our values by their conduct.  Pete Pace can tell you the look on the faces of the people who have viewed the photographs and the videos from what took place there.  They were stunned; absolutely stunned, that any Americans wearing the uniform could do what they did.  We are heartsick at what they did, for the people they did it to.  We are heartsick for the really well-earned reputation as a force for good in the world that all of us -- military, civilians and those Americans who support us -- will pay.

And I know I speak to everyone listening when I say that the those acts ought not to be allowed to define us -- either in the eyes of the world or our own eyes.  We know who we are.  We know what our standards are.  You know what you're taught.  And the terrible actions of a few, don't change that.

In Iraq we have liberated 25 million people from the tyranny of a brutal dictator.  In a few weeks we'll hand over power to Iraqis, an interim government that will shortly be operating under a constitution that will guarantee freedom to all Iraqi people.  This week, while we were immersed in scandal, Ambassador Bremer transferred control of several government ministries to the Iraqi people.

April was a tough month in Iraq as the deadline for transition approached and forces opposed to freedom acted to try to preclude that transition to freedom.  But freedom and self-government are coming, inexorably, no matter what number of fanatics may wish.

The building of a free state in Iraq has proceeded probably with fewer lives lost and certainly no more mayhem than we endured here in the United States 228 years ago; when we were going through it, or that occurred in Japan or Germany after World War II.

In Afghanistan, another 25 million men, women and children now have freedom from the tyranny of the Taliban and the Soviets before them -- and they're preparing for their first free elections, again, thanks to U.S. intervention.

That's the bigger picture:  We have been privileged to take part in a great stride forward for human freedom in places where it's been scarce, and that is worth celebrating.

Here at home, though we shudder at Abu Ghraib, remember that while we are seeing the excesses of human nature that humanity suffers, Americans live by the rule of law, and our military justice system is working.

A specialist who became aware of the illegal actions in the prison reported them and by the next day, investigations were authorized.  And by the next day, it was announced to the world, to the public by the Central Command with no guidance or encouragement from anyone in Washington.  They acted responsibly and told the world that there were charges/allegations of abuses.  The military, not the media, discovered these abuses.  The military reported the abuses, not the media.

It has taken what seems like a long time, in a universe of 24/7 news cycles, to investigate.  And it does take a long time to investigate if you're going to protect the rights of the innocent, if you're going to try to manage it in a way that you don't result in a situation where people who are being charged get off free because of the problems in the process that was used or interference in the process that was used.  Then it takes some time.  And a fair investigation can take some weeks and months if they take care to see that the accused are treated lawfully.

Our enemies will exploit this episode to prove their negative views of our country, but then they were doing that before this episode.  We see repeated instances where untruths about our country and about our conduct are put out on the regional media.  But friends of freedom will understand that it is a virtue of our system that the president and the most senior officials take responsibility for and are involved in seeing that the punishment for such violations of human rights occur.  That stands in stark contrast to the many parts of the world where governments use torture or collude in it and do not express shock or dismay, nor do they apologize when it's uncovered.

So at the end of the day, there is, even here, reason for pride in democracy, and certainly there is reason for pride in the standards by which the military forces of our country are governed.

So I thank you for your hard work every day to keep America safe and free.  I thank your families for their support as well.

Now, General Pete Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has a few words to say.

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