(Also participating in this briefing was Secretary of the Army Togo D. West Jr.)
Captain Doubleday: Let me start with a few welcomes. First to Mr. Larry Gordon who is the Chief of Public Affairs at Canada's National Defense Headquarters in Ottawa. This is at least his second visit to our office, and we're very pleased to have you visit us today.
Also, Ms. Young Soo Kim, who is a reporter from Taegu, Korea, is here as part of a USIA-sponsored program on U.S. politics and society. We welcome you.
Before I take your questions let me just give you a brief update on where we stand on deployments which are taking place to the Arabian Gulf.
Earlier this week we made some announcements, and I think you've seen coverage from this morning of six B-52s which departed from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana enroute to Diego Garcia, and they'll arrive there tomorrow. Additionally, there are nine KC-10 tanker aircraft from the 60th Air Mobility Wing at Travis Air Force Base in California that are supporting the B-52 movement to Diego Garcia. Also six F-117s from the 49th Fighter Wing at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico departed Langley Air Force Base in Virginia this morning enroute to Kuwait. They also arrive there tomorrow. They're supported by three KC-135 tankers from McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas.
As National Security Advisor Sandy Berger mentioned late this morning, the Air Expeditionary Wing which had been on standby for movement to the Gulf Region has been requested by General Zinni who is the Commander in Chief, U.S. Central Command, and approved by Secretary Cohen for deployment to Bahrain. They will arrive there sometime over the weekend and be operational early in the week.
The 347th Air Expeditionary Wing Provisional from Moody Air Force Base in Georgia will consist of 12 F-15Cs from Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; 12 F-16Cs from Moody Air Force Base in Georgia; six F-16C/Js from Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina; and two B-1 aircraft from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota; and four KC-135R aircraft from Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington.
Additionally, elements of a Patriot Battery from the 3rd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, Fort Bliss, Texas, are being sent to Bahrain to provide ground air defense for the Air Expeditionary Wing.
Finally, as we announced last week, the GEORGE WASHINGTON carrier battle group continues enroute to the Gulf Region. USS GEORGE WASHINGTON will arrive there in the next couple of days. Accompanying the GEORGE WASHINGTON is the cruiser NORMANDY, the destroyer CARNEY, the submarine ANNAPOLIS, and the replenishment ship SEATTLE; and I believe that that is an up to date picture of where we stand on the deployment. With that, I'll try and answer some of the questions.
Q: What number does that bring to the round, the number of forces now in the region. Do you have that number?
A: We will be at... Let me turn to the right page...
Q: And this will include the GEORGE WASHINGTON, all of the planes, and...
A: This is where we stand with the deployments, and I'm going to give you these in kind of round numbers. Aircraft, it will be about 180.
Q: That doesn't include the aircraft in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Q: All the Air Force planes that are already there...
A: The Air Force aircraft that are there, plus the two carriers, plus the...
Q: You've got 100 attack craft on...
Q: 180 attack planes plus...
A: Plus the additional ones. I'll tell you what, let's take a look at these numbers, and we'll get you those before the end of the brief.
Q: How many people are going from Fort Bliss?
A: I don't have an exact number, but it will be less than 100, as I understand it.
Q: It's a firing unit that's going. Will that be...
Q: Will that be extra missiles, a launcher, an additional launcher?
A: Right. It will include launchers and missiles, yes.
Q: How many launchers?
A: I can't give you the exact number, but it's not a complete battery.
Q: A battery is already based there, right?
A: There are batteries in the region. This will augment those that are already there.
Q: But there's a battery already based in Kuwait, is it not? This will just round it out.
A: This one is going to Bahrain.
Q: In Bahrain. There's a battery in Bahrain, and this will round it out, will it not?
A: I am not aware of a battery being there. This is in addition to the batteries that are already deployed in the region.
Q: How long will it take the Patriots to get there and get set up?
A: I can't give you an exact timeframe, but the overall plan has the wing up and operating early in the week.
Q: Why does the Pentagon feel it's necessary to send the AEF?
A: As National Security Advisor Sandy Berger said earlier today we're, of course, pursuing the diplomatic approach to resolve this issue, but we're doing so from a position of strength. What these additional deployments do is to provide additional flexibility, and it also provides us with an ability to protect the operations that we have over Southern Iraq, our Southern Watch operations.
Q: Is this believed to be the largest buildup of forces in the Gulf region since the Gulf War?
A: I would hate to characterize it that way without actually going back and reviewing it. It's certainly a significant force that we're moving into the area, but I don't have numbers to compare it with right now. We'll see if we can get some for you.
Q: Just for the average person who may hear, well, "gee, we have a diplomatic solution at hand," why in fact are the planes going out there? Is it to encourage Saddam to carry out his promise to allow these inspectors back in?
A: We had announced these deployments before. What this whole effort has to do with, of course, is to get the UN inspectors back to doing what their job is, which is to inspect the program that Saddam Hussein has set up on weapons of mass destruction. What this will do is to provide us with all the resources that we may need in order to carry out any missions that are given to us, but as you point out, we're pursuing the diplomatic track and hoping that the issue can be resolved that way.
As I said before, this gives us some additional flexibility, gives us some additional capability in the region, and it's the prudent thing to do until we actually see results on the ground.
Q: Until you actually see the inspectors go into Iraq?
A: As you have seen in the last few days, we can move forces very readily; we can move forces into a region; we can move forces out of a region. But what I think everybody is looking for is compliance with the UN sanctions that were imposed after the Gulf War, and to see the inspectors back doing the things that they need to do to monitor the weapons of mass destruction program.
Q: Will these forces, the additional forces, be there for what you'd call the foreseeable future?
A: It will be there until we feel that there is no longer a requirement for this level of force in the region. Even on a routine basis we maintain quite a capability in the Gulf region, not only with aircraft that are positioned ashore, but also from the aircraft that are assigned to the aircraft carrier. Our plans for the foreseeable future, maintain a certain level. We're able to augment that as we have in the last week or so. When the National Command Authority makes the decision that this heightened number is no longer required, we'll be able to move them out of the area in an expeditious way.
Q: What do we think the Iraqis have been doing while the inspectors were gone?
A: I think that the past indicators are that they have been moving equipment, the kind of equipment that was associated with their programs on chemical and biological weapons, so the inspectors will have their work cut out for them.
Q: Did we learn anything from the U-2 flights to help us know what they're doing?
A: The U-2 flights are certainly part of the overall program to monitor activities and to assist the UNSCOM inspectors in their work. But I don't have any detail on exactly what they have seen in the last few flights they've made.
Q: Are the U-2 flights in fact going to continue?
A: The U-2 flights are going to continue.
Q: Is there any suggestion whatsoever -- there had been some reports earlier that Iraq had said there would be no more U-2 flights.
A: There are no indications that I've seen that the U-2 flights are not going to continue. We fly those flights, as you know, at the request of UNSCOM and every indication that I've seen would lead me to believe that we'll continue flying those flights.
Q: Isn't there a window through the end of this week?
A: There is, indeed.
Q: And that window has not been closed.
A: The window has not been closed. And then, of course, there may be additional windows after this one.
Q: Has anyone requested them to increase the frequency of these flights?
A: I have not seen any indication of a change in the frequency of the flights. We're certainly in a position to do whatever is requested by UNSCOM to support their requirements.
Q: The Russians -- it's reported that the Russians might negotiate something on behalf of Iraq, ending the U-2 flights. I take it the United States would be completely opposed to any termination of the U-2 program, is that correct?
A: We want to be supportive of UNSCOM. We want to be supportive of the program that is going to monitor the programs that are ongoing in Iraq to rebuild their programs of weapons of mass destruction. If that requires aircraft, and it has certainly for the last five years, I would anticipate that it will require aircraft in the future, too, and that the U-2 will be playing a significant role in all of that.
Q: Is the U.S. under the impression that Iraq has been busily restoring these weapons of mass destruction programs and facilities in the absence of...
A: I don't know that we have any specific information on that because one, the inspectors haven't been there; and secondly, the cameras that monitored some of the inspection sites have, in some cases, been covered up.
Q: Is there any reason to believe other than what you might learn from on-site inspections or the cameras that they may be doing that?
A: That they may be moving and...
Q: And restoring...
A: I think the primary information that we have is based on past performance.
Q: Your answer to his question on the U-2 flights if the UN says hey, we don't want any more U-2s -- you were leaving the door open to that possibility that there would be no more U-2 flights?
A: I am not leaving any door open. Our full expectation is that the U-2s will be not only required, but they will be flying.
Q: Has there been a change in the Iraqi air defenses in the south? There was a concern that they were attempting to set things up, or...
A: I think the situation in that regard remains the same.
Q: Is the same true for the alert posture that they're on?
A: Yes, it is -- no change that we have seen in the last few hours in that regard.
Q: Do you have an incremental cost of all these latest deployments?
A: No. I would anticipate, based on past experience, that not until the deployment is complete would we be able to give you any kind of accurate assessment of how much this will cost.
Q: On the air defense issue, are there any plans then to issue another demarche to Iraq or are they on notice that they could be subject to strikes if they continue this behavior?
A: I believe that there is a move afoot to do something in terms of communicating either with a demarche or by some other means, but...
Q: Communicate what?
A: The fact that this is not acceptable.
Q: Which is not acceptable?
A: The status of their air defense units.
Q: Which are violations of the..
A: Which are a violation of the procedures that have been set up for Southern Watch under the UN sanctions.
Q: Are they flying their aircraft?
Q: What is it about the movement of their air defense units that is a violation?
A: Let me get back to you on the specifics of that. We'll see if we can't get you a specific answer to that one.
Q: Iraq was warned not to "reconstitute" air defenses after they were destroyed last...
A: Yes, but let me get back...
Q: Is it reconstituting of air defenses?
A: It's been evident over some time that they have certainly improved their air defense situation over the last several years.
Q: But since they were ordered, after the strikes last year, not to reconstitute their air defenses, is that in effect what they're doing, and is that where the violation lies?
A: Let me get back to you with the specifics of what communications are going on between...
Q: Have the Saudis or other countries where our aircraft will be based given permission that if we decide to take action against these air defenses that that will be okay to do from aircraft launched from their countries?
A: We're not there at this point. I think everybody wants to get a little specific about the military approach to things, and I want at this point to stress that we continue to move down the diplomatic road. We are, however, making these deployments in an effort to give us greater capability and flexibility in the region, but we continue to pursue the diplomatic path.
Q: What are the Iraqi aircraft doing? Are they flying anywhere near the no-fly zone...
A: There have been no violations of either the north or the south no-fly zones in several days.
Q: Within the zone they can fly, and is it just a normal pattern of flying activity by their military? Or has it increased or decreased lately?
A: When you say lately, it certainly has increased over the last several months, but in the last several weeks it has not had any unusual increases.
Q: Is Iraq going to be told it's got to stop moving its air defense systems around by a particular deadline?
A: Say it one more time.
Q: Is Iraq going to be given a deadline by which it must stop this moving of its air defense system?
A: I cannot answer your question right now. I need to get back to you on that aspect of it.
Q: Any unusual movements in the north? Any movements in garrison, out of garrison, any activity that's occurred...
A: No. The movements that we've seen are pretty much as Ken has described them in the past. That is to say that they don't seem to be moving toward any of Iraq's neighbors. There is, I think the overall characterization would be that they are moving in a way that is defensive as opposed to offensive.
Q: And no action against the Kurds?
A: No action against the Kurds that I've seen here recently, no.
Q: Since the whole thing started at the end of October, have we seen any signs that the Iraqis have moved to deploy any of their sea skimming missile type hardware that could attack our carriers?
A: Have the Iraqis deployed any of those? I have not seen anything like that, no.
Q: Given this post Khobar Tower world with all these additional forces moving into the region, and given that self-protection, of course, has been such a high priority, what is being done differently about this particular deployment to protect forces once they're over there?
A: What's being done differently?
Q: More MPs? Anything to protect forces once they're on the ground over there?
A: I don't want to get into specifics, but I think you've seen over the last several months that ever since Khobar Towers there's been enormous attention paid to force protection. It involves moving units into areas which are not populated; it involves perimeter watches, perimeter protection; it involves some upgraded technological devices, those kinds of things. That certainly has been in place for some time for all of the forces that are deployed in the Gulf region.
Q: Do you have new numbers...
A: I have been handed some numbers, but I think what we need to do is go through and verify these so that we actually have ones that everybody can agree on. Okay?
Q: Has the Secretary asked for any study, or looking into this issue of the burials at Arlington?
A: The burials at Arlington -- the Secretary was briefed last night by Secretary West on this subject. I think that if you look at the number of exceptions which have been granted in the last several years, it is, although higher than in the past, the numbers are relatively low. Kind of a point of comparison, let me just point out that during the Carter Administration there were 17 exceptions granted in four years; during the Reagan Administration there were 53 exceptions granted in eight years; during the Bush Administration, 34 exceptions were granted in four years; and since taking office, Secretary West has granted 58 exceptions, and President Clinton has granted, during his tenure, four exceptions.
Q: Are those four in the 58?
A: No, they are in addition to the 58.
Q: What about the overall charge, the Republicans are saying that West was helping to get the exceptions to benefit Democratic donors?
A: I think that as the Army's statement from last night makes clear, this is untrue. As Secretary West said several months ago in a letter that he wrote to one of the service Times publications, there is a very deliberate procedure that is in place to look at exceptions to waivers, and that that process takes into account a number of things, and that basically the decisions about whether to grant an exception are carefully considered, but are necessarily made in a very short timeframe. They are tempered by compassion and motivated by the spirit of the rules, which is to give appropriate recognition for selfless service to the nation.
I'd also like to point out, and I think some may not be aware of this, that in most cases the exceptions, the waivers, are granted for individuals who are buried with their loved one. So there is no space which is actually taken up as a result of the waiver in Arlington National Cemetery.
Q: The RNC said that one of the exceptions was given for a businessman named Larry Lawrence who apparently -- his fundraising efforts helped contribute several million dollars to the 1992 Clinton election campaign. Can you tell us, one, whether a waiver was given for Mr. Lawrence; and secondly, does he have a connection with the fundraising efforts in '92?
A: I frankly do not know any of the names associated with the waivers. It's the Army's position that the names of the individuals who are buried in Arlington as a result of a waiver are a matter of privacy for the family involved, and therefore, they have not provided names of individuals in a public way. They have, however, provided names to congressional oversight committees that are interested in this issue, and they will continue to do that in the future.
Q: What is the actual policy of granting waivers?
A: I don't understand what you mean.
Q: What criteria has to be met for a waiver to be granted?
A: As I say, I think the basic policy is to take a look at the individual case, take a look at whether the individual may be able to be buried there by virtue of their public service or whether they have some relationship to an individual who is already interred in Arlington.
Q: Some exceptions appear to have taken precedent over veterans. I mean, some people with absolutely no military service, and I'm not really talking about the spouse issue here -- I'm talking about others who were not in the military, but who were buried there -- and yet there are other veterans who do not meet criteria to be buried at Arlington.
A: I'm not sure I follow you there.
Q: There are certain criteria for members of the military, as I understand it, to be buried at Arlington.
Q: Yet there are some individuals who have no service, prior military service, who have been granted waivers over those who have had military service but don't meet the specific criteria.
A: There have been waivers for individuals who, either because of the relationship they have to somebody who is already buried there, and who will occupy the same burial site, same burial place that their spouse or loved one, father, son occupies -- individuals like that. There are also individuals who because of service to the nation are granted waivers and occasionally are buried at Arlington. But the number in that category is very, very small.
Q: Can you give us some examples of what you mean by service to the nation if it excludes military service?
A: Well, as you know, you can be buried at Arlington having been a Supreme Court Justice. There are occasions where individuals have been buried there who were killed in the line of duty, but not associated with the military, either overseas or in the United States. I believe there is a case of a police officer who was killed in the line of duty who had military service, who was authorized to be buried there.
Q: Did that fulfill all of the other waivers that aren't there?
A: Does that do what?
Q: Of those who aren't widowed, who are buried with loved ones there, are those examples you just cited... Does that fill the remainder of those that got waivers?
A: I'm not saying that I'm giving you a comprehensive list of every waiver that has been granted, but the vast majority of the individuals who have been, who are buried in Arlington as a result of a waiver, have some family relationship to an individual who is already buried there. There are others who are buried there because of their service to the country in a form other than through the military, although some of those individuals also have military service.
Q: If these individuals are allowed to be buried in such a federal plot because of great public service to the nation, why is it that their names need to remain private?
A: I think it's the overall policy that the Army has had in place for a long time, and that is that you don't want to set up a separate class of individuals at Arlington who are there because of a waiver.
Q: No. Why is the name kept from the taxpayer, when the taxpayer is taking care of the plot and... If they have given service to the nation...
A: The names are provided to the oversight committees of Congress. The Army believes that this oversight, which is exercised by Congress, for the American public, is sufficient.
Q: Nonetheless, as we say, the RNC has come up with a list of some names who have made a large contribution to the Democratic party, and although you say there is no truth to that, the RNC has a list of names that may perhaps be, they say that the money to the Democratic party could be interpreted as service to the country.
A: I think I'll leave it to the committee. I believe they have a report that's coming out later. I don't know the names of the individuals who were granted waivers so I simply can't address the issue that you raise.
Q: Again, another flat statement that no one was granted a waiver because they gave money to the Democratic party.
A: I believe, and I think the Army has made it very clear, that they have a procedure in place which looks at requests for waivers to be buried at Arlington. This is totally separate from anything dealing with political contributions. They are perfectly willing, and have in the past, provided to Congress every bit of information that they have on the waivers that they have granted, and they'll continue to do that in the future.
Q: Is it possible that political fundraising could be considered the type of activity that would get a waiver?
A: No. Political fundraising cannot be considered as a type of activity that would be granted a waiver to get buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Q: But it wouldn't be disqualifying either, would it? (Laughter)
Q: If somebody met the other criteria it wouldn't disqualify them, would it? If somebody met the other criteria to be buried...
A: Well, I think that because I don't have names, I should not get involved in a discussion of who is buried there and what their circumstances were.
Q: If the President wants to waive the regulations so that someone can be buried at Arlington, is there any vetting of that, or is that just preemptory because...
A: There is a process that you would go through in order to look at those cases, and the process is one that takes waivers through the Army. But the President has exercised his authority to grant waivers in four cases that I know of over the time that he has been in office.
Q: There's no subordinate questioning of that process?
A: The process begins with the subordinates. It begins with the Army and goes up through the Army bureaucracy through the Secretary of the Army. If there is an occasion where the President gets involved in it, it's an unusual circumstance, as you can see by the numbers that are involved.
Q: Is it at the families' requests that their names not be given out to the public? Was that part of the arrangement?
A: I don't know whether the families were polled in this or not. I think that, generally speaking, the Army believes that what they have done with regard to the congressional oversight committees provides for the kind of oversight that needs to occur.
Q: You said fundraising should not be considered grounds for waiver. However, could it happen? Could something fall through the cracks?
A: I don't want to get into hypotheticals here. If you get from the Army the list of individual cases which have been granted waivers, you can look at the circumstances for each one of them and judge for yourself as to whether there is some reason for the waiver. They have a full list of every single one that they have granted during Secretary West's tenure. Have a look at that. I don't see anything on that list that says anything about that aspect of it. It all is tied to either a relationship with an individual who is already buried at Arlington, or some unusual national service that the individual has contributed.
Q: What she asked you about a little while ago, you didn't respond with a categorical no, that fund-raisers were not granted waivers. Are you ready to say categorically...
A: Let me just see... I think Secretary West may be in a position to answer some questions on this, and if you'd like to talk to him, we'll ask him to come in and answer some of your questions.
Does anybody have any other issues?
Q: On the F-16s to Portugal, do you know how many and for what purpose are they being transferred?
A: Let me see if I've got something.
A: Here is Secretary West. Let me turn over the microphone to Secretary West, and he can perhaps answer some of your questions on this subject. Secretary West?
Secretary West: Why don't we just go to your questions?
Let me answer one that I heard raised as someone said, "Tune in the monitor, they're talking about a matter of concern to you." That was, and I don't quite know how the questions were put, is it conceivable that somehow a contribution to one party or another could be considered as service to the country, and would have an affect or be... And if there were service plus there were money, that wouldn't hurt, would it?
The answer is no. Contributions to one party or another could not possibly be service that would enter into consideration. Let me remind you of something. As a Defense Department official, I am part of that cluster of Defense and State and Justice that is not allowed to have even the roles that are normally allowed to political appointees in political activities -- whatever that might be. If it's appropriate to go and lobby for bills or things like that of a certain sort, we don't do that. I'm not allowed, frankly, to have much of a knowledge about so-called fund-raisers or contributors or the like. That is because of what has been a tradition in these three departments without regard to party, of non-partisan execution of the foreign policy, the defense policy, and the law enforcement policy of the United States. So let me give you the answer.
A, there have been no considerations of contributions in making determinations about any of the 60 or so exceptions that are attributed to my stewardship, and I am certain that that has been the policy historically. Burial at Arlington Cemetery is based on service to the nation.
Now it is true that Arlington is the only national cemetery -- at least known to me -- at which it is possible for civilians to be buried. It is not part of the Veterans Cemetery Network administered by VA. It is administered by the Department of Defense under the Department of the Army for historical reasons, but also because it is under separate rules. By tradition, by statute, by regulation, it has been the place, yes, where veterans and active duty military who die in service are buried, but it has also been since the beginning of that cemetery a place where occasionally selected civilians who have had no military service can be buried.
Q: Why are your numbers higher...
A: It's based on their service to America.
You asked for an example, let me give you an example -- an Ambassador who dies in office. Or just in Bosnia two years ago, when one of our own officials was killed there as a result of a Humvee hitting a landmine -- Joe Kruzel, who did have service but not sufficient service to qualify, required a waiver. That's one of them. So, also the State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary who was with him. He had no military service. That would have been an example for a waiver.
Now your question is, why so many? Well, the best answer I can give you is the answer that the cemetery gives me. Remember that these requests for exception come in not directly to the secretary of the Army, but to the bureaucracy, to the cemetery and their staff. The staff makes a recommendation. It comes over. It gets looked at in M&RA. They make a recommendation. The lawyers review it. It comes up to me.
The cemetery says to me simply that we've been getting a greater number of requests, greater than in previous years -- far greater.
I noticed the other day that a superintendent thought it might have something to do with the generations of veterans who are now dying. But the answer is the bulk of these -- some 61 or whatever the number has been, are all fairly within the range of the kinds of requests for exception that we have traditionally had. A spouse relationship that doesn't quite fit that has to be allowed, and can be allowed, because they go into the same grave and thus do not add up to the deprivation.
So the best answer I can give you is more requests have been granted because more have been sought. That also means probably, if we could go back and get the numbers, more have been denied.
Q: Mr. Secretary, what would you say to Jim Nicholson who is the head of the RNC who has also said he is a Vietnam veteran who basically claims that in fact some of the waivers were granted to people because they gave money to the Democratic party.
A: What would I say to who?
Q: Jim Nicholson of the RNC.
A: I'd say what I said earlier, it's just not true. There is no way for the superintendent or anybody on the staff or me to know of the political contributions made by any particular person. In fact, when this began to arise, the suggestion was made to folks on my staff, at least since it's readily available to anybody and you have the names, go look. Go find out so you'll know what you're going to be faced [with]. I refused to do it. We didn't know when we decided, and we don't know today.
I accept your statement that this gentleman mentioned last night is a big contributor, but I do not know that of my own resources, nor does anybody who works for me.
Let me say one thing else. I owe a public apology to two families. I have just violated the rule of trying to protect them from this, to protect their privacy, and that's just my fault. I did it earlier when I was discussing it with you.
Q: It wasn't a private event when Joe Kruzel was buried. If I recall, there were...
A: I'm not going to go any further with that discussion, but I will discuss why names would remain private. It is this.
It is not a private event when a person is buried there, and that person's name is, in fact, right there on the stone. But what is private, what is unknown, is whether there is somehow a difference in the nature by which that person's entitlement to be buried there was arrived at from everyone else. It is inappropriate to create first class burials and second class burials, or a class that fit one group and not another.
Q: Isn't it inappropriate to create a class of secret burials?
A: They're not secret in this respect. If you try to balance -- which is all you can do in government -- if you try to balance conflicting interests you'll say okay, we like to protect privacy, but this is, as you say, a democracy. Things need to be done openly. Taxpayers need to be reassured that if someone is exercising discretion in the executive branch, that that is not discretion that's unchecked, unreviewed. Then we have provided the information to the oversight committees of the Congress. That started in June when the question was first raised about the burials. We provided to Chairman Everett's subcommittee oversight and investigations of House Veterans Affairs access to all the records. They have it. Everyone else who has written in, we will provide the same access to their committees. There is no expectation on the part of the Army that this should not be reviewed. There are legitimate issues to be discussed.
For example, I just said that this is a cemetery that is unlike the cemeteries in the Veterans Network. Should that be so?
I've said this is a cemetery where historically, yes, occasionally civilians can be granted exceptions, not having any prior military service. Should that be so?
That debate can't occur unless we are willing to disclose it. We have, and we will continue to do so.
Q: Mr. Secretary, the Pentagon says that you have granted 58 waivers and the President has granted four. The waivers that the President granted, did they work their way up through the system the same way... Did you approve those... How did his work as opposed to yours?
A: I don't know how those worked. I'd have to go look. I have specific knowledge of how my process works. I don't really know. My suspicion is that in some they may have come to me, in others not.
Q: So you don't know whether his worked their way up through the system and then went by you and to him, or not?
A: What I do know is what they were and what the rationale is because I've had occasion to go and review them.
My instinct is this. No one of us -- not the President, not I -- could make a judgment like this without the input of the cemetery staff, and I suspect that it's a combination of the request gets made, the cemetery staff looks at it. Probably there is input from Department of the Army lawyers on how it works. I'm just a lot clearer on the processes that I've been sitting on for four years because they come through with such a rapid requirement for turn-around.
These deaths occur, and when you think about all the stages I've just described to you, you can't keep a family waiting for longer than two or three days, so you have to...
Q: As a matter of principle, is political contributions an exclusionary factor?
A: It's not a factor at all. And it's not a matter of principle, it's a matter of law, it's a matter of the way we do it. It is simply not considered. It is not known.
Q: To the best of your knowledge, no one in your Department has ever broken the rules for granting of waivers?
A: I'm not sure what you mean by that. Let me give you the answer that I think answers your question.
It's not just a matter of to the best of my knowledge. I take responsibility for the Department's administration of this. These waivers, every one of them I believe, comes to me except those that are submitted to the President. There is no one else in the chain who bears the responsibility for the decisions and for the fact that I think in about nine or ten cases I actually overruled the cemetery superintendent. So I did not break the rules, and I will answer for everybody else in my Department.
Q: Are you offended by the RNC?
A: Not offended to this extent. Susanne asked aren't these taxpayer dollars, shouldn't taxpayers be concerned? The RNC represents a whole group of people who have a right to express their opinion. We are a democracy and that is the noise, I guess the joyful noise of a democracy. I should be questioned. But I should not be accused of doing something that every one of us realizes is intolerable, and that is taking steps that would take a term of honor -- Arlington National Cemetery -- and turn it in to a term of suspicion. No one has done that because every one of us in the process is way too proud of what we do for these who have served their country.
Q: You're saying that the four waivers that the President granted could not in any way be for political contributions?
A: They've already said it. They said it in a statement. And I have every reason to believe that that's accurate.
Q: How much leeway exists in the criteria for personal judgment on your part?
A: Theoretically, quite a bit. As a practical matter I'd say it's fairly restricted. Even though there is this area of discretion for the Secretary to make a judgment, as I said, the vast bulk of them are fairly routine exceptions that actually operate to implement the intent of the already existing exceptions. If we permit families to be buried with a servicemember who qualifies or a civilian who qualifies, then we can permit some adjustment within the families if there has been, that there have been two spouses -- a divorce that ended the first marriage and a subsequent one -- if the subsequent one would be the one normally entitled, but for some reason that's not going to happen and we need an exception for the first one. Things like that are the bulk of the ones that come up with the superintendent recommending approval, and would be essentially rubber-stamping.
Q: Can you define what service to the nation is, for instance?
A: If we're talking about exceptions that fall outside that, service to the nation is quite often simply a matter of precedent, previous ones.
For example, if I speak of a diplomatic official killed in the course of his service to the United States, that's not setting a precedent with me, that is a precedent that has been followed for many decades by previous grants. If I speak of, say, war correspondents who may not have had military service, but if you look over the long term, the risk of whatever, that's not a precedent that's new to me. That would be a precedent that existed a while back. If I speak of Embassy officials killed in the explosion of an embassy or something like that, that would not be new with me. Those kinds of things help to define, help to flesh in the kind of parameters within which we operate.
Q: What were your reasons for overruling the cemetery staff in the nine or ten cases that you mentioned?
A: Exactly that kind of thing. Trying to take a look at what the case actually says to you about the individual's service to America, keeping in mind that this may well be the only cemetery America has that can recognize that kind of extraordinary service when it is not precisely linked to carefully defined military service criteria.
The reason Arlington appropriately is military in its ethos, in all its ceremonies, and heavily in its occupants, is because that is where America finds the vast number of her heroes, but it is not the only place.
Q: If it turns out that one of these waivers...
A: It will not turn out, but go ahead.
Q: If it does turn out that one of these folks that got a waiver was, in fact, a contributor, is it possible for that request to have gotten to you without you knowing that there was a donation?
A: Not only possible, but apparently did happen. I saw something shown to me this morning, I actually didn't see it when it ran, on one of the programs that identified a former Ambassador who died in his post in Switzerland, Ambassador Lawrence, had served in the Merchant Marines at an early age; had been wounded. In those days Merchant Marines would not have been combat service, would not have qualified, for example, for a Purple Heart. Apparently there is some indication that he made contributions. Neither I, and I believe no one operating under my supervision anywhere within the chain, knew of his role as a contributor.
That's an interesting case. You asked me why would I overrule nine cases, especially since it appeared that in all the ones where the superintendent tends to recommend, I tend to accept. This is one of the cases in which everyone along the line including the superintendent of the staff recommended approval of that request for a waiver. There was nothing about that case that would have excited suspicion. There was only the fact of a tremendous record of service to the country, and everyone, including the superintendent and his staff, recommended approval.
Q: Was he a sitting Ambassador at the time of his death?
Q: As a final summary, so you could categorically say that there is nobody that was buried in Arlington as the result of a waiver that you've given because they gave money to the Democratic party, even if you may not have been aware of it?
A: Categorically, without qualification, and forcefully.
A: I would say what you said. I would say that there is no one buried there as a result of a waiver that I granted... The waiver granted by our Department, and yes, I'm the responsible person that would be there, and not just for political contributions but for political considerations or even influenced by political affiliation. Just not done. Not possible.
Q: ...because of... You couldn't be second-guessed then because of the wider ethical problems of the White House?
A: I feel I'm being second-guessed, but I don't think it has anything to do with what you call the ethical problems in another part of the government. I'm being second-guessed because that's what American democracy is all about. We just don't get to do things without being second-guessed, nor should we be.
Q: Can you provide a list, can your office provide a list of how many during your tenure you have denied?
A: I guess we could try to put one together. I'm not sure we're any more inclined to give a list of names in that case, though, than in this case.
Q: Circumstances or...
A: We can do one without names.
Q: A round number?
A: I'll take a shot at it.
Q: Thank you.
Captain Doubleday: Before you all leave I want to get on the record some numbers. I believe that I was not calculating totally the numbers of aircraft and others. The number of aircraft is about 281 when all of the deployments are completed. The number of ships will be about 22. The number of personnel will be about 30,000.
There is one other thing, though. I got a question that I did not have time to answer. You wanted to know about F-16s. The congressional notification has not yet been made but it is moving forward and it is expected to occur next week. That's the status of the program.
Q: Do you have any information regarding the age of the planes? How many?
A: The numbers that I have are, we've identified 25 excess F-16s which could be used to meet Portuguese Air Force modernization needs.
Q: Do you know their ages?
A: I don't have that level of information, but I can refer you to DDI.
Q: Hours of flight... engines or stuff like that?
A: Why don't you check with DDI and they'll try and get it for you.
Press: Thank you.