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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview-Bob Schieffer and David Martin, CBS Face The Nation

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
March 23, 2002 10:30 AM EDT

Schieffer: Face the Nation, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The Coalition Forces are pushing toward Baghdad now, and they are meeting some resistance. There have been casualties. Is the war on track? Have any weapons of mass destruction been found? We'll ask the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. We'll get the latest from our correspondents with the troops, and then we'll talk about Saddam Hussein with Jerrod Post, who wrote the CIA profile of the Iraqi leader. Then we'll hear from Senators John McCain and Joe Biden, CBS News Pentagon correspondent, David Martin, and Dana Priest of the Washington Post will also be here, and I'll have some final thoughts about how the government dealt with "Tractor Man." But first, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Face the Nation.

Good morning again, and the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is in the studio with this us this morning. Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for coming. Joining in the questioning, our National Security Correspondent, David Martin.

Mr. Secretary, you've been talking to David and to me just before the broadcast -- would you clear up the situation about is there an aircraft -- an American aircraft -- missing, and also are there some missing soldiers?

Rumsfeld: Well, first, with respect to the aircraft, to the best of my knowledge, the only aircraft that didn't return is one that was shot down, and that was a British aircraft. With respect to some soldiers being missing, I have been told that there is a small number that is unaccounted for, and whether they are prisoners or whether they are lost or whether they simply aren't accounted for, we don't know -- I don't know.

Schieffer: Can you tell us were these Special Operations people or --

Rumsfeld: Since we don't know what their circumstance is, we'll -- they're just soldiers.

Schieffer: But there may be as many as -- what -- a dozen?

Rumsfeld: That would be high.

Schieffer: Give us your assessment, at this point, how is it going?

Rumsfeld: Well, it's going well. It's tough, and wars are unpredictable, and it's very difficult to know how long it will take, but if one thinks about it, we've been at it for 72 hours. That's a very short period of time. The air conflict in the war is going exceedingly well, and the overwhelming majority of the country is controlled by coalition aircraft. The situation on the sea is going very well -- the maritime forces -- and they're in the process of de-mining so that humanitarian systems can come in. The land forces are proceeding and moving toward Baghdad. There are still pockets of resistance in the South, and after they've gone through, there will be skirmishes and people firing at each other from time to time, but the pace has been a fast one, and the component commanders have done a very good job.

Schieffer: Mr. Secretary, I am told that we have just gotten some pictures that have come in from al Jazeera. I'm told that these are Americans in Iraq. I don't know what else to say about it. Let's just watch -- it appears that these are Americans who may be in Iraqi hands.

Unidentified Soldier: What's your name?

Soldier: Sergeant James Riley.

Schieffer: Well, there you have it. Those, apparently, are American prisoners. As I said, we just received that. Can you tell us anything or what do you make of that?

Rumsfeld: I have no idea. There are some journalists that are missing -- not journalists that were embedded with our forces, but some freelance people who were moving around on their own -- some have been killed and some are missing and whether they were journalists or coalition forces, I simply don't know.

I will say this, the Geneva Convention indicates that it's not permitted to photograph and embarrass or humiliate prisoners of war, and if they do happen to be American or coalition ground forces that have been captured, the Geneva Convention indicates how they should be treated.

Schieffer: Let me just ask our own people -- do we know where those men were? Were they in Baghdad or did we have any information? We do not know where they were -- all we know is that it just came in on al Jazeera. David.

Martin: Will the fact that the Iraqis have American prisoners in any way affect the American strategy?

Rumsfeld: Oh, no, it can't. I mean, the plan will go forward. It is proceeding, and it seems to me that showing a few pictures on the screen, not knowing who they are, and being communicated by al Jazeera, which is not a perfect instrument of communication, in my view, obviously is part of Iraqi propaganda, and responding to Iraqi propaganda, it seems to me, is not what the United States armed forces are about.

Martin: Mr. Secretary, before we go any further, I'm told that yesterday you officially became the oldest Secretary of Defense in history, and since you were once the youngest Secretary of Defense, I guess that makes you a "two-fer." So congratulations.

Rumsfeld: (laughing.) Thank you. I'm told that there was a Secretary of War, however, Henry Stimson, who was 78 years old. So he's got me by a few years.

Martin: You've turned into a Secretary of War.

Rumsfeld: That's true.

Martin: Can I ask you about Saddam Hussein? Did you have good reason to believe that he was in that compound on Wednesday night when you launched that quick strike?

Rumsfeld: What took place there was a -- a -- indication of the superb linkages between the Central Intelligence Agency, the intelligence community, and the Department of Defense -- not just at the George Tenent/Donald Rumsfeld level, but it's knitted together all the way down to the ground, and there are occasions when an excellent piece of intelligence if available, and a military leadership like Gen. Franks and his folks were able to respond flexibly, promptly, and utilize that intelligence in a way that was effective.

Schieffer: So you had an excellent piece of intelligence that Saddam Hussein was in that complex?

Rumsfeld: I didn't say that. I said we had an excellence piece of intelligence that senior regime leadership --

Schieffer: -- senior regime leadership -- including Saddam Hussein?

Rumsfeld: I did not answer that, and I don't plan to. I don't -- it is so complicated that I wouldn't be able to do it justice --

Schieffer: Well, Mr. Secretary, let me ask you this -- this morning we're getting reports from the British press. I'll just read you what they're reporting: "Tony Blair's war cabinet was told by intelligence chiefs yesterday that Saddam Hussein survived last week's attack in that bunker but sustained serious injury. They say they have learned that ministers were told that the Iraqi leader had been so badly wounded he needed a blood transfusion and that his son Uday, also thought to have been injured, may even have been killed." Would that jibe with the reports that you're getting?

Rumsfeld: You know, if you're not there on the ground and able to question two or three people and then triangulate what people saw -- it's very hard to develop conviction about what actually took place. I have heard all these reports -- I have had intelligence, we have had people on the ground who have opined and, I'm sure, very honestly and accurately reflected what they think they saw. But if there is a car accident out in front of this building right now, and there's 20 people out there, they'll get 20 different opinions as to what happened, whose fault it was, and how it all turned out.

Schieffer: Do you have any indication that their command and control has been disrupted? For one, just sitting back here and watching, as it would appear, it's very disorganized -- their response to this.

Rumsfeld: We hear those kinds of reports from the field -- that there seems to be some disarray. If you think about it and put yourself in their shoes, what's happening is -- we -- I see these images on television and people commenting that we're bombing Baghdad. We're not bombing Baghdad. That is a precise attack on the regime of Saddam Hussein -- that's what's being targeted, and that is what's being hit, and they know it. And the military targets in there are being hit, the communications targets are being hit, and they know that's what's happening. That has to affect their judgment. It has to affect how they behave, and at some point we're finding people in the field, at least, starting to surrender. Units are calling up and saying, "We want to surrender," and we're communicating with them and finding ways to do that. Still other units are fighting, and there's resistance going on.

Schieffer: Well, what you're saying is, you know, you had good information that there were some people in the top command in this bunker --

Rumsfeld: -- that's true --

Schieffer: -- and from what you know now, you hit that bunker.

Rumsfeld: There was a lot more than a bunker. It was a very large complex, and there were multiple aim points in that complex.

Schieffer: Who and whether anybody survived is what you don't know, but you know you hit where you thought they were.

Rumsfeld: You bet your life.

Martin: Let's take it one step further. You said people on the ground thought they saw -- were there people on the ground who thought they saw a badly injured Saddam Hussein being taken out of the complex?

Rumsfeld: The task here is to change the regime and find the weapons of mass destruction and put in place a government for the Iraqi people that are representative of them. The outcome is clear. There is no question but that this will be over, and Saddam Hussein and his regime will be gone. Whether it happens last night, tonight, or the next night, no one can predict, but it will end, and he will be gone.

Martin: Killing Saddam is a good start changing the regime.

Rumsfeld: That's true, it would be, but there are many other people involved with his regime that are every bit as repressive and vicious.

Schieffer: But to win this war -- it seems to me, to win this war, you've got to do two things -- you've got to get Saddam Hussein, and you've got to find those weapons of mass destruction.

Rumsfeld: To win this war, we have to see that that regime is gone, doesn't exist, is not in control of that country. If one looks at a map, it's pretty clear they haven't controlled the Northern part of their country for years, and they don't today. We have a large number of -- growing number of troops up there. The west they don't control. We have troops pretty well moving all around that western portion, and the forces coming in from the south are moving towards Baghdad. Now, that means that the air is dominated by coalition aircraft, not by Iraqi aircraft.

Schieffer: Have they launched any aircraft? Do they have any to launch?

Rumsfeld: They do have aircraft, and they've dispersed them. They've parked some near mosques so we can't attack them. They've parked them near schools and hospitals. It is -- the lack of respect of human life by the Iraqi regime is just breathtaking.

Schieffer: Can you enlighten us -- we keep hearing these reports that you were making contact with various people about surrendering -- about what they should do next. Can you give us any information about that, and some of the people you're talking to -- members of this elite Republican power?

Rumsfeld: The contacts that are being made are not U.S. government to Iraqi government at senior political levels. The contacts that are being made tend to be military contacts, and they are extensive, there's a lot of communication going on, a number of units have surrendered, we have a number of prisoners of war that are being treated under the Geneva Convention and, of course, that's a violation of the Geneva Convention -- those pictures you showed if, in fact, if those are our soldiers.

But every hour or two a report comes in suggesting that this outfit may or may not be willing to surrender, and then some decide they will. In some cases, they bring the troops with them; in some cases they're senior people, and the troops just kind of go back into their villages and communities. There are discussions with Republican Guard leaders in selected places and, needless to say, our goal is to have this done with a minimum loss of life on the coalition side and on the Iraqi side. The Iraqi people are hostages of a very repressive regime, and to the extent the Iraqi military will act with honor and stop supporting a regime that's history -- it's done -- and help liberate the Iraqi people and help find the weapons of mass destruction and destroy them, the whole world will be better off.

Martin: Have any Republican Guard units surrendered yet?

Rumsfeld: Not as of last evening that I can recall.

Martin: Have American troops come in contact on the ground with Republican Guard's units yet?

Rumsfeld: The Republican Guard's units have been kind of following a pattern of moving closer to Baghdad and Tikrit and away from U.S. forces are. They have been hit from the air and will continue to be hit from the air, and they'd be well advised to surrender.

Martin: Are they going back to into a fortressed Baghdad?

Rumsfeld: I don't know that. I know they've been, over a period of several weeks, tended to move back towards that area.

Schieffer: Let's take a break here, and then we'll come back and talk about this some more. Back in a moment.

Schieffer: Back now with the Secretary of Defense and with David Martin, our National Security Correspondent. Mr. Secretary, one thing perhaps you can explain to me what's going on -- we seem to be going into these towns. When we first entered, we had this one division, as I understand it, of Iraqi soldiers that surrendered. But based on what happened were, the senior officers, as I'm told, surrendered, and then we hear from various people that the rest of the division sort of melted away. Did we take them prisoner? Did we take their weapons? Or did they just quit and go away? I don't understand -- just explain to me what's happened.

Rumsfeld: Well, Gen. Franks and his land component commander, Lt.Gen. (David D.) McKiernan have arranged so that there are prisoner-of-war capabilities that move in established camps. The last time I looked, there were something like a couple of thousand prisoners that have been taken and are in these camps being fed and provided medical attention and being treated humanely.

The situation can vary. In one case, the commander may come in and say, "We're surrendering," and all the people would be put in one of these camps. In another case, the commander might say to his troops, "Look, we're going to throw it in. I'm going to surrender to the senior officers. You folks just disappear, go back to your villages, go where you want," and so by the time we get to the division, the division is gone.

Schieffer: It's just not there.

Rumsfeld: It's not there, and we take the people who have offered themselves up, and we've sent lots of leaflets, millions, and lots of communications by radio, lots of covert transmissions of instructions as to how people can get out of this fight and stay out of the way and not get hurt. And people read those, listen to those things, and then we start in communication with them, and then it happens.

Schieffer: Well, are these people -- the ones that just sort of disappear -- I assume they take their weapons if they had any with them. So that still poses some kind of threat.

Rumsfeld: I'm sure some do and some don't. There may be some dead-enders -- our folks have gotten into some firefights with people who are loyal to the regime -- very small numbers, not big units, you know, threes and fours but, on the other hand, a lot of people don't want to take their weapons, because they don't want to be seen as threatening, and the instructions say leave your weapons somewhere else and don't have them with you.

Schieffer: Well, let me just ask this --

Rumsfeld: -- but they're a lot safer if they don't have their weapons.

Schieffer: If we just sort of roll into these towns and then roll on by, and we obviously take out the infrastructure of leadership or whatever there is there, do we just sort of leave the area there just sort of at civil war because we have reports that some Iraqis are killing each other in those areas. How do we maintain order in those places?

Rumsfeld: I've not seen those reports.

Schieffer: Well, I may have misstated that.

Rumsfeld: It's a concern that there could be inter-communal strife or religious strife or ethnic cleansing, as they said in the Balkans -- so we're alert and attentive to it, but what happens is, every hour since G-Day, Ground Day, the number of U.S. forces in that country goes up, and we are moving in a manner of Gen. Franks' choosing, and what he does is he takes an area and then moves out and leaves it for someone else. For example, the oil fields in the south -- it's a wonderful thing that only 10 of those wells are ablaze, and the rest of them, apparently, at the moment, secure. Sufficiently, that unless there is a surprise, and there are deeply buried explosives that go off -- we think the bulk of that oil field is safe for the Iraqi people, because it's going to be needed to provide for their needs.

The forces that took that field have now turned it over to some British elements that came in behind, and they have that -- in the case of Basra. Basra is pretty well subdued. There is still some fighting that will take place, and there will be forces that it will stay there. Now -- the bulk of that country is -- from the -- in the southwest, the west, and portions of the north is bacon. There aren't large concentrations of people, and there would be no reason in the world to leave lots of people along the way.

Schieffer: David?

Martin: Have we found any evidence yet of weapons of mass destruction?

Rumsfeld: Oh, my goodness, no. What? Have we been going for 72 hours in the South and the West and the North, and have been fighting a war.

Martin: But you have searched some sites?

Rumsfeld: I don't know that.

Martin: You don't have a team out there in the West that is searching sites?

Rumsfeld: We have lots of teams in the West, and lots of teams in the North, and large numbers of forces in the South. Are they -- they may very well have information from somebody that said, "Gee, you might want to look here, and you'll find some people or you'll find some things," but the task now is to see that there are not ballistic missiles fired from the West at neighboring countries and to see that the progress towards Basra -- correction -- towards Baghdad continues going up and to see that there is not any problems up in the North where people make mistakes and think they can take advantage.

Martin: Is there any evidence that Saddam or whoever is in charge -- attempting to launch SCUD missiles at Israel?

Rumsfeld: I have no evidence of that.

Martin: So you've not seen any of the launches come out or anything like that?

Rumsfeld: I have not heard anything about that.

Schieffer: I guess perhaps you've already answered this question, but I take it you're seeing no evidence that they are getting ready to use chemical weapons against our forces?

Rumsfeld: That would not be correct. We have seen intelligence that capabilities are dispersed, and whether it's true or not, indications that orders have been issued that permit selected commanders to make judgments with respect to that but whether they will or not -- the important thing to remember is Saddam Hussein cannot use weapons of mass -- chemical or biological weapons. He has to get other people to do it for him, and we have to persuade them that they best not do it -- that they don't want to be supporting a dying regime, a regime that's done, and be hunted down the rest of their lives for having committed those kinds of crimes.

Schieffer: But let me just make sure I understand what you said here -- you have seen preparations --

Rumsfeld: -- we've seen intelligence over months, over many months, that they have chemical and biological weapons, and that they have dispersed them, and that they are weaponized, and that, in one case at least, that the command in control arrangements have been established.

Schieffer: And what does that mean? Is it, like, if the local commander thinks he needs to use them, he's been authorized to do it?

Rumsfeld: I don't think I'm going to go beyond what I've said, but the command in control arrangements have been set.

Schieffer: David, final question.

Martin: Let me just be clear on this -- you've seen intelligence, but have you seen the weapons themselves?

Rumsfeld: Oh, no. I just answered that question. They're not there.

Martin: Well, those are the sites that you were searching, but I'm talking about --

Rumsfeld: -- I didn't say we were searching sites, you said that.

Schieffer: Mr. Secretary, I'm sorry, we have to end it right there, but I think we understand what you've said. Thank you so much for joining us.

Rumsfeld: You bet.

Schieffer: We'll be back in a moment.

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