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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Stakeout at NBC

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
January 20, 2002

(Media stakeout following NBC Meet the Press)

Rumsfeld: Good morning.

Q: Good morning, sir.

Q: Sir, is there any sign that the helicopter that came down yesterday was brought down by enemy fire?

Rumsfeld: There is not. I spoke to General Franks, the combatant commander, this morning and he indicates that they have no evidence at all that it was ground fire. They believe from what they've been able to hear from the members of the crew that it very likely was a mechanical failure.

Q: What's the status of the crew?

Rumsfeld: There were seven -- the first reports are generally not right, but we just have to be honest about that. It's true of most things that information adds on over time. But insofar as we're aware at the present time the helicopter crashed. Two Americans are dead, two are critically wounded, and three are injured but not critically. All of them have been recovered and taken to a hospital for treatment.

Q: Do we know, sir, when the military commissions in Guantanamo are going to start up?

Rumsfeld: We don't know if there will be any military commissions in Guantanamo. What we do know is that the President has decided that he wants to have that option and he has not as yet suggested any individual be tried by a military commission. He very likely will, but he has not yet.

Q: Mr. Secretary, where and when will John Walker be transferred to the United States?

Rumsfeld: Soon, and we don't discuss transit on prisoners for obvious reasons, but the likelihood is -- Attorney General Ashcroft and I and the President have agreed that he will be transferred from military detention over to the Department of Justice for disposition in the criminal court system of the United States, very likely in the Northern District of Virginia, and that he'll arrive in that jurisdiction sometime in the days ahead.

Q: Have you heard anything from the Red Cross teams in Guantanamo at this point? If you would just turn your face to the camera, sir, I'm sorry.

Rumsfeld: Yes. They're there. They have been meeting with and reviewing the situation in Guantanamo. We have no report from them as to anything that they may have to say. My understanding is they're going to be meeting with the SOUTHCOM, with the U.S. Command for the South in Miami sometime in the next day or two and I believe they're going to be meeting with some people in Washington, D.C., after that, if I'm not mistaken.

Q: Are you concerned about the European, especially, so many European countries that have expressed concerns about the treatment of the detainees down there? The U.S. public may not care all that much, but it seems as though the European nations have expressed a lot of alarm.

Rumsfeld: Obviously anyone would be concerned if people were suggesting that treatment were not proper. The fact remains that treatment is proper and there's no doubt in my mind that it is humane and appropriate and consistent with the Geneva Convention for the most part. I don't know quite where those reports are coming from. We know they're not coming from people who are knowledgeable, that's clear, because the treatment has been certainly appropriate.

These people are getting excellent medical care. They are receiving culturally appropriate meals three times a day. They're being allowed to practice their religion which is not something that they encouraged on the parts of others. They are clothed cleanly, and they are dry and safe. I think that the people who have been the most shrill on the subject very likely will once they have more knowledge of the situation stop being quite so shrill.

The thing to keep in mind for all of us is that these people are being handled -- First of all, these people were involved in an effort to kill thousands of Americans. Second, they were captured and they are unlawful combatants.

The highest purpose of the Geneva Convention was to distinguish between lawful and unlawful combatants so that our people and everyone who participated's people would be treated properly. To the extent they were wearing uniforms and were seen as combatants, they were carrying their weapons openly and seen as combatants, they merited treatment. There was a conscious decision to differentiate between people who behaved responsibly as lawful combatants and those that did not, who blurred the distinction between combatants and civilians. And I think that if we think of the fact that the people taking care of those prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are the young men and young women who live next door to you and are the children of our friends and neighbors, and they're fine young people, and they are doing a wonderful job, and it is not fair or appropriate to suggest that the conduct that they're engaged in in detaining those prisoners is anything other than humane and appropriate because it is humane and appropriate and I'm darn proud of those folks down there for the fine job they're doing.

Q: Has the United States received any representation from the Chinese about the bugging of the presidential aircraft?

Rumsfeld: Not to my knowledge.

Q: There's a report that there was a biting incident by one of the detainees against one of the people watching them in Cuba. Can you elaborate?

Rumsfeld: It is true. These people that are in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, not only were fighting with a terrorist organization; in Mazar-e-Sharif, a number of them were there and they engaged in an uprising that killed many, many Afghans and one American; they were involved in an uprising in Pakistan where Pakistan soldiers were killed. These are very tough, hard-core, well-trained terrorists. And there was an incident in, I don't recall if it was enroute or in Guantanamo, but there has been at least one biting incident.

Q: Can you tell us now, the year that you're into the Defense Department, is the president going to ask for an increase in the budget? And how do you rate the military since you've been there a year?

Rumsfeld: Well we're just awfully lucky to have so many fine men and women who voluntarily join the United States armed services and willingly put their lives at risk so that the rest of us can live in peace and freedom.

The president will ask for an increase in the defense budget. Clearly the events of September 11th if nothing else show the importance of our country having a healthy, strong military so that we can contribute to peace and stability in the world. He'll announce his budget some time near February 4th, if I'm not mistaken, and it will contain an increase for the Department of Defense. At least that's what I've been advised.

Q: Very substantial?

Rumsfeld: Oh, I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Okay, folks. It's nice to see you all.

Press: Thank you.

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