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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability en route to Camp X-Ray

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
January 27, 2002

(Remarks on ferry from Air Terminal to Main Base, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba)

Rumsfeld: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison from Texas is with us and Senator (Diane) Feinstein of California is with us. (Senator) Ted Stevens is with us. Kay, you are the ranking member of the Military Construction Subcommittee and (Senator Feinstein) you are the chairman. Ted Stevens of Alaska is the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and is on the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Senator Inouye of Hawaii is the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. And General (Michael) Lehnert is... what is your official title?

Gen. Lehnert: Commander of Joint Task Force 160, sir.

Rumsfeld: And the Joint Task Force is a mixture of Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard. And if I'm not mistaken, this activity has been here only 21 days.

Gen. Lehnert: That's right, sir.

Rumsfeld: I think it's important to appreciate what a wonderful "can do" group of folks we've got down here who have been doing an absolutely superb job for our country. As I told the folks coming down on the plane, I'm down here to say thank you to you and to your associates for the terrific job you've been doing.

And General Myers, who you normally don't see him looking like that, is actually the same General Myers that we know and love, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Who else is here?

Gen. Speer: I guess I am, sir.

Rumsfeld: (Maj. Gen. Gary) Speer is the Acting Combatant Commander for the Southern Command. When we brought (Gen.) Peter Pace up to become the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, you were already serving as his Deputy.

Gen. Speer: That's correct, sir.

Rumsfeld: And he has been serving in an acting capacity ever since then.

Do you want to tell these folks a little bit, General, about what's going to happen?

Gen. Lehnert: I'd be glad to.

What you're seeing here today is that we are following the exact same routine that the detainees would follow. Once they get off the aircraft they're loaded into a bus and they're moved across this ferry and then through the actual main portion of the base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

As the Secretary said, we've been here for 21 days, but we would not have been able to get as much done as we have, and I think you're going to be very impressed with how much has taken place but frankly, that would not have happened without the help of the U.S. Navy and the really remarkable "can do" job of Team GTMO out here.

Captain Bob Buehn, the CO (commanding officer) of this naval base and the entire community has banded together and they really believe in what they're doing. They have welcomed us with open arms, they have been part of every single solution and never part of any problem and we ought to be very very proud of them.

The soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guardsmen of this operation have been absolutely superb and I would be remiss if I didn't even mention the contractors. We have a large number of contractors here, about 700 or 800, that come from the Republic of the Philippines and from Jamaica. This is a transnational effort what we're doing here today and what you're going to see today so it's absolutely a remarkable event.

Q: There is a patrol boat that flanks the ferry. You're saying this is the same ferry that the prisoners use. What kind of security is there when it is full of prisoners?

A: I'm not going to go into any details of the entire security plan. All I'll say is it's multi-layered and it's extensive.

The boat that you see out there obviously is a small part of that. That's a Coast Guard PSU. It has 50 caliber machine guns, 7.62 machine guns and all the small arms that normally would be associated with it. They are a superb addition to the normal complement of security that we get.

Q: General, there are some reports that the prisoners are beginning to organize, pick leaders, collect rocks and stones. What can you tell us about that?

Rumsfeld: All I'll say is they've been here for about 15 days and they've had an opportunity to get their bearings. These are individuals that were captured on a battlefield. They are professionals, as well, and they're doing the same thing that detainees, which is what we call them, or prisoners would do in any area. They're checking out their environment and determining what their options and their opportunities are. Our view is we're not going to give them any.

Q: Aren't they allowed to organize or to pick a leader under the Geneva Convention?

A: That's a different question, ma'am. Under the Geneva Conventions they are allowed to be represented, and we haven't got there yet. Remember, ma'am, that the detainees have been here for only 15 days. That's the longest any detainee has been here.

Rumsfeld: If I'm not mistaken, that issue pertains to prisoners of war, which these people are not.

A: That's correct. They are detainees.

So when we talk about organizing what we're seeing, ma'am, is that we are just seeing individuals that probably filled leadership divisions in another venue and that's now showing up at this time.

Q: Mr. Secretary, do you believe, as Secretary Powell has said, that these people should be reclassified as prisoners of war?

Rumsfeld: I don't know anybody in the Administration, including Secretary Powell, who believes, what you have just said he believes. You are inaccurately characterizing his position. I'll leave it to him to characterize his position, but I don't know anybody that I've talked to who misunderstands the situation and believes they ought to be characterized as prisoners of war. These are...

Q: Should that be certified by a competent tribunal as the (Geneva) Convention calls for?

Rumsfeld: These are detainees.

The Convention in certain situations raises the possibility if there are ambiguities that you can have a three-person panel or tribunal to sort out those ambiguities. There are not ambiguities in this case. The al Qaeda is not a country. They did not behave as an army. They did not wear uniforms. They did not have insignia. They did not carry their weapons openly. They are a terrorist network. It would be a total misunderstanding of the Geneva Convention if one considers al Qaeda, a terrorist network, to be an army and therefore ambiguous and requiring the kind of sort that you've suggested.

With respect to the Taliban, the Taliban also did not wear uniforms, they did not have insignia, they did not carry their weapons openly, and they were tied tightly at the waist to al Qaeda. They behaved like them, they worked with them, they functioned with them, they cooperated with respect to communications, they cooperated with respect to supplies and ammunition, and there isn't any question in my mind -- I'm not a lawyer, but there isn't any question in my mind but that they are not, they would not rise to the standard of a prisoner of war.

Q: How important is interrogation as a component of this for you?

Rumsfeld: The interrogation aspect of all people that are captured is enormously important. It is important because of, for me, the intelligence-gathering aspect of it. There's no question but that we have and are and will in the future continue to gain additional information that will enable us to do a much better job of law enforcement, a much better job of anticipating terrorist attacks, a much better job of anticipating the kinds of techniques that are going to be used and have been used. So I rank that very, very high.

The other aspect of interrogation, obviously, is to develop law enforcement information. We're not involved in that.

A third aspect of interrogation is to decide how you want to handle people. Do you want to give them back to Pakistan? Do you want to give them back to Afghanistan? Were their actions not really egregious? Were they picked up inaccurately or improperly or -- not improperly or inaccurately -- unintentionally? Sometimes when you capture a big, large group there will be someone who just happened to be in there that didn't belong in there.

Q: So intelligence gathered here will be used to determine just exactly where these folks will go, how they get sorted out?

Rumsfeld: No, that's a law enforcement issue. No. The intelligence gathering is going to be used to defend our country. We have the inherent right of self-defense and we are going to exercise it.

Q: For the senators, Senators Inouye and Stevens. You two might be described as, in a sense, the bill-payers of the U.S. government. You make the decisions on spending. Are you down here essentially getting a briefing on what may end up being a very major cost to the U.S. government, a very major commitment to handling this aspect of the war against terrorism?

Senator Inouye: We're here to determine the needs of the Administration and the Department of Defense, and as far as I'm concerned what I've heard from the Secretary is convincing. We are prepared to do whatever we can to help the Secretary in this mission.

Q: Sir, are you in favor of reviewing the status of each of these detainees?

Senator Inouye: I think it's (inaudible) review one way or the other, but from what I know and although I'm not speaking as a lawyer, as the Secretary has indicated, I think the position that the Secretary has taken is the correct one.

Senator Stevens: I'm a lawyer. I agree. The al Qaeda is not a nation. It's not a case where we had a nation go to war with the United States. I think this is absolutely correct.

Beyond that, we are here because we expect a substantial request somewhere down the line from the Secretary of Defense and the Administration for funds. And Senators Feinstein's and Hutchison's subcommittee will be very much involved as well as many of the defense subcommittees regarding the funding of this operation.

Rumsfeld: Let me say one thing. I would also say that these two gentlemen are two very distinguished veterans of World War II who served our country. Sir, you were in the Pacific Theater -- China as I recall.

Senator Stevens: Flying Tigers.

Rumsfeld: That's right. And you were in --

Senator Inouye: The other way, Europe.

Rumsfeld: In Europe. And they both have sterling military records.

The reason I raise it is, there's a lot of loose talk about prisoner of war versus detainee. One of the most important aspects of the Geneva Convention is the distinction between lawful combatants and unlawful combatants. It is a terribly dangerous thing from the standpoint of our military and the military of other countries if we blur the distinction between lawful combatants and unlawful combatants.

An unlawful combatant is a person who tries to look like a civilian and puts in jeopardy civilians. And a lawful combatant is one that functions as I described, in a uniform, in an organized operation, showing their weapons. The reason they are provided a higher standard of care is because they are lawful combatants, and the idea that we should blur that distinction out of some unknown idea that that's a good thing to do is just fundamentally flawed. We want not to blur that distinction.

Q: Does anybody know how much this operation is going to cost? Has the Pentagon figured that out?

Rumsfeld: They can't know, because I don't know what our needs are going to be yet. We're in the process of trying to sort that out.

Q: There's been mention that there's room for as many as a thousand prisoners here. Is that the number being bandied about?

Rumsfeld: Not by me.

Senator Inouye: We don't know the numbers yet.

STAFF: Thank you.