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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with ABC This Week

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
February 03, 2002 11:30 AM EDT

(Interview with Sam Donaldson, ABC This Week)

Q: Joining us now is the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Welcome, Mr. Secretary.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

Q: Well, what is the United States doing to try to find Daniel Pearl?

Rumsfeld: Well, first, let me say that it's my understanding that the various agencies of the United States government are actively trying to be helpful. And certainly, everyone prays for his safety and his release. The Department of State is involved, the Department of Justice is involved. The Department of Defense is not an agency that is involved. But, needless to say, we're watching it carefully.

Q: Do you have any information as to how close authorities, no matter whether they're our people or the Pakistanis, are to finding Pearl?

Rumsfeld: I don't. I know that the Pakistani government is being very cooperative and is doing what they can do.

Q: The kidnappers in one of their e-mails demanded the release of prisoners from Guantanamo, and made other demands -- release the F-16s that at one time Pakistan purchased and we withheld. Are we going to do that?

Rumsfeld: Well, I think Secretary Colin Powell stated the policy of our government very well when he pointed out that in cases like this, the people who take hostages and kidnap people and threaten their lives make a whole host of claims that the United States, really, it's not possible to meet. And what we have to do is do exactly what our agencies are doing and that's do everything we can to help find them. And hope that the kidnappers will find that having him alive and being able to get publicity and make claims will be satisfactory to them during the period when these investigations are underway.

Q: One more question - just why isn't it possible for us to meet them? Ronald Reagan sold arms to Iran for the release of hostages in Lebanon. The Israelis often have traded people in their jails for Israeli soldiers. Why can't we negotiate?

Rumsfeld: The situation that is generally described in answer to that question, I think, is apt. And it is that, to the extent you do it, you create an incentive for people to take hostages. And the inevitable result of it is that it will become a major business to go out around the world and kidnap Americans and hold them for a ransom. It's been done in Colombia any number of times in the last year and a half. It's been done in the Philippines. There are hostages taken every day. It has become a rather sizeable business in the world, where people can fund, then, their terrorist activities or their other criminal activities. And it's not a good thing for countries to decide that they want to encourage people to create a business out of killing and taken hostages of Americans.

Q: So even if it means the life of an American?

Rumsfeld: The policy of the United States government, I think Secretary Powell described perfectly.

Q: Let's move on, back in fact, to the president's speech last Tuesday night. He singled out Iran, Iraq and North Korea, calling them an "axis of evil." And then he said something I think that is as tough as we've ever heard a president in modern times say, actually without going to war. Here it was:

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons. [Cheers and applause]

Q: "I will not wait. I will not stand by. The United States will not permit." At what point, if these three countries continue to try to acquire weapons of mass destruction, will the United States make good on that promise?

Rumsfeld: Well, first, I think the applause that followed the president's remarks is an indication that there is a growing realization, a broad realization today that we are living in a different time. With weapons of mass destruction more readily available to a number of nations and potentially to terrorist networks. We have to think about this problem in a dramatically different way than we did previously.

And the president's point, I think, was sound. And I've been impressed, looking at comments around the world and comments in the United States and in the Congress in support of the president's statement, that in fact these three countries have engaged in activities with respect to their own people, as well as their neighbors, that have to be described as "evil." And that we do know of certain knowledge that each of those three countries is engaged in active weapons of mass destruction programs. And we do know that those countries have relationships with terrorist networks.

It's that nexus between weapons of mass destruction and terrorist networks that the president was citing as being different for today and something that we really have to think very carefully about what we do as a people, and as a world, and as a society, given that nexus.

Q: When do we do it? If they continue to try to acquire the weapons, do we do it in the middle of their effort to acquire? Do we wait till they have acquired? Do we wait until they're poised to use them? I think Americans would certainly want the president or any administration to prevent an enemy from using weapons of mass destruction. But at what point does he say "I will not stand idly by?" Where's the line?

Rumsfeld: Well, those are difficult calls and those are calls that presidents make. And he will. He'll make his own judgment. And he will watch and take the appropriate steps to provide for the protection of the American people and our deployed forces, and our friends and allies.

Q: You know, there's lots of controversy, perhaps, over North Korea. South Korea has this "sunshine" policy, this effort at rapprochement with North Korea, and people say the president has undercut that.

Rumsfeld: Oh, I don't think so, at all. The South Korean government does have a policy, a so-called "sunshine policy" where they've been making a good deal of effort over a period of years now to try to get the vicious, repressive, dictatorial government of North Korea to behave rationally. And to come into the world. And they won't. They're starving their people. They're engaged in their own weapons of mass destruction development and ballistic missile development. And at the same time, they're selling weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles around the globe to anyone who wants to buy them.

The "sunshine" policy is certainly a reasonable effort on the part of the South Korean government, and to the extent it works at some point, that would be a wonderful thing.

Q: The president didn't cut that off --

Rumsfeld: Oh, not at all.

Q: -- with his very harsh talk about North Korea?

Rumsfeld: Oh, I don't think so. I think he may have helped it.

Q: All right. There's a report, by the way, that Iran may have helped the al-Qaeda escape Afghanistan. Can you confirm that?

Rumsfeld: I can.

Q: You can?

Rumsfeld: Yes. There isn't any doubt in my mind but that the porous border between Iran and Afghanistan has been used for al-Qaeda and Taliban to move into Iran and find refuge and that the Iranians have not done what the Pakistan government has done - put troops along the border and prevent terrorists from escaping out of Afghanistan into their country. The Pakistan government has done a terrific job of helping. And nonetheless, with those big, long, porous borders, I'm sure al-Qaeda and Taliban have moved across there, as well. But we have any number of reports that Iran has been permissive and allowed transit through their country of al-Qaeda. We have any number of reports, more recently, that they have been supplying arms in Afghanistan to various elements in the country.

Q: Is there anything we're going to do to stop that, to seal that border?

Rumsfeld: Well, Sam, you know we don't announce things we're going to do before we do them.

Q: Okay.

Rumsfeld: And the president makes those judgments, not secretaries of defense.

Q: Well, you made a judgment the other day which you expressed and I think you scared a lot of people. Let me just take a look at some of your words and see what you meant. "As they gain access to weapons of increasing power, and let there be no doubt but that they are, these attacks will grow vastly more deadly than those we suffered several months ago." Attacks on the United States. How do you know this?

Rumsfeld: Well, anyone who looks at the techniques of taking American airliners filled with Americans and taking box openers and capturing crews and turning those airplanes into missiles and driving them into buildings and killing thousands of people, we know roughly the effect of that. It was thousands. We also know that biological weapons, for example, or nuclear weapons, or radiation weapons, or chemical weapons can kill tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands, not simply thousands.

Q: But you seem to be predicting not that it's possible, but that it's going to happen.

Rumsfeld: No, no. I'm -- what I'm saying, very directly, is that we have a series of countries on the terrorist list. Any number of them are active, developing weapons of mass destruction, and that they have relations with terrorist networks. And we must not sit idly by as a country, as a world, and accept that outcome, that eventually, if we wait long enough, eventually it's reasonable to expect that terrorist nations will provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorist networks. We know the al-Qaeda were actively seeking chemical and biological weapons. There's evidence galore to that effect. We have to face that. It isn't a matter of scaring anybody, it's exactly what President Bush said. We need to consider the world we're living in and live with a sense of heightened awareness. And we can live in this world. We can do that.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I understand and take your point. Some cynics, of course, believe when you were saying that, you were tying it to the increase in the defense budget, that you and the president --

Rumsfeld: Oh, nonsense! No.

Q: I understand. These people in Washington, they say the darndest things!

Rumsfeld: (Laughs) There's the understatement!

Q: Let me just say that you were requesting, and the president, a 48-billion-dollar increase in the defense budget for the next fiscal year and over a five-year period up to 451 billion dollars, that's where it would be. That's a 120-billion-dollar increase. Now, the old question of guns versus butter then arises.

Let me just show you a chart of some of the cuts we understand the president is asking in domestic programs: Nine billion dollars cut in highway programs; a freeze in the Army Corps of Engineers projects; a cut of 180 million from a youth job program. Perhaps a cut of an addition 620 million in state grants for training and education. And the critics will say "all to pay for the expanded defense budget."

Rumsfeld: The reality is that the United States is now spending about three percent of our gross national product on defense. Back in the Kennedy and Eisenhower period, it was closer to 10 percent. In the Ford period, it was around five percent of our gross national product. Today, it's about three percent. It is certainly a percentage that our country can afford.

Second, if one thinks about it, we all got up today and went about our business, people going to church, people going to the Superbowl, people coming in to meet with you --

Q: And we appreciate it.

Rumsfeld: Thank you. And we did it because we can enjoy our freedom. Because we live in a world that's underpinned by peace and stability, for the most part. And it is our national security, the United States of America, at this time in history, that is able to contribute to peace and stability in the world. And without peace and stability, we can't have prosperity, we can't be able to enjoy our freedoms, we can't have economic opportunity. That's so central. You've been in war zones. You've been to Beirut. You've been to Kabul. You know what they look like. People are not on the streets. They're off the streets. The buildings are pock-marked. Roads are blown up.

Q: But isn't it a fact that the American people will have to be told that in order to do the things that you argue we need to do are going to have to give up a lot of the butter?

Rumsfeld: In President Truman's presidency, they made a decision during the Korean War to moderate the growth in non-defense spending. That's what President Bush has done. He's kept the growth in non-defense spending to about one or two or three percent, which is a very responsible thing to do. And he's said that the American people need to have an increase in the defense budget and in the homeland security budget.

Q: All I'm suggesting, sir, is you may have to say "you can't have it all" to the American people. Because at one time, President Bush --

Rumsfeld: Well, the American people know that. They establish priorities in their daily lives everyday. The American people aren't unrealistic. I've got a lot of confidence in the American people. They get up and they look at their budgets, they know that they can have this, but not that. And that's the way it is for our country.

Q: Let me get into this business of the prisoners of war. Have you settled the issue that's being debated at the White House, I understand, as to whether to actually have tribunals, to look at these prisoners -- and they're not prisoners of war, everybody in your administration agrees -- but somehow to settle their status?

Rumsfeld: I think that everyone has agreed that under the Geneva Convention that the United States has been, is today, and will in the future treat them -- will apply the Geneva Convention and see that they have the appropriate rights under the Geneva Convention.

Q: For humane treatment. But Secretary Powell argues that perhaps you should have the military tribunal under Article 5, settle their status, that's what Article 5 says, when in doubt, you're to have a military tribunal.

Rumsfeld: Right. And we have -- a military tribunal, I think, under the Article, sounds very formal. But it is not necessarily very formal. It's a process, simply, to determine the question as to their status.

Q: Are you saying you've done that?

Rumsfeld: We have been doing that. That's the way we've been sorting through people. Now, it also says that it need not be done unless there's substantial doubt or a reasonable doubt.

Q: Doubt.

Rumsfeld: Yeah. And in this case, I don't think anyone doubts that al-Qaeda is a terrorist organization. The Geneva Convention was designed for nations in conflict. What we have here is not a nation, the al-Qaeda, it's a terrorist network.

Q: Well, are you arguing your position, sir, or are you telling us that this is now a settled matter?

Rumsfeld: I think the thing that's settled is the following: that everyone agrees they are not prisoners of war. Everyone agrees that we have been, are today, and will in the future apply the Geneva Convention and see that they have the rights under the Convention, and there is apparently a legal question that is still being considered in the White House and will probably be resolved some time in the days immediately ahead as to whether the Geneva Convention should be applied as a matter of law, or a matter of policy.

We are treating them -- it really does not make a lot of difference. The only change -- difference would be, would be a precedent. And a lot of people are quite concerned that we don't do anything that would blur the distinction between non-combatants and combatants. If you think about it, the reason the Geneva Convention is there is because we wanted to protect lawful combatants, soldiers.

Q: Including our own if they are captured by the other side.

Rumsfeld: Exactly. And therefore, our soldiers don't go around killing innocent people. Nor do our soldiers go around pretending they are civilians and blurring that distinction between a combatant and a non-combatant. That's what puts civilians at risk.

Q: Well, you're examining right now the case of Hasam Quedam in which it is said that our Special Forces went in and through a horrible mistake killed 15-21 people who were not Taliban, but in fact supporters of the new government.

Rumsfeld: Is that a question?

Q: Yes, because you just said we don't go around killing innocent people. I take your point --

Rumsfeld: Well, we don't.

Q: -- except you've launched that investigation to see whether we, in fact, did.

Rumsfeld: Of course, we do. We always launch an investigation. I don't -- the commander and the command does. If there are legitimate questions raised about some action, it's perfectly appropriate for them to do exactly what they did and say "stop for a minute, we're going to go take a look. We're going to see what actually happened."

Now, is it possible that everyone's accurate? That is to say, that in that attack there might have been some people who were Taliban, there might have been some people who were al-Qaeda, and there might have also been some people that weren't? And in the same room. Because this is Afghanistan.

Q: Well, sir, we're out of time, but will you pledge that whatever the investigation shows, you will release that information to the American people and the world?

Rumsfeld: Why, of course.

Q: All right. Thank you very much, Secretary Rumsfeld, for being with us. I hope you'll come back.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.


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