DoD News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers
Tuesday, December 11, 2001 - 11:30 a.m. EST
(Also participating was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard B. Myers)
Rumsfeld: Good morning. As you know, earlier this morning we held a memorial service outside the site of the crash, saluting those who died in the attacks on America just three months ago today. The terrorists killed nearly 200 of our colleagues and friends here at the Pentagon on September 11th, and thousands more in New York and Pennsylvania. And, of course, those are not just numbers, they were our friends and sons and daughters and colleagues with names and faces, and loved ones left behind.
One of those faces is here on the board, I believe. This is Samantha Lightbourn Allen. Mrs. Allen was working as an Army budget analyst on the south side of the Pentagon on September 11th when American Airlines Flight 77 was flown into the building. She was a devoted public servant who had worked for the Army for many years; also a mother of a boy and a girl. She gave her life for her country. Her family and friends and colleagues miss her. And certainly we will not forget her.
This war is far from over. I have been reading an awful lot of things and seeing on television a great rush to declare it a success and over. And I regret to say that it is not yet. We have yet to achieve our very clear objectives. We know it will take time. It does not end with the fall of Kabul or Kunduz or even Kandahar, or even with the capture of some of the individual Taliban and al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan.
As the area under the Taliban and al Qaeda grows smaller, there is no question but that the danger to coalition forces will be growing greater. Yes, there's no question but that some of the terrorists are on the run, and there also are pockets of terrorists and Taliban that are being attacked as we speak. But we all know that a wounded animal can be dangerous, and so too the Taliban and al Qaeda can hide in the mountains, they can hide in caves, and indeed, they can hide in cities, and I know they are. They know these places well. They can escape across borders and regroup and then plot to strike again, as they have promised to do.
So as the campaign proceeds, we can expect that more of the enemy forces will be detained. We want to bring more transparency as to how we handle detainees in this war. We want to fashion a system that is as open as possible so that the American people can have a good comfort level about the process itself.
Whether we hold these detainees in Afghanistan, as we may in some cases; put them aboard ship at sea, as we may in some cases; return to their countries of origin for punishment, as we may in some cases; or whether we bring some back to the United States, which we may well do, we will in every case attempt to do it in the right way. And we're working with knowledgeable people in and out of government to make sure that we handle detainees properly and in a manner that reflects our country's values, but also in a manner that reflects the seriousness of their situation and of our situation.
Myers: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, and good morning to everybody.
I certainly agree with the secretary that it was a touching moment out there at the site this morning as we remember our friends and loved ones that were lost there, and not just the ones that were lost, but the ones that are still recuperating in hospitals, that have been badly injured. For me it's a reminder of why we've undertaken this global war on terrorism.
We're now to the 66th day of the military portion of this war, and I think the coalition and anti-Taliban forces have been effective in reducing the threat of al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan. Pockets of resistance remain in various parts of the country, but it appears that the last effective al Qaeda stronghold -- to be determined, but the last effective one right now is in the Tora Bora area. Also, while Kandahar has fallen from Taliban control and the city is calmer as fighting has decreased in the recent days, it's important to note that armed Taliban elements are still there and occupy small portions of that city, so it's still an uncertain environment.
Our air operations yesterday were all in engagement zones supporting opposition group efforts in the Tora Bora area. We also dropped leaflets in and around the Kandahar and Jalalabad regions and continued our Commando Solo broadcast missions, as well.
Anticipating attempts by al Qaeda and Taliban leaders to flee Afghanistan, we continue to conduct interdiction efforts to halt that -- their fleeing and try to seal off as much as possible and as many as possible potential avenues for their escape.
The Marines of our Task Force 58 continue operations to block escape routes out of Kandahar, and our maritime operations continue in the international waters in the North Arabian Sea.
We also continue to support international efforts to provide humanitarian relief to the Afghani people and to help stabilize the country. Two C-17s yesterday dropped more than 34,000 humanitarian daily rations north of Kunduz, bringing our total to date for rations delivered to more than 2,360,000.
As you know, the Friendship Bridge between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan is open, and yesterday relief supplies crossed the bridge for the first time, for distribution by nongovernment organizations, nongovernmental organizations.
And finally, there are -- as everybody is well aware, there have been many press reports of surrender talks in the Tora Bora area. We have no confirmation of this. And just to go on the record, our military mission remains to destroy the al Qaeda and the Taliban networks. So our operation from the air and the ground will continue until our mission is accomplished.
And with that, I think we're ready for questions.
Rumsfeld: Charlie, you were not here yesterday -- (laughter) -- when the minister of state for defense of Japan and I had a press conference, and you left no instructions as to who I was to call on. (Laughter.) And I was at a loss and --
Q: I was busy writing on the war --
Rumsfeld: Okay. (Laughter.)
Q: How about today?
Rumsfeld: You're up. (Laughter.)
Q: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, you've made clear, as you do often, that the war -- this war is far from over. There are reports from Somalia that perhaps small numbers of U.S. liaison troops or perhaps agents from that other agency are in Somalia, investigating the presence of terrorist training camps. Is that true? And might that be a precursor to another front in this war on terrorism?
Rumsfeld: Well, I've seen those reports. I, needless to say, have nothing to report about that. And I would just say that Somalia clearly is a country along with six, eight others that have been on a list as nations that have been involved in terrorism over some period of time. But we've no judgments and have no -- nothing to announce with respect to Somalia today.
Q: So you're not confirming or denying the presence, possibly, of a small number of U.S. troops? Or can you say whether or not they are there?
Rumsfeld: As you know well, we do not deny or confirm things of that type.
If we start doing it, then anything we don't deny becomes truth, and by process of elimination, we've confirmed something that we had no desire to confirm. So once we start down that road of saying no, that's not true; no, that's not true; no, that's not true, the first time I say anything else, why, it's confirming that something's happened. So you shouldn't -- one should not read anything at all into what I said.
Q: Can you give us a sense, both of you, of what you think is happening at Tora Bora now, if you feel that the al Qaeda has been driven from what has been described as a primary cave and tunnel complex? American troops apparently have now walked this complex. So where does this particular battle stand with al Qaeda apparently in retreat on at least on front?
Rumsfeld: Sure. We have a good sense of where it stands. We know that the area is mountainous. In between the mountains are valleys. In most of the valleys and mountains there are caves and tunnels. And they vary in their size and complexity, but they are numerous -- a lot of them. The Afghan opposition forces on the ground are pressing in an area that is decreasing in size. They have moved forward. They have been counterattacked by al Qaeda forces, and held.
There are Pakistani forces on the Pakistan border that the president has assigned up there to attempt to close the border so that al Qaeda and Taliban do not escape out of Afghanistan into Pakistan. That is a very difficult thing to do. It is a porous border. It's a long border. It's a very complicated area to try to seal, and there's just simply no way you can put a perfect cork in the bottle.
The attack is continuing, although it's night now, and I suspect it's eased off. It is clearly a major fight. The people that are in there are fanatical in many respects, and the forces opposing them are determined. There are U.S. military people on the ground in the area in various locations, assisting with supplies and assisting with air strikes and assisting with other things.
Q: Are you interested in a negotiated settlement of some kind in these talks that are going on? Or what is it that you are working for as an outcome in this battle?
Rumsfeld: As you understand, we're not in control of every aspect of this because the larger numbers of forces are the Afghan forces themselves.
Our interest remains exactly the same. It is to capture or kill all the al Qaeda and prevent them from escaping into other countries or other locations in Afghanistan where they can continue their terrorist activities. It is to capture or kill the senior Taliban leadership. It is to disarm -- have the opposition forces disarm the remaining Taliban, and then they will decide what will happen with the lower-level Taliban Afghan forces who live in that country and undoubtedly will stay. I'm sure some will be punished, and some will go back and hide in the mountains or the cities, and still others will become part of opposition forces. And at some point, they will no longer be called opposition forces, as has been pointed out to me. But that's our goal, and to see that Afghanistan no longer is a country that harbors terrorists.
Q: So no conditions, no -- or if there's going to be a surrender, it can't have any conditionality to it, it's just a clean --
Rumsfeld: You know, I'm trying to think of a condition. Let's say that there's a condition that's acceptable to us -- I'm trying to think what it might be. A condition whereby civilians would be allowed to leave, or something like that. So it is not comfortable for me, since I'm not there, I'm not on the ground, we're not in control of the discussion, to be ruling things out arbitrarily that I can't quite imagine what they might be, but it's conceivable that there could be some perfectly rational thing.
If you're suggesting amnesty, if you're suggesting that we let senior people go, if you're suggesting that we let them stay armed or that they be left to go about their business, obviously not. That's just not acceptable.
Q: Mr. Secretary, what can you tell us about what the U.S. may or may not know about the whereabouts of senior Taliban leadership or senior al Qaeda leadership today, if any of them have managed to escape? And since Pakistan seems the most likely route out of Afghanistan for many of these leaders, what kind of assurances or agreements do we have with the Pakistan government that they would do all they could to help bring in these leaders on the run?
Rumsfeld: Well, we take a look at the people we -- first of all, the list changes as we learn more. And there are interrogations taking place, there's documentation being found and discovered and analyzed and translated, so that each day we learn more and know more as more address books are found and phone books are found and computer hard drives are found. As people have left areas, clearly our knowledge base is going up.
But we do have a set of names on a list that is being changed from time to time. In some instances people have been killed. In still other instances they've been wounded. In still others we have reason to believe they might have escaped to another country. In other cases we don't know where they are. In some cases we think we know where they are, and we're trying to find them. But we don't announce where we think they might be because it would be unhelpful to us.
Q: But has the government of Pakistan made any kind of agreement --
Rumsfeld: They've been enormously cooperative. They've got a large number of battalions along that border. They have been helpful in numerous respects. There's no --
Q: Have they pledged their cooperation in regard to rounding up any leaders that may try to escape through Pakistan?
Rumsfeld: I, as you know, try not to characterize precisely what other countries are doing, but -- except in a general sense, it's safe to say that Pakistan has been very cooperative.
Q: Mr. Secretary, in a similar vein, regarding the al Qaeda as opposed to the Taliban, has the flushing out of some of these forces in the Tora Bora area, just in the last 24 hours, produced any kind of information or intelligence that has shed any new light on bin Laden or their means of operating up there?
Rumsfeld: We literally see hundreds of scraps of information every day. The volume has not changed dramatically, except insofar as, as we have gotten physical access to buildings, we have been able to get more things. Specifically in that region at this moment, I would not be able to say that the level of knowledge has changed dramatically in the last 24 hours.
Q: General Myers, are U.S. attack helicopters being used in that strike at Tora Bora? And are U.S. forces -- have they been in any of those cave complexes at Tora Bora or Malawa yet?
Myers: As you know, we've used attack helicopters in the south with the Marines that are deployed south of Kandahar. To the best of my knowledge, there have been none used in the cave area, but I could be wrong. But I don't think they have.
And as far as -- as the secretary said, there are literally thousands of caves, and I'm sure some of our forces have been in some of those caves. Whether they're the relevant ones or not, I can't say at this point.
Q: If I could follow up, there is a reported cease-fire by the Eastern Alliance there as they negotiate this alleged surrender. You say the airstrikes are continuing. Is there a cooperation or a coordination between the U.S. and the Eastern Alliance as far as that goes?
Myers: I would -- I don't think I'd characterize it as a cease-fire. There are some valid military reasons to stop fighting for a while before you resume, and that is probably what you're seeing. So I'd be very careful how you characterize this. "Cease-fire" has a different connotation and --
Rumsfeld: I would add that the CINC is not enamored of cease-fire --
Myers: Not in his lexicon. (Scattered laughter.)
Rumsfeld: Yeah. General Franks is unambiguous with respect to his attitude about cease-fires.
Q: Sir, moving to the discussion a moment ago about detainees, you initiated the comment that you, quote, "want a system as open as possible." You're in the process, as you've told us several times, of developing a tribunal proposal. Is your operating premise that these would not be held in secret, that they would be open to the public to watch, in some -- one way or the other?
Rumsfeld: No, I don't have an operating premise that goes to that. And my guess is, it would be handled differently with respect to different individuals, just as we know that various procedures historically have been handled differently with different individuals. What we do try to do is take the early period to do -- engage in interrogation, with -- for the intelligence-gathering purpose, as opposed to law enforcement purposes or anything like that, to find out everything we can, so that we can protect the lives of Americans, both on the battlefield as well as here at home and our deployed forces. And that is the first step that takes place.
Q: Sir, a follow-up, if I could, and a semi-follow-up. (Laughter.) Having -- if I get away with this -- (laughs) --
Rumsfeld: We'll have a vote -- (laughter) -- on how well it fits into that category.
Q: The question that has been raised about if the European nations, particularly Britain, would be the ones who ended up with custody of an al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden or other, that there might be a problem with their turning him over to the United States. Is --
Rumsfeld: There won't be.
Q: There will not be?
Rumsfeld: There will not be. Either a country will indicate that they will turn them over to us, quite apart from whether or not their laws may be different with respect to the death penalty, or they will be positioned in places where they're unlikely to come in contact with someone that we would like to have control over. (Scattered laughter.)
Q: If I could just follow up --
Q: Talk about the possibility of taking the Taliban fighters on Navy ships or sending them back to their countries of origin you mentioned.
Rumsfeld: Well, al Qaeda are, for the most part, the non-Afghan people. They would be the ones that would more likely go back to their countries of origin. Taliban in large number are Afghans, and their country of origin is obviously Afghanistan.
Q: Well what about the foreign Taliban, what will be done with them?
Rumsfeld: I think it's a definitional issue. Most of the foreigners are characterized and catalogued and grouped as al Qaeda. The non-Afghan people in their -- the al Qaeda process tends to group them in clusters of organizations that they call al Qaeda, not Taliban. So I guess maybe it's better not to use the words at all. But the people who don't live -- who are not from Afghanistan in some instances, conceivably, could be sent back to their countries of origin, if the countries would like them and if the country had views that are not terribly different from ours about the fact that what they've been engaged in is not a good thing for the world.
Q: Do the Marines hope to corral some of these down at Camp Rhino at all? Do you have a sense -- are they going to actually apprehend any of the al Qaeda or Taliban fighters there?
Rumsfeld: We -- there are several ways it can happen. One way is that they can be kept where they're captured, or where they surrender, for a period of interrogation. That could be anywhere. It could be with any one of the various opposition forces, it could be with U.S. forces in control of them, I guess, is the proper word. Then they could be moved to some other location that is more appropriate for managing the control over an enemy individual or group of individuals. And that could be an opposition force headquarters, it could be Camp Rhino, which is about the only place besides maybe Bagram where we have enough people that we could manage that ourselves without having it terribly interfere with our other responsibilities.
Q: Mr. Secretary, to follow on that: How confident are you sending some of these fighters back to their home country of origin that the justice system there will satisfy what we expect?
Rumsfeld: We wouldn't send them back if we didn't have a high degree of confidence.
Q: Mr. Secretary --
Q: Every country, you're satisfied, you're going to get that type level of --
Rumsfeld: No! We would only send them back to a country where we felt that the country had a similar attitude to ours about the undesirability of people running around engaging in mass murder.
Q: And those countries are?
Rumsfeld: Well, time will tell, won't it?
Q: Mr. Secretary, the other day, the United States took the extraordinary step of dropping a daisy cutter somewhere up in Tora Bora. You folks apparently had a pretty good idea of where someone you thought was. Have you found intelligence to borne out (sic) your hunch?
Rumsfeld: Well, there are not a lot of those, so they don't use them frivolously. There's no question that when that was used, I thought it was yesterday -- was it yesterday?
Q: (Two were ?)
Rumsfeld: Day before?
Rumsfeld: Well, very recently. That they felt they had good reason to use it in that location.
Myers: And --
Q: Mr. Secretary --
Myers: And I just -- let me just add, Mr. Secretary, it was effective. I mean, we've been on the ground and it had the desired effect.
Q: Which was what? What was the desired effect?
Q: Can you describe to us anecdotally what the --
Myers: The desired effect was to kill al Qaeda.
Q: What sort of results are you aware of? What did your people on the ground see?
Myers: Dead al Qaeda. (Laughter.)
Q: Is there any way of --
Myers: No, I can't quantify for you, but --
Q: (Inaudible) -- as well as outside the -- in the cave? It killed people out of the cave?
Myers: I don't want to go into the details. It has the desired effect. Let me just say that.
Q: Leadership? Do we know if it --
Rumsfeld: It takes time to sort out people, whether they're prisoners or they're dead. It -- you simply cannot believe what you hear necessarily. It is perfectly possible that someone would want to be thought to be dead. In which case, you would be advised that this is somebody that it may not be. And we're a little slow to jump to conclusions or to leap at our -- everything we're told. We try to look at people and talk to other people and try to understand precisely what the situation is. So it is not something that happens overnight. It takes time.
Myers: First reports are always difficult to sort out.
Q: Do you know if any of these people killed were leaders? Do you know whether any of these people killed were al Qaeda or Taliban leadership? You said you were going after them.
Rumsfeld: Any in that particular bomb?
Myers: I think it's going to take time.
Rumsfeld: I don't.
Q: Mr. Secretary, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated today in London -- (inaudible) -- that this war is not going to go beyond Afghanistan. May we hear your comments here? You are in charge of this war.
Rumsfeld: I don't believe he said that.
Q: Mr. Secretary, last week, India Globe carried a report that Osama bin Laden said that he is responsible for the attacks in New York and in Washington at the Pentagon. Now also he said, after his death, his jihad will continue and U.S. big money on him and the big military did not play any big role and also they cannot catch him alive. Now, do you believe today, sir, that he's still there, because according to many reports and a lot of -- many Pakistanis told me that he had already fled the area of Afghanistan.
Rumsfeld: Just so we understand each other, everything you said was an unattributed report in some newspaper?
Q: It came from London, yes sir, Telegraph -- London Telegraph.
Rumsfeld: The London Telegraph.
Q: And also Wall Street --
Rumsfeld: And the Wall Street Journal. Huh. Well, there are so many reports about what he said or might have said or has on tape or recorded or told somebody that to try to chase them around I think really is not fruitful on our part. There is no question but that a tape exists on which he is seen to say things in -- not in English, I might add. Therefore I am not one to say precisely what it was he said. There are various people trying to translate that and understand precisely what was said and -- it is an amateur video. And whether or not it'll be released or when is a question for some others than me. But if it is, it will be released with some translations that would show what various experts in the language say he said, and then people can make their own judgments, one would think.
Q: Any update on Taliban military leader Mullah Omar? Do you know where he is? And do you have any reason to believe that either -- any of the actions either by commission or omission involving the Pashtun tribes led to him being able to get away?
Rumsfeld: I have no reason to believe that's the case. I also wouldn't rule it out. But it's based on the assumption that he's gotten away, and I don't even know that. So you've got a hypothetical buried in a hypothetical.
The fact of the matter is that until you have somebody, you don't have them. And we are looking very hard, and we are looking at lots of scraps of information, and we intend to pursue him until we find him.
Q: Mr. Secretary --
Q: Would it be fair to say you have a general idea of where he is, or -- ?
Rumsfeld: Why would -- how can one know that until they have found him? One can't know that. And I would be misleading you if I pretended --
There are people who will answer that question differently. They will say "Yes, we know, roughly in this area for this person and roughly in that area for that person." And if you push a little bit on it, you'll find that, in fact, they should be answering roughly like I do. (Laughter.)
Q: (Off mike) -- President Bush is doing -- revisiting his 1999 Citadel speech on military transformation.
Q: I asked you this a couple weeks ago and you didn't have a lot of time, but can you give us a sense of what's playing out over Afghanistan today by way of technology that's transformational, that's helping go after al Qaeda as they hide in mountains, caves and in cities?
Rumsfeld: Well, as I answered it the last time you asked it -- (laughter) -- it remains a good question, and it remains a subject that we are both thinking a lot about, and that we are talking about, and that things are being considered with respect to the '03 budget about.
I'll give you a short answer, and then I'll yield to General Myers.
But it seems to me that one of the things -- two things I would cite that we, reasonable people, when this is over and we look back, will comment on in one way or another. One is the value of unmanned aerial vehicles. And second, I would say, is the connection, the linkages between UAVs, combat aircraft and bombers, and people on the ground, and the value that is created by those linkages and the use of smart munitions creates a very powerful effect.
Myers: I would agree with what the secretary just said. And just to put a little finer point on the UAV piece, what it has really allowed for us over there is persistence over the battlefield. We've talked about this a little bit. But it's so unlike Vietnam, where you took snapshots of the battlefield, and you may do it at 10:00 in the morning, then you take another snapshot at 2:00 in the afternoon, and at 4:00. And persistence really counts. So -- and it's not just as it applies to UAV, in my mind, it might also apply to other systems, space systems, where you're still in kind of a reconnaissance mode you might want to go; one of the decisions you might make in the future, as we look at the lessons learned, is that you need persistence with all of our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets.
And the other thing the secretary said was on the -- is really on the interoperability and how we fuse our command and control communications and computers and the whole ISR piece together with decision-makers so we can get the loop of all that, where we see something and we want to act, and we can bring effects to bear on whatever the target is in a more timely way, in a more coherent way. We're doing a lot of things together. It's working reasonably well. We can do better in the future, and we always can. That will always --
Q: A question on precision-guided weapons --
Q: (Off mike) -- in particular, are there any examples in the last couple of weeks, since it's gone operational, where it's helped track in real time an al Qaeda convoy or small groups of vehicles and destroyed them, to help destroy them?
Myers: I think one of the most innovative ways they have used some of the assets, the Joint Stars -- people understand what Joint Stars is. It was made -- it was designed in the Cold War, basically, for a very linear battlefield -- a front line, bad guys on one side, good guys on the other.
Here it is using to cue other systems. It has been used to cue Global Hawk, which cues other systems. So you go from, you know, wide area search to -- you see something moving. You see it's a bus. Is it a school bus or is it an al Qaeda bus? And you keep refining. And you don't know that from the Joint Stars alone, so you have to bring other assets to bear. And that whole cycle is being refined, as you would imagine, Tony.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: Just a question on --
Rumsfeld: Can I add one more thing?
Rumsfeld: I find -- it is a fascinating question, and it's going to take an awful lot of thought. But one of the things that I think is taking place is that we are beginning to understand better that if you're not after an army or a navy or an air force -- you're after something other than that -- that bringing all elements of national capability and world capability to bear on something -- the economic and the financial and the law enforcement and the intelligence gathering, as well as overt activities, as well as covert activities -- that that combination makes life difficult for those that it's applied to. And that pressure ultimately is felt.
And in tandem with that, of course, that's been transformational, is the patience of the Pentagon press corps -- (laughter) -- which has been increasingly admirable once we got out of the quagmire. (Laughter.)
Q: Mr. Secretary, a question about precision-guided weapons. There have been a few that have gone astray. There have been some press reports that have suggested that there may be a problem with some defective batteries that could have resulted in some of these accidents, and that the defects may have been covered up during the production process. Is this something that you're aware of? Are you looking into this possibility? Do you dismiss it? Are you aware of it at all?
Rumsfeld: I've never heard that.
Myers: That's the first I've heard of it as well. And of the -- well, we don't want to go into the incidents themselves, but it doesn't look like batteries.
Q: Do you have -- it doesn't look like. Do you have any preliminary indication about what caused it?
Myers: General Franks does and his components do, but that's their business, and it's -- and we shouldn't comment on that.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: Mr. Secretary, you said several minutes ago that you had reason to believe some people had escaped. I wanted to ask you to clarify that -- whether you were simply referring to Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan, or do you now have any reason to believe that any Taliban or al Qaeda leadership of significance has already left Afghanistan? What were you referring to?
Rumsfeld: I was referring to a scrap of intelligence that was floating through my head, and I can't quite grab it, as to where -- how many days or weeks ago it was, but that a relatively senior mid-level Taliban or al Qaeda was wounded. And, in fact, it was extracted and taken out of the country somehow or another to receive medical attention.
Q: But I -- can -- but --
Rumsfeld: So that has happened. I'm 90 percent sure that that is -- that type of thing has happened. I'm sure -- it may have happened in instances that I'm not aware.
Q: I'm sorry, just to make sure I understand, you mean taken out of the country by --
Rumsfeld: By them.
Q: -- people sympathetic to them.
Rumsfeld: Exactly. Exactly.
Q: Do you know what country they might have been taken to?
Rumsfeld: In this instance I don't think I do. No.
Q: Was that Zawahiri? Was that Zawahiri, Mr. Secretary?
Rumsfeld: Can't remember.
Q: Mr. Secretary, do you agree with the -- there was a report in India Globe, I asked you last week, also that the Wall Street Journal report carried by India Globe also, that two -- at least two helicopters by Pakistanis and some commanders was --
Rumsfeld: I read that as well; I don't believe it. I have no -- no -- basis to confirm that. In fact, every time we've checked on that report we've not been able to validate it. That does not mean it didn't happen; it just means that we have no information that would confirm that.
Q: Mr. Secretary, the White House says this morning that --
Rumsfeld: White Houses do not talk. (Laughter.)
Q: White House officials --
Rumsfeld: No, no -- well, I mean, buildings can't speak. (Laughter.)
Q: White House officials say this morning that in regard to the Osama bin Laden tape, that the Pentagon is at least in charge of the process if not the decision to release the tape. Can you tell us what the Pentagon is doing in regard to that tape and whether you, in fact, are involved in the decision to release it?
Rumsfeld: The answer to the last portion is that I'm involved. I don't know that I'm involved in the decision to release it. But what one has to do in a case like this is to see if the authorities, the people who make these decisions, feel it should be released. And I'm told that they do. And the second thing one has to do then is to make sure it's checked with the intelligence community so that by doing so something is not revealed that could cause someone to lose their life or to reveal some piece of information about intelligence capabilities. The third thing that has to be done is to make sure that in the event it is to be released, that translations are made of the spoken words in the tape by more than one person so that if -- outside people, not inside people -- so that no one would even no one would even think of suggesting that it was anything other than as accurate as it could be. And then it would be presented to people, one would think, and they would be allowed to make their own judgment.
Now it may very well be that that could happen by the Pentagon. It may happen by some other agency of government. And it may very well be that for some reason it may not happen. I've seen it. Everyone, you know, can draw their own conclusion, if and when it's released.
Q: And what is your conclusion?
Rumsfeld: I have not gone -- I am so careful and so conservative that I have not gone through the process I've just described yet. And I've not had a chance to look at differing views as to what is actually spoken. And the other problem is, it seems to me it's not unimportant to try to connect the words with the body language and the presentation that's being made, so that you can connect it. Now that's hard to do if you don't understand the language. So I don't -- I'm disinclined to leap to a judgment about it, although I am very proud that I was not the person being taped saying what he said.
Q: Have you been asked for your input into whether it should be released?
Q: Mr. Secretary, may I ask a question about humanitarian aid? You're seeing more and more pictures of the starving Afghans reaching for food. And while there have been successes like the opening of the bridge, today, for instance, the shipment going across the bridge was stopped, presumably, perhaps, because of security concerns. Is the United States going to do anything more to provide any security or allow coalition forces to provide security?
Rumsfeld: Everyone is working on getting the humanitarian assistance -- food, medicine, and clothing -- disbursed and distributed in that country. There are lots of people in great need, there is just no question about it. There are an awful lot of people in government and out of government, from our country and from some other countries, that are working on that problem.
Q: The British --
Q: And will you -- will there be more security provided? That's what the --
Rumsfeld: The Bonn understanding was that there was to be a request for a security force in Kabul. The process is going forward whereby the countries who have offered to participate with respect to the security force for Kabul are being talked to. A lead country is being selected. They will then work closely with the central command to determine the number of troops, the timing. The goal was to reach -- to try to accomplish it by December 22nd, which was a date that came out of the Bonn discussions.
Whether that will be possible or not is not known. We are obviously leaning very far forward to try to be helpful to that process, and -- however, it will not solve the problem that you're talking about, which is, essentially, the fact that there is lawlessness in the country. There are people who have needs, and as those needs are -- as people try to meet those needs, some people try to avoid having those needs met, and they try to take the food or take the medicine or take these things and sell them.
Now, there is no national police force in the country. There is no national armed service in the country. There are factions, and in those areas, those factions are doing their best to control lawlessness and to try to see that the distribution of the food takes place. And all in all, I'd say they're doing a pretty good job. Does it mean that there aren't sizeable pockets of people in great need that have not been reached through the distribution system? They exist, and they've got to be dealt with. So --
We're going to make a last question.
Q: (Off mike) -- real simple.
Rumsfeld: Go ahead.
Q: Could you expand a moment on what types of prisoners you think the United States should be detaining? Are we talking about only people on the list of al Qaeda leadership? Are we talking about foreign fighters? Could you expand --
Rumsfeld: Sure. Let me see if I can put them in some baskets for you. Anyone -- Taliban or al Qaeda -- who has information, intelligence information, that can add to our knowledge about the terrorist network in Afghanistan or in neighboring countries or anywhere on the face of the earth, we want. We want a chance to talk to them, to interrogate them, to find out what they know; to find out what the patterns and procedures and training approaches are of the various organizations, and to learn every single thing we can. That's one category.
So that's very broad, very large numbers of people. We'd like to get our hands on them, control them for a period, go through that intelligence gathering process. It's enormously important, and it has been helpful already.
Second: We have less interest in the lower-level Taliban people, because they're Afghans, and the people of Afghanistan are going to have to deal with them in one way or another. With the senior level Taliban people, we are quite interested. They are clearly closely connected to al Qaeda and have expressed the same types of views, the same types of approaches, and they need to be punished; they need to be taken care of in one manner or another by somebody.
They're mostly all Afghans, as the way I'd use the word "Taliban", and that means that to the extent there are people -- a relatively small number of people at the top that we would like to have control over, and not just for intelligence but for disposition. There are lesser people that one would think at some point the government of Afghanistan, as it gets its sea-legs, might very well address.
With respect to al Qaeda, from the top to the bottom, they're bad folks. They have been doing perfectly terrible things in Afghanistan and around the world, and it would be just a crime if they are let loose in any way to go to the neighboring countries or to other countries, our country, or anywhere in the world to continue the terrorist acts that they've been engaged in. And so they ought to be stopped and they ought to be imprisoned, and they ought not to be permitted to do that.
Last, the senior al Qaeda leadership. Those are people that we obviously hope to get control over and have a much -- a very deep involvement as to what their ultimate disposition might be.
Q: Roughly how many people are in that last category?
Rumsfeld: I'm kind of not going to get into numbers. It's not hundreds.
Q: (Off mike.) (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: (Laughs.) It's not hundreds or thousands.
Q: Could you clarify something you said earlier? You said, with regard to capturing of these prisoners, "They will turn them over to us or they will not be in positioned in places where they will come in contact with the people we would like to have." Does that mean that the folks that are fighting alongside the United States, whoever they are, over there, have formally agreed to hand them over to the U.S., or is this like the arrangement with the Afghans whereby everyone understands the personal force of General Franks and they're not likely to cross him?
Rumsfeld: Well, I -- in my response, it was in the context of a question relating to the European Union's no death penalty position. And I was not referring to the Afghan forces on the ground.
Q: Right. I'm clear on that.
Q: So --
Rumsfeld: Now. So what did I mean? What I meant was that if a country has a sensitivity or a sensibility with respect to the death penalty, that's their privilege. We just don't want it to get in our way with respect to the people who fit in these senior-level categories. That means that either forces on the ground or -- with whom we're cooperating or who might be involved in the security force in Kabul would understand that idiosyncrasy on our part.
And they would agree either that they would not take control over people and turn them over to us, or we would agree that they would not be put in proximity where they might have occasion to take control over such people.
Q: That was a condition of involvement?
Rumsfeld: Oh, I wouldn't put it quite that way. But certainly --
Q: Has Great Britain --
Q: How many -- how many -- (inaudible)? How many -- (inaudible.)
Rumsfeld: Well, that's the problem. It's not a matter of enforcing it. This is a matter of discussion and working things out with reasonable people and friends and --
Q: But given your lack of --
Q: Has the old U.S. ally Great Britain given an assurance that if it comes into possession of Bin Laden it will turn him over to the United States?
Rumsfeld: When I first heard that this issue was being raised, I checked, and the response we've received is not to worry. And I believe that they have made public statements to that effect. But I have not seen them in writing, so it's not for me to say whether they have or not, but I'm told they have. And I'm told that regardless of whether they have said so publicly, it will not be an issue.
Q: Sir, a clarification, sir, of something you said, if I could?
Rumsfeld: Well, I don't want to leave things confused. (Laughter.)
Q: Well, it could be me. But you talked a moment ago about your being slow to judge Bin Laden and the contents of the tape. To judge what? His culpability?
Rumsfeld: Well, I was asked what my opinion was about it, and my response was, I would have to sit down with it. I would have to make sure I was looking at it in exactly the way it was presented. I would have to see the written transcripts, plural, because I have seen people in translation come up with three different answers for the same thing being said, and you need to look at that, before I would rush to some conclusion about it. That's all. Although I did add that I certainly would not want to be Osama bin Laden and have said what it appears he has said.
Q: (Anything to ?) say about a conclusion about the evidence about the fact he was responsible for this? Is it hard -- have you not yet reached a conclusion based on what you --
Rumsfeld: I've said that -- regarding of whether I have reached a private conclusion, which I'm not going to get into, I would not want to say to the world something unless I had done the kind of due diligence that I think a person in my position is responsible for doing.
Q: Could it be staged or a fake?
Rumsfeld: That is so remote, so unlikely from what I've seen. I think I would rule it out. But --
Q: Have you been asked for your input on how the tape ought to be handled? (Laughter.)
Q: (Inaudible) -- and I have six more questions. (Laughter.)
Q: We'll be here all day, Mr. Secretary.
THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS PREPARED BY THE FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., WASHINGTON, DC. FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE IS A PRIVATE COMPANY. FOR OTHER DEFENSE RELATED TRANSCRIPTS NOT AVAILABLE THROUGH THIS SITE, CONTACT FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE AT (202) 347-1400.