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Secretary Rumsfeld Press Conference in Phoenix, Arizona

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
August 26, 2004

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Secretary Rumsfeld Press Conference in Phoenix, Arizona

Q:            Inaudible – (re: Abu Ghraib, Schlessinger and Fay Report)

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, as I testified before Congress, if you’re the secretary of defense and something happens in your area of responsibility and you simply have to accept that responsibility.  And on the other hand, we’ve got a big department, you know, 3, 3 ½ million people in the military and the civilian total. What is that, three times the size of Phoenix.  And at any given moment, there’s something happening somewhere in the world in that population.  We have about 3,000 courts martial a year and we have something like 17,000 criminal investigations a year that are going on.  We have 70 DoD corrections facilities, some 13 of them overseas.  And the Department of the Army is the executive agent for detainees and enemy prisoners of war.  At any given time, we have something like 12,000 people involved in managing the prison populations of one type or another. 

 

Needless to say, if you’re Washington, D.C., you can’t know what’s going on in the midnight shift and it’s one of those many prisons around the world.  Now what happened shouldn’t have happened.  I was interested in the various reports that came out this week Kern Report and the Schlessinger Panel Report.  At least as far as I’m aware, it is now at least as of this moment, because we keep learning more all the time, it’s a bit of a discovery process and that’s why we’ve initiated so many investigations to look at the scenes to make sure that we’re covering everything that needs to be covered and then reporting this to the public and reporting this to the Congress.  But I have seen nothing yet that suggests that there was any abuse that was related to interrogations.  So all of the press and all of the television, thus far, that tries to link the abuse that took place to interrogation techniques in Iraq has not yet been demonstrated – quite the contrary.  In so far as I’m aware, no one of the individuals that were abused -- and there were people abused and we should not have been -- none of those individuals who were abused in the process of being interrogated.  Indeed, most of the people subject to the abuse, as I said discovered, thus far, were individuals who were not security detainees at all; they were criminals, the overwhelming majority.  So all of this discussion and debate, it seems, on this subject has, in some sense, been demonstrated to not have been well placed.  The Iraq situation was always subject to the Geneva Convention.  The president announced that, I announced it.  That was communicated.  Any abuse that took place was inconsistent with that and therefore, violated the rules and procedures that the Army had established for management of the prison population.  Yes.

 

Q:  Mr. Secretary, with regard to Iraq and Al Sadr, will the problems continue to fester and eventually become a situation like in Iran?   Does Al Sadr need to be dead for the fighting to stop?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  Clearly, the new government of Iraq and the prime minister and his team are fully aware that for them to successfully govern their country, they can’t have armed militias taking over cities, mosques or areas of the country.  They are engaged in, at the present time, a series of discussions as to exactly how to deal with this situation.  My guess is they’ll end up, one way or another, arriving at point where it will not be a problem for Iraq.  Now what does that mean?  At the present time, you know, we’ve seen – I’ve never seen quite so many inaccurate reports as to what’s going on in Najaf.  I say that public reports as well as private reports.  The reason for that is because it keeps changing every five minutes.  And Sadr will say one thing one minute and something quite different another minute.  I have been on the phone.  I keep posted on what’s taking place and my impression is that the prime minister and his team are serious and that they intend for this to be dealt with and they have been in discussions with senior Shia leader, Sistani, and that they will be over the period ahead finding a way to resolve it.  But this it is clearly, according to the Prime Minister, not acceptable to have a situation such as they have had, where the mosque has been taken over by a militia with force of arms to the detriment of the other peace loving people of Najaf. 

 

 

Q:            Mr. Secretary, do you have any information on the progress of the peace process in Najaf?  Will Sistani's presence help?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I was on the phone when I landed here, whenever that was – several hours ago – and it was a very large the number of people that were moving in from – that area.  And Sistani’s convoy, I don’t know if he was in it, but he was reputed or reported to have been in it – was moving from Basrah into Najaf and had not reached it quite when I got off the phone.  He is highly respected, Sistani is. He’s been in England for some medical attention.  I think it’s a good thing that he is back in the country, and he may very well prove to be a constructive force, although that remains to be seen, exactly how it will sort out.  Yes.

 

Q:  Mr. Secretary, Major General Barbara Fast reported to Fort Huachuca but has been accused of failings on her watch at Abu Gharib.  Can you comment on this?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, let me answer that this way.  I am told that as Secretary of Defense, some of the issues could eventually reach me.  It’s not clear that that’s the case.  Most of them will be handled under the Uniform Code of Military Justice in the Department of Army.  But I am told that I am not allowed to talk about any individuals, or even any categories of activities without running the risk of being accused of having asserted command influence.  That is to say if you nod yes or not or smile or something else, it could end up harming a person.  And it also could end leading to the acquittal or the release of a person who doesn’t deserve to be released and therefore, anyone in that chain is advised to not comment.  I was told that years ago as an example of what can happen, a senior commander was asked about an individual person to another person – not even publicly – and his comment was “That person’s trouble” and that person got off because of command influence.  So it is an understandable situation that the people up that chain are supposed to be and, in fact, do behave in a way that keeps them free of that accusation. 

 

Q:  Mr. Secretary, I know you spoke to our Governor today on National Guard issues and scaling back deployments.  Can you comment?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I did. I’m the one who signed deployment orders for units and individuals, but I do it only after the process has run its course up to me.  You get a request from a combatant commander in Afghanistan or Iraq or wherever in the world for a certain capability, people, things aircraft, whatever, ships.  And then it works through with the joint staff and with the joint chief of staff and then they make a recommendation to me.  And at that point, I then ask a lot of questions and frequently send them back to have another look at it, to see if there’s a better way to do it and then I end up signing something.  There’s no way I could extract out one unit or one person and comment on it.  I will say this, that we did have a good discussion, and I advised her that what we’re doing from a macro standpoint is really going to be beneficial for the Armed Services and I would add, for the employers and the members of the Guard and Reserve, as well.  

 

We are – we’re faced with a situation where some years back – a number of years back for whatever reason, it was consciously decided to put a whole set of skill sets into the Guard and Reserve and not have them or at least not have anywhere near enough of them on the active force.  The theory in those days was, let’s do that, because it will force the country to become engaged in anything that’s big in terms of the conflict because it will require that we activate the Guard and Reserve.  And it’s kind of an anti-Vietnam reaction. 

 

Now, we’re in a totally different century.  We’re in a different circumstance.  We obviously have needs -- Kosovo, Bosnia, you know, we’ve assisted in Liberia and in Haiti in one place and another, as well as Afghanistan and Iraq.  We assisted Georgia with Train and Equip, the Philippines.  That means we’re in a different period, and we need to take those skills sets, and get them to the active force so that we don’t have to keep calling up the same people.  That’s particularly true of military police, civil affairs and that type of thing. 

 

So the Army is aggressively rebalancing the active and reserve components, putting heavily used skill sets into the active force, taking less-used skill sets from the active force into the Guard and Reserve.  And that process is going forward.  They’re doing a darned good job.  It may take two or three years to work its way through and it’s particularly notable in the army, but all services are engaged in it.  And that’s what I described to her, which I think goes to the question that if a person joins the Guard and Reserve, I served in the Navy Reserve as a Navy pilot for years and years.  And obviously, you’ve made a decision to be not on active duty, but in the Guard and Reserve, recognizing that you make a commitment for a weekend, a month and two weeks a year and, as necessary, called up.  And everyone volunteered for that. 

 

There isn’t anyone serving in the Guard and Reserve or the active force that isn’t a volunteer.  On the other hand, you didn’t volunteer to be activated three, four, five times in one decade.  Now a very few people have been activated too many times, by my standards and that’s what we’re fixing.  And I’m very pleased with what the Army is doing.  Yes.

 

Q:  You have stated that you want intelligence reforms.  How do you see this impacting the military and the global war on terrorism overall?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD: First, I’m advised that the Kern Report that just came out has confirmed two or three instances where a detainee in Iraq, I take it, an enemy prisoners of war who should have – who should not have been abused during an interrogation process, but was abused or was subjected to some technique that at least the Kern Report believed they should not have been under the Geneva Convention.  And I don’t know what the technique was.  It may have been when the dogs were present.  OK.  In any event, I think I said I didn’t know of any.  I doubt -- now do know that the current report mentions two or three instances where that might have been the case.  I should add, we have had – if you look at worldwide in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere you have something like – some people think it’s as high as 50,000 detainees over this relatively short period of time.  We’re down substantially below that to about 5,000 to 6,000 at the present time because we’ve been constantly reviewing and releasing people.  But that is a large population of people.  And it appears that there may have been two or three confirmed cases. 

 

The question you asked on the intelligence community is an enormously important one. The Department of Defense is the principal user of intelligence.  I shouldn’t say principal -- the major user.  We simply have to have intelligence to do the things necessary to defend our country.  I can’t imagine that the Congress or certainly the president would make a proposal that would, in any way adversely affect the access of the military for the kinds of intelligence that they simply must have.  And were somebody to make a mistake and pass something that imposes a reform that improperly or unduly restricted the flow of intelligence information to the military, it’s clear that they would rectify that rapidly and then the military would develop a complementary set of capabilities which would be unfortunate, but it would not last long because the need is so clear and obvious that rational people looking at it recognize the need [Inaudible].

 

Q:  [Inaudible]

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, it’s such a complicated subject.  Today we collect so much information and only a relatively small portion is actually analyzed and communicated.  But the real tension that exists is we have these stovepipes where only certain people know this and certain people know that.  And people over here need to know it and don’t know it.  And so when we say we need to break down those stovepipes, it means that we’ve got to find a way to get the intelligence information that can save lives and can enable us to do our job much better, from a military standpoint and from a policy standpoint, we’ve got to find a way to break those down.  Now, why are there stovepipes? Because we’ve been operating, very rationally, on a need-to-know basis.  To the extent you have a stovepipe, it’s because you value that information and do not want it known that you know it and therefore you limit the people who have access to it to the people who, quote, “need to know.”  That means that the people over here who you don’t think need to know it, don’t know it.  And in fact, there are a lot more people that need to know it.  So you run the risk of having it compromised.  It’s very difficult.  I mean, you all know this.  Our country has forgotten how to keep a secret.  We have such a hemorrhaging of information that’s classified.  Every day in Washington, D.C., and around the world.  How do you deal with that when people’s lives are at stake? 

 

It was in World War II, you probably don’t remember it, but I mean, there would be signs everywhere, “Loose lips sink ships.”  And so how do we do that?  Now it may very well be that a lot of information is classified that shouldn’t be, or it’s classified for a period longer than it should be.  And maybe we’ve got to find a better way to manage that as well.  But the task of – we have to take the risk of breaking down those stovepipes and seeing that the people who need to know that information have an ability to access it and to be able to use it.  And in today’s world in the 21st century, that doesn’t mean, you know, at a leisurely pace.  It means we need to have information when we need to have it and not later when it’s no longer helpful.  Yes. 

 

Q:  With regard to BRAC in Arizona and the future of our military bases, can you she any light on the future? Is Arizona gaining new missions?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I’m prevented by the law from getting into this.  It’s a statute, it’s transparent.  A commission gets appointed, they make recommendations, decisions are then presented to the present and to Congress.  And anything I opine on prematurely would bias that system and I shouldn’t do it, so I don’t.  I just don’t and I shan’t. 

 

Q:  Mr. Secretary, can you give us any updates on the search for Osama bin Laden?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I beg your pardon? 

 

Q:  Can you give us any updates on the search for Osama bin Laden?

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  We have not caught him. [Laughter]  We’d like to, and we will.  To the extent he’s alive, and he very likely is, he clearly has to be very busy trying to avoid capture.  I think he must have changed his whole lifestyle, spending an enormous fraction of his day just not being heard or compromised, or trying to figure out clever ways that we can get information or raise money, or send monies.  It’s just -- everything’s harder for him.  And I would add this, that while he’s important symbolically, there are a cluster of people under him I that apparatus who, were he not there, that apparatus would continue in one way or another.  But we’re at him.

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  Last question.  Yes, ma’am. 

 

Q:  [Inaudible] – Re: Sen. Kerry’s demand for your resignation.

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  I don’t have any. It’s that season.  President asked me not to get involved in politics, so I don’t.  I just am -- that happened today, I guess?  Yesterday – yeah, I’m not knowledgeable.

 

Q:  [Inaudible]

 

SEC. RUMSFELD:  Look, we have a large country and we have a big population.  People have a whole range of views and that’s understandable.  And I go to the hospitals and different communities in Washington and talk to them and I have found that the families of those who’ve been killed and the families of those that have been wounded are proud of their sons’ and daughters’ service, that they are proud of our country, that they have been in large measure stunned, needless to say, heartbroken, needless to say, but have recognized the importance of what’s being done. This is not something new for our country.  Our country has had people killed in conflicts and wounded in conflicts throughout the history of the nation.  And it is never easy.  It is never something that can cause anything other than a wrenching heart and prayer for the lives not lived and for the lives that have to get lived in a notably different way because of wounds.  But when I – I just have a lot of respect for the families and for the contributions and for the sacrifices they’ve made.  Thank you very much.

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