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Transcript : DoD News Briefing : Thursday, January 25, 1996 - 2 p.m

Presenters: Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD/PA
January 25, 1996 2:00 PM EDT

Thursday, January 25, 1996 - 2 p.m.

Mr. Bacon: Well good afternoon. Welcome to our briefing. Sorry for the delayed time. I hope it doesn't interfere with your tea later. I just have one announcement to begin with which is that, tomorrow the Secretary will leave for a trip that will take him to Twenty-Nine Palms and then to Nellis Air Force Base and on to Lackland Air Force Base. The first two stops will be to look at training. He went to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, last year to watch state-of-the-art Army training, and he's now going to look at the Marine version of it and the Air Force version of it as well. And then he'll end up with the senior enlisted representatives of each service at Lackland on one of his quarterly trips to look at conditions for enlisted people in the military, and he'll focus on Air Force basic training at Lackland.

With that, I'll take your questions. Charlie?

Q: I'd like to defer to Barbara. (Laughter)

A: What is this? A set up?

Q: No, no. It's not. I'm sorry.

A: How much did you pay him for that?

Q: I'm a self-appointed question asker here. You obviously know that we had a sort of peculiar encounter with building security a little while ago. We'd like to ask quite seriously, number one, could you tell us who the foreign visitor was that General Shali was escorting through the hallway? Could you also tell us whether there are new security procedures, seriously, governing news media movement in the corridors? And why we were told by building security to get out of the hallway and step back into our offices?

A: I can't answer any of those questions.

Q: Would you agree to take them?

A: I will take them. I do know that the chairman -- how long ago did this happen?

Q: This was I would say --

Unknown Speaker: About a half an hour ago.

Q: Yeah. It was just really bizarre, Ken.

A: He was meeting with his Canadian counterpart as I understand it, and I'm not aware of any changes in building security.

Q: Could you also -- OK, we appreciate that and perhaps it was just something unfortunate. Could you also just tell us why there's a new security checkpoint one floor down, down the staircase just outside your office? If you go one floor down there's a new security checkpoint.

A: I didn't know that was the case. As you know, we're interested in force protection. I guess we're taking it very seriously at all military installations.

Q: Yeah. We just couldn't really figure out why. I mean, the news media doesn't really pose a threat.

A: We will --


Mr. Bacon: It depends where you stand. We will take the question on whether there's any new building security procedure. I do not believe there is. But, I will look into that.

Q: We would appreciate that just for the record. Thank you.

Unknown Speaker: And if it becomes standard procedure, you know, because of construction apparently, they're going to use this for ceremonial, the mall entrance for ceremonial arrivals more often.

Mr. Bacon: You can't use the river entrance anymore. That's for sure.

Unknown Speaker: And if that means we're going to be sort of be locked in our offices.

Unknown Speaker: Yeah, maybe that's what's going on.

Mr. Bacon: Well, you know, every time a foreign minister comes to the river entrance, the entrance is blocked off from normal traffic. I assume they're just for the period during the entrance, and I assume that they're just transferring that security procedure down here to the mall entrance.

Q: What we're suggesting is not to press the point too much, but if those security procedures now apply to the news media, we are a different corridor with different business requirements than perhaps the river entrance, and we need to know this if we're not going to have free movement in the corridor.

A: Without getting into this argument, I will find out what they've done with the security procedures.

Q: Thank you.

Mr. Bacon: Let me ask you this. Have they changed security to the metro entrance?


Unknown Speaker: I do not take the metro.

Mr. Bacon: OK.


Mr. Bacon: Anybody here take the metro? Have they changed security?

Unknown Speaker: No.

Mr. Bacon: OK. All right. Thanks. We will look into it.

Q: Can you tell us what assurances Canada has given the United States about taking over the role in Haiti after the departure of U.S. troops?

A: Well, I can't update you on the chairman's meeting because I haven't gotten the readout. But, the most important thing about the Haiti mission is that we will be largely out of Haiti and out of UNMIH by February 29th when the mission ends. And basically, all the American peacekeepers will be gone. Most will be gone by February 29th, including Major General Kinser. All will be gone within several weeks thereafter. We will then replace them with -- they will be followed by some engineers who will perform basically infrastructure work, repairing school buildings, public buildings, working on roads. Not big Golden Gate bridge-type thing but much smaller scaled stuff. The U.S. and Canada have had bilateral talks, during which the Canadians were looking for facts about the operation in Bosnia. I don't know whether this has been finalized yet, and I will try to find out where they stand.

Q: You said the operation in Bosnia. Did you mean to say Haiti?

A: Haiti. I meant Haiti. We will be out of Bosnia on the deadline as well. But it's a different deadline. [Laughter]

Q: How many troops are in Haiti now, and how many engineers are going to be put in?

A: There are 2,128 troops in Haiti. Actually, my notes say approximately 2,128 troops in Haiti today. And there are also -- those are the peacekeepers. There are also 266 support personnel who are actually performing logistics functions for the United Nations Mission in Haiti. Some of those will remain for a while after February 29th in order to help UNMIH carry out its logistics functions.

Q: Troops or support personnel?

A: These are support personnel. Not troops. They are support personnel.

Q: And how many engineers?

A: There will be about 200 to 300 engineers, I believe both active duty and reservists.

Q: What's the peak of the troops in Haiti?

A: About twenty-one thousand.

Q: That's when?

A: I don't know the date. But it was actually within, I'd say, within a month or six weeks of the start of the exercise. It was 21,000.

Unknown Speaker: Late fall `94 probably.

Q: Will the United States favor the Canadians essentially picking up the military role?

A: We favor a security presence in Haiti. We've carried the heavier responsibility there since we went in which was September 19, 1994, and yes, we will be in favor of that if it can be properly worked out. As I say, I'll get you an update on where those talks stand. They will be -- pardon?

Q: Sorry.

A: Oh. We'll get you an update.

Q: I take it that Shali is discussing that.

A: As I said, I have not gotten a readout of the meeting, but that would be a logical assumption. But I don't know that.

Q: Has Dr. Perry discussed that with Mr. [inaudible]?

A: I do not know that either. We'll find that out.

Q: New topic?

A: Sure.

Q: Can you confirm the report from this afternoon that Secretary Perry has recommended to the President that he sign the Defense Authorization Bill?

A: I can confirm that the Secretary has recommended that the President will sign it and the President will, in fact, sign the Defense Authorization Bill. The major objections that the Administration had to the Authorization Bill have been cleared up. There are still many aspects of the bill that are less than satisfactory. But the three major concerns have been cleared up, and those are the concerns that would have required the construction of a 50-state missile defense system to be deployed by 2003, which we believe would have probably caused an abrogation of the ABM Treaty and maybe also caused a breakdown in the whole START arms elimination process which is so important to our security and to stability in the world.

The second aspect was a section that would have required the President to get waivers to assign -- from Congress -- to assign U.S. forces to U.N. command. That was deleted. And the third section that was deleted would have mandated that supplemental budget requests for overseas military contingency operations get special -- they would have required congressional clearance in advance. That was also deleted.

There were other aspects of the bill that are troublesome. One, there are several that are sort of, we believe micro-manage Pentagon operations. One of them required the discharge of military personnel who are diagnosed HIV positive. Others are "buy American" provisions, etcetera. These are worrisome. We will try to deal with them in separate legislation as appropriate.

I also want to point out that there are a number of very important elements of this bill. One is the full military pay raise which is 2.4 percent. Without this bill, the military would have gotten a 2 percent pay raise. Now, they get the additional four-tenths of a percentage point pay increase. There are also provisions in the bill for acquisitions reform and for a new housing initiative which the Pentagon believes will be very important for helping us to renovate old military housing and build new military housing, sometimes with private capital. Yes?

Q: On the HIV positive business, are you indicating that now that this is going to be signed as the law, that the Pentagon at least in the short term, is not going to consider this policy or how are you going to deal with this as a legal matter? When they pass a law, don't you have to do what they tell you?

A: Yes. I say that's one of the things that concerns us. This bill will require the discharge of people diagnosed HIV positive. I don't know the -- I don't know how soon after they're diagnosed HIV positive they have to be discharged. But right now, basically people with all sorts of maladies can stay in the military as long as they can perform their jobs. This would actually end that, and it would impose a different type of treatment, and we're opposed to that. But, it will be in the law, and therefore, we will have to comply with that, whatever the effective date is. We may ask for it to be changed in other legislation. That remains to be seen. There are other -- there are a number of things that we can try to get changed in this bill just as there are things that Congress can try to change. And, in fact, that's one of the reasons that this new bill, this new compromise was reached. Some people in Congress said that they would seek other venues for other ways to achieve their goals. We may -- we can -- obviously, we have the right to try the same thing.

Q: Do you have any figures on how many people are HIV positive in the military?

A: I'm afraid I don't.

Q: Would you please take that?

A: We'll try to find out.

Q: Does this bill also contain provisions that you're not happy with regarding performance for abortions?

A: Yes, it does. It denies use of DoD funds for performing abortions in military hospitals overseas.

Q: And right now I take it, how does that -- what kind of a problem does that cause?

A: Well, the issue is in the United States if a -- without endorsing any particular policy, in the United States, the feeling is that people can get abortions from a variety of sources. This may be difficult in overseas locations, and therefore, to equalize treatment for women who may need abortions, some abortions were performed -- could be performed with DoD funds. This will bar that from happening.

Q: Were these abortions overseas performed in military hospitals or were they performed elsewhere?

A: I would like to get you some firm information on that before answering those questions. We will.

Q: Like how many abortions?

Q: Include in that information the number, the frequency of this?

A: We will do our best to get you numbers on abortions performed. Yes?

Q: On budget now that we're kind of getting `96 put to rest. Do you have anything on the date for the `97 release?

A: Well, of course, that's not a DoD decision. That's a decision that's made by the Office of Management and Budget and I think it will be several weeks off. But you should really talk to them about that.

Q: Do you know if they've talked about, you know, on the 5th a small release and then the larger release later. I'm assuming that like the R-1, P-1 weekend will be later then over here?

A: Ask OMB. They are Mr. and Mrs. Budget.

Q: Doctor?

A: Doctor Budget. Yeah, Mark?

Q: On Bosnia. Secretary Perry has said in the past that if U.S. forces come across any war, indicted war criminals, they would detain them and turn them over to the proper authorities. What happens after that? Who are the proper authorities? Is it local authorities he's referring to or is it NATO authorities or U.N. authorities? And how would that process unfold?

A: Basically, it would be the War Crimes Tribunal.

Q: Do they have a jail?

A: Well, they're getting themselves established now in Bosnia. I don't know except that's one of the things that they've been discussing that Justice Goldstone has been discussing with Admiral Smith and others. But, ultimately they are the people who would be in charge of prosecuting indicted war criminals.

Q: Would NATO or IFOR physically detain them until they can turn them over to a detention facility?

A: Well, we've made two points. The first is we're not in the police business. We're military force. We're not in the business of going out and arresting people. But secondly, we very much support the work of the War Crimes Tribunal and we very much support the effort to bring justice in cases where injustice may have been done. So, to the extent -- what we've said is that if we encounter indicted war criminals, we will detain them and turn them over to the proper authorities. Ultimately, the proper authorities are the War Crimes Tribunal, the people who will be prosecuting them. There could be interim steps and international police, force perhaps local police force. But ultimately, they would end up in the hands of the tribunal.

Q: The Dayton Accord requires governments of the region, including the Bosnian government, etcetera, to arrest these people and to turn them in. It requires the governments to cooperate in that effort. Is there evidence from Belgrade or from Sarajevo that this is happening?

A: I am not aware of evidence. But, the focus -- our focus and the focus of this government have been on compliance with the deadlines that have come so far. I will check and find out what the progress is on that. I mean, obviously, if war criminals have been -- indicted war criminals have been arrested, you would know about it.

Q: Right. Well, I'm just curious what efforts are visible to our government that may not be visible to reporters as to the efforts of these governments on the ground to apprehend these guys? Maybe there is no effort whatsoever, which could well be the case.

A: Todd?

Q: What would be the process for the American national which was the subject of news report -- who is the subject of news reports yesterday? The Secretary said he would be detained if he was encountered. Who would he be turned over to?

A: Well, he would be turned over to appropriate authorities and the question is would that be to Bosnia officials? Would it be international police officials? So far, we have not detained him. So, the issue has not arisen.

Q: But, would you send him back to the United States?

A: Well, I think it depends why he would -- it would depend on the circumstances under which he was detained.

Q: On what basis would he be detained?

A: Well, without getting into hypotheticals, you can imagine a whole range of circumstances under which he might be detained -- or anybody else who we thought was a risk to the troops.

Q: Secretary Perry yesterday said that he was wanted for questioning in the United States. From what I can gather, there's been no difficulty in locating him when he's been here in the States. Is this something that's arisen since he's been in Bosnia?

A: Well, he has not been charged with any crime that I'm aware of. All I can tell you is that the Secretary's comments were based on information available to him and others, and he made the statement on the basis of that information. You should check with the Justice Department on that.

Q: Can you comment on the implications of the decision in the Michael New case business? Does this end that challenge to the authority to have U.S. troops wear U.N. blue or are you expecting that this case will be appealed that there could be other cases?

A: I'm not going to comment on the Michael New case because, as you know, there are several stages left in the legal process, and it wouldn't be proper for me to comment on it while it's still pending.

Q: Is there a growing concern about new mystery rashes, a new rash of rashes that the troops that are making their way into Bosnia? Do we have a new Bosnian syndrome developing here or is this just a little rash?

A: Well, it's an interesting question. It's received an awful lot of medical attention, and it's something that has not been sorted out yet by the medical authorities. We know that there's been several groups of people who have, sort of, have taken journeys and gone through several of the same places that have gotten these rashes. We have not nailed down exactly why they have gotten the rashes yet. We're still evaluating that. To say that there's a new concern I think would be not stating it quite accurately. We're very concerned about the health of the soldiers, and the first time this happened, we began looking at it very seriously.


There were 20 -- I guess 22 -- soldiers of the 362nd Combat Support Engineer Company which had come in from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, that became ill with rashes. Basically, rashes and low fever. And then there was a second group that became ill. They had both gone through the same staging area, and they also had stayed at the same hotel. But many other people had used these staging areas and have used the hotel and have not become ill with the rash and the low fever. These were not life threatening illnesses. Everybody has recovered as far as I know. But the doctors are still looking into this. It's clearly a matter of concern.

Q: By staging areas, you mean Hungary?

A: No, they were in Belgium actually. There was an equipment storage area that they were taking equipment out of. So, there were 22 soldiers exhibited minor symptoms that have been called a rash and fever, and they are recovering. This came to the attention of doctors on January 19, 1996. These are 22 soldiers from the 362nd Combat Support Engineering Company.

In addition, earlier, in late December, 28 soldiers of the 586th Engineering Company from Fort Benning, Georgia, had shown similar symptoms. As I say, this remains a medical mystery. People are getting good care. We're trying to figure it out.

Q: You don't know if it's a virus?

A: We think it is a virus, yeah. It seems to be -- it does seem to be that. There have been small numbers of soldiers from other groups that have also contracted the same thing over the last month or so.

Having said all this, the vast majority of soldiers have, of course, been very healthy.

Q: What is Secretary Perry's assessment of China's saber rattling over Taiwan? Is he contemplating any kind of precautionary military actions?

A: We've been watching all this. We don't think there's anything particularly out of the ordinary going on. There's been a pattern of military exercises in advance of Taiwanese elections since 1988. Our main concern is that issues between China and Taiwan be settled peaceably as called for in the Taiwan Relations Act, and we assume and hope that both parties will follow non-provocative policies in addressing their differences.

Q: You do not see a higher level of military preparedness on the side of the Chinese and have they tapered off in some of the threatening exercises or are those continuing?

A: Well, the Chinese go through cycles of exercises like most countries do, and they clearly have been going through a cycle of exercises. But, our main concern here -- and we've stressed this to both countries -- is we want peaceful resolution of these issues.

Q: Saber rattling is not of any extraordinary concern to the Defense Department at this point?

A: We believe that the issues will be resolved peacefully. Pat?

Q: North Korea. The nuclear deal, that's coming due for another increment of the heavy fuel oil and there's some questions of where the money is. Are there any thought being given to DoD funds being used for the February increment of the fuel oil?

A: The short answer is not that I'm aware of. We hope that money will arrive as soon as possible, but as you know, better than most, it's tied up in Congress right now. As soon as we get the money, we'll begin the deliveries of heavy fuel oil. But we don't have it now.


Wait a minute. I've got a whole raft of papers here, and no new security procedures for the media in the Pentagon. The entrance near 1E801 is -- I guess this is security at the entrance on the first floor -- is temporary due to the renovation and construction near the River Entrance parking lot. So, whatever is there will be taken away and restored to its normal freeflow and ready access to the media in the Pentagon when the parking lot is repaired.

Q: So, does this mean when big wigs are walking down the hall, we're free to stand in our doorways now?

Unknown Speaker: Or outside our doorway?

A: Well, as I told you, the halls have been closed off. They're closed off down by the Joint Staff. When the entrances are closed off to normal traffic. When there are ceremonial entrances and exits, and I assume that the same procedures will apply down here, and I wouldn't call that a new procedure. It's a relocated procedure.

Q: Can we relocate it to a different corridor? [Laughter]

A: You want to have the ceremonies at the Metro Entrance? [Laughter]

Unknown Speaker: One floor up.

Mr. Bacon: Also, as of December 15, 1995, there were 1,049 people in the military HIV positive. Is that correct? And the number actually has been declining. Now, you're going to ask me declining from what, but it's been declining steadily because of better education in the military.

Q: Will those people have to be discharged immediately? Is that's the way it works under this law?

A: Under this new law, they -- I don't know that it's immediately. But they cannot stay. It takes away the commanders discretion. It takes away -- it changes the current rule which was that as long as they can perform their military duties, they can remain in. This requires -- do you know exactly when?

Unknown Speaker: I think it's within six months of being tested. But, these are people who have been tested. So, I don't know how the six months works in their case.

Mr. Bacon: OK. I'm sorry.

Q: On Columbia, can I ask if you have anything on the assessment of U.S. military-to-military relations with Columbia in light of the lifting of the visas of the Colombian top officers? And related to that, is there anything you can say about the DoD input into the process of whatever decision is made on certification, decertification in a case like Columbia? If you could just give us a little background on how that works and what if anything --

A: We will have somebody answer your question. I don't know the answer to either of those questions, but we'll find out.

Press: Thank you.

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