(Interview with Cale Ramaker, KSPT-ABC, St. Paul, Minn.)
Question: Secretary Donald Rumsfeld joins us from the Pentagon in Washington today. Secretary, thanks for joining us.
Rumsfeld: Yes indeed, I'm pleased to do it.
Question: We want to get up to date on all of the developments that are going on in the war on terrorism as America responds.
I guess first of all today or this morning the Pentagon or the U.S. military requested DNA evidence from the bin Laden family and I'm assuming this is in response to a Hellfire missile attack a few weeks ago, is that correct?
Rumsfeld: Oh, I don't know that it's directly in response to that. It has, a number of people in the government have felt for some time that it would be appropriate to try to get DNA material. We have of course dealt with a great many caves and tunnels and there undoubtedly were al Qaeda and Taliban people in those caves and tunnels, and to the extent that eventually we are able to match DNA it would be helpful to know positively yes or positively no.
Question: In terms of trying to find bin Laden, where is that right now in the list of things that are going on in Afghanistan?
Rumsfeld: Well, it's one of the things that are going on. The other things that are going on, of course, is we're still looking for the top oh, five or ten Taliban and al Qaeda that are still outstanding, including Omar and Osama bin Laden. We are very actively interrogating the people who have been captured to gather intelligence information which is enabling us to stop terrorist attacks elsewhere in the world. We're tracking down the remaining al Qaeda and Taliban people so that we can improve the security situation in the country and make life a bit easier for the interim government that's taking place. We also have a project that we're probably going to be starting soon to help develop an Afghan army so that they'll have a national army rather than simply the various warlords spread around the countryside.
Question: Let's stay in Afghanistan for a minute and then in a second I want to get to the situation in Camp X-Ray.
What is the military's role right now in Afghanistan? There have been some rumblings in the media that covers the Pentagon that there's concerns over whether or not it's a peacekeeping role now or if it's a nationbuilding role that the military is involved in right now.
Rumsfeld: Well, it is involved in neither peacekeeping nor nationbuilding. The Afghan people are going to build their own nation in their own way as they have for many, many decades.
The peacekeeping role is currently being led by the United Kingdom, Great Britain, and there are four, five, six countries that are involved with them as I recall. They have 4,000 to 5,000 people in the country, mostly in Kabul. There has been some discussion about their expanding their role. We do not have peacekeepers connected to the so-called ISAF.
Question: Are you concerned at all though that it could develop into a situation which happened in Somalia in the early 1990s when originally, if I'm correct, our original role in Somalia was as peacekeepers, and a lot of us know how that ended with the attack on 16 U.S. servicemen and women.
Rumsfeld: I don't know exactly what you mean by like Somalia. It's a very different situation. If you mean --
Question: That started as a peacekeeping role and I know you've been very careful to say that the role that's developing in Afghanistan is not peacekeeping, but there are some people that are concerned that we might just kind of be backed into that situation.
Rumsfeld: I think not. I don't think we will be backed into that situation. We went in there not as peacekeepers but as warriors to find the al Qaeda and to capture or kill them and to go in and throw the Taliban government out so that the people of Afghanistan could be liberated. That's what we've been in the process of doing.
Question: And the situation in Camp X-Ray right now in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba with the detainees, give us an update on where that's at in terms of the investigation, interrogating all of them, and then what happens to the detainees once you're done with them.
Rumsfeld: You bet. There are, I don't know, 300 or 400 people down there at the present time, I suppose 300 something, and they have all now, except for one or two, been questioned and interrogated, looking for intelligence information so that we could stop other terrorist threats, people from attacking our country and our friends and allies and our deployed forces.
We're now starting the process of doing a series of interrogations that involve law enforcement. That is to say to determine exactly what these individuals have done. Not what they know of an intelligence standpoint, but what they've done from a law enforcement standpoint. That process is underway.
Question: What can the average American person assume is going to happen to these detainees? Are they going to be let go eventually? Or you talk about law enforcement, you're talking about investigating them for crimes?
Rumsfeld: Well, they will fall into four or five baskets. One is if we find that someone's an innocent and shouldn't have been brought there, why they would be released. If we find that someone is very low level and we simply want to keep them off the streets so they don't go out and kill more people but that they're not masterminds, we might turn them back to Afghanistan to be imprisoned or Pakistan. We might send them back to their country of origin, whatever their nationality may be, to be detained and processed.
Those that their behavior suggests that they should be put through some justice system, criminal justice system, they might very well be put in the U.S. criminal justice system; they might be put into the U.S. military justice system; or they might be sent to another country to be put in a criminal justice system; or last, the President may decide that the more important ones conceivably could be tried by a so-called military commission.
Question: Right, which we haven't seen yet.
In the Philippines right now we have U.S. servicemen and women there. Give us an update on what is going on there exactly.
Rumsfeld: Well, what we have is relatively small numbers, a few hundred American service people in the Philippines working with thousands of Philippine army people who are tackling a terrorist problem that's quite serious. As you know there are two Americans who are still held hostage there, and some Americans have been brutally murdered by these terrorists.
Our role is not a combat role. The Philippines have a constitution that prohibits foreign forces from engaging in combat. What we're doing is providing some training and some advice and some intelligence assistance.
Question: That also, I understand, may be the case now in Georgia which is a former Soviet Union republic. We are hearing reports that there may be up to as many as 200 Special Forces going into Georgia to assist them there. I understand there may be some al Qaeda that have groups in that region.
Rumsfeld: There are al Qaeda and some Chechnyans and various other terrorists in the northern part of Georgia. Their government -- Georgia, of course, is a part of the NATO Partnership for Peace, so we've had a military-to-military relationship with them for some time. But they've requested some trainers. What we have in there I believe is a handful, five or six people, who have gone in to do an assessment and give some thought to how the United States might be helpful in training some Georgia forces so that they can deal more effectively with their terrorist problem.
Question: I don't have a lot of time left here but I do want to mention Iraq. There's been a lot of speculation as to whether or not the U.S. is at some point going to go in and try and take out Saddam Hussein. We've heard reports that the Bush Administration is working behind the scenes on a possible attack plan. Is that true?
Rumsfeld: The President decides things like that, and to the extent those of us who work with him discuss those things with him, we do it on a confidential basis.
Question: But that is something that's on the playing table as much as you can tell me?
Rumsfeld: I didn't say it was and I didn't say it wasn't and I don't intend to.
Question: All right. Secretary Rumsfeld, thank you for joining us.
Rumsfeld: Thank you.