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Defense Department Town Hall Meeting

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; and General Peter Pace, Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs Of Staff
May 11, 2004 1:00 PM EDT

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

 

            I'm told the midshipmen are from George Washington University except for one from Georgetown.  Is that possible?  (Laughter.)  And that the cadets are from the University of Maryland.  Welcome.

 

            Look at the size of this crowd.  It's going to be warm in here before we're finished.  (Laughter.)

 

            Well, thank you for being here.  We originally suggested this meeting at a time we wanted to talk about what was taking place in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I'll get to that shortly, but -- because there's a good deal that's important to report on both countries.  I know you've been following the news, so I want to begin by discussing the situation regarding Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

 

            I look around and see some faces I know and some faces I don't, but even with those I have not met personally, I know enough of the people here to know that you come here to work because you care about the country, that you have the values that Americans have, and that you're determined to do what you can as individuals and collectively to see that the American people are free and safe.  The people you support and the people in this room on active duty around the world are what keep the world at relative peace and deter the defeats of those that would destroy our freedom and our security.

 

            So it is a body blow when we find that we have, as we have just within the last, what, week or seven days, a few who have betrayed our values by their conduct.  Pete Pace can tell you the look on the faces of the people who have viewed the photographs and the videos from what took place there.  They were stunned; absolutely stunned that any Americans wearing the uniform could do what they did.  We are heartsick at what they did, for the people they did it to.  We are heartsick for the really well-earned reputation as a force for good in the world that all of us -- military, civilians and those Americans who support us -- will pay.  And I know I speak to everyone listening when I say that the -- those acts ought not to be allowed to define us -- either in the eyes of the world or our own eyes.  We know who we are.  We know what our standards are.  You know what you're taught.  And the terrible actions of a few, don't change that.

 

            In Iraq we have liberated 25 million people from the tyranny of a brutal dictator.  In a few weeks we'll hand over power to Iraqis, an interim government that will shortly be operating under a constitution that will guarantee freedom to all Iraqi people.  This week, while we were immersed in scandal, Ambassador Bremer transferred control of several government ministries to the Iraqi people.

 

            April was a tough month in Iraq as the deadline for transition approached and forces opposed to freedom acted to try to preclude that transition to freedom.  But freedom and self-government are coming -- inexorably -- no matter what number of fanatics may wish.  The building of a free state in Iraq has proceeded probably with fewer lives lost and certainly no more mayhem than we endured here in the United States 228 years ago, when we were going through it, or that occurred in Japan or Germany after World War II.

 

            In Afghanistan, another 25 million men, women and children now have freedom from the tyranny of the Taliban and the Soviets before them.  And they're preparing for their first free elections -- again, thanks to U.S. intervention.

 

            That's the bigger picture.  We have been privileged to take part in a great stride forward for human freedom in places where it's been scarce, and that is worth celebrating.

 

            Here at home, though we shudder at Abu Ghraib, remember that while we are seeing the excesses of human nature that humanity suffers, Americans live by the rule of law, and our military justice system is working.  A specialist who became aware of the illegal actions in the prison reported them.  And by the next day, investigations were authorized.  And by the next day, it was announced to the world, to the public by the Central Command with no guidance or encouragement from anyone in Washington.  They acted responsibly and told the world that there were charges/allegations of abuses.  The military, not the media, discovered these abuses.  The military reported the abuses, not the media.

 

            It has taken what seems like a long time, in a universe of 24/7 news cycles, to investigate.  And it does take a long time to investigate if you're going to protect the rights of the innocent, if you're going to try to manage it in a way that you don't result in a situation where people who are being charged get off free because of the problems in the process that was used or interference in the process that was used.  Then it takes some time.  And a fair investigation can take some weeks and months if they take care to see that the accused are treated lawfully.

 

            Our enemies will exploit this episode to prove their negative views of our country, but then they were doing that before this episode.  We see repeated instances where untruths about our country and about our conduct are put out on the regional media.  But friends of freedom will understand that it is a virtue of our system that the president and the most senior officials take responsibility for and are involved in seeing that the punishment for such violations of human rights occur.  That stands in stark contrast to the many parts of the world where governments use torture or collude in it and do not express shock or dismay, nor do they apologize when it's uncovered. So at the end of the day, there is, even here, reason for pride in democracy, and certainly there is reason for pride in the standards by which the military forces of our country are governed.

 

            So I thank you for your hard work every day to keep America safe and free.  I thank your families for their support as well.

 

            Now, General Pete Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has a few words to say.

 

            GEN. PACE:  Thank you, sir.

 

            We'll get right to your questions, but I'd be remiss if I didn't pass on a few thank-yous myself.  First, to the young men and women sitting here in the front row, who are cadets and midshipmen, thank you for being willing to serve your country.  You are about to embark on a wonderful journey.  I promise you, you will never regret a minute that you serve in the uniform of your country.

 

            Second, to all of you here in this room, who work here in the Pentagon.  If you're like me, you come to work every day and you feel a little twinge of guilt that you're coming here to a pretty comfortable building -- air-conditioned, well lit -- when our fellow servicemembers and DoD civilians are serving in harm's way.  But we also know that what we do here in Washington is important to their safety and their well-being.  To each of you who comes to this building every day and works as hard as you do to support the troops in the field like you do, thank you very, very much.

 

            Lastly, there's not a single human being in this government, and certainly not in this building, who works harder or is more dedicated or is a better patriot than is Secretary Rumsfeld.  It's my great honor and distinction to serve on his team.  I'd ask you to join me in thanking him for his leadership.  (Sustained applause.)

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Thank you very much.  (Continued applause.)  Oh, my!  Thank you very much.

 

            I have one other thing I want to say -- and I do appreciate that, General Pace -- and it is this; as I've reflected over what's taken place and thought about the fact that this is an enormous institution -- you know, we have 700-plus-thousand civilian employees, and 1.4 (million) men and women on active duty, plus all the Guard and Reserve we will move up to close to two and a half to three million people.    And we have to, to do our business, develop procedures and a process, and habits, so that the work gets done, and so that we serve our country well.  And that's understanding, and it's understandable.

 

            And then we move into the 21st century, and we moved from a peacetime to a wartime environment.  And we moved from a(n) industrial age to a digital age.  And suddenly, the habits, the process, the procedures we use may not be quite appropriate.  And when one thinks about the impact that this thing has had on our country and on our department, and on the men and women in uniform, on all of us, one has to ask how might we adjust our procedures and our -- the processes we use to be able to extract up from down low those things that might have an impact like this is having, and understand it down low enough that it can be moved up, not with the normal speed of weeks or months, but in a way that recognizes the danger to this institution and to the country?  I don't know the answer to it.  I know we -- that this -- clearly everyone will be very sensitive about the problem of prisoner abuse for the period ahead.  I wonder if there are other habits or procedures or processes we're using that --

 

            You will all know what you do.  And you know I don't know what you do.  You know that there's no way in the world for Pete Pace or Dick Myers or other people to understand what you do when you get up in the morning and come here and do your work.  What I'm asking is that you think about it in the 21st century and think about it in the information age and ask yourself are there things happening in what you're doing that somebody else needs to know that they didn't need to know in the last century and they didn't need to know in the industrial age.  But with news at 24/7 or with the impact that something like this can have, you may see things that ought to be elevated, or we ought to find better ways to drill down or to drill up and communicate it so that what you know and you'd normally handle in the normal order of things ought not to be handled in the normal order of things and -- and move it up in some way.  So I just leave that as a thought.  I don't -- obviously, there's no way I'm smart enough to know what it might be, but I worry that there's something else like this down there that we haven't adjusted this big institution's procedures or habits to account for.

 

            Questions?  Except for the press!  (Laughter.)  I've done enough of that lately!  Don't be shy.  Pete's here; he'll take the tough ones.  (Laughter.)

 

            Yes, sir?

 

            Q     Sir, would you care to comment on the recent congressional action to possibly delay BRAC?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  That shows what I don't know.  I didn't know it happened.  I'm surprised to hear that.  I thought we --

 

            Q     (Off mike) -- that we've been reading about in the paper.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I must have been reading a different paper.  I just don't know.  I talked to a number of senators today about BRAC, and our hope is that we'll -- it's always going to be under stress in each house and there are going to be people who will try to top it. But it's important that we get it, that we get it through.  It's getting geared up and ready to go.  It's a statutory process.

 

            And everyone assumes we have something in the neighborhood of somewhere between probably 20 and 25 percent of our base structure that does not fit the force structure, and that we need surge capability, and we need capability to bring some folks home from overseas.  But we can save billions of dollars a year after the first two or three years, if we do have a BRAC.  And I know that I and the president will be fighting it to try to try to see that it is not disrupted.  We think it's very important.

 

            Question?

 

            Yes?

 

            Q     How you doing today, sir?  Not to take away from current issues -- (off mike).  But the assistance provided to the West African nation of Liberia is widely recognized and greatly appreciated by -- (off mike).  (Off mike) -- Liberia, the country is in dire need of further assistance in rebuilding.  I wonder if there are any future plans for the U.S. to aid in rebuilding the nation of Liberia?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  As you know, the United States helped with some assistance during the particularly difficult period for Liberia, and now the ECOWAS and other organizations have taken over most of that responsibility.  The United States is, both publicly and privately, I believe, if not the largest, probably the second-largest provider of assistance in Africa, including in Liberia.  The most recent effort with respect to AIDS has been something that the president has promoted, and Secretary Powell.  In addition, the United States is the largest food donor in the world and has been providing assistance in Africa there as well.

 

            I -- that is basically something that's in the State Department's domain, and it's something that they work on.  And I just am not knowledgeable about whether -- what plans they may have to increase it in the coming year.

 

            (To General Pace)  Do you happen to know?  (No audible response.)

 

            Question.  (Pause.)  Yes.

 

            Q     I don't know which one of you can answer, but I'm just wondering, with the situation the way it is in Iraq right now and the number of forces -- I don't know that much about it.  I only know -- I'm just a contractor.  And I just find the issues interesting.  But is there going to be --

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Don't say "just a contractor."  (Laughter.)

 

            Q     Well --

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  We -- we get a lot of help from contractors, and we appreciate it.  (Applause.)

 

            Q     Anyway, I'm wondering if -- whether President Bush is reelected or whether John Kerry is elected, if after the election there's going to be a draft, or after the inauguration in January.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I don't think so.  I am -- I have -- I can't imagine it, to be perfectly honest.  The draft was used for many years, and to good advantage, where the government said that the only thing we'll use compulsion for, is not for firemen, not for policemen, not for school teachers, not for anything -- except the military.  And we had that system.  And during the Cold War, it made a lot of sense. We needed to continue to do that.  Since the late 1960s it's been set aside, and -- '70s, I guess.  And we're paying people what we hope is competitive wages, whereas when the draft was in place, people got about 60 or -- 50 or 60, 70 percent of the competitive manpower market.  People served a relatively short period of time, and then got out.  There was a big advantage to the country because so many people learned about the military and how important it is, and how it works, and that the people here are good people.  So I think an awful lot of the people that had that benefit have helped make our country a better country for knowing that.

 

            But we don't need a draft.  We're able to attract and retain all the people we need.   We don't -- we have the resources.  We're only spending less than -- gosh, what percentage now, 3 percent?  5 percent? -- of GDP on --

 

            GEN. PACE:  Yes, sir, about 3.5.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  -- about three-point-something.  So we're not denying the civilian sector funds, and therefore we don't have to recruit a lot of people and pay them less than they're worth.  We can recruit, we can retain, if we pay people what they're worth.  And we're doing it.  And we've got a wonderful force because of it.  So I can't imagine that this country would go back to a draft.

 

            Yes.  Questions.

 

            Q     Sir, the situation in Iraq had brought a lot of negative press.  I was wondering if you could speak to some of the more positive elements that we're seeing as a result of the conflict in Iraq and the overall global war on terrorism, throughout the Middle East, Afghanistan and such, if you would, sir.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Do you want to be -- ?

 

            GEN. PACE:  I'll take a first shot, and then the secretary will clean up after me, I'm sure.  (Laughter.)

 

            A lot of really good things.  First, let me just take the battlefield itself.  The soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines, Coast Guardsmen who are out there are doing a magnificent job.  And in any and every single battle on the battlefield they are acquitting themselves amazingly well.  I will not get into X number dead versus Y number dead.  That's not what we -- that's not what this is about. But in every single battle our servicemen and -women have acquitted themselves incredibly well.

 

            The purpose of having military forces there is not how many people you kill, it's about what kind of security you're able to provide throughout a country that allows that country then to rebuild itself from the inside out.  So the measures of success are things like energy, oil production, schools, roads, hospitals, judiciary system, all the fabric of society, all of which is headed in the right direction.  I'm very proud of the fact that collectively as a coalition we have brought Iraq to the point where the Iraqi government can take over, where the Iraqi people can have a representative government that will administer to their needs the way they want to be administered to, and that those of us in the military can start stepping back and letting Iraqi security forces move forward.  But in every measure, on the battlefield and in society, things are moving forward in Iraq.  The same thing in Afghanistan.

 

            And Afghanistan is a good model to look at because it's a year or so ahead of Iraq.  And as you recall, there was questions about, gee, what kind of government are they going to have?  And all of a sudden, you have a loya jirga, and a President Karzai, and a written constitution, and now an election coming up.  The same thing will unfold over the next several months in Iraq.  I am very, very optimistic and very positive about their future there.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Questions.  Here's one right here.  (Pause.)  You got a haircut like Pete Pace!  (Laughter.)

 

            Q     Yes, sir, I knew it was the style, so that's what I was going for.  (Laughter.)  (Name inaudible) -- George Washington University.  I was wondering -- I've been reading about how we're trying to make efforts of placing Iraqi militia to handle the insurgence in Iraq. And I was wondering about the progress that you foresee in the future, and basically, looking into the months ahead when U.S. military presence will no longer be necessary in Iraq because the Iraqi militia will be able to handle it on their own.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, Pete and I have had a couple of briefings on that today.  We had a discussion with General Petraeus yesterday, who has that responsibility in Iraq to work with the Army, the police, the Civil Defense Corps, the site protection people, the border patrol.  And I had a briefing today from a man named Steele (sp), who has been out there working with the security forces and doing a wonderful job -- a civilian, as a matter of fact.

 

            It's -- what you will hear and see in the weeks ahead will be mixed, and it will be mixed because what they're doing is they're recruiting people very rapidly.  We've gone from zero to something like 206,000 -- heading towards 265,000 -- who are people who otherwise would be out in the street unhappy.  So it's a good thing that they've been recruited.  They're being trained to do those different security functions.  They're at various levels of skill set. They've been trained -- some in a matter of five or six days, some a matter of four or five weeks, and some some months.  And therefore -- and their equipment is uneven.

 

            And as fast as they can be trained and as fast as they can be equipped, then the next task is to develop a chain of command, an Iraqi chain of command for them, and a control structure, and to then put them with U.S. forces and coalition forces in ways that each benefit.  They know the language, they have situational awareness; our folks are professional and terrific soldiers and can -- just by being with them, they can get better.

 

            I don't know how long it will take.  It's a little like -- in some instances, some of them are not trained to be shock troops and go in -- and they have small arms, if they're police or something.  And they end up against some terrorists with AK-47s and our rocket- propelled grenades and then they say, well, the heck with that, and they move away -- which is not stupid, it's smart.  And yet, some people report in the press as though they ran, or they didn't engage the enemy or they wouldn't fight.  Well, my goodness, why should they? If they have uneven equipment and uneven numbers, they shouldn't have. They used their judgment.

 

            Now, is it perfect?  No.  But is it making good progress?  You bet.  I think it's a real accomplishment, the work that's been done and the number of security forces that exist today.  And what we've got to do is to recognize that they're never going to be good as our folks.  Our folks are fabulous, and they do it so well.  And if we're going to measure them against the Pete Paces of the world, they're not going to measure up for a long, long, long time, if ever.  But they don't have to.  (Chuckles.)  What they've got to do is to take over the security for their country.  And that's the task.

 

            And it's a little like -- you're too young to know how it is, but when you're a father some day, you start running down the street, putting your hand on the back of the bicycle seat, and you've got your child up there trying to ride the bicycle, and you've got to hold on it like this for dear life so they don't fall.  And then at some point you go like this and you only have four fingers there, and then pretty soon you have one finger, and then pretty soon you let go.  And they might wobble and fall, in which case you pick them up, dust them off, put them back up.  But if you don't take your finger off, you're going to end up with a 40-year-old that can't ride a bike.  (Laughter.)  And -- (applause).

 

            And that's what we have to do; we simply have to recognize that it won't be perfect.  It wasn't perfect for us.  It wasn't perfect for any country that goes from a dictatorship, a vicious dictatorship to a freer system.  They're going to have to try it, succeed, fail, partly fail, pick up, get at it again.  And if people start writing stories day after day after day and saying oh my goodness, they can't do this or they can't do that; we're going out too soon; or we didn't do enough of this or we didn't do enough of that -- (pauses) -- I almost said -- (laughs; laughter).  I think I'll not say that!  (Laughter.)

 

            The fact is people have got to try themselves.  They've got to get up and get at it.  And the Iraqis are doing it, and they've got guts.  Over 300 Iraqi security forces people have been killed already. Think of that.  Does that sound like they're hiding in their barracks or afraid?  No.  There are some darn good people out there doing stuff.

 

            And the same thing's true in government.  I mean, how do you -- these people didn't have a free system.  How do they learn how to negotiate and compromise and trust in a piece of paper, a constitution that's going to protect them from the majority or from another ethnic group?  How do you develop that kind of trust?  You don't do that in five minutes.

 

            So we're going to have to transition them in the governance, we're going to have to transition them in the security forces. They're going to have to take hold of the essential services.  And that's what we need to do, and that's what we're trying to do, and that's what I think we're doing a pretty darn good job doing.

 

            Question?

 

            STAFF:  Ladies and gentlemen, we have time for one more question.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Was that you, Larry, or someone else? (Laughter.)

 

            We've got time for one more question.  Where is it?

 

            Q     Right here.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Oh, you're way in the back where the press is. You're not from the press, are you, young lady?  (Laughter.)

 

            Q     No sir.  (Referring to microphone.)  Is it on?  Oh.  Just another peon contractor, sir.  (Laughter.)  I have a question my boss asked me to ask you because she's too chicken.  (Laughter.)  Do you believe the use of personally owned wireless devices and digital cameras is an operational security issue for DoD, especially in areas like Iraq?

 

            (Laughter.)

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Your boss wasn't too chicken, she was too smart! (Laughter.)  I'm just kidding!

 

            You answer that, General!  (More laughter.)

 

            GEN. PACE:  It's a fact of life.  I mean, it is what it is. People are going to have these things.  They're available to everybody.  So just like the ubiquitous coverage of TV, you learn what environment you're working in and you work inside that environment.  So from a purely military standpoint as far as being able to keep secrets and being able to do things that your enemy isn't aware of until it's too late for that person to react to you, you just have to understand how that works.

 

            Example.  Everybody knew that General Franks was preparing his forces to attack into Iraq if needed.  But everybody expected that there would be a 30- to 40-day air campaign, and he attacked first on the ground.  So even though there's lots of people watching, you can still have strategic surprise.

 

            On the other hand, potentially going to another part of your question, if you do not want to be caught doing something stupid, don't do something stupid.  (Laughter, applause.)

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  You can see how he got four stars.  (Laughter.)

 

            There's one other thing I wanted to add and I don't want to forget, is that we really should not prejudice the outcome of any of the investigations that are under way or indeed the larger look that we're taking of the broader system itself.

 

            But one thing appears reasonably certain, and that's that those who make allegations of a culture of deception, of intimidation or cover-up need to be extremely careful about such accusations.  The facts so far demonstrate, to me at least, that from the enlisted ranks to the officer corps, when those allegations came to light members of our armed forces immediately launched investigations and sought to uncover wrongdoing.

 

            Now, whatever final our conclusions about this matter may be, we do need to bear in mind that we already know certain things about the system.  And that's that a number of the people in it, far from being intimidated or afraid to do the right thing, they in fact did the right thing.   They brought wrongdoing to light and they made Americans proud of the manner that they carried out their duties.

 

            And -- trying to think -- there was -- I mean, one individual just made a conscious decision when he had evidence of wrongdoing to take it to the right people and do the right thing.  And that is how this all came out, was because of one specialist figuring it out and pushing it up the chain so people could deal with it.

 

            Thank you very much.  God bless you all.  (Applause.)   

 

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