Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability with Australian Prime Minister John Howard
SEC. RUMSFELD: Good morning. It's a privilege for me to welcome the distinguished prime minister of Australia, the Honorable John Howard, to the Pentagon.
For generations, U.S. and Australian troops have stood together to defend freedom and to combat the designs of terrorists and tyrants. Once again, our two countries are standing together to help Afghans and Iraqis build democracies in countries that not too long ago were sanctuaries for terrorists. We understand well the threat violent extremism poses to the civilized world; a danger tragically demonstrated by mass murders committed in London earlier this month.
Mr. Prime Minister, you have our deep appreciation for your courage, your determination and your resolve in this global struggle.
An additional note: for many months, the U.S. effort to conduct military commissions procedings against suspected terrorists detained at Guantanamo Bay has been suspended by order of a federal court. On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed the lower court order, finding that military commissions are a proper venue in which to try enemy combatants for violations of the law of war.
The court also found that the president correctly determined that the Geneva Convention does not apply to al Qaeda members for the reasons he specified: that they do not wear distinctive insignia, and they do not conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war. The court's ruling marks an advance in the global struggle against extremists and aids the effort to protect innocent life. It vindicates the president's determination to treat suspected terrorists humanely, but not to grant them the protections of the Geneva Conventions as a matter of right. And it should be -- it should expedite the process for trying suspected terrorists posing a threat to the civilized world, as we saw in London earlier this month.
In light of the court's ruling, the department will immediately take the following steps: Proceedings will resume as soon as possible against two detainees accused of terrorist activities, including one individual who served as a personal bodyguard and driver for Osama bin Laden. The Office of Military Commission will prepare charges against eight other individuals, and in addition, it will prepare recommendations to the president to conduct military commission proceedings against additional individuals currently held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Military commissions follow a careful and deliberative process to ensure a full and fair trial for the accused, to protect classified and sensitive information, to protect the safety of all personnel participating in the process. These procedures are in keeping with the U.S. government's determination to provide appropriate legal proceedings to those accused of terrorist-related activities and to take steps to ensure the security of the people of our country and the people in the free world. We will continue to act steadfastly and consistent with the rule of law.
Later today there will be a statement being put out by the Press Office, which has additional amplifying information.
Mr. Prime Minister, welcome.
PRIME MIN. HOWARD: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.
We've had a good open and friendly discussion. I want to reaffirm, as would be well understood in the United States, the continuing commitment of Australia to the military operations that are part of the democratization process in both Afghanistan and Iraq. We discussed the recent announcement by Australia to send SIS forces. And they look forward, when they are there, to working closely with the United States forces in Afghanistan.
We've talked about the situation in Iraq. And although the insurgency remains challenging, progress is being made. And the important thing is that the Iraqis defied the intimidation that they faced in January of this year to vote in a very impressive fashion. And it is inevitable that on every way station towards the full democratization process in Iraq, there is going to be a spike in the level of the insurgency.
Can I say in relation to the military commission process, Australia is satisfied -- particularly in the wake of some changes that were made to the process -- Australia is satisfied that the military commission process in relation to David Hicks, as he is the one Australian held in Guantanamo Bay, will provide a proper measure of justice. We welcome the appeals court decision in the United States, which removes a roadblock to a speedy adjudication of Mr. Hicks' position. The allegations against him are particularly serious, and we look forward to them being dealt with before the tribunal -- the appropriate tribunal, which is the military commission. And I welcome the comments that have been made by the secretary in relation to that. And beyond that, it will be now a matter for the commission to deal with it. And that is very much how it should be.
Can I finish by saying something that would be obvious? But the obvious needs restating on occasions, and that is that no two countries could be closer in terms of our common values and attitudes towards the challenges that the world faces at the present time. The terrible events in London are a reminder that terrorism is an enemy of all of us.
Amongst those who died in London was an Australian of Vietnamese decent; he had come to Australia -- his family had come to Australia after the Indochinese War. He was a wonderful success story of an immigrant family in a strange country. The people who it is believed took his life included children of immigrants to another country, and it's poignant and tragic that somebody who had embraced the opportunities of a new country should die at the hands of somebody who has contaminated and despoiled the values of the country that gave his family a home and an opportunity. And it's a reminder that this is a struggle between people who despise values that are common to all of the American and Australian people irrespective of their ethnic backgrounds. And I think it's a point that should be borne in mind.
It's my pleasure and honor to be back in the Pentagon again and to have had the discussions that I've had with the secretary.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you, sir.
We'll take some questions from the U.S. side and from the Australian side. We'll start with Charlie.
Q Mr. Secretary, you said that the court's ruling on Friday would expedite the process, as you said, and they'd resume as soon as possible. Can you give us any time frame? Do you expect it would resume, say, within a week, or a month?
SEC. RUMSFELD: The statement that's going to be issued later today will have some amplification on that. I would be very reluctant to put a time frame on it. We have courts, we have lawyers, we have procedures that are what they are in the legal process, and we'll just have to see how it plays out.
What I will say is that we are determined to press ahead. We think it's important from the standpoint of the individuals involved and it's important also from the standpoint of the country that this process go forward. So we will certainly be moving as rapidly as is possible.
Q Mr. Secretary, if I heard your statement correctly, I think you said that the proceedings would resume as soon as possible against two individuals. You said you had four cases that you began. What's happened to the other two?
SEC. RUMSFELD: The lawyers will be available this afternoon with the statement that's going to be put out with the greater amplification of this, and I'd much prefer to have people who have been intimately involved in this provide the details.
Q Mr. Secretary, can I ask you a question about China?
SEC. RUMSFELD: No. We're going to switch to the Australian side. (Laughter.)
Q I'd like to ask both of you, Mr. Rumsfeld, and the prime minister. There's a report out today in the U.K. from the Royal Institute of International Affairs, which found that British ties to the U.S. made it more vulnerable to attacks like the recent London bombing. Is that the case? And if so, Mr. Prime Minister, is Australia also at risk, more at risk?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I'll start. I think that people who think that terrorists pick and choose discriminately don't understand how it works. The United States had done nothing on September 11th when 3,000 people were killed. We saw what happened in Bali. We've seen what's happened in Turkey and London and many countries across the globe, in Spain.
And I think that I would say that people who think they could make a separate peace with terrorists will find that it's very dangerous. It's a little like feeding an alligator, hoping it eats you last.
PRIME MIN. HOWARD: I have a similar view. Australia was a terrorist target long before the Iraq operation. We were a terrorist target before the 11th of September, 2001. The first transgression in the eyes of al Qaeda and Bin Laden that Australia committed was to go to the assistance of the people of East Timor, an act by the Australian government that had the overwhelming support of the Australian people. There is a broader issue, and that is that no country can allow its foreign and defense policy to be malleable in the hands of terrorists.
Q Mr. Secretary, do you see any end in sight of the military commitment of the United States and Australia and their allies in Iraq and Afghanistan?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I guess the short answer is yes. There will be an end in each case. The coalition countries that are involved in each of those countries are not countries that have any appetite to occupy another country. They seek nothing other than to assist those countries to put themselves on a path towards democracy and a representative system that's compatible with their history and their approach to governing. And that's what's taking place. We've seen in each case that the milestones that have been articulated have been met.
In Afghanistan, we've seen the first popularly elected president in the history of the country. We have, coming up on September 18th, the parliamentary and provincial elections that will take place. And they will take place, and they'll take place on time. And they'll be successful. And that country will be on a path towards not being a terrorist training ground for the al Qaeda and the Taliban -- where they can launch attacks around the world -- but a country that will be in the heart of Central Asia, functioning in a peaceful way with its neighbors and allowing the people of that country, including women, to be able to participate in its guiding and directing that country.
In Iraq, we've seen the announcement that there would be an Iraqi Governing Council established; it was established. That there would be an interim assembly established; it was established. There was a vote on January 30th that was -- people were threatening and say it wouldn't happen, it couldn't happen in a country that had that degree of violence taking place. It did happen, and it was a successful election. They're now in the process of writing the constitution, and there are people who are saying that they won't be able to write the constitution by August 15th. I suspect that they will be able to write the constitution by August 15th and that they'll end up voting on it in -- I believe October 15th. And then they'll end up electing new people in December under that new constitution.
And with each of those benchmarks, or those hurdles being dealt with successfully, you can see increasingly in the country that people are confident in the legitimacy of what's taking place, and in the future. And so, instead of the Sunnis, who stay out of the election pretty much, continuing to stay out, we see them leaning forward wanting to get in because they see it's important. Instead of the Shi'a saying, well, you Sunnis, you stayed out and you ruled this place poorly for the last decades and now it's our turn, they haven't said that at all. They've reached out to the Sunnis and they've included them in the constitutional drafting process.
So this is not easy stuff. These people don't have a lot of experience with democracy and with representative government, but they're making good progress. They're engaged in politics. Politics is not tidy; it's untidy. It's a lot of tugging and hauling and pushing and pulling, and that's understandable. We do that in our country, and the prime minister does it in his country. He does it very successfully, I might say. (Laughter.)
But no, I think that we're on a path, and the people are showing a great deal of courage in Iraq and in Afghanistan. They're defying those who threaten them and try to assassinate their interim leadership and who say if they vote, you die, and graffiti on the walls. And they've gone right ahead and voted, they've gone right ahead and served. And people are lining up to take those jobs, and that's a good thing.
Q Now may I ask a question about China?
SEC. RUMSFELD: What do you -- do you want to vote on this? (Laughter.)
All right, Jamie, you've got it!
Q Assuming the Pentagon will be releasing its annual report --
SEC. RUMSFELD: We hope this week.
Q -- about China -- and no doubt it will show a China that will provide more detail about China's pretty well-known military buildup. I'm wondering if you believe that China is becoming more of a threat? And in particular, I wonder what you make of the Chinese general's comments last week, saying that --
SEC. RUMSFELD: I thought you would end up there. (Laughter.)
Q -- saying that if the United States were to intervene in the defense of Taiwan, that they'd have to respond with nuclear weapons? And I would also welcome the prime minister's views on this issue.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I'll be very brief. The report -- it is hoped that that report will be out this week. I've read it, and it's a very straightforward description of what you described: a significant military buildup that's been taking place.
With respect to the general, it will be interesting to see to what extent his remarks do or do not reflect the views of his government, and I think I'd prefer to wait and see what transpires there.
PRIME MIN. HOWARD: Well, I've already said publicly that I thought his remarks were irresponsible, and I couldn't believe that they would represent the views of his government.
Q What do you -- do you think China's a threat generally?
PRIME MIN. HOWARD: I beg your pardon?
Q Do you see China as an increasing threat?
PRIME MIN. HOWARD: Look, I think that China is a country that is growing in power and economic strength, but understands that military conflict of any kind is not conducive to her medium- and longer-term goals. And that's been a view that I've held for some time. But China is conscious of her authority, and China is a country with which Australia has developed a strong economic relationship. But it's a different country politically. It's not a free democratic country like Australia and the United States. And every so often, Australia will have some differences with China on issues that reflect our differences when it comes to democracy. And we had one recently in relation to a defector from the Chinese mission in Australia.
But it's a question of balance and a question of maintaining the focus on those areas where we can work together.
SEC. RUMSFELD: One other question from Australia, and we'll make this the last one. You have the floor now.
Q Okay. Do you measure the path to the end in Iraq and Afghanistan in months or years?
SEC. RUMSFELD: It is condition-based, as opposed to calendar- based. And I've watched people speculate and commit themselves to deadlines and numbers and budgets. And it's hard to do. In fact, it's not doable, in my mind. I have every confidence that we're on schedule, we're on path; that they're making good progress. There will be a few steps forward and a step back. That's the nature of things in life, particularly something as difficult as fashioning a democracy in that part of the world.
But I have a good deal of confidence that they'll continue to meet those benchmarks that I described. And I think that as that happens, the legitimacy of their new government will be clear, and that the people will increasingly support it, and that in the last analysis, it will be the Iraqi people who will defeat that insurgency, and it will very likely take them some time. And our task is not to do that; our task is to create an environment that they're able to go forward with the progress they're currently making, develop their Iraqi security forces so that they will be able to provide for their own security, and then turn over responsibility to the people of Iraq to run their government and to provide for their own security. And that's the path we're on.
Thank you, folks. Nice to see you all.
Q Thank you.
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