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Defense Department Operational Update Briefing

Presenters: Lawrence Di Rita, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs
May 17, 2005 12:45 PM EDT
Defense Department Operational Update Briefing

            MR. DI RITA:  Good afternoon. 

 

            Before I get started, one thing I want to remind everybody is that Friday begins -- is Armed Forces Day.  We'll have some press guidance later in the week about ways that we'll be recognizing that in the National Capital Region.  As is typically the case, there will be some activities out at Andrews.  And as I said, we'll -- I expect the secretary and probably the chairman will be out there.  And we'll have some additional details on that later in the week.  But it's an opportunity to just remind everybody that that's coming up.

 

            And with that, maybe we'll just take a few questions, see what's on your mind, and I'll try and get out of here.

 

            Charlie?

 

            Q     Larry, on an affair of high moment or low moment, this business about the Koran in GTMO, the Pentagon has reacted very sharply, as has the White House, about the Newsweek story.  And there have been statements by you, I believe, and others -- correct me if I'm wrong -- there is -- that there has been shown to be no credible evidence or no credible charges regarding the Koran.

 

            Has -- I guess what I'd like to ask is, to try to clarify this whole thing, because while the news -- while Newsweek has retracted its story, it hasn't come out and said it's flat wrong.  Has the Pentagon ruled out -- ruled out -- that there's been a desecration of the Koran at GTMO?  And have there been or are there current investigations of possible similar desecrations elsewhere -- (inaudible)?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, first of all, let me be just clear about one point.  Newsweek wrote something that was quite specific about a particularly troubling act of willful Koran desecration in the context of interrogations.  And they attributed to an ongoing investigation that we've discussed at other times.  None of that turned out to be true, and I gather that's why Newsweek decided to retract its story.

 

            In trying to establish some veracity into the Newsweek story -- again, there was no specific allegation.  There was an alleged allegation, if I could put it that way.  But in trying to establish some veracity behind that story, which now Newsweek has basically told us don't try, because e you won't be able to, we've nonetheless -- the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, which is responsible for Guantanamo, has been doing a review of detainee operations in Guantanamo, going back pretty much to the beginning of when we were conducting detainee operations, to determine is there something about -- which we should be more focused on.  It has not -- those types of allegations and -- about the willful desecration of the Koran as a component of interrogations or how it was described --

 

            Q     The allegations …

 

            MR. DI RITA:  No, no, no, let me finish.  Those types of allegations have not previously been -- there's -- we've not previously included that in any kind of previous investigations into detainee operations, because there haven't been credible allegations to that effect.  And we've tried to pursue specific, credible allegations carefully, and we think we've done that. 

 

            But nonetheless, in the course of reviewing -- in the course of the -- in the wake of the Newsweek piece, we thought it useful to go back and review to be sure.  And that's what's going on right now. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs talked a little bit about it yesterday, where we -- we will have more to say about that as it gets -- I think this is something we all want to be able to wrap up quickly.  We've certainly found nothing that would give any substance to the Newsweek story in this regard.  And as I said, the chairman has talked about instances here and there, about -- where there may have been the detainees themselves -- we've found several instances in logs -- again, these are not corroborated, either -- in detainee logs that suggest that detainees have, for whatever reason, torn pages from the Koran, et cetera.

 

            And we need to corroborate that and see if there's anything there or if there's anything that we could substantiate.  But there are log entries to that effect.

 

            And so that's the process that we're in right now.  We're trying to determine is that -- one thing we have done is given everybody else the opportunity to see the degree to which standard operating procedures at Guantanamo are very focused on the proper respect for the Koran, and in fact those standard operating procedures have been reviewed over time to make sure that they are as careful as they should be.  We, I think, provided that to most of you all in the last day or two.  But I think what you'll see there is a command philosophy that is clearly one of treating religious items, including the Koran, with a great deal of respect.

 

            That being said, there have been instances, and we'll have more to say about it as we learn more, but where a Koran may have fallen to the floor in the course of searching a cell.  And so they've reviewed the standard operating procedures to see if perhaps we could have been more careful in those cases.  But as I said, the philosophy as reflected in the standard operating procedures is one of great respect for the Koran and other religious articles, and for the detainees' practice of their faith, and that's what we're doing.

 

 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  So this review -- let me finish up for one second -- this review will also take a look at our procedures and say we've got these very careful procedures, they're procedures that have been reviewed over time, and let's look at them and see if they're still the procedures we want or that we think are appropriate.  At the moment, we think they are.

 

            Q     So, to make a long story short, while you aren't suggesting there are any credible charges or any credible evidence, you haven't -- you can't rule out now that that might have happened?  And --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I'm not going to say any more than what I said because that is a loaded question, and you know that is.

 

            Q     Are there any investigations into possible desecration in Iraq, Iran or elsewhere, or --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  There is -- what is happening is what I described. We're reviewing records and logs to see if there's any.  We have received no credible and specific allegations of this nature.  But that doesn't --

 

            Q     You mean beyond GTMO?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Certainly as we do this, if other situations arise, we'll be mindful of that.  At the moment we're focused on where detainees are being managed principally in Guantanamo?

 

            Q     Larry, just to be clear, there have been numerous allegations by detainees who have been released --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Mm-hmm.

 

            Q     -- by attorneys who have talked to detainees, alleging mistreatment of the Koran, including instances where it was supposedly thrown into a toilet.  Are you saying that none of those allegations were credible, and that none of them have -- have any of them been investigated, and were any substantiated?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  We've found nothing that would substantiate precisely -- anything that you just said about the treatment of a Koran.  We have -- other than what we've seen, that it's possible detainees themselves have done with pages of the Koran -- and I don't want to overstate that either because it's based on log entries that have to be corroborated.

 

            Q     Wasn't there a hunger strike last year at Guantanamo? And wasn't it sparked in part by complaints from the detainees about the treatment of the Koran?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  We've had instances, as I said, and we're reviewing those, where detainees have said, "A Koran fell to the floor and I was offended by that."  So we're looking -- that's the nature of these reviews.  We're seeing log entries to that effect.  And that's the purpose of making sure that our procedures are as careful as they can be.

 

            With respect to lawyers making allegations of detainees who have been released, we anticipate, and have seen, in fact, all manner of statements made by detainees -- as you recall, many of whom as members of al Qaeda were trained to allege abuse and torture and all manner of other things. 

 

            When we have received specific, credible allegations -- and typically that's not what we see when we see a lawyer speaking on Al- Jazeera -- but when a specific, credible allegation of this nature were to be received, we would take it quite seriously.  But we've not seen specific, credible allegations.

 

            Q     The State Department has put out a message to all embassies abroad, or diplomatic posts, making a statement that seems to contradict or in some way not jibe entirely with what you just said. I don't know if you're aware of this, but they've said that, "Department of Defense has been looking into allegations of desecration of the Koran and has found nothing to substantiate them."

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Yeah.  What we're -- that's not quite accurate.  And we'll work with State to make sure it's more precise.  But we've not gotten allegations of desecration.  What we've seen are incidental log entries that suggest that either detainees themselves have done something untoward with the Koran or there have been inadvertent mishandlings of the Koran.  And we're trying to review those to better understand them.  This is not an investigation per se.  It's to review practices and make sure practices are appropriate.  We believe practices are, but there's always an opportunity to learn, and we'll try and do that.

 

            Q     So State Department doesn't understand what the history of this is, or they have this wrong?

 

              MR. DI RITA:  I don't want to characterize it.  I've said what I've said.  And we aren't looking into specific allegations.  We did not.

 

            Yeah?

 

            Q     There's a meta-issue here.  And taking Newsweek's --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  A what?

 

            Q     A larger issue.

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Oh, okay. 

 

            Q     Taking --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I'm sorry.  I just didn't understand you.

 

            Q     Sure.  Meta. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Meta.

 

            Q     Taking Newsweek's --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Tomorrow's press conference will be conducted in Latin.  (Laughter.)  For your benefit …

 

            Q     Taking Newsweek's error out of it, what does the fact that so many crowds were able to be whipped into such an anti-American frenzy say to you?  The Pentagon and White House officials have been talking about a so-called war of ideas since at least 2002, where the United States is, hopefully, encouraging these countries towards a more moderate and less anti-American stance.  And in the course of the last week or so, there have been countries, like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and Egypt, who are governments that are normally sort of friendly to the United States, joining in the condemnation. 

 

            So what doe that say to you about how that war of ideas is going? And what are you guys going to sort of take up the slack and --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, it's an important issue, and that is, how the United States and our coalition partners communicate what's at stake here.

 

            And we face a very determined and willful adversary who will use whatever means available to influence public opinion, including deliberate misstatements of facts or deliberately saying things that are known to be false.  But as we've discussed before, once that happens it takes time to establish the truth, and once a falsehood is out there, people can react to a falsehood in an environment where policies are controversial.  We know that a lot of these moderate governments are trying to work very closely with their own publics so that they do understand the stakes involved. 

 

            But it's -- public diplomacy is an important priority of this government, of this president.  It's one that requires constant attention.  The kinds of messages and the kinds of symbols that occur, we recognize are very important.  That's particularly one of the reasons why we've tried to be particularly careful with the handling of religious materials at Guantanamo and with the -- allowing the detainees to practice their faith.  It is something that they're entitled to do and we try and -- we have tried to be very careful to make sure they have the opportunity to do that. 

 

            Q     Did anybody in your outfit or in Communications at the White House look at what was going on and say, wow we've got a lot of work to do?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, we know we have a lot of work to do.  This is a -- we're in a new world, and we're in a world in which public opinion can be altered quickly in an era of 24/7 news coverage; we've talked about this, electronic cameras that are available to everybody, the Internet.  Information can be spread very quickly. 

 

            I'm in an optimist in the sense that over time, people learn the truth.  What we've seen, for example, in the Middle East is a number of websites developing that official channels of information are being channeled by -- are challenged by sort of more grassroots.  And so once people have access to multiple avenues of information, generally speaking, I think that's good for the truth. 

 

            But there's no question, you can -- a lie that has been off repeated can get around the world awfully quickly.

 

            Q     May I take a slightly different tact on all this -- old Navy expression, if you'll excuse me. 

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Really old -- sails.

 

            Q     General Myers, when he was with us some days ago, implied that the violence in Afghanistan, which has now spread, as you know, was not a spontaneous reaction to the Newsweek article but, in a sense, using the Newsweek article as a device to further whatever their agenda is.

 

            So my question is, does this department have any specific evidence that the Taliban, al Qaeda, anybody else, is using this particular story to foment or try to foment the overthrow of the Karzai regime or to start civil war in Afghanistan and elsewhere?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, General Myers's comments were based on assessments form coalition commanders in Afghanistan in which they assessed that, just based on the nature of the location of some of these and the participants in some of these protests, that there may have been some preplanning going on, but that this article may well have been a part -- one of the opportunistic pretexts for this.

 

            Certainly Newsweek's own reporting, if it's -- Newsweek's own reporting suggests that, at least in Pakistan, this was -- the article was very much involved.

 

            But I think General Myers' comments referred to Afghanistan, to comments that General Eikenberry, who's the coalition forces commander over there, made based on his own observations and interaction with Afghan officials.  There was a perception that this was an opportunistic pretext, that there was probably some preplanning going on for sort of anti-government rallies.

 

            That's our best assessment.  I'm not sure that we've gone back to refresh that assessment.  I think there was a contemporaneous assessment about this time last week.

 

            Q     New topic here.

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Why don't we -- I don't have a heck of a lot more to say about the Newsweek thing, so --

 

            Q     Well, I just -- I want to be -- I have a point of clarification.  I just want to make sure I'm absolutely clear on what you said before.  Is it fair to infer from what you said that the allegations that I've cited from released detainees and detainee attorneys were deemed to be not credible, and therefore were not investigated?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  No, I think I would say it's fair to say that we have found nothing that would substantiate those types of allegations. And they were, as a matter of fact, not specific, and I don't --

 

            Q     They weren't specific --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  They were not specific, and --

 

            Q     -- and so therefore were not investigated?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Yeah, and they were also remarkably contrary to the way that we manage this particular issue, the religious -- the detainees' religious faith, and therefore were not credible.  I mean, not credible means you can't believe it.  "Credible" -- "credo" is the word in Latin -- it's belief, and we don't believe that they're true.

 

            Q     But sort of the fine point I'm trying to just make sure I understand is whether or not the allegations were deemed to be not credible or specific enough, and therefore were not investigated; or whether some of them were, in fact, investigated and then not --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I'm not aware that we've ever had any specific credible allegations to investigate.  We certainly didn't investigate detainees' lawyers on television saying this is what happened to my detainee.

 

            Q     And these were lies when they made these allegations?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I think it's very likely.  But we have investigated them, so --

 

            Q     Larry, you said that these allegations are contrary to any practice and any rules that you have down there --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I said it's contrary to the way we try and manage this issue.

 

            Q     All right.  But you say since it is contrary to the way you try and manage it, therefore they are not credible at all.

 

            MR. DI RITA:  No, no --

 

            Q     What happened in Abu Ghraib was also contrary to your all's rules --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Which is why people are going to jail.  And people do wrong things sometimes, but we found nothing that would substantiate any of these allegations of willful Koran desecration. We just found nothing that would substantiate it.

 

            Q     But you haven't even investigated them.

 

            MR. DI RITA:  In the course of the review, which is what we're doing as a result of the Newsweek article, we're starting to develop a more -- a very detailed sense of what's out there, and it's the kind of episodic thing I've described and nothing that would substantiate these kinds of very willful and specific.

 

            Now I never say never, but that's where we are and that's -- certainly, as I said, lawyers and their -- detainees and their lawyers will make all kinds of charges, and we recognize that.

 

            And in fact, in their own training manuals they say:  Here's what we'll do if we ever get into a court; we allege torture, we allege abuse, we allege all kinds of things to influence public opinion. 

 

            And that's happening.  And when articles like the Newsweek article come out and it's unsubstantiated and it turns false, it will encourage other people to do the same thing.  And we should be on notice that other people will make similar types of inflammatory allegations of this nature.  We're reviewing the matter.  But at the moment, we are where we are, which is the only types of practice that we've seen that correlates to what Newsweek said has to do with what detainees themselves did at Guantanamo.   That's what we've found thus far.

 

            Q     Larry, did you --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I'm going to take, I'll tell you what, I'm going to take one last thing because I just have nothing to add on this.

 

            Q     Larry, did you or another senior Pentagon spokesman get a chance to review the substance of the Newsweek allegations prior to their publication?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  No.  I would like to say that if that's a new policy you all would like to institute, I am welcoming it. (Laughter.)  If you would like to submit your articles in advance, we will happily review them and --

 

            Q     As a follow-up, from time to time, you have background --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  -- and give them to Bryan, we'll review them --

 

            Q     From time to time you have background briefings up here where the speakers are not allowed to be named in the press.  Based on this, do you feel that that practice encourages the use of unnamed sources; are you considering changing that practice so all briefings have names and sources?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, here's what I'd say about that.  When we do that we make it clear those are the rules, and if reporters don't want to participate on that basis, that's your choice.

 

            Q     So you encourage the use of unnamed sources?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I don't know.  I don't know.  It's a reasonable question. 

 

            Q     (Off mike.)

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Sorry?

 

            Q     It requires the use of unnamed sources, if people --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  No, it requires the use of them if you want to participate on those ground rules.

 

            Q     Well, wait, can I follow up on  [inaudible] question, though --

 

            Q     Can I belabor this?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  You are belaboring it.

 

            Q     I have one quick question --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Somebody wanted to go to a new topic and I was ready to do it. 

 

            New topic.

 

            Q     Larry, come on.  Newsweek in all its reconstructions of this say that it went to the Pentagon to try to comment on the draft or John Barry's walking and running.  Most reporters interpret that as they came to you or a spokesperson --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  They didn't come to me.

 

            Q     Do you know, did they come to someone in the building officially or quasi-officially?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Not that I -- I will -- I guess I have no choice but to take them at their word, but I -- they didn't come to me.  That's why I announced they didn't come to Bryan with, "Here's a draft of the statement, can you kind of quality check it?"  I know that reporters rightly have sources that aren't all public affairs officials, which is sort of take your chances, see how you feel about that.

 

            Q     (Off mike) -- if it's a hot story you see to try to get --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  They didn't come to me.

 

            Q     -- something on the record.

 

            MR. DI RITA:  They didn't come to me.

 

            Q     All right.

 

            MR. DI RITA:  They didn't come to me.  I don't know what I can say about that.

 

              Q     Really -- really quickly on this.

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Really quick.  Last one.

 

            Q     Isn't this commander's inquiry by General Craddock -- I understood it that he was actually looking into these allegations.

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I think he'll make a determination -- and it's not he, it's a colonel at his command.  I think he'll make a determination based on what he finds, whether any of them -- whether -- how much he wants to go out and try and corroborate some of them.  I mean, for example, a detainee who was alleged to have torn pages out of his Koran and shoved it in a toilet, he may want to go out and try to corroborate that.  I mean I don't know to what extent the next steps will involve that kind of thing.

 

            Q     This is an ongoing inquiry into the --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  No, it's what -- it is separate from the Schmidt investigation, but I think it's something that General Craddock would like to wrap up as quickly as he can wrap up.

 

            Q     Yesterday the Iraqi defense minister said that the Iraqi troops will now no longer be able to go into mosques or churches or Shi'ite townhouses in any raids.  You've talked and Secretary Rumsfeld has talked about how insurgents use those places as hiding places to fight against the coalition.

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Mm-hmm.

 

            Q     Is that unhelpful?  (Laughter.)  Obviously the Iraqi --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Is what unhelpful?  What Secretary Rumsfeld said?

 

            Q     No, what their defense minister said as far as fighting the insurgents.  And obviously they're trying to take their own reins; however, U.S. troops are still involved in fighting these insurgents.

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Yeah, I'm very confident that the Iraqi -- emerging Iraqi leaders take the insurgent threat very seriously.  They are very focused on the continued development of Iraqi security forces.  There are a range of Iraqi security forces available.  I'm not -- I truly am not trying to parse what the minister of defense said, but they know that the insurgents have in the past used mosques as staging areas, the Iraqi leadership knows that.  They know that the insurgent threat is a serious one, and I'm confident that they'll take the steps they need to go after insurgents where they are.

 

            Now the minister has made his comments.  There are other types of security forces.  There are other ways to get at insurgents who might be using mosques as cover.  The commanders over there will work closely with the Iraqi commanders and do what needs to be done to defeat this insurgency.  But I --

 

            Q     Operationally this does not affect U.S. troops, who may be going after insurgents inside mosques --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, that relationship is one that we're always -- you know, General Casey and the Iraqi commanders are in close consultation with who does what over there.  Increasingly Iraqis are doing most of the -- a lot of the security functions over there.  What the minister has said will need to be factored into the planning, and it'll be factored in appropriately.  But I'm confident that the commanders will develop a method of operating that will allow them to go after insurgents where they are.  And if insurgents are threatening Iraqis from mosques, they'll have to work out some kind of an arrangement to take care of that.

 

            Q     Isn't this like a giant neon sign that says go in the mosque, go in the Shi'ite townhouse, go in the church and fight from there?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, I don't think the insurgents needed much encouragement to do that.  They're doing it already.  So it's a matter of how do we address that threat.  And as I said, I'm confident the commanders will work something out that's satisfactory.  We certainly have seen insurgents.  We saw it in Karbala and we saw it in Fallujah and elsewhere, insurgents inside mosques, heavily armed and using that for cover.  And it's -- when we've had to address that, we've tried to be as careful as we can, and I think we've been pretty careful.

 

            Brian?

 

            Q     Well, it's been pretty well documented that it's a grim year for recruiting.

 

            MR. DI RITA:  That it's a grim year for --

 

            Q     A grim year for recruiting, and it doesn't look like it's going to improve in the coming months.  Do you think the administration, do you think you, do you think the secretary can do more to say to the American people and make some sort of national call to service; say you need to -- it's in your interests, it's in your children's interests, your grandchildren's interests to get out there and sign up?

 

            Because if you're not watching television when there's an Army recruiting ad on or you're not reading one of our stories, where are you getting that message from?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  It's an important point, and we do -- we are looking for ways that we can speak to the people who help young folks make those kinds of decisions.  The Army in particular is looking for ways to get to college or high school counselors better and to get to parents, and that does require reviewing the way you communicate and the venues in which you communicate.  And we will want to do more of that and get --

 

            Q     But you have a bully pulpit. You're up here, the secretary's up here, the president when he holds a news conference -- I mean, isn't it in your interests -- don't you really at some point need to, you know, come out and say this is a national call -- make a national call to service from the pulpit that you have?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, certainly -- I consider this more of a fact pulpit than a bully pulpit.  The -- certainly the president on down has highlighted the importance of the global war on terror and what we're doing and the valuable service that people have played, military and non-military.  Homeland -- people who are involved in homeland security, local law enforcement -- the president was just at a local law enforcement event the other day.  It is something that I think, as I said, from the president on down, government officials need to be always mindful of, that we're communicating to in large part young people who have a number of factors on which they base decisions like this, but we believe still most strongly what their parents think. And so it's very important that we are communicating with parents, communicating with high school teachers about the value.  And we do reach out to educators and we reach out to -- in non-traditional venues.  We do try and do more of that, where people are actually paying attention.

 

            Q     I think there's --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Not everybody -- believe it or not, as important as this is, they don't all tune in to MSNBC at 1:00 in the afternoon.  So we need to find other venues to communicate, which is my point. They're not going to hear me; they're going to need to hear us in other venues.

 

            Q     There's still some confusion about what General Myers said, in which he said the violence in Afghanistan, in the view of U.S. commanders, didn't appear to be linked at all to the Newsweek article and what Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said yesterday, in which he said people were dying --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Right.

 

            Q     -- he said -- because of the reporting.  Can you reconcile those two statements for us?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do it to your satisfaction.  What I've said is that our commanders at the time -- I'll note the lack of interest at the time the commander said it in this room.  But Myers said that the commanders at the time believed that there was some preplanning that went into -- we're talking about in Afghanistan now; I don't believe he was speaking about the other regions -- and that the coalition forces commander there believed that there had been some evidence of preplanning.  And that would suggest that there were some anti-government protests that were going to happen and that without question it's -- period.  Now it has been subsequently reported that -- and if you watched the protests you could see there were references to the actions involved in Newsweek story.

 

            So it could have been a sort of unfortunate coincidence of two strains of activity.  But the commander's assessment at the time was there was some preplanning that went into this.  I believe, although I'm not certain, that the Afghan government had comments to that effect as well.

 

            Q     Do you now believe that people died because of this erroneous report in Newsweek?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I do.  I absolutely do.

 

            Q     Yesterday, Secretary Rumsfeld told the BRAC commission that it was now up to them to, you know take the baton.

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Correct.

 

            Q     But towards the end of his remarks, he added, what he called a "cautionary note," saying that he's resisted the urge to make any changes whatsoever, and they should be very careful about pulling out a thread from the center because they didn't know what the consequences -- what kind of message was he sending?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Our process evaluated service by service and then these Joint Cross-Service Groups that went across all the functional areas and tried to find ways where an individual service might not be able to surface a realignment suggestion, but that in the logistics area or in the intelligence area they may be able to.  It makes an individual -- if you look at an individual installation, decisions made on those individual installations, it makes things heavily interconnected.  And the commission -- I think all he was doing was advising the commission that you'll need to really delve into individual decisions in a way that will be very complex if you want to address specific things being done at individual installations.  It's certainly something the commission can do, and they certainly have the authority to do that.  And that's the next step in this process is for the commission to review that. 

 

            But I think he what he was trying to say is based on the assumptions we made about savings and the military value, which were the two principle things, principally value, you have to look at each decision across a fairly complicated spectrum of considerations, as opposed to just one service's perspective on what might be going on that installation.

 

            I think that's all -- I mean it was just a caution that some of the savings and some of the military values decisions were based on interrelated considerations that you'd have to spend time working through.  And, you know, we had thousands of -- well at least hundreds anyway, of people working thousands of hours to pull this together. The commission has nine members and a staff.  And to be sure they'll have all the data, and they'll be able to review it on the same basis that we did, and actually be able to take other data into account.

 

            It's just -- I think he was just giving them fair warning that our assumptions on savings and whatnot are more than just surface level decisions, and they should take that into account.  But it is correct to say that the commission has a lot of authority to look at this recommendation and make their own judgments, and we expect they'll do that.

 

            Q     Larry, another BRAC question.  Some of the commissioners yesterday expressed concern about shutting down Reserve and Guard facilities in the -- saying that they were afraid that forcing people to drive farther would hurt retention.  How will it not hurt retention?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, there's offsetting considerations.

 

            I was a reservist in this building for a year or so, about 10 years ago.  We had people that wanted to be in this -- the unit I was in. There were reasons why it was a good unit; it did important things, or interesting things.  So they were willing to come a very long distance to be here.

 

            So people make a lot of factors -- there is a lot of factors that go into the decision whether to drill with a particular unit, and it's not just how far they have to go.  The secretary, in fact, talked about his own experience, where he was going from one state to another to drill in his unit when he was in the Navy Reserves.

 

            So it's a factor, and it's an important one, and it was considered.  But it was also considered with the unit, the Reserve center or Guard center that they might be going to might be -- have some additional capabilities, or some additional missions being performed out of that unit.  And therefore, somebody who might otherwise not have been going to that unit will choose to, even if it's further away.

 

            So there's a lot of factors.  How far they have to go is just one.  It's an important one, but it is just one.

            Q     Sir (?), will the secretary be making the commencement address at one of the service academies --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  He's not.  Not this year.  It's a -- I don't know the order, but I think we have the chairman -- check me on this, Bryan -- the president, and the vice president.  So if it was just the regular routine, I think he was headed for Air Force, which he did in '02, I believe.  The vice president, as I understand it, is going to Air Force.  So he won't be in that rotation this year.

 

            Q     Larry, I do have another Newsweek question.  Sorry if you've already addressed this yesterday, but Newsweek -- again, the editor said it took the Pentagon 10 days to come out with any kind of official response --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  No.

 

            Q     Given that, you know, back in 2003 in January, the Pentagon realized the sensitivity of handling the Koran, why didn't you guys respond much quicker when the article first came out?  In the past, you've issued press releases when there have been questionable broadcasts or news reports.

 

              MR. DI RITA:  Well, we just -- I'm not sure; I didn't know about it.  I think when we learned about it and started to understand it better, we went after it and tried to understand it quickly.  I don't know that there's a better answer than that.  It appeared I'm told, as early as May 2nd, or something like that?  Or May 3rd?  And I just -- when it started to become something that we were more cognizant of, we focused on it.  There's an enormous amount of stuff out there.

 

            By the way, there's an enormous amount of stuff that we respond to regularly that's in the press, that doesn't get to this level of attention.  And that is very often ignored by the news organization, because they just don't agree with us.  This is not one of those cases.  But we do engage a lot, even when you don't know it or don't see it.  This is not one of those cases.  When it started to become something that people were mindful of -- I first learned of it when I was asked by one of your colleagues a week ago today.  That's when I first learned of it.

 

            Q     Why do you think out of all the allegations that are made against the military over the course of these wars, that this one took off the way it did?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Well, it's interesting, but I think it's a particularly -- I think it gets a little bit to Pam's question, that it's sensitive in an era when these kinds of things matter.  But it gets to a particularly troubling alleged allegation, particularly troubling behavior that was described, and then it connected it directly to U.S. forces in a way that gave it a lot of -- a lot of traction.  And it's unfortunate that it did.

 

            Q     Larry, what particular incident or incidents, if any, prompted the creation of that January 2003 memo on the proper handling of the Koran at Guantanamo?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I'm not sure.  And they had handling procedures from much earlier on that they regularly reviewed.  And I'm not sure if at some point they decided to have a written SOP as opposed to pass-down log-type stuff or training without an SOP.  And they subsequently had developed additional standard operating procedures that had found its way into a different level of guidance.  So I think these kinds of things evolve, which is not atypical for military standard operating procedures.

 

            Q     So you don't know if there was an --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I don't.

 

            Q     -- incident of mishandling the Koran that prompted --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I don't.  And as I said, one of the things that General Craddock will want to do is review procedures to see if he's comfortable with them.  They're very refined right now, but there's always an opportunity to review these things.

 

            Let me take one or two -- one last question.

 

            Q     Can I ask you an airplane question?  It's got nothing to do with BRAC or Iraq.

 

            MR. DI RITA:  An airplane question?  Sure.

 

            Q     Last week, among all the news, Secretary Rumsfeld signaled the Congress that he is pulling back on a decision he made the 7th of December to terminate the C-130J program.

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Right.

 

            Q     It's small in some respects, but it was like $5 billion in savings over the next seven years.  And it was couched -- some of the tax advocate groups felt that a major capitulation to Congress.  Can you give a sense of why the secretary decided to pull back?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I don't think we saw it was a major -- I mean, we saw it for what it was.  We made an assessment as we were developing the budget that doing the original action, which was to cancel the program, would have saved a certain amount of money.  As we got more refined analysis -- excuse me, a little more refined analysis, unfortunately after our budget was submitted, we learned -- you know, we have -- as we've talked about, layers of accountants and layers of auditors.  We have -- there was another layer of analysis that went into it and asked the Air Force:  Did you think about this?  Did you consider that?  And once they started to pick away a little bit at the original calculation or the original analysis, it didn't hold.  And so we immediately went to the White House -- in fact, we immediately told the Congress that we may be revisiting that decision, and we went about trying to understand it better and understand the impact if we did revisit the decision, which we ended up doing.

 

            Q     Well, the termination cost -- some of the members of Congress -- it was like 1.6 billion (dollars).  It was like a $4 billion contract.  So a layperson might ask, why would the Pentagon enter a contract that had such a huge termination cost?  It's like 40 percent of the value --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  Yeah, I'm not an expert at the -- look, the way we contract -- I think we've talked a lot about -- is not the way you'd do it if you were starting over from scratch.  So it's -- there's a lot of inefficiencies in the way we do business in this process.

 

            Q     Well, it gets criticized quite a bit for its capability and cost and all this.  Is the Pentagon taking another look and thinks it's now a cost-effective airplane, or --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  I think what we said is given the current contract, it would be more costly to terminate it than it would be just to let the contract run to its conclusion, and that's what we're -- that's what we've decided to recommend.

 

            Q     It's not a capitulation --

 

            MR. DI RITA:  No.

 

            Q     -- to get Ken Krieg's nomination through, or anything?

 

            MR. DI RITA:  (Laughs.)  No, no, no, no.  Nothing like that.

 

            Q     Okay.

 

            MR. DI RITA:  That's very cynical, Tony.

 

            Thanks a lot, folks.

 

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