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Defense Department Regular Briefing

Presenter: Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Larry Di Rita
April 29, 2005 1:05 PM EDT
Defense Department Regular Briefing

     MR. DI RITA:  Good afternoon.  I thought I'd just give you a chance to get a few more shots in before the end of the week. 

 

     I did want to, first of all, acknowledge -- if some of you had a chance to go out and see the farewell ceremonies for Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz, which were very nice and appropriate to his distinguished service as the deputy secretary of Defense.  He will continue to serve, obviously, until the confirmation of his successor, as we hope will occur in the coming period ahead.  But it was a very nice ceremony and a very fitting tribute to him as well, but also the U.S. forces that he recognized quite generously in his speech.

 

     I'd also like to, if I may, just acknowledge that there's a joint statement that the State Department has released, or will soon be releasing, with respect to the investigation in Iraq on -- the joint U.S.-Italian investigation.  There's a statement from the State

 

     Department.  I want to draw your attention to it.  I'm not going to have anything to add to that statement, but I wanted you to be aware of it.

 

      And with that, I'd be happy to take a few questions.

 

     Jamie?

 

     Q     Can we start with North Korea?  Admiral Jacoby, yesterday in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, left the clear impression that North Korea now has the ability to arm a nuclear -- a missile with a nuclear warhead that could reach the United States, which seems to go significantly beyond what's been said publicly before.

 

     The DIA put out a statement last night attempting to clarify it, saying that he was simply reiterating his previous testimony.  But that's clearly not the case, if you compare what he said before with what he said yesterday. 

 

     So can you clarify at all?  Did he misspeak, or is the assessment now that North Korea does have the capability to arm a missile that could reach the United States with a nuclear warhead?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Well, let me just take that issue on as a question of process, first and foremost, and that is, very specifically – and if Admiral Jacoby were here, he'd say the same thing -- he was not making a new assessment.  There is no new assessment of North Korea's capability in this regard.  And whether the words were exactly the same, the assessment, based on testimony he gave in the Senate in March, was -- this is the same assessment as the assessment he was discussing in the Senate yesterday.  So, in terms of the actual assessment, there's no new assessment.  And in fact, he was speaking about a theoretical capability to combine missile types and a warhead such that you could have a theoretical ability to reach the United States, as he described.

 

     But again, I do want to emphasize, he was not offering a new assessment.  So that is the same as he's -- as the DIA, anyway, has concluded for a while.

 

     Q     But was he in fact telling us more about --

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I don't think he intended to.

 

     Q     -- that assessment than he perhaps -- as you said, than he intended to?  I mean --

 

     MR. DI RITA:  No, it was not his intent to do that.  He did not intend to reveal more about the assessment.  In fact, that's the point that I think the DIA spokespeople were making last night in the clarification, was that he was emphasizing the theoretical nature of this capability.

 

     Q     But did he accidentally tell us something that's true that he just didn't mean to let slip, which is that --

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I don't believe that's the case, and I don't think that was his intent.  His intent was --

 

     Q     Okay, just be specific:  new assessment, current assessment, old assessment.  Is it the belief of the Pentagon, the U.S. government, intelligence community, whoever, that Korea now possesses a nuclear warhead or the ability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead that could be put on a missile that could reach the United States?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Well, I would -- I would just stay with Admiral Jacoby's comments.  And what he said -- and this is what he said in March -- is that North Korea continues to invest in ballistic missiles to defend against attack.  Its Taepo Dong II intercontinental missiles may be resting -- ready for testing.  This missile could deliver a nuclear warhead to parts of the United States in a two-stage variant and target all of North America.  This is a theoretical capability in the sense that the missiles have not been tested.  Those were his words.

 

     Q     I know, but everybody keeps concentrating on the missile. I am concentrating on the warhead.  A big question has been whether North Korea has the ability today to miniaturize a nuclear weapon so that it could be put on a -- down to a sufficient size and it could be put on a missile that could be launched that could reach either -- even Japan, for example, or the United States.  And that's the question; not whether they have a missile that can do it, but whether they have a warhead that can be attached to a missile.

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I don't believe we know that, and I don't believe that that's part of the assessment.  I think in the case of North Korea, we've heard comments that North Korean leaders have made.  We have made our own assessments about a theoretical capability.  But I think, as the President said last night, when you're dealing with a country like this, it's always safe to assume the worst.  And so part of our understanding of this is based on assumptions, as the President described, worst-case assumptions.  But I think the assessment is what it is, and it's -- I would emphasize the theoretical nature of the assessment.

 

     Q     But -- not to belabor the point, but isn't the assuming the worst, in fact, a new position?  Because all along the estimates were that North Korea would not be capable of doing this until about 2015 is what we understand.  So if now we're assuming that they can do it today as the worst, isn't that, in fact, a new assessment on their capability?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  There's no new assessment, Jim, and I don't know how else to put it.  And I know that it's very tempting to parse words that officials make in public, and it's understandable that you would do so.  But they're at a hearing, he gets asked a question, he gets asked a follow-on question, he does his best to keep things at a level that he's knowledgeable in.  And it certainly was not his intent to offer anything like a new assessment.  It was what it was.

 

     And let me just emphasize, though, that intelligence is a very difficult challenge for us in a society like North Korea, where it's closed, where they do a lot of their work underground.  And so you --one makes the best assessments, but we know that there's an awful lot that we don't know, and it's prudent to measure those assessments carefully and to balance how you talk about them because there's a lot we don't know.

 

     Q     It's fine for you to say that we should just -- that the assessment is what it is and we should go with Admiral Jacoby's words, but his words were very clear in that exchange with Senator Clinton, where she asked him specifically, "Admiral, do you assess that North Korea has the ability to arm a missile with a nuclear device?"  And

his clear answer was, "The assessment is that they have the capability to do that.  Yes, ma'am."  So that is not consistent with what his previous testimony was.  And as Jim points out, it goes significantly beyond.  So either he misspoke or he didn't, and I think what we're asking for is just a clarification.

 

     MR. DI RITA:  And I'll tell you --

 

     Q     And without a clarification, which we haven't really received so far despite your best effort, the general wide-held perception of what he said is going to simply stand.

 

     And maybe you want to just let it stand; I don't know.

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I can't do more than what I've tried to do, which is to make sure that people understand -- and I appreciate the trouble you're having with this -- that he wasn't trying to offer a new assessment.  And then you ask, rightly, well, was he revealing more about his previous assessment.  And I don't think that was his intent.

 

     So I would stick to what I've said, which is our assessment is what it is, but I would qualify that with what we always say about intelligence assessments, and that is it's challenging to -- I think we all know the challenge to making intelligence assessments when it comes to a closed society such as North Korea.  But the fact of the matter remains that it's a program that threatens the international community, it threatens the integrity of the global nuclear nonproliferation regime, and it's something that the United States is working closely with other countries on a multilateral basis to address.

 

     And we'll always do our best to understand the assessments and to describe the assessments, but the fact is that what they have and what we've acknowledged that we think they have is a threat to the international community, and the President's (dealing with that ?).

 

     Q     Are members of Congress -- because there was an implication in today's New York Times story about this, quoting some staff members from up on the Hill, that they are getting information beyond what General -- I mean Admiral Jacoby said in public, that certainly appears to lead these staff members to believe that North Korea's program in terms of miniaturizing a warhead is far beyond what we've been told in public.  Are members of Congress being told something differently in the classified, closed-door briefings about North Korea's capability that we are not hearing in public or they are not permitted to reveal in public?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I know this isn't your question, but I think what you're asking me is can I tell you things that are classified, that we tell the members on a classified basis.  And the answer, of course, to that is no. 

 

     Q     I'm asking if they are being told.  I'm not asking you for that information.  I'm just -- the implication in the New York Times story is that -- even the reason the question was raised is that perhaps some of these lawmakers are being told that North Korea's development of a nuclear warhead is far beyond what has been previously released.

 

      MR. DI RITA:  I don't have anything for you on that.  I haven't seen the comments by the staffers and I'm not privy to what we're telling to the members on a classified basis.

 

     Q     I think what Americans want to know here is do the North Koreans currently have the capability to launch an ICBM with a nuclear warhead and hit part of the United States.

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I understand the question, and I've given you the answer that we have.

 

     What have you got, Jim?

 

     Q     I think that leaves it unclear to them, though.

 

     MR. DI RITA:  When you're dealing with intelligence assessments, it's always going to be a little bit unclear.  And I will tell you that in a situation like this, we're dealing with a country where, as the President said last night, they've made some declaratory statements on the North Korean side that may or may not be accurate. We don't know.  We can't validate that the statements are true.  We have our own assessments that we've talked about to some extent.  And then you prepare, as I said, with the understanding that this is a serious threat to the international community, it's a serious threat to the United States, and it's one that we are addressing with some dispatch.

 

     Q     But we're not asking you what you know.  We're asking you what you think and whether what Admiral Jacoby said he thinks is what he meant to say he thinks.

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I think I've -- Jamie, I think I've given you all that I'm able to give you on that.  We don't have a new assessment. If we're able to provide -- and I will take this one -- if we're able to provide a specific response to your query as to whether he was revealing more about an assessment or just misspoke -- I don't believe that's the case.  I think he was just doing his best in a hearing setting in a public venue to restate what he believes and what he has said in the past, and may have misspoken, may not have.  I will try and provide a little bit more clarification.  I'm not sure that we're going to be able to do more. 

 

      The thing I do want to emphasize, though, is that we assess that North Korea is a danger to the international community -- the North Korean nuclear program -- and that's the reason why we are in the six- party talks, to address that problem.

 

     How about you in the back?  And I'll come back to you, Jim.

 

     Q     Just to follow that up.  While there seems to be a deadlock with the six-party talks and there's been no resumption of them, time is passing.  Meanwhile, we find out that the North Koreans say they have nuclear weapons, they seem to be shutting down a reactor to possibly obtain more nuclear weapon fuel.  Is their nuclear program becoming a fait accompli while we fail to reach negotiations about it?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I think the best thing that could happen -- and I think this has been the U.S. position -- is that the North Koreans should return to the six-party talks.  And the actions that that country is taking are sort of furthering their isolation within the international community.  And we believe the best approach is to continue to work the six-party talks and address that program.

 

     Q     But until that happens, they keep on advancing their program, it appears.  So does that mean they could just end up having a nuclear program fully developed while we haven't even begun to talk?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I'll leave people to sort of draw their own assessments as to what might happen.  But the fact is that we believe that they have a program that threatens the international community; we believe that the best way to address that is through the six-party talks.  We believe that they have certain capabilities on the missile side that we've spoken to some extent about,

 

     MORE

 

     I don't think there's any way to parse that.

 

     Q     Just to go back to the assessment thing.  I mean, isn't it fair to say that Jacoby is saying that the United States believes that North Korea has the capability to arm a missile with a nuclear warhead?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I don't want to state what may or may not be fair after you've re-characterized what he was trying to say.  I just -- I'm not in a position to do that.  I mean, I would -- his words were what his words were.  If there's more that we can provide with respect to how much of the assessment he thinks is appropriate to disclose, we'll try and do that. 

 

     But I do want to emphasize the fact that what we think about North Korea today is not at all different from what we've thought about North Korea for a while, and that is:  It has a nuclear program that threatens it neighbors, ultimately, the United States and other allies, and it's one that we're addressing as aggressively as we can.

 

     Tony?

 

     Q     New subject?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Sure.

 

     Q     One more.

 

     MR. DIRITA:  I'll take one more.  I just -- I hope I can help you, Alan, but I doubt I can.

 

     Q     To follow up on the question in the back, you said North Korea is a danger to the international community, the --

 

     MR. DI RITA:  North Korea's nuclear program.

 

     Q     Right.  The admiral said they have the missiles; there's some gray area about whether they have the warheads to put on them. President called Kim Jong Il a dangerous man.  What's the United States doing to address the problem, aside from just calling for a

resumption of six-party talks?  Is there more we should do?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Well, time will tell.  The President has -- and five other countries, or at least four other countries for the moment, have agreed that a diplomatic approach to this through these multilateral talks is the best approach.  And at that point -- and the President spoke to this last night -- at a certain point, when it may or may not be determined that additional steps should be taken, then we'll consider those steps. 

 

     But for the moment, you ask what should we be doing, and we believe what we should be doing is encouraging North Korea to end its continued isolation, get back to the negotiating table, and we'll address these issues in turn.

 

     Q     So it sounds like it's not an immediately urgent problem in the department's or the administration's assessment.

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I don't do adjectives and adverbs.  I just do what I told you, which is they should come back to the six-party talks.  And you can describe it with your own adverbs and adjectives.

 

     Q     You mentioned other steps.  What other steps would be considered at the appropriate --

 

     MR. DI RITA:  What I said was that the President discussed other things, and I'll just -- I'll refer you back to what he talked about, what could be considered once some determination may be made.  But for the moment, the U.S. policy continues to be the multilateral six-party talks.

 

     Q     I got to ask you about the State Department statement.  It lacks specifics in there because you say you can't address it.  But it does raise the question, why the U.S. and Italy could not reach a similar conclusion about the circumstances.  Can you give us some insight in terms of --

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I'm afraid I can't.  The statement -- the joint announcement speaks for itself.  We certainly mourn the loss of life involved.  But why don't we wait until the investigation is completed and until it's been briefed, and then the Italians can speak to it. 

 

     Q     It says it is --

 

      MR. DI RITA:  Excuse me?

 

     Q     The statement says the investigation is complete, and investigators did not arrive at a shared final conclusion. 

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Right.  And when we release that and announce and discuss it, which we expect to be very soon -- it's still kind of going through the administrative completed final steps in Baghdad -- or in the theater, I should say -- we'll announce it, we'll brief it, we'll release it to the extent it can be released.  And then the Italians can speak about things that they choose to speak about.

 

     Q     Well, is it fair to conclude from this, which it seems to certainly imply, that the U.S. believes that the U.S. military personnel acted properly, and that the Italians don't believe that's entirely the case?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  You know, I don't really want to talk about conclusions of the investigation.  The statement speaks for itself; it is true that the statement says what you said it did.  But the statement does not talk about conclusions of the investigation in specific detail, and it's not my place to do that.  When they are completed with it administratively, then we'll release it.  And I expect that to be within days.  Soon.

 

     Q     Was it -- was there some surprise though, -- (inaudible) -- the secretary and others, I mean that two close allies could not come to agreement?  There's been past friendly fire investigations of the British and the Patriot shoot-downs, and the Canadians with the friendly fire F-16 attacks --

 

     MR. DI RITA:  You know something?  I wouldn't want to characterize it.  I would just say that the Italians were part of this investigation, and we appreciated very much that they took it very seriously.  And there's a joint announcement, and the joint announcement says what it says.  And when the report is released people will be free to comment on it, including Italian officials, and we certainly expect that they'll do that.

 

     Q     One of the things these investigations often find is that no matter how properly everybody acted, often things could be done better, procedures could be improved.  Are you aware of any checkpoint procedures that have been changed or improved or enhanced as a result of this investigation?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I'm not aware, but I do know that when he was here, General Casey talked about his own interest as a result of a couple of such incidents in close time -- in proximity of time, that he wanted to review those.  I don't know to what extent that's a -- I don't believe that was a part of this investigation.  He just, as a commander, thought it would be useful to do that.  And I don't know the status of that, but we'll try and find out.

 

     Q     Well, do you have any idea what kind of steps might have been taken?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I don't.

 

     Q     The marking of checkpoints --

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I'm afraid I don't.  It may be something that's discussed when the investigators discuss their conclusions.  I just don't know.

 

     Q     Larry, I know you don't want to get into the specifics of this, but if they agreed on the fact finding and recommendations, how is there room for them not to agree on the final conclusion?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I guess we'll just -- why don't we wait until the investigation is released and discussed, and all of these things will come to light, I'm sure.  I'm just not in a position to help you now.

 

     Q     This is only the most dramatic of a number of checkpoint shootings that we've heard about.  Are there statistics kept by the Pentagon on the number of these incidents?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Not by the Pentagon.  It's possible, I suppose, that they're kept in theater.  And if they are kept and there's something that we could share, some inside info, I'd be happy to try if we could take a look at that.  I don't know that we keep any.

 

     General Casey, as I mentioned, I think suggested that he wanted to review this situation when he came down and spoke to you all a month or so ago.  But I don't know what data might be available, and if there were data available whether we could release it.

 

     Q     Have you heard anything from the Italians about their continued participation in the coalition based on this since this?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  You know, I don't want -- I -- let's just wait until the investigation has come out, and then the Italian government – our policy tries to be that we let coalition partners speak for themselves, and I'm not going to deviate from that approach at this point.

 

     Q     Is there any evidence that the Italians paid a ransom to secure the release of --

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I have nothing for you on that.

 

     Q     The Defense Security and Cooperation Agency announced this week their sale to Israel of 100 GBU-28 bunker-busting bombs. Apparently --

 

     MR. DI RITA:  What kind?  I'm sorry?

 

     Q     Bunker-busting bombs.

 

     MR. DI RITA:  But what was their designation?

 

     Q     GBU-28.

 

     MR. DI RITA:  GBU-28?  Okay.

 

     Q     And I guess this was the first time Israel has been sold these weapons.  Given the tension with Iran over the nuclear – you know, their nuclear program, is there a connection between the decision to sell them those weapons now and the situation in Iran?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Well, here's what I know about that.  And then if there's more that you seek, we'll try and provide it.

 

     But as I understand it, this sale has only been proposed. There's a process that has to be followed, and that process involves an approval by Congress.  So we're at a stage where the proposal's been made and now Congress has to act.

 

     We do believe that the sale contributes to the national security of the United States.  It helps a friendly country in the region.  And we don't believe that there will be any impact on the United States' readiness as a result of this.

 

     But in terms of your specific question about the intended uses for this by the government of Israel, I wouldn't want to speculate on that.  It's a weapons system that they're going to acquire if it's approved.

 

     Yeah?

 

     Q     Another subject?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Sure.

 

     Q     The C-130J airplane has drawn a lot of flak on Capitol Hill in terms -- the budget cut --

 

     MR. DI RITA:  It's drawn a lot of -- I understood that it was popular up there.

 

     Q     Your decision's drawn a lot of flak, I'm sorry.

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Oh, I see.

 

     Q     What's the status of that --

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I misunderstood your question.

 

     Q     It was badly phrased.  What was the -- what's the status of the Pentagon's review on whether you're going to pull back on the budget decision?  Why so much consternation?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  It's in progress.  We hope to have something that we can agree and conclude soon, but it's something that's not quite completed.  It's -- we talked a little bit about what some of the factors, follow-on factors were.  Once the president's budget was submitted, there were some other factors that came to light that hadn't been properly weighed or considered.  But in terms of the final impact on the budget and the request that would have to be made to adjust to that and whether that's the right thing to do in the first place, that's -- I think we're not quite ready to do that yet.

 

     Q     Is the Pentagon, though, in the position to say that you're going to stick with the original proposal, but maybe modify it, I mean, kind of on the borders?  Or is there a possibility you're just going to pull back and restore the program?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Well, I think it's possible that we'll stick to the budget as submitted, it's possible that we'll make some adjustment to that, and it's possible that we'll make a significant change to what we proposed.  And that whole range is the sort of universe, and what we end up doing we'll have concluded soon and we'll announce it.

 

     Q     One final question on this.  Senator Chambliss has made the point that it would cost $1.6 billion to terminate this program.  My question is, why didn't the Pentagon think all that through before they made the decision to terminate the program? 

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Well, it's a fair enough question.  And when we get to the kind of conclusions about what we think the next best steps are, we'll have a better understanding as to how we might -- if a decision is made to make an amended request, then we'll also want to learn about the process that allowed us to make the original error, if it turns out to have been that -- and I'm not suggesting yet that it is -- and we'll deal with it.  I think termination costs was one of the factors that after the fact became something that needed to be reevaluated.  But how that happened and why, we'll understand better and hope to avoid those kinds of things in the future, if that's what the conclusion was.

 

     Q     Thank you.

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Sure.

 

     Q     I wanted to ask you about this long-standing policy that we don't characterize what our relationship is with other nations in the coalition.  It seems to me that --

 

     MR. DI RITA:  No.  No, no, no.  Let me -- let me be careful about that.  We don't try and talk about other nations' contributions to the coalition.  I mean, we characterize that Italy has been a terrific coalition partner.  What Italy will want to say about its future in the coalition is up to Italy.

 

     Q     Fine, on that particular point.  But in the larger war on terrorism, this has come up, and often when we ask questions we get that same answer.

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Which you don't like.  I'm sorry.

 

     Q     Which we don't like.  And I would say in the case of a country like Uzbekistan, who made a significant contribution to the war in Afghanistan, they did a lot of things that they didn't want to talk about; the Uzbek people didn't know about it.  But the American people, who were paying for the troops who were there, who were paying for the planes that went there, also were not entitled to that information.  And I'm just asking why is it that we're not characterizing what U.S. troops are doing with U.S. tax dollars in other countries?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I think that there's oversight of all of U.S. – at least Department of Defense programs at the appropriate level.  When we conduct activities in other countries that involve the use of taxpayer funds, there is proper oversight through elected representatives of the very people that you are concerned about.

 

      But, you know, we're in a different kind of war.  We're in a war where from the very beginning we talked about how we're going to be doing things that people will know and understand and see, and we'll be doing things that will be much less well-known and understood because of the nature of the adversary that we face. 

 

     So it, I suppose, would be much more meaningful to people in your profession -- and I mean this in all seriousness -- if we could just publish long lists of what we're doing around the world, and it would be a lot more -- it would be a lot easier for you to report on what we're doing.  But we respect the oversight we get.  We are faithful to the oversight that we get.  We know that the free press is an important part of, in some measure, oversight by the public.  But as a matter of fact, the nature of the conflict that we're in is going to dictate what I said, which is some things we're going to be doing that are very public, and other things we're going to be doing will not be. And we'll all just kind of work at that as best we can.  I think that's --

 

     Q     To that end, are we training -- are U.S. forces training Pakistani forces right now?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I have nothing for you on that at the moment.

 

     Q     Larry, I asked this question before and I didn't get a good answer, so I wonder, as the Pentagon spokesman, if you might take a crack at it.  And that is --

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Oh, you didn't ask it of me --

 

     Q     No I didn't --

 

     MR. DI RITA:  -- because it sounds like you're giving me a second chance here, which I always appreciate.

 

     Q     But I'm going to try you and see how it goes.

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Okay, I'm going to write it down.

 

     Q     There has been, especially as a result of the Army IG investigation that has cleared most of the senior people of any wrongdoing, some considerable criticism on Capitol Hill, and also in editorial pages across the country, suggesting that the Pentagon is not holding anybody of senior accountable in the prison-abuse scandal, and has shown an inability to investigate itself.  I'm just wondering what your response to those critics would be.

 

     MR. DI RITA:  First of all, I would say that we're not finished with the full range of actions that undoubtedly will unfold.  We've conducted 10 or so investigations that go through the entire range, as we've been able to envision, of relevant activities involving detainee operations.  There's been one general officer suspended from command; 35 soldiers have been referred to trial by court-martial; 67 have received non-judicial punishment.  There's a quite -- you've got all the numbers; we've put them out before.  And again, there's likely to be more because there are investigations that continue.

 

     I don't know that -- certainly in my time here, but I think others can assess whether or not there has ever been any single set of activities as closely scrutinized -- indeed, after the fact, but nonetheless, scrutinized -- as what occurred at that prison, and, subsequently, to the detainee operations around the world.  It's something that the secretary said nearly a year ago that we would go after aggressively.  I think that we have.  People can, over time, be able to determine whether or not the level of effort was sufficient to the nature of the transgression.  I think that the amount of time and senior-level attention to the problem that has been put into this would reflect that it was quite commensurate with the nature of the transgression. 

 

     But I think we'll have to let time determine whether it was something that reached to the full extent that it needed to.  As I said, at least one general officer has been suspended from command. There are continuing judicial and non-judicial proceedings that involve other people beyond the ones I mentioned have been already court-martialed or referred for court-martial.  And as I said, I think if you look at the full weight of the transgression and the response to it, it's my assessment that it was something that we took very seriously, that we learned a lot of lessons, and as a result of those lessons, we'll get better at what we do.  And we've announced a lot of that.  We have tried very hard to keep the Congress and the general public informed of that.  And people can then draw their own conclusions.

 

     I think to say that we can't investigate ourselves when we've done -- when you look at the range and scope of the investigations is just -- misunderstands the effort that we've put into it.  And maybe we need to be better at explaining that effort.

 

     Q     One senior officer who was cleared was General -- Lieutenant General Carlos Sanchez, who normally would be -- based on his performance in Iraq, be in line for a promotion and another assignment.  Is there any recognition or assessment here that -- essentially that he's politically “unconfirmable” because he has some severe critics in the Senate?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  The secretary, when he was here, and the chairman, on Tuesday talked about the general officer advancement process.  And I don't think I'd want to comment beyond what they said.  There's a process.  The process evaluates officers; it evaluates the open positions and tries to make the best fit with the most-qualified officers.  And a whole range of factors are considered when that's done.  But I wouldn't want to speak to General Sanchez's circumstances in particular.

 

     Q     Any job that he would take would require Senate confirmation.  And the fact that a single senator can hold up a confirmation, and that Sanchez has a number of very sharp critics in the Senate, doesn't that essentially mean he can't get another job?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I would not subscribe to that at all.  I mean, General Sanchez has had a terrific career and did a terrific job in Iraq.  There hasn't been a single investigation that has singled him out for personal culpability.  And indeed, he was found not to have any personal culpability.

 

     That having been said, there's a process by which senior officers are advanced in this department, and a lot of factors are taken into account when that happens, and it's premature to discuss.  He happens to be the V Corp commander, and he's going to be that until he's something else.  And we'll just leave it at that.

 

     Yeah?

 

     Q     One of the reasons, Larry, that people draw the conclusion that there was some kind of systematic problem that requires accountability at a higher level is that after all these things have happened, you've had the Army change and further restrict their tactics for interrogations in the new manual; you have General Casey further restricting the rules for the region on interrogation.  And that seems -- that raises a question among a lot of people as to whether or not -- whether those previous guidelines were clear enough or whether they were just wrong and went too far.

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Well, certainly we know some people went too far, but they went -- a lot of the people who have already been held accountable weren't responsible for interrogations.  So I wouldn't necessarily draw the straight-line conclusion between people who have been court-martialed and the procedures, but it is a fact that we have addressed the procedures and, in some cases, clarified. 

 

     The clarification is probably something that's been done in the course of or subsequent to every previous conflict too.  In other words, we learn.  And we have a trained command in all the services, an indoctrined command that takes real-time lessons and says, what are we learning and how can we make things better for the people in the field.

 

     I think there has been -- it is probably useful that there has been clarification, because the nature of what we're doing now – and certainly the scope of it -- exceeds anything we've done, perhaps ever, when it comes to interrogation, but certainly in the lifetime of anybody on active duty right now. 

 

     So having clarification based on the real-world experience of the current operation seems to me a useful thing.  And remember, we're in a very, very different conflict.  And I think, we're learning across the board that doctrine that existed before this conflict began is in need of significant clarification, if not outright replacement, with new doctrine. 

 

     So, yeah, we're learning lessons.  And I'm not sure that because, you know, you enter into a conflict having trained and equipped for a different conflict -- because that's the nature of preparing for war -- that there's necessarily culpability or personal accountability that attaches to deciding that the doctrine you went into the war with needs to change.  I think that's a different problem.  It's a problem.  And General Abizaid, when he testified, said our interrogation procedures are broken.  In other words, we need to get this doctrine right; because it doesn't fit the world we're in.  So that's what we're trying to do.

 

     Q     A quick (Army ?) question.

 

     Q     May I follow up?

 

     Q     Larry?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Oh.  Eric, then I'll come back to you.

 

     Q     Jamie asked specifically about holding senior leadership accountable, and you said we're not finished.  Is there something else in the works?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I said in the context of general accountability we're not finished.  And we'll see.  We know that there are recommendations that came out of investigations that we've already released or discussed with respect to individuals and the process that follows after these general investigations such as Kern-Fey-Jones, for example, is one in which there is more direct investigation of specific findings, and that process takes time.  Part of that – what just occurred with the department of the Army inspector general, with respect to these general officers was the result of having compiled a lot of recommendations from the previous reports.

 

     There are other individuals involved, and out of respect for those individuals, we'll let that process follow.  And people can then, at the end of it, determine that -- whether or not it was held at the proper level. 

 

     And as Senator Warner has said, he will evaluate in his committee the procedures we use to establish accountability.  And he certainly is the chairman of that committee, and the oversight responsibility he has entitles him to do that.  We believe that we'll -- we've accorded ourselves quite well with respect to fixing accountability.  I mean the commanding general of that prison has been relieved of command, was relieved of her command.

 

     Q     Larry, as you well know, since Abu Ghraib now -- and all these investigations and prosecutions and court-martials – critics continue to call for Secretary Rumsfeld to be held responsible in some way; he has said he takes full responsibility before Congress.  What, in your view or the secretary's view -- what is your view on that?  I mean, why do you think people continue to call for him to be held responsible if there's all -- all of what you say going on to answer these questions?

 

     MR. DI RITA:  I suppose there's people that will always feel that more can be done.  I will remind people -- and the secretary has spoken about this publicly; there's no reason to not repeat -- that he offered to resign over the matter.  The President didn't accept that offer, and then subsequent to that, there was was an election.  And the American people had the full weight of everything that happened in the last four years and decided to rehire the President for this job.  That's not bad when it comes to whether or not somebody at the very top was accountable.  That was not -- you know, that's not the full scope of all the activity that we're doing, but it's not bad.

 

     How about the last question?  I've got to -- (off mike).

 

     Q     Has General Casey briefed the secretary on his latest assessment of U.S. force levels in Iraq?  The only reason I ask is Casey a couple months ago said, in April I'll be reviewing force levels and whether I need to lower them or increase them or whatever.

 

     MR. DI RITA:  He hasn't done anything -- he hasn't made any kind of recommendations with respect to that.  He talks to the secretary regularly. He spoke to him today and talked about what he feels is continued progress on the side of the Iraqi security forces.  He talked about increasing numbers of operations at the brigade level that has significantly more Iraqi security forces than U.S. security forces at the brigade level.  He talked, for example, about an operation recently in one of the more contentious areas in the country, where the ratio was something on the order of 550 Iraqi security forces and 150 or 175 U.S. forces.  And he talked about how those kinds of brigade-level operations are happening with a lot more frequency with those kinds of ratios.  So he feels that the Iraqi security force progress continues to be on track, but he hasn't, to my knowledge, made any recommendations about US. force levels.

 

     Q     Did he tell the secretary, I will make some recommendations in the next month --

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Well, he talks to him regularly, so I would not want to -- I mean, it's not like -- yeah, he, I think, talks to him probably two or three times a week, so. 

 

     And I've just been handed a note, so I'm going to make sure that I'm careful about one thing.  Fair enough. 

 

     I think I may have said that General Karpinski was relieved of command.  "Suspended" from command is the more precise way to put it, pending the final disposition of all the situations that she's involved in.  So let me clarify that for the record.  Suspended versus relieved.

 

     Any other questions?

 

     Q     Thank you.

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Thank you.  I have you have a great weekend.

 

     Q     Really, we don't have time for any more questions.  We're busy. I know you'd like to stay and answer questions all day. (Laughter.)

 

     MR. DI RITA:  Hey, is it something I said?

 

     Q     (Off mike.)

 

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