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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with the Sunday Times

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
March 21, 2002

(Interview with the Sunday Times of London and Focus Magazine)

Rumsfeld: What can I respond to?

Focus: You are unveiling plans about military court commissions. From the European perspective, have you been surprised about the criticism that has developed in Europe on how United States is treating the detainees in Guantanamo Bay?

Rumsfeld: Surprised. I guess when you're as old as I am you stop being surprised. People are reacting to something that they didn't know much about and what they heard was inaccurate. I have not been surprised at all that anyone who had any knowledge about how we have been treating detainees in Guantanamo has responded very positively and has been quite complimentary about the way we've handled them and the circumstance that they're in, the fact that their treatment is indeed humane. They are well-fed and well taken care of and getting excellent medical care and being treated in a humane way.

All the criticism is based on the shrill hyperventilation of a few people who didn't know what they were talking about, hadn't seen the situation, hadn't taken the time to understand the situation, and I suppose that one has to expect when they see these headlines and statements being made that are inaccurate that they would think gee, that's not the way the United States ought to be doing it. But in fact the United States was not doing it that way. Has not, is not, and will not.

I guess a better word than surprised would be disappointed.

Times: Among the detainees at the moment in Guantanamo there are I think at the last count five British citizens.

Rumsfeld: I can't validate that.

Times: Let's say a number of British citizens. In your announcement or in the report of your forthcoming announcement, it suggests that there may be a difference between men considered sort of the hardest of the hard, as the phrase has been used, and just ordinary foot soldiers.

Are you in a position to say which category these British --

Rumsfeld: Oh, no. I'm not.

Times: Or what's going to be done with them?

Rumsfeld: I'm not at all knowledgeable about -- We've got hundreds of people involved in various locations and I don't have knowledge of the results of the discussions and interviews which they've had.

They're in varying stages of completion. The first task, of course, was to try to figure out who they are and there's been an enormous amount of lying and changing of stories and aliases. So it's been very difficult to get a grip on exactly who the people are, where they're from, what their nationality is, what their role was, and that's not surprising. If one reads the training manuals for those folks they were taught to lie. They were taught to play to the press by claiming they had been treated brutally. They were taught to dissemble and confuse and they do that in these interviews.

So they were well trained. So it's going to take a little time.

The arrangements are that they will be first interviewed for intelligence gathering information with the hope that we can stop further terrorist attacks. Second, they will be interviewed for law enforcement purposes. We are having people from the nation that these people claim is their nationality come down to government and meet them and interrogate them and develop whatever information they'd like to develop.

Our general position is that we have no desire to hold people. We don't fashion that that is our responsibility. To the extent we can find countries that will come to an understanding with us that they would take individuals and prosecute them under their laws, as opposed to letting them go and turning them back out on the street where they can go kill people, which is not my first choice, and that they would share the intelligence they get from them, and that in the event we get information from other people that relates to those individuals that they would allow us access to them again to be able to question them.

We, for example, have one individual that was captured over -- Well, he was in captivity over a year before we even began to figure out who he was. At that point we began to get a great deal of information.

At a certain point if they feel that their situation is not what they prefer, they sometimes are willing to talk. So it can be that it would be that long, for example, before the individual would decide to step up and provide useful information.

We're trying to knit all this intelligence information together in a way that we and other countries in the coalition are able to prevent terrorist attacks, as was the case in Singapore.

Focus: Besides the situations of the detainees, the war is still going on in Afghanistan and yourself have mentioned many times that there still might be pockets of resistance.

Rumsfeld: Not might be. There will be.

Focus: There will be.

How confident are you that the United States and its allies can avoid a situation similar to what the Soviets faced during their invasion?

Rumsfeld: Afghanistan is a difficult situation. It has a history of having tribal wars and conflict. It has a history of preferring that foreigners not be in there. It has a history of neighboring countries attempting to play off the factions to their advantage. They've had some very serious droughts. There are a lot of internally displaced people, a lot of refugees who are outside the country. There has been a very high level of heroin trafficking. They have a crime level pattern that is higher than many nations.

Therefore, one has to recognize that when you start with that as your base and then you drive al Qaeda and Taliban out of power and they then go into neighboring countries and wait, or they then go into the mountains or into the villages and wait, you have to expect there's going to be potentially some very difficult times ahead. And when you think of how well trained they were and how well financed they were, how determined they are to attack Western interests, it seems to me that anyone who has any sense has to recognize that it's a dangerous situation.

How do you avoid problems? One thing you do is you try to make sure that they understand this is not a war against a religion; it's not a war against the people. That we have freed that country, the coalition has, of the repressive Taliban regime and the al Qaeda invaders who aren't Afghans at all, who took away people's rights, and that we have no interest in staying there.

We don't covet their land, there is nothing we want to extract from them. We want to leave it a better place than we found it. We're spending a whale of a lot of money to try to do that and we'd prefer that it not relapse into becoming another haven or sanctuary for terrorists that go around the world killing people. We also would hope that the people who leave that country don't find another country as a haven or a sanctuary because we would accomplish precious little by stopping them there and having them reassemble somewhere else.

Times: It was recently announced that 1,700 British troops are going out to Afghanistan. Are these going to come under General Franks' command? And can you say anything about what they might do? I think there's been an element of surprise in Britain that sort of [unintelligible] from just dealing with pockets of resistance which the Americans seem to have under control. There are so many British soldiers who have been required to continue the fighting or to assist with the fighting if that's what they're going for.

Rumsfeld: I'd prefer you talk to the authorities in London about that. I've tried to adopt the policy of letting other countries characterize what it is they're doing and why it is they're doing it.

The task for the coalition generically quite apart from what any one country may or may not be doing, is to, well, there are several things. One is to continue to pursue the al Qaeda and Taliban wherever they are in that country. And as they congregate into groups, go after them.

Second is to continue to go after the leadership of al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Third, it is to try to be helpful in training the new Afghan army. The interim authority has indicated they want to fashion one, and that training is starting now.

Fourth, by our presence -- our meaning coalition presence in various parts of the country. In Bagram, in Kabul, in Kandahar, in the Anaconda activity, that contributes to a higher degree of security in the country which makes it possible for the humanitarian activities to take place, the food to be distributed, for hospitals to function, for trucks to come in and out, for aircraft to come in and out without fear of being shot down. All of that contributes to beginning that process of letting that country begin to regenerate itself.

And last, the United States forces at least, have signed an agreement with the U.K. that we would assist the ISAF which they are the head of, with intelligence, with logistics, and with a quick reaction force in the event that there are serious problems. We have quick reaction capabilities.

So those are the kinds of things that the coalition is doing.

Times: To follow up on that, there's a big [inaudible]. Would you have any indication of a time scale? The Russians --

Rumsfeld: Well, I think looking for a parallel between what's happening in Afghanistan today and what happened -- and you keep using the word Russia. It wasn't Russia, it was the Soviet Union. That's a very different thing. Russia today is not the Soviet Union. And the Soviet Union's motive and general demeanor was notably different that that of the coalition. So I think constantly going back to that, looking for some parallel is fruitless. There isn't any.

Times: In general terms of the timing, it's often been said that in military campaigns you should have an exit strategy, a phrase that's been bandied about a lot.

Rumsfeld: Yeah.

Times: Do you have an exit strategy yourself of how the Americans will get out, at what point they will be able to -- and not only the Americans, the coalition forces --

Rumsfeld: There are more coalition forces in Afghanistan than there are Americans. If you count the ISAF. There are fewer U.S. than there are coalition forces.

Sure. I gave you what our goals were, what we need to accomplish. We need to see that that's not a sanctuary for terrorists. We need to do that, we need to go after the Taliban and al Qaeda that are still in the country. We need to train an Afghan army so it can offer some degree of security for its own people which is the only way that country is ever going to make it. Then we need to get about our business elsewhere in the world and see that no other country becomes a sanctuary. What kind of an exit strategy? One way to say it is when you win. We don't plan to stay.

We'd like to see an interim government be followed by a more permanent government and that's representative of the people of that country and that can contribute to its reasonably stable situation. Other nations of the world can provide the kind of assistance to a country that's gone through that kind of a difficult series of years that me and a lot of us want them to have. And then that they continue their policy of being determined to keep terrorists from regaining control of their country, and heroin traffickers from supplying a major fraction of all the world's heroin.

Focus: In that context how important is it now to finally get Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, other senior al Qaeda leaders?

Rumsfeld: The reason we're captive is because they flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and killed thousands of Americans. It's because we have information to the effect that they want to kill thousands more. We have information that they're actively seeking weapons of mass destruction in which case they wouldn't kill thousands, they would kill tens of thousands. It seems to me that that is what we are doing. That is why we're at this task. And that seems to me sufficient reason to be doing what we're doing.

Focus: I meant is it enough to drive them out, to take away all the communication and all the operational base they have, or is it necessary in fact to get them, to arrest them or to kill them?

Rumsfeld: Two specific people?

Focus: Two specific people.

Rumsfeld: Oh, I see.

Focus: -- why you are fighting the war.

Rumsfeld: Sure. Well, it always would be nice to have the top two leaders.

Let's pretend -- wars can end without having found the leaders and the reason you fought them is not frustrated by that. It's preferable to find them, we're looking for them, I believe we will find them. But the goal is to stop the terror, which is the earlier part of my answer. That is that we're about. To the extent that can be done, then we've succeeded.

On the other hand, conversely, you could be very successful in getting those two leaders and have the terrorists go right on because there are plenty of people in the al Qaeda and Taliban who can pick up the baton and continue the race.

Focus: Just one follow-up to this. You've talked about future steps that needed to be done. How do you see in the future role of terrorism, the United States role within NATO? There is this overwhelming weapons technology you have compared to many of the allies. Is there any other role for the U.S. left than being the world's policeman and its allies more supportive?

Rumsfeld: We have no intention of being the world's policeman. The United States' task in this instance, in the global war on terrorism is to do what we an with our friends and allies to see that people do not go around being increasingly horrible weapons with increasingly greater reach and killing increasing numbers of people.

The other day I looked at the ships in the Central Command, and there are something like 102, and more than half of them were not U.S. There's an awful lot of talk about the United States, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of countries have been doing a lot of very fine work, including the United Kingdom and Germany and Australia and Japan and you name it. Twenty, 30 countries. We had all of the liaison people up here on March 11th to go to the White House. These are the folks that are military liaison with the Central Command in Tampa, Florida. I think there were 29 of them that are that intimately involved in what we're doing.

So I think it's a mistake to think of the United States in isolation, separate from all of the things that are being done.

The intelligence that's being gathered is being gathered by 40 different countries. Some of them quite willing to mention it and others not terribly willing to have it be known that they're helping. The closing of bank accounts, dozens and dozens and dozens.

No, I don't think the United States pushing (inaudible) at all. We obviously believe in our system. We don't intend to have terrorists or anyone else deny the American people their way of life, which is to live as free people. And the only way to deal with terrorism, you can't defend against it. All of the advantage is to the attacker. They can attack anywhere, any time, using any technique. We can't defend everywhere at every time against every technique. So what we have to do is go find them.

Times: One issue that's (inaudible) in Britain from the families of those being held. Is there, in your plans is there going to be any provision for relatives to visit people who are in detention?

Rumsfeld: Oh, I would doubt it. I haven't been addressed that question. But the accommodations down there are very modest. We have to stage in the 25 or 30 countries that have people down there so they can get in. It's a very small base. Security is a very serious problem there. No, I would think that would be highly unlikely. We're busy providing them medical attention and we're busy feeding them, we're busy taking care of their needs, and letting representatives of the countries go down there and interrogate them, and we're in the process of trying to gather intelligence. But it is not a subject that I've addressed.

Times: Is that likely to last indefinitely or will it likely change?

Rumsfeld: What?

Times: Them not being able to see relatives or have visitors.

Rumsfeld: I just told you it's not a subject I've addressed. I'm without a (inaudible). If they went back to their countries of origin because we were able to work out the proper arrangements that I described for you, obviously that would be up to those countries.

Secretary Clarke: They have had visitors. They've had ICRC, they've had representatives of --

Rumsfeld: The International Committee of the Red Cross has been there and representatives of a lot of the countries have been down there. So they have people see them and doctors see them and chaplains see them.

Focus: Just a last question, at present after Vice President Cheney's trip at least in public Arab countries haven't voiced support for a possible military action against Iraq. How confident are you that you will get the support for whatever action you might see necessary in the future?

Rumsfeld: Well I've not had a chance to talk to the Vice President since he got back. I've really (inaudible). And I think your question presumes that he was looking for support and didn't get it. It's not clear to me that either aspect of the elements of that question --

Focus: -- reaction --

Rumsfeld: I just have not had a chance to talk to him. But it's not clear to me that either element of the question is necessarily accurate.

Times: Does it matter to America what other countries feel about any plans you may have?

Rumsfeld: The problem with that is the President may or may not have plans at some point in the future, and it seems to me it would be very difficult for other countries to even have much of an opinion until such time as the -- Which if he were to decide that he wanted to do something with respect to Iraq, whether it be diplomatic or economic or whatever. There are lots of elements of relationships among countries.

The fact remains that the sanctions [leak] and that things are getting in under dual-use, under the guise of dual-use that are being immediately turned to military advantage. The question people in the world have to ask is how do you feel about that, to be providing that type, under the guise of oil and food, and food for the Iraqi people, and for shelter in Iraq and (inaudible) in fact that money is going to (inaudible) food for the people of Iraq. That's for sure.

All right, folks.

Times: It's very good of you to spend the time.

Rumsfeld: Glad to do it.

Focus: Thank you very much.

Rumsfeld: It's good to see you both.

Focus: It's so rare for a foreign correspondent to get an interview with a senior administrative official.

Rumsfeld: Is that right?

Focus: -- the Clinton Administration.

Rumsfeld: Is that right?

Focus: Eight years of Clinton, no access. One year Bush Administration, here I am sitting.

Rumsfeld: Good. Well, I'm glad to do it. We care about Europe and our friends and allies there.

It's good seeing you. Thanks for coming in.

Focus: Thank you very much.

Times: I appreciate it.