DoD News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers
(Also participating was General Richard Myers, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff)
Rumsfeld: Good morning. First, I want to express condolences to the families of the three service members who died in the crash of the MC-130H on June 12th in Afghanistan. They were Air Force Tech Sergeant Sean Corlew of Thousand Oaks, California; Air Force Staff Sergeant Anissa Shero of Grafton, West Virginia; and Army Sergeant First Class Peter Tycz. These service members served with honor so that our country can be free. And certainly, our hearts go out to their loved ones.
On Friday, we returned from a trip to Europe, the Gulf and South Asia. I suppose if there's a single thread that runs through these very different parts of the world, it is that all of the countries we met with are very much in agreement with President Bush on the global war on terrorism. In the process of fighting the war on terrorism, and it will be a long one, and because of the broad coalition support, America has the opportunity to really reshape relationships in the world in ways that can contribute significantly to peace and stability over the coming several decades.
In London, I met with Prime Minister Blair and Defense Minister Hoon. We discussed a range of issues that we faced together as wartime allies. In the meetings at NATO, we provided a detailed briefing on the efforts of terrorist networks and states to acquire weapons of mass destruction. The allies agreed that we need to pursue a range of new capabilities focused on weapons of mass destruction defense and detection, strategic airlift, interoperable communications and advanced weapons. The goal of this NATO initiative is a stronger, more capable NATO in the war against terror. Had a number of bilateral meetings there, including France, Russia, as well as the 10 NATO aspirants.
In Estonia I met with the defense ministers of Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, as well as the Baltic nations, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The latter three, the Baltic states, are very enthusiastic about taking whatever steps necessary to join NATO. Those decisions, of course, are some months away, but certainly their energy and their commitment is notable.
Also visited Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, was very well received by all three countries. Each is being helpful in the global war on terrorism.
And last, we visited India and Pakistan. The military situation on the ground and the respective levels of alert has really not changed notably. However, there is a clear perception that tensions are easing and that the likelihood of a conflict is lessening. Both nations have taken some initial steps that, while not definitive, are having a positive effect. The leaders of both countries are increasingly aware that tension in the region is hurting them economically, and there is no question but that that's the fact. Fear of war discourages international investment, to the detriment of the economies of both country (sic) and certainly the people of both countries.
There are several risks ahead in the period we're now entering, including the possibility, of course, of a terrorist act beyond the control of either party, which could be misunderstood and conceivably provoke a reaction. I -- we raised that issue with both countries, and I think they're sensitive to it. Both India and Pakistan indicate a desire for continued U.S. involvement and appreciated the efforts that President Bush and Prime Minister Blair and others have been making.
Finally, I had the pleasure of meeting with a great many U.S. and coalition forces during the trip, including a stop to Germany to thank all of -- many of those who were flying the NATO AWACS flights over the United States for so many months, which ended just last month. We visited with large numbers of forces in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, as well as -- not just U.S. but also coalition forces in some of those countries. And needless to say, it was a highlight of the trip and a privilege to be able to thank them personally for their sacrifices and their hard work. Our troops are ready, they're enthusiastic, and they're dedicated, and we are indeed fortunate to have such truly outstanding young men and women voluntarily stepping forward to serve our country.
Myers: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. And first let me add my condolences to those of the secretary's for the families and friends of the three service members who lost their lives in that MC-130 crash in Afghanistan. Clearly, our hearts and our thoughts go out to those families and friends.
Operation Mountain Lion continues in Afghanistan. Our teams are searching sites throughout the country for Taliban and remaining al Qaeda forces and weapons. Over the last two-plus weeks, U.S. and coalition forces have uncovered several weapons caches, which include a large number of RPGs [Rocket-Propelled Grenades] and their launchers, small arms and small-arm rounds -- this is in the numbers -- in the hundreds of thousands -- grenades, mortars and even 30 shoulder-fired missiles -- surface-to- air missiles.
Our training program for the Afghan national army continues. The first battalion is reaching the midpoint of its training cycle, and the second battalion has recently started there training. We're pleased at this point with the progress.
So that's a brief update of events in Afghanistan. The only last comment, I think everybody is well aware that General Shelton did return home this weekend from the hospital, is recovering there. And in fact, he actually spent this weekend, I think, at his -- at the beach down in North Carolina. So he's obviously on the road to recovery.
And with that, we'll take your questions.
Q: Mr. Secretary, I'm sure somebody will get back to the shoulder-fired missiles, but I'd like to ask you about reports this weekend -- you just said that you found in your trip to Europe, the Gulf and South Asia, generally, people are in step with the United States on the war on terrorism.
Rumsfeld: Well, clearly, there is broad understanding of the terrorist threat. Many of those countries have experienced those threats, and we receive -- we're currently receiving already good support from them. And indeed, the trip reinforced that.
Q: Thank you.
You have said, as the president has said repeatedly, that this can't be a defensive war, but you must, as you say, go after the terrorists actively. There are reports that United States - this department specifically is forming a new policy, where it would be centered around preemptive attacks on not only terrorist groups, but on states that sponsor terrorism. Number one, is that true? And number two, isn't that extremely difficult in today's political world, to launch preemptive strikes against states and then have to show the world, in fact, we were right in doing so?
Q: Well, first, it's not true. To my knowledge, this department is not fashioning such a doctrine or policy. The National Security Council is, as I believe, been preparing a national security strategy. And it may be that comments about that have been in the press and led someone to think that it's something here. But I think probably it is more a reflection of the president's speeches, where he has been commenting on this, and very likely the work that's being done on the -- in the National Security Council for a national security paper of some sort.
"Isn't that difficult?" is the second part of your question, as I recall. You know, life is difficult. It would also be difficult to know that a terrorist organization was about ready to fly airplanes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center and not do something about it preemptively. In other words, what else can you do other than go after those terrorists that have publicly and privately organized, trained and equipped to attack America and American interests and free people -- innocent men, women and children? There is no choice with terrorist acts, other than to find them, and that is exactly what we did in Afghanistan, if you think about it. You can call that defense, which I do, because it is the only way in the world to deal with that type of problem, or you can call it preemptive.
It is what it is. It is simply a conscious decision on the part of the president of the United States. And I believe the overwhelming majority of the American people, and certainly the Congress, that in the event you have people who are determined and dedicated to killing innocent men, women and children, that the only thing you can do is to try to find them and stop them. And that is what this global war on terrorism is all about.
Q: But how about countries -- for instance, Iraq, Syria, countries that support terrorists? How about preemptive strike against whole countries that --
Rumsfeld: Those decisions are not for me. But what I have said is a fact; that we made a conscious decision that Afghanistan was a threat to this country, the Taliban government and the al Qaeda that were using it for terrorist training; and we have gone and done something about it. And that is self-evident.
Q: Mr. Secretary, some of my caustic brethren are accusing the Bush administration of checkbook diplomacy in trying to defuse the tensions between India and Pakistan, sort of a one-two punch; Deputy Secretary of State Dick Armitage went over with foreign aid books in his pocket. What did you offer in the way of military hardware to both countries? And what is it going to cost us in terms of U.S. dollars? And that includes sensors, if you will.
Rumsfeld: There's no decisions with respect to sensors. That's something that I believe was raised in another country. I was asked about it. It was discussed. To the extent that it's possible -- and that's a technical question that remains very much open -- to the extent it's possible to do something useful in that regard, I suppose people might be wiling to do so. But checkbook diplomacy, I think, is essentially an inappropriate comment. I don't know that Rich Armitage went over with a checkbook, and I know I didn't. So I think it's a misunderstanding or mischief, one of the two.
Q: Can you tell us what you offered, though, in the way of hardware, if any, to both countries?
Rumsfeld: Absolutely nothing. To the extent any hardware is being discussed, it's being discussed at a lower level; it was not part of my agenda.
Q: General, the shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles that you found in Afghanistan, were they U.S. or Russian? What make were they?
Myers: They were foreign made, and I believe they were Chinese, matter of fact.
Q: How many?
Q: All in one spot?
Myers: I think this was all in one group.
Q: Have you found many in other locations, or is this sort of something new?
Myers: I think we have -- I'll have to review that. But I think we have found a few in other places. But I think this is the largest number we've found in one spot.
Q: Were these old -- were these -- could these be used? Were they old missiles?
Myers: I'll have to check on that, Charlie. I think -- let me just check on -- see what their -- status of their condition.
Q: Sir, back to your trip to the region. The administration's policy is to promote regime change in Iraq. President Bush has not talked about how he would go about regime change --
Rumsfeld: I think it's more than the administration; I think the Congress has expressed itself on the subject.
Q: You also. But my question is this: In your trips to the Gulf region, did Bahrain and some of the other places you visited, share that view that Iraq is such a serious threat there needs to be a regime change, or did you spend a lot of time convincing them of the administration's perception on this issue?
Rumsfeld: I had very good meetings in each country, and I don't intend to discuss the private conversations.
Q: To follow up on Charlie's question earlier, when you said a conscious decision was made that Afghanistan, as it was, posed a threat, has the administration made the conscious decision that Iraq, in fact, poses a threat to the security of the United States?
Rumsfeld: Well, I think the fact that the Congress has expressed itself on regime change, the president has, indicates that the United States and a number of other countries believe that the world would be a safer place if there were regime change. And as a result, the United States has been and is currently doing a variety of things. That's why we have coalition forces in Operation Southern and Northern Watch. That's why we have various diplomatic activities taking place in the United Nations. That's why the United Nations had sanctions on the country. That's why there were inspectors in there. And, of course, that's why the regime threw the inspectors out. So it is -- I don't know -- I just don't --
Q: But the decision by the U.S. government, the Congress and the previous administration, to seek a regime change was made some time ago. Has -- does Iraq pose any greater threat today?
Rumsfeld: Well, sure.
Q: Than when Congress originally passed a resolution declaring that there should be a regime change?
Rumsfeld: It does. Every day that goes by, its development programs mature. And to the extent they become more mature, obviously, the capabilities both for the weapons of mass destruction themselves, as well as the ability to deliver them, evolve as well.
Q: As you look at what has recently transpired in Morocco, at the bombing of the American consulate in Karachi shortly after you left, the bombing of the synagogue in Tunisia, other recent events, what's your sense of the current status of the al Qaeda, their dispersement around the world since the operation in Afghanistan, just how dispersed they are, how active they are, what some of these operations that they may have undertaken really represent right now, and the future threat you believe they pose?
Rumsfeld: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Well, I'm really not in a position to -- at the moment to run a thread from al Qaeda to any one of those things you have mentioned. It takes time after the fact to try to determine -- sometimes people take credit, if you will, to misuse the word "credit." And I think that it's premature to know precisely the instigators of those various actions.
From the very outset, we have pointed out that al Qaeda is -- was a global network, that it was spread across the globe, that it was not concentrated in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was where the individual who seemed to be the leader of al Qaeda was located, and it is -- was Afghanistan that -- where much of the training took place, although the training has taken place in other countries as well. And so they were already all over the world -- 40, 50, whatever number of countries; it's hard to know.
I don't doubt for a minute but that the work we've done in Afghanistan has made it a country that's less hospitable to al Qaeda. The training camps are destroyed. So training is being done somewhere, one has to assume, and -- but not likely to be in Afghanistan. And if we found it, we'd do something about it.
There are still al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and they're certainly in the neighboring countries. That suggests to me that a number were killed and a number have fled, and very likely a number are still there. They're trying to blend into some way that they can hide. The activity in Afghanistan clearly instigated a dispersion of these people, which I think is much better than having them training and managing terrorist acts around the world. Does it make it harder to find some of them? Well, it was hard to find them there, so I don't know if it makes it harder. What we do know is that the 60-plus countries that are involved in the coalition are, together, putting pressure on these folks and making life difficult for them. And that is a good thing. It is making it more -- they would be doing more terrorist acts were that pressure not on them. They would be raising more money, recruiting more people, and killing more innocent men, women and children.
Q: Are you surprised that there have been three U.S. citizens allegedly involved with al Qaeda? Do you expect more?
Rumsfeld: Well, I guess I'm not surprised, and I would think there are more. We just haven't found them. You know, we have a big country, couple of hundred-plus million people. We've got people who think everything in the world in this country of ours. And it doesn't surprise me at all that some would be affiliated with that organization.
Q: What's your current assessment of the links between Iraq and al Qaeda? Are you finding links between them as time goes on and as you pursue your investigations?
Rumsfeld: I think I'm going to pass on that one. It's something that people think about and they look into and as information is developed, it gets tested and examined. And to the extent it looks promising or interesting or worth pursuing more, talking about it becomes the least interesting thing in the world from our standpoint. So, we are on a full-court press to find al Qaeda anywhere in the world. And we know some places where they are, and to the extent we get cooperation of the countries, like we do in the case of Pakistan, we go after them. To the extent they're in Iran, where we're not getting cooperation, obviously we don't. But they're in lots of places.
Q: Can you say whether you've found any connection between the two?
Rumsfeld: That's not for me. That's not the Pentagon's business. That's intelligence gathering, that type of thing.
Q: But if you don't find those links, does it not make your job and the administration's job, of rationalizing and selling a campaign against Iraq much, much more difficult?
Rumsfeld: (Chuckles.) There are a number of global terrorist organizations -- al Qaeda is one of them. There are a number of countries that are on the terrorist list. Of those countries on the terrorist list, there are a number that have and/or are developing weapons of mass destruction. It seems to me that the nexus between terrorist organizations and terrorist states and weapons of mass destruction is something that merits the attention of the American people and other like-thinking nations across the globe.
Q: Along those same lines, you mentioned that the Iraqis' development program continues to mature. Any hard evidence of that? Do you assume, because the inspectors haven't been in for a number of years that they are rebuilding? And have you seen anything from satellites, let's say, of rebuilding particular sites? Can you give us anything on that?
Rumsfeld: I could, but I won't. There's no point in getting into intelligence and telling the world that this country or that country is doing this, that or the other thing. It doesn't serve our purpose.
Q: So there is hard evidence that --
Rumsfeld: I'm -- I'm -- I'm not going to get into intelligence matters.
Q: Can we go back to al Qaeda just for a second? There have been a number of reports in recent days that the scattering of al Qaeda in Afghanistan has made them more dangerous and/or difficult to deal with. Do you disagree with that? Is that what you're saying?
Rumsfeld: Well, I mean, how do you make an al Qaeda more dangerous? He's trained to go out and kill people and fly airplanes into buildings. Big appetite for weapons of mass destruction. Threatening free people all across the globe. Bombed embassies. You know, done a whole series of things. What gradation of "more dangerous" are we looking for here?
Q: Perhaps more difficult for you to counter.
Rumsfeld: That's a separate issue -- more difficult. No. They were difficult there, they're difficult no matter where they are. They're not going to congregate in large groups and say, "Here's our army, here's our navy, here's our air force." The nature of this is that it's hard. The defense establishment was organized trained and equipped to go out and fight armies, navies and air forces. The global terrorist networks do not have armies, navies and air forces. It becomes very much a law enforcement and intelligence gathering, a coalition, a task of bringing all elements of national power to bear -- political, diplomatic, economic, financial, intelligence gathering, overt, covert -- all of that. It's a totally different ball game. It has become a defense issue because the danger is so significant to our country and to our forces overseas and to our friends and allies. So the Department of Defense is engaged in these tasks, and that is why these sweeps are being done in Afghanistan. That is why we're cooperating with Pakistan, trying to find -- that's why we're training people in Yemen and in Georgia and in the Philippines, trying to be helpful -- for them to be able to do a better job or going after them -- the terrorists. That is why we're adjusting, how we do things, so that we can participate more fully in what has historical been an intelligence-gathering and law enforcement effort -- a manhunt, if you will -- a people-hunt -- trying to prevent those kinds of things from happening.
Q: What would an example of the "adjusting" that you're doing be? You said you were "adjusting."
Rumsfeld: Well, we've changed our defense strategy. We've adjusted in our Defense Planning Guidance. We are shifting our emphasis, in terms of budget allocations, what we're doing. We have recognized the fact that there are a variety of things, such as unmanned aerial vehicles and Special Forces and things that are distinctively helpful in the task we're currently engaged in. We're beefing up our intelligence. We're improving various other types of capabilities, so that we can try to do over the coming year, two three. We've increased homeland defense -- we've reorganized from the standpoint of the Northern Command. There's just a lot of things we're doing that reflect that reality that the world has shifted. And we're going to have to be arranged and organized and equipped to deal with it better.
Q: Mr. Secretary, some Pakistani leaders acknowledge that there are a large number of al Qaeda fighters and perhaps leaders inside their country, as U.S. commanders believe. And is there a possibility that more U.S. troops may be used in connection with Pakistani troops to go after them?
Rumsfeld: There's no question but that the Pakistanis understand that that border's porous, and a lot of folks came over -- Taliban and al Qaeda. There's also no question but that President Musharraf is bound and determined and -- if, and, and when he finds al Qaeda or Taliban milling around in his country, he's is determined to go get them. And he has demonstrated that and been enormously helpful. If I'm not mistaken, he's just put some more forces on --
Myers: That's correct.
Rumsfeld: -- within the last 24 hours, which --
Myers: Yes, sir.
Q: There are more U.S. troops?
Rumsfeld: No, no, no, no. More Pakistani. If you'll recall, we generally like to have other countries describe what they're doing in the global war on terrorism. And therefore, they have indicated what they're doing with respect to what I've just indicated, and I'm not going to get into anything else that might --
Q: How many troops, Mr. Secretary?
Rumsfeld: There's two elements. I've forgotten --
Myers: There's two companies, I think -- (inaudible).
Rumsfeld: Two companies.
Q: The troops have returned because of the easing in tensions, or is this an increase over what they've had there all along?
Rumsfeld: It's an increase over what they have had there in recent weeks. And it is helpful, and we are pleased, and whether that reflects an additional easing of tension, I guess, is for them to characterize. But obviously, they had a choice. They could have put those forces on the Indian border or they could have put them on the Afghan border; and to our advantage, they have put them along the Afghan border.
Rumsfeld: I didn't ask.
Q: General Myers, reports from the Philippines today, from Basilan Island, indicate that some U.S. Marines and Philippine military came under fire as they were guarding a Navy construction site and returned fire to someone. Do you have any details about that? Is that the first time U.S. forces have actually come under fire in the Philippines in that operation?
And Mr. Secretary, have you come any closer in making a decision about whether U.S. troops might accompany Philippine military on actual patrols as they go after Abu Sayyaf guerrillas?
Myers: On the first part, obviously, I think everybody knows that we have a naval construction task force there that is helping with road construction and with some well drilling. And it was that force that was being protected by not only Marine security elements but also by the armed forces of the Philippines. And there was -- first reports, which we know first reports can be in error -- there was an armed group that was found and there was some fire exchanged. Who shot, whether it was Philippine armed forces or whether it was U.S. military, is not clear at this point, and that will be looked into. It's, of course, nighttime over there, but our commander over there is looking into that and we should know more as day breaks.
Rumsfeld: The subject of where we are with respect to the Philippines is we're close to ending the first phase. I believe next month that that ends. And Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz visited the Philippines and came back with a report, which has now moved through the Joint Staff and the Chairman, and I was briefed when I arrived back. And it's now, I presume, you know, at some point will be discussed with the interagency process and we'll see. But it has jelled and we'll know something more soon, I suppose.
Q: But there's been some discussion about whether U.S. forces would interact with the Philippine military, I guess at the company --
Rumsfeld: The next level down, yeah.
Q: (You've ?) made a decision on that?
Rumsfeld: You see, it's not for me to make a decision. That's a step that's going to end up being made at a higher level. And rather than announcing my -- what I'm recommending, I'd just as soon let it get sorted out in the next few days. And it also has to get sorted out in the Philippines, needless to say.
Q: Mr. Secretary, back to regime change on Iraq, if that is done -- I mean, the administration has said that's our policy -- if that is done, is anybody looking at what will come afterwards; what the new regime will be; whether the country will hold together, or anything like that? What the policy will be?
Rumsfeld: Well, that -- I can't. That's obviously not so much a Pentagon subject. But clearly, the world is looking at that from time to time. It's looked at it for years. There have been lots of people hoping that the regime would change for a good many years. I think it's not for the United States to prejudge what that world ought to look like there, but clearly, if you want one individual's view, one thing you'd want is a country that did not develop weapons of mass destruction. A second thing you'd want would be a country that was not representing a threat to its neighbors and periodically announcing that they were illegitimate and that they should be overthrown. A country that would not invade Kuwait or its other neighbors would be kind of an improvement. I personally think a single country, as opposed to a fractured country, is useful, also, given the neighborhood they're in. There are certain advantages of a single country.
But what other elements might go into something like that? It's obviously premature, and it isn't so much for any one-person or any one country to opine on that.
Q: Mr. Secretary, today's the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. And on CNN Today there was -- they were engaging in a discussion of Deep Throat, who Deep Throat might be. One viewer e-mailed in to CNN, suggesting that you were Deep Throat. (Laughter.) Any comment?
Rumsfeld: You really are scraping the bottom of the barrel. (Laughter.)
Q: But you don't deny it, sir? (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: (Laughs.) Oh, that is wonderful. That is amusing. I'd heard every name in the world except -- no, I was kind of busy running the economic stabilization program and was not really engaged in that process.
Q: I'll take that as a no.
Rumsfeld: (Laughs.) That's a safe assumption. I do not want the record to show that I even bothered to deny it, however.
Q: Does that mean --
Rumsfeld: It doesn't even merit a no. But --
Q: Is that a "you've got to be kidding"? If so, he ties me with three.
Rumsfeld: He does. He does. He gets a "you've got be kidding." Good. Thank you.
Q: General Myers, if I could ask, in connection with the weapons seizures over the past two weeks that you mentioned, in any of those instances, were there armed engagements between coalition forces and suspected al Qaeda or Taliban?
Myers: I can't -- I mean, there have been several of these finds, and I can't remember in each case. But I think in most cases it's going through and cleaning up areas where we don't know if we're going to find Taliban or al Qaeda, but in the process of looking through some of these sites, some of which we've been led to by friendly Afghan forces, that there is not necessarily an engagement; that we -- we are led to these sites, or we find them on our own, and it's following up on previous work.
Q: Have there been any new additional detentions in the past two weeks of suspected al Qaeda or Taliban?
Rumsfeld: There have been some -- a couple of folks swept up within the last period of three days, I think.
Myers: I think so. And some possibly turned over from another --
Rumsfeld: Small numbers.
Q: And do you know -- Mr. Secretary, is the U.S. military holding on to any other Americans besides Hamdi in Norfolk and Padilla in Charleston?
Rumsfeld: Okay. I'm going to repeat the question, so there's no ambiguity. The question is, do you know if the U.S. military is holding on to any other suspects --
Q: (Off mike) --
Rumsfeld: Just a minute. Just a minute. I'm going to answer the question you asked. My recollection is that we have one in Charleston, one in Norfolk, I believe, and then we have folks at Bagram we're holding. We still have some in Kandahar that the military are holding, and we have some at Gitmo. And I don't believe there's any aboard airplanes or ships a the present time, although from time to time there have been, obviously, going -- moving from one place to another.
Q: There are Americans --
Q: But Americans --
Rumsfeld: Oh, just Americans?
Q: American suspects --
Rumsfeld: Oh! Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you meant the totality of it. I can't think of any other Americans. There have been, what, two -- three?
Q: Lindh --
Rumsfeld: We don't have him. That's U.S. military -- he's in the Article 3 process.
Q: And have you observed a change in tactics on the part of al Qaeda? We've sort of skirted around this. There is an assumption that al Qaeda is coming at the U.S. in a different way. They're happier to do lower-level technology strikes just to draw blood. Are you seeing that, or is that just sort of --
Rumsfeld: I think that the answer is that they are shifting their efforts, of necessity. They've got less money, they've got fewer training camps in -- probably none in Afghanistan, and fewer in the world. There is no question but that their lines of control and communication have been disrupted. The problem with them is they tend to plan well in advance of the actual event. And we keep doing things that disrupt their ability to engage in terrorist acts, but unquestionably, we're not going to disrupt them all. There's no way to do that. Life's not perfect.
You know, how long before we'll know what their new approach is? Clearly, if you think about it, if you were al Qaeda and you had tried the airplane approach, it's now harder to get on an airplane to do that. It's harder to function on an airplane, once you're on there, to do that. Therefore, it's not surprising that they're going to migrate over to other areas. That's what terrorists do. They look for -- they move across the spectrum looking for ways to achieve their goal, and their goal is to kill innocent men, women and children, and there are lots of ways to do that.
And I think that it's -- it's not a guess, it's a judgment that they unquestionably will be looking for things that -- where they can find soft targets and get at it without the difficulty that they would now have, for example, in trying to repeat some of the things that they've done previously. I mean, that doesn't mean they can't do that, but if you think about it, our embassies are better guarded today than they were in the 1990s. Our ships' force protection has been changed, obviously, so that's a deterrent. We've got a much better set of things that have changed here in the United States with respect to airliners, as have other countries. There's just a lot of things that have changed and, therefore, you've got to assume they're going to migrate over.
Q: Are you getting to the point soon where some of the detainees in Gitmo or in Bagram -- you're starting to realize maybe you've gotten what you can get out of them, and maybe some of them are not as key players as you might have thought? And is it possible that some of them may be released soon?
Rumsfeld: I would hope so. But I must say, it's a tough call. I -- we're getting up close to our capacity with single-cell occupancy that we looked at this morning. And I am not enamored of the idea of taking the taxpayers' money and building a lot more jail cells down in Guantanamo Bay, to be perfectly honest. On the other hand, we keep reviewing these folks and interrogating them and trying to get other countries to see if they're interested in them or seeing if there aren't people that we -- or who have health problems that are sufficiently serious that we can off-load them or people who just don't look interesting. And they do a re-screening from time to time and take a look at these folks. And to the extent they don't think they need them, they off-load them. But --
Q: Have any been released?
Q: How many?
Q: From Guantanamo?
Rumsfeld: I think so.
Q: How many?
Rumsfeld: I don't know. Not a lot. Not as many as I'd like.
Q: (Off mike) -- before?
Rumsfeld: I'm sure it has, yeah. I think there was someone who was not feeling well.
Q: The one who was sort of mentally handicapped.
Q: -- mentally ill.
Rumsfeld: And I know we have, from -- one of the things we do is, when we get offered these people up, whether in Afghanistan or in Pakistan, we do screening then, and then we take some number. Let's say there's 50 offered up, and we take 30. The other 20 don't look interesting. We take 30. We then would do further screening in Afghanistan. And some of those we might turn back. And that's happened. Whether it's happened out of Gitmo or not, it may not have. But it certainly has happened, and we're doing that fairly continuously.
So the concern is, imagine -- well, first of all, appreciate the fact that these are pros. A lot of these people are very well trained. They know how to deal with interrogation. They are clever, and they lie through their teeth, and they tell different stories at different times. And you begin piecing things together.
Now let's say you get lucky, and you catch somebody in Pakistan someplace or Afghanistan or you discover somebody in Gitmo or Bagram or Kandahar -- we still have some people in Kandahar.
Myers: Yes, sir.
Rumsfeld: And you start interrogating that person, and for whatever reason, you learn something. Or you catch a laptop or a pager or a telephone or something. And it turns out that one of the fellows that you've been talking to for six months and looked not interesting at all turns out to be very interesting.
And another things that's happened is, one individual was around for close to a year in a different setting and ended up after a year deciding that he wanted to talk. So you worry about letting somebody go who doesn't look interesting and therefore, the fact that I'm not eager to build more cells probably is of lesser importance than -- I'm also not eager to let people go who'll end up possibly becoming quite interesting and saving people's lives.
Q: Are you at all concerned about the constitutional rights of the Americans who are being held without trial, without legal representation, without communication, without any way of --
Rumsfeld: These two Americans you're talking about?
Q: Are you concerned at all? Is that an issue that you're concerned with? Or are you just more interested in holding them and finding out what they know?
Rumsfeld: Has it ever been that somebody would send -- get a friend to send an e-mail like the one you described earlier so that they could ask that question in a press briefing? Do you think that -- no one would do that. That would be wrong. That wouldn't happen.
Q: I just noted that as a viewer.
Rumsfeld: I see.
Q: Sitting in my office.
Rumsfeld: I see. Okay.
Q: It looked like it fell on my beat, so I figured I'd better follow up.
Rumsfeld: How could I answer the question: am I at all concerned about the constitutional rights of Americans, in any way other than, of course I am. We all are. The whole society is. That's why we have all these rules and procedures and laws and precedent that's built up since the beginning of the founding of the republic. It's a wonderful system we have, and we do indeed do a wonderful job of protecting the rights of everybody. And I care about all of that.
The fact remains that when a person, regardless of their country of origin or their nationality or their citizenship, single or dual, is captured and in every respect can be properly categorized as a combatant against the United States, their citizenship is interesting, but the fact that they are a combatant against our country is also interesting. And throughout history, in conflicts, people who take up arms against us, our country or any other country, it's a well- established practice that those people are detained and kept away and not given the opportunity to be released and go right back and take up arms against the country again.
There's a Supreme Court to that -- decision to that effect. One of the -- I believe one of the German saboteurs had at least some reason to claim American citizenship, and the court ruled, I believe -- here's a law school dropout talking about the law again. I'm a little nervous. But if I'm not mistaken, the Supreme Court ruled that even were that person's U.S. citizenship credentials validated, that would not matter; that that person was a combatant against the country, part of a saboteur group, German saboteur group, in 1942.
Q: The question in that case was whether they would face justice from a military commission or from U.S. civil courts. It wasn't a question of whether they could be held indefinitely facing no charges, no trial and no prospect of ever being released.
Rumsfeld: Mm-hmm. There are interesting articles being written almost weekly now by people who are thoughtful and knowledgeable and balanced and measured on this subject. I read them to learn, and at -- one of them -- I can't remember which one -- recently pointed out that there is a -- I think she said a conundrum between safety and law. That is to say: Where do you put your weight down if there is a person who is threatening your country and may have information that would enable you to save the lives of people in your country? Is your interest in law enforcement, if you will, like you would a car thief?
Let's say someone steals your car while you're sitting here talking to me. And the goal with that person is to arrest the person and, to the extent it's appropriate, try them and then, to the extent it's appropriate, punish them so that they don't steal cars again and so that other potential car thieves (sic) are aware that there's a penalty for stealing a car. That's simple.
To treat a person who's a member of a terrorist organization that has killed thousands of Americans and is threatening and is trying to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction and threatening thousands more Americans as a car thief and a person that -- really your first goal is to grab him, stop him from stealing cars, stick him in the slammer and punish him -- that is just not appropriate.
What you need to do in -- that's why there's that tension there, and it seems to me it's important for the society and the press and government to recognize that we need to balance those things.
But there are two distinct needs. One is to protect rights, to be sure, and the other is to protect safety of the American people. And you do that not by taking a terrorist and treating him like a car thief and putting him in jail and compromising all the witnesses that might have to be involved to do that and all the information you might have to reveal to do that. And to the extent that the person, as some are doing, wants to serve as their own counsel, then the -- their counsel has to be apprised of a whole host of things that could end up compromising the safety of the American people.
So when you say am I concerned about constitutional rights of American citizens, the answer is yes. You might also ask the second question: Am I concerned about the safety of the American people and would like to do everything possible to not have thousands more killed? The answer is yes, I'm concerned about that, too.
Q: How about a quick follow-up?
Q: Could these --
Rumsfeld: Thank you. I think we're going to -- we're -- I ran over here. I apologize. Good to see you all.
Q: Thank you. Come back and see us.
Rumsfeld: You bet.