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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Associated Press

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
September 11, 2002

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

(Interview with Thelma LeBrecht, Associated Press)

Question: I want to use this for tomorrow morning, so think this is now September 11th and I want you to think about what are your thoughts.

Rumsfeld: Well, September 11th, of course brings back all those memories that the event that will occur at the site where the families will be there and people will be thinking about that day but also thinking about what's been accomplished in the intervening period, and what is left to do which is quite a bit. We're not -- I'm afraid we're probably closer to the beginning of this than the end and that means we've got a lot of work to do. Certainly the people in uniform understand that, and I think it's important for them also to understand that the American people recognize what they're doing and value it.

Question: I wanted a personal reaction as far as September 11th for you. Your personal reaction.

Rumsfeld: You know I don't think much personally about myself. I spend most of my waking hours working here and thinking about the problems of the country and the tasks the department faces and you can't help but think when you think about September 11th, the people who died and their families, and be energized by the importance of what we're doing and the importance of our doing it well for the people who are alive and the people who are in uniform, putting their live at risk.

Question: You were that day actually referred to, you were reluctant to personalize it, you were a symbol for many people that day. What were you doing September 11th?

Rumsfeld: Well, we were doing lots of things. We were making sure that this Department of Defense kept operating, that we were able to fulfill our function and be in command of forces around this world and here in this country that had an important assignment. We were beginning that process of thinking through what it meant and what it meant in terms of what we need to do in terms of how we're organized, how we train our people, how we equip our people, how we deploy them. It forced all of us I think to recognize --

The first question I got of course was, gee, you really can't fight a war on terrorism and simultaneously transform this department. I think the truth is just the opposite. I think we have to transform the department and I think people on that day and in the days immediately following began to understand that. That this is a new national security environment for our country, it's a new security environment for the world, it is a set of challenges that we face that we really previously have not arranged ourselves to cope with and to deter and to defend against, and now we must do that.

Question: Can you just describe some of the things you did on the 11th right after the attack? I know you're reluctant to do so, but could I just get you to do it a little bit because people are really interested.

Rumsfeld: Well, I was up in my office and the building shook and we could feel it and it felt like a bomb to me. I did not know it was an airplane. Needless to say, I did what anyone would do, you move down the hall until the smoke's too bad, then outside, and then to the extent you can be helpful, you're helpful. Then you get back in the Command Center and go about your business.

Question: Why did you go out and be helpful, and why did you stop doing that?

Rumsfeld: Well, I went out to be helpful because people needed help. As other people gathered at the site, which they did over time, there were enough people to do that job and so I had another job to do.

Question: Do you see September 11th as like a rededication to the -- How do you see it? A rededication or what?

Rumsfeld: Well it is. It is a moment to pause and to reflect on a terrible, terrible thing that happened and to rededicate ourselves to the important task ahead. It will be a period of time that our country will have to focus on, the threats that we face, the challenges we face, and yet live our lives as Americans, as free people, and continue to do what we do as free people. You can't stop living or the terrorists win. The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize. To the extent you are terrorized then you've lost. We don't intend to lose.

Question: Do you think the American spirit has been changed and will continue to be changed by 9/11?

Rumsfeld: Oh, there's no question but that it did awaken a great deal of patriotism and respect for what we have and how valuable it is, our liberty and our freedom. It's an amazing thing. An awful lot of people don't get up in the world and go where they want and say what they want and do what they want, vote as they wish. They live in systems where that's not permitted and where they are repressed. But we're not. We're able to do all of that and it's a wonderful thing indeed.

Certainly as you reflect on that it brings forth and I think the American people accepted how important it is and how important it is that we preserve it for future generations.

Question: Is there one thing that you hope people think of on 9/11?

Rumsfeld: Well, there is. It is how amazing our country is and how wonderful it is and how fortunate we are, and all the people who have gone before and what they have done to preserve those freedoms and that liberty and how important it is for each of us to recognize that in our country we have that same responsibility and obligation. And certainly the people who are spread across this globe, the men and women in uniform, are doing just that.

Question: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.

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