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Transcript : DoD News Briefing : Tuesday, February 13, 1996 - 3 p.m.

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD (PA)
February 13, 1996 3:00 PM EDT

Tuesday, February 13, 1996 - 3 p.m.

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

Let me start with an announcement or two.

Secretary Perry today announced a reduction in the reserve component force structure and several unit deactivations in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force for the current fiscal year. This is the third in a series of five reductions in the reserve force in order to bring the reserve forces down to the size that's necessary after the Cold War. There's a rather extensive release with questions and answers and details which, if you haven't picked up already, will be available in the back of the room as you go out.

Secondly, the Defense Authorization Bill which was signed into law on Saturday, contained a name change for the Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Atomic Energy. It's been modernized to become the Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Chemical and Biological Defense Programs. The change more accurately describes the current functions of the office. This is the office that's headed by Dr. Harold Smith, who's briefed down here in the past. We can give you more details on this if you want, but it incorporates the chemical, biological, and nuclear functions that the office has already been performing under the cooperative threat reduction program and other programs.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Dr. Perry said this morning that IFOR is going to start getting more information on these suspected war criminals in Bosnia, including photographs and other information. Could you give us more information on that? The lack of information that they might have had before, and what you expect to be done. How rapidly it's moving?

A: I can't answer the question on how rapidly it's moving. What Dr. Perry had in mind was basically clearer descriptions of the indicted war criminals and good pictures in cases where we have them. Most of this would be provided by the War Crimes Tribunal, handed to NATO through IFOR and down to the people on the checkpoints. I want to stress that it's not the job of the military to run a police state, and it's not their job to go out aggressively to search for war criminals, and they don't intend to do that. The issue here is what happens if they encounter a war criminal. How do they recognize the war criminal before they can detain the war criminal? They are supposed to detain war criminals if they encounter them in the normal course of their business.

Q: The Secretary has made that clear repeatedly, including this morning. How many pictures do they have of how many of these... There were over 50 of them, weren't there?

A: There are 52 indicted war criminals at this time.

Q: They have pictures of how many of them?

A: I've seen a figure of 15, but that may not be the accurate figure. I think we need better information from IFOR and the War Crimes Tribunal on that, and that should be forthcoming. But according to one report I've seen from the theater, 15 of these people have been identified to the troops, and to some of the troops in pictures. There was some dispute over how accurate and clear the pictures are. One of the issues we're trying to resolve here is getting good pictures and good information about these people.

Having said all of that, I would not anticipate that a lot of these people are going to be traipsing through checkpoints. I think as the focus on them becomes clearer, and as the information about them becomes more widespread, that they're likely to arrange their movements in ways that don't bring them into contact with IFOR troops.

Q: Do you have any evidence that Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, indicted war criminal, actually passed through any NATO IFOR checkpoints?

A: No, we have no evidence that he did.

Q: Do you have any evidence that he didn't?

A: It's hard... How do you have evidence that he didn't?

Q: I just wanted to make sure we covered both sides. (Laughter)

A: This is the fairness for which CNN is well known, is to cover both sides of every issue like that.

We're looking into this and we're trying to find out exactly what happened, but I wanted to stress that without suggesting that he went through a checkpoint, because we honestly don't know that he went through a checkpoint, my understanding is that the report that he went through a checkpoint was based on Bosnian Serb officials. They were the people who said that he went through checkpoints. We have no evidence that he didn't go through checkpoints. But I want to describe what happens at these checkpoints.

The checkpoints are set up primarily to enforce traffic into and through the zones of separation, and their main goal is to make sure that weapons aren't improperly being transported into the zones of separation, which are supposed to have been cleared of weapons. Those of you who have been over there, Bill Gertz and others, can appreciate the geography of these checkpoints. So they're concentrating on military traffic. They're not concentrating on civilian traffic.

Sometimes they stop civilian traffic, and they might look in cars, they might open the hoods and the trunks and under the seats and things like that. Other times, they don't. It depends on the flow of the traffic. It depends on the intelligence they have for that day and what their particular mission might be that day. The reason they don't is that one of the goals of the IFOR is to provide free movement through Bosnia, and it wouldn't be compatible with that mission if they were stopping every car at every checkpoint.

Q: Wasn't the report of Karadzic going through the checkpoint the precipitating event that resulted in this better information, intention to distribute better information to the troops?

A: I think it's broader than that. We've had in the last couple of days the Holbrooke rules of the road accord. What that does is to basically lay out new rules for dealing with indicted war criminals, and dealing with people suspected of being war criminals. It says you can't go out to the former belligerents, it says you can't go out willy-nilly and arrest people on your assumption that they might be war criminals. They have to be included on the list that you get from the International War Crimes Tribunal. This rules of the road accord was agreed to by the parties in light of their goal of maintaining freedom of movement in Bosnia.

So, in other words, there are a number of factors here. There's the fact that the 11 people were arrested by the Bosnian Muslims; the reports, unconfirmed, that Karadzic went through checkpoints without being detected; and the Holbrooke mission down to Bosnia and the area in general to work out new "rules of the road." We're trying to get, I guess, a clearer understanding among all the parties of exactly how they will deal with war criminals.

Q: But in the past, IFOR spokesmen said that one of the reasons the troops at checkpoints were not given detailed descriptions and photographs was that was the first step on the road to actively searching for war crime suspects. Now you say there's new rules of the road. Is this a new mission for...

A: The Holbrooke rules of the road are designed to do two things: one, basically, to preserve freedom of movement throughout Bosnia; and, second, in order to do that, to be very specific about the people who can be arrested. You know there were charges by the Bosnian Serbs that the arrest of the 11 people was unfair and that they shouldn't have been arrested. So the issue here is how do you combine the legitimate desire which the United States supports to detain war criminals on the one hand, and to preserve freedom of movement on the other. That's what the Holbrooke rules of the road are supposed to do.

Q: But the question is, is this distribution of better information to the troops an expansion of their mission, and is it the first step in the dreaded mission creep that U.S. commanders are so...

A: No. To answer the weekly question with the weekly answer, no, it is not the first step down the road to mission creep.

From the very beginning we've said that our troops are not going there to be policemen. They're not going there to search out war criminals, and they're not. We've also said from the very beginning that if they encountered a war criminal, they would detain the suspected or indicted war criminal and turn him or her over to the proper authorities.

So the question arises, how do they know who these war criminals might be? This is a way to provide them some basic information so they can find out.

Q: Have any procedures been changed regarding checking identification papers or anything?

A: As far as I know, they have not.

Q: Do you know how far down the chain of command this information, these photographs is supposed to go? Will it go down to individual soldiers, to individual checkpoints?

A: It wouldn't do much good if it just sat up at the division level, because the people who may be in a position to encounter an indicted war criminal would be at the checkpoints. But I want to point out again so there's no misconception about this, the main goal of the checkpoints is to control the movement of arms and military personnel in Bosnia. It's not to control civilians.

Q: U.S. News reported this week that intelligence documents were inadvertently posted on the Internet related to the Gulf War syndrome. Is that in fact the case? And is the Pentagon investigating who might have been responsible for that and whether there was any damage to national security?

A: It is true, in fact, that a large block of documents were declassified back in the fall and that, in retrospect, some of them may have been improperly declassified. Those documents, the block of documents, I believe there were 1400 in all, are all pertaining to the Gulf War illness, have been removed temporarily from the Internet. They are being reappraised, and they will be put back on the Internet as soon as possible.

We are investigating, one, how this happened; and we're investigating, obviously, studying what the impact of this was.

Q: Is that the result of a decision made at DoD that these were released?

A: It was an intelligence community effort to declassify the documents. I don't know exactly who was responsible for the declassification.

Q: Do you know if they were defense intelligence documents as opposed to some other agency?

A: I don't know the answer to that question. I'll try to find out. My suspicion is that they were intelligence community documents. These were documents that were collected during the Gulf War. They had been the property of the intelligence community generally.

The decision to declassify them was not made specifically in the Pentagon. I don't know exactly the circumstances behind the decision, but you may have been here on the day we announced GulfLINK which was the part on DefenseLINK on the Internet to make information about Gulf War illness, its treatment, and its origin, etc., available. That includes, one, all the documents we put out in terms of treatment and descriptions of the symptoms, etc. It includes scientific studies, so anybody can log on and look at the latest scientific study and decide whether they think the conclusions are based adequately on the information provided, the data provided; and third, some intelligence documents.

I think, actually, when it was demonstrated here, we showed some documents that had been collected in Iraq during the Gulf War, and there were translations of these documents put on the GulfLINK.

Q: You said it was being reviewed within the Department. Who, in fact, is doing that review?

A: I said it was being reviewed within the intelligence community.

Q: The Pentagon is not doing this?

A: The intelligence community is just that. It's a community of people from several agencies. We work in concert with them.

Q: It's made up of various agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency...

A: That's true. That's true.

Q: So DIA is not involved in this?

A: I didn't say that. I said people from the intelligence community.

Q: Is DIA involved with the review?

A: DIA is part of the intelligence community. You would anticipate they would be involved in any intelligence community review of any fact, and they are.

Q: House Republicans are standing in the way of this F-16 deal for Jordan. Do you have any reaction to that? What is the status of that deal?

A: We have presented a concept for the sale of F-16s to Jordan. As I understand it, the details are still being worked out and it will have to be approved by Congress. This is something we believe is a just result of the Middle East peace process. Jordan has legitimate security needs and a legitimate desire to improve its security position. Israel agrees. In fact, under the plan, Israel would provide some maintenance and support for Jordanian F-16s. That's, I think, a real and significant sign of how the world has changed because of the peace agreement between Israel and Jordan. So we hope that, when we have a chance to explain the security implications of this, that Congress will understand that it's an important step forward for Middle East security.

Q: One of the complaints there is that you didn't consult at all with them on this. Is that accurate?

A: I can't stand up here and tell you about every congressional consultation we've had on this or any other topic, but in general, we're quite aggressive about consulting with Congress, and I don't have any reason to believe we weren't here. There are a lot of people in Congress, a lot more staffers in Congress. It may be that we didn't talk to everybody we were supposed to, but we certainly have no desire to hide the facts of this deal. We think it's an important sale and, as I said, an important step towards security in the Middle East.

Q: When do you expect it will go to the Hill formally?

A: I'm afraid I don't know that. We'll try to find out. There's no secret. I just don't happen to know when it will be. When we were in Amman, the Secretary presented to King Hussein the basic elements of this package. There were some details that had to be worked out between the Jordanians and the U.S. I'm not positive all those details have been worked out yet. I don't know. They could well have been worked out. The trip to Amman was in early January. They may have been worked out in the last five or six weeks. We'll check.

Q: I'd be interested in any comments you might have on the Perry speech this morning or this afternoon, specifically regarding China and Taiwan. And I'd like your comment on the assertion that Dr. Joseph Nye made last week that Taiwan could defend itself from aggression, if there were aggression, from the mainland, from the PRC, because the PRC didn't have the sophistication to pull off a successful invasion. Does the DoD believe that is the case? And finally, the INDEPENDENCE carrier, and its battle group is supposed to be sailing into the Taiwanese waters either now or in the very near future. Is there any validity to that report?

A: On the first question, my impression of the Secretary's speech, I thought it was an absolutely brilliant speech. Very well presented. The audience loved it, The timing was just right. I thought the emphasis was just right. I thought it was crafted well from start to finish. Write all that down. [Laughter]

On your second point, I think what we should talk about are the reasons for peace in the Straits of Taiwan. Both China and Taiwan have said that they want a peaceful resolution of their differences in the area. We expect that that will happen. I don't think it's profitable to talk about attack. I think what we should talk about, as Secretary Perry did, we should talk about the reasons for peaceful resolution and the reason that everybody in the area shares for continuing 50 years of peace in Asia. That's the topic of the speech, and I'm sure the Taiwanese and the Chinese listened to it closely, just as you did.

Q: And the point about the INDEPENDENCE?

A: I can't answer that question. Just let me say generally, U.S. ships pass frequently through the Strait of Taiwan. Aircraft carriers don't go through quite as often, and the reason is because the strait is narrow and they have to discontinue flight operations when they're in the strait. Aircraft carriers generally don't like to do that. They like to exercise as much as they can when they're underway. So, unless there are weather or other problems, they typically don't cut through the strait. Sometimes they do, depending on their schedule. It is faster to go through the strait between two sets of points sometimes, but they don't go through as often as other ships do. I'll try to get an answer to that question if we know.

Q: Secretary Perry in his speech gave a rather impassioned argument for the United States remaining in a posture of constructive engagement with China. Was he signaling there that the U.S. is not considering harsh sanctions for this violation of a transfer of nuclear weapons material to Pakistan?

A: I thought he spoke very clearly about the need for constructive engagement -- and it wasn't intended to signal anything. He also spoke very clearly about our opposition to proliferation, and our opposition to human rights abuses. He made it very clear that we do have disagreements with China, and we aren't quiet about stating those disagreements. We will continue to state our disagreements with China when we have them.

Q: He also said a policy of constructive engagement is not a policy at any cost, is the way he put it.

A: He did say that, yes. He also said that it wasn't a policy at any cost, and he highlighted the mutual benefits to the U.S. and China of this policy.

Q: There are reports out of Asia that Chinese troops are moving inland to areas along the coast in preparation for these exercises which are supposed to start in the next couple of days. Do you have any information about that? And is that a cause of worry in the context of the current tension?

A: We've seen reports of troops moving and other military equipment moving. It leads us to believe that there will be a large military exercise in that area. One of the things Secretary Perry did was speak against provocative acts in the area. We're quite sure, we're positive this will only be a military exercise. We assume that it will be carried out with good judgment and dispatch if it is carried out.

Q: By report, you're not talking about press reports, you're talking about...

A: There have been some press reports.

Q: Oh, you're talking about authoritative reports...

A: I'm talking about press reports. I'm talking about reports. Reports are reports. I said I was talking about press reports.

Q: How about intelligence reports?

A: I'm talking about reports. Reports are reports.

Q: Can you give us any guidance on the subject of Secretary Perry's speech tomorrow?

A: No. I haven't looked into that, but I will.

Q: Has the DoD initiated discharge proceedings for any HIV positive service members yet?

A: No, we have not.

Q: How soon do you anticipate that will begin to happen?

A: I think we will... Let me reemphasize what we're doing here.

We have basically a three-track policy here. The first is, we would like to get this provision repealed, and we're hoping Congress will do that. There are several senators who plan to introduce legislation. Congress is not in session now, but when it comes back, we hope that they will introduce this and we will support that legislation and work hard for its enactment.

We also believe there will be court challenges. I'm not aware that one has been filed yet, but I believe there will be court challenges, and the President has said, the White House has said we will not oppose those court challenges on the basis of the constitutionality or lack of constitutionality of the law.

The third is administrative relief. Now obviously if we get the law repealed, we don't have to go to the second and the third steps. If the law isn't repealed but it's thrown out, or if the application of the law is enjoined as part of a court proceeding, then we don't have to go immediately to the administrative adjustment. If the first two efforts to repeal or throw out the law fail, then we would move on to administrative relief. As a matter of fact, the Pentagon and the Veterans Administration have begun to work on a package, but that package is not ready yet, as the law was only signed on Saturday.

One other point. Under this provision of the law, no discharges are required for six months. I believe that puts us to August, into August. We will, because we're opposed to this law, wait as long as possible before beginning discharge proceedings involving any HIV positive personnel.

Q: Another question on the authorization. The authorization mandates specific missile defense programs to be core programs and sets deployment dates for them. Considering that the Pentagon is reviewing its internal missile defense program, what is the status of that review, and is that going to be held up because of this new legislation?

A: No. The review will not be held up. I think it will be completed in a very timely way.

Q: Any hint of what timely means? How far in the future?

A: Soon.

Press: Thank you.

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