United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

DoD News

Bookmark and Share

 News Article

Seeing a Smoking Gun Means It's Too Late, Rumsfeld Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 18, 2002 – "The last thing we want to see is a smoking gun," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress today. "A gun smokes after it has been fired. The goal must be to stop such an action before it happens."

Rumsfeld testified before the House Armed Services Committee. He was answering questions about the dangers Iraq poses.

He told the legislators that Saddam Hussein has chemical and biological weapons and is working hard to develop a nuclear capability. He said the Iraqi dictator has also demonstrated a propensity to use those weapons. Hussein has violated the 16 U.N. resolutions directed against his outlaw regime, Rumsfeld said, and he will continue to subvert the will of the United Nations if allowed.

A demonstration erupted in the hearing room that Rumsfeld used to make another point. As he had begun his testimony, a group of women interrupted him and began chanting "inspections, not war."

After the women were led out, Rumsfeld said that there is a misunderstanding among many people that the goal for the United Nations is simple inspection. "The (U.N.) goal is disarmament," he said. "That is what was agreed to by Iraq (after the Persian Gulf War), and that is what was understood by the United Nations."

He said inspections only work if the country being inspected cooperates. Iraq has an interest is hiding arms and deceiving inspectors. Further, he said, Iraq threw the inspectors out, not the United States or the United Nations.

Rumsfeld detailed the threat Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program poses to the world. "As we meet, chemists, biologists and nuclear scientists are toiling in weapons labs and underground bunkers, working to give the world's most dangerous dictators weapons of unprecedented power and lethality," he said. He told committee members that the power of weapons available to dictators like Hussein and the connections between rogue states like Iraq and terrorist networks make for an extremely dangerous situation.

A miscalculation against a foe with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons could mean casualties in the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. Rumsfeld cited a Johns Hopkins University study that imagines the introduction of smallpox into three U.S. states.

"Within two months, the study concluded as many as 1 million people would be dead and 2 million infected," he said. Even if halved or quartered these statistics would be too much to bear, he said.

Rumsfeld reminded the representatives that Congress changed the U.S. policy of containment of Iraq to what is now being called "regime change." He answered a number of questions that logically grow from that policy.

He said, for example, that an attack on Iraq is not separate from the global war on terrorism, but a part of it. "Stopping terrorist regimes from acquiring weapons of mass destruction is a key objective of that war," he said. "We can fight all elements of the global war on terrorism simultaneously."

He told the legislators that U.S. military strategy includes the ability to win decisively in one theater and be able to occupy that country, to defeat another country in another theater nearly simultaneously without occupation, to provide for homeland defense and to provide for a number of lesser contingencies such as Bosnia and Kosovo.

"Let there be no doubt we can do both (the global war on terrorism and regime change in Iraq) at the same time," Rumsfeld said.

Questions have been raised about whether Saddam Hussein would use weapons of mass destruction at all. Some observers reason that he is a political survivor who knows what the reaction of the United States would be if he used such weapons. Deterrence would work because any attack would have a "return address" on it.

"There is no reason for confidence that if Iraq launched a weapons of mass destruction attack on the United States it would necessarily have an obvious return address," Rumsfeld said.

He cited the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia and the anthrax mailings of last year as examples of the problems law enforcement and intelligence officials have in ascertaining the origin of such attacks. It is possible Iraq could supply terror groups such weapons and not have the weapons traced back to Baghdad, he said.

All the questions, though, come down to one thing: "What is the responsible course of action for our country?" Rumsfeld asked. "Do we believe it is our responsibility to wait for a weapon of mass destruction 9-11, or is it the responsibility of free people to do something, to take steps to deal with such a threat before such an attack occurs?"

In the United States, the secretary said, the 20th century response would be to seek evidence that proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That approach is appropriate when you're protecting the rights of the accused and less dangerous when the threat is conventional arms, he said.

"But in the age of weapons of mass destruction, the objective is not to protect the rights of a Saddam Hussein, it's to protect the lives of the American people, and our friends and allies." Finding evidence of a threat that would stand up in a court of law from closed societies and shadowy terrorist networks is not possible.

"On Sept. 11, we were awakened to the fact that America is now vulnerable to unprecedented destruction," he said. "That awareness ought to be sufficient to change the way we think about our security and the type of certainty and evidence we consider appropriate.

Contact Author

Related Sites:
Prepared Testimony of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld before the House Armed Services Committee regarding Iraq, Washington, D.C., Sept. 18, 2002
DoD News Transcript: Media Stakeout Following Secretary Rumsfeld's HASC Testimony, Sept. 18, 2002

Additional Links

Stay Connected