U.S. 'Has Every Right' to Hold Detainees, Says Rumsfeld
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 28, 2002 The United States "has every right" to hold detainees captured in the global war against terrorism, even if military commissions acquit them of specific crimes, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said today.
The secretary told Pentagon reporters that some detainees captured in the war -- including those who might be charged and acquitted of crimes -- could be held for the duration of the conflict. The detainees are enemy combatants, Rumsfeld said, and people to be kept from going right back to the battlefield and killing more Americans.
If "an enemy combatant might be acquitted," he continued, "the United States would be irresponsible not to continue to detain them until the conflict is over." Detaining enemy combatants for the duration of a conflict, Rumsfeld noted, is universally recognized as responsible and lawful.
"This is fully consistent with the Geneva Conventions and other law-of-war authorities," he added, noting that the matter is one of "common sense."
"The detainees include dangerous terrorists who've committed brutal acts and are sworn to go back and do it again," Rumsfeld remarked. That being the case, he said, the United States "has every right to hold enemy combatants for the duration."
"Today, the conflict is still going on, our troops are still fighting in Afghanistan and we do not, as yet, see an end," Rumsfeld said.
He noted, "The United States will continue to treat detainees humanely consistent with the principles of the Geneva Convention.
"We will proceed with trials; in some cases we will proceed with (detainee) transfers to another country, their country of nationality, in some cases," Rumsfeld continued.
The secretary noted that some detainees could be released if additional information proves there's no risk they'd conduct additional terrorist acts or go back to the battlefield.
"I can assure you, the United States does not want to keep any of them any longer than we have to," Rumsfeld noted.
Some detainees "may be transferred to other countries, some may be released, some may be held for the duration, some may be tried in one or more of the various mechanisms that are available: the United States criminal justice system, military commissions, or the Uniform Code of Military Justice," he said.
No one has been assigned for trial by military commission, so no locations for such commissions have been set, the secretary noted.
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that U.S. forces continued the search for al Qaeda and Taliban troops in Afghanistan. Myers said U.S. helicopters have delivered rice, wheat and cold-weather gear to victims of the March 25 earthquake in Afghanistan that caused widespread damage about 100 miles north of Kabul. No U.S. service members were hurt.
Rumsfeld and Myers offered condolences to the family and friends of Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Matthew J. Bourgeois, 35, of Tallahassee, Fla. Bourgeois was killed by a land mine March 27 as he conducted training near Kandahar, Afghanistan. No one knows if the land mine was newly laid or was an old one buried years ago, they said.
Addressing questions of potential enlargement of the war and of meeting additional national security challenges as the war continues, the secretary said the U.S. military stands ready.
"You can be absolutely certain that, to the extent that the United States of America decides to undertake an activity, that we would be capable of doing it successfully," he emphasized.