DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA) Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen General John M. Shalikashvili, Chairman, JCS
Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA) Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen General John M. Shalikashvili, Chairman, JCS
Mr. Bacon: I'd like to introduce Secretary Cohen and the Chairman, General John Shalikashvili. They both have opening statements, and then will take your questions.
Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon. The bombing of Khobar Towers Housing Complex in Saudi Arabia last year highlighted the threat of terrorism that our military faces around the world and the requirement for effective force protection. That attack killed 19 airmen and wounded hundreds more.
Afterwards, Secretary Perry had asked retired General Wayne Downing to review the tragedy and to recommend ways to increase force protection. As a result, we've made significant improvements in security.
Secretary Perry also asked the Air Force to examine issues of personal accountability for force protection at Khobar Towers. Personal accountability is not simply a question of assigning blame. It involves understanding the obligations of leadership, defining command responsibility, and clarifying the high standards of performance that we expect from commanders who are entrusted with the safety of our troops.
The Air Force prepared two reports on personal accountability. The first concluded that there was no basis for prosecuting anyone for dereliction of duty under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I accept that conclusion.
The second report, which examined some issues not resolved by the first study, concluded that no action should be taken against any officer. I disagree with that conclusion. I found that Brigadier General Terryl Schwalier, the Wing Commander at the time, did not adequately assess the implications of a possible attack on the perimeter of the Khobar Complex. As a result, he did not develop an effective plan for responding to a perimeter attack. Based on this finding, I have concluded that it would not be appropriate to promote Brigadier General Schwalier to the rank of major general.
I asked the Chairman and the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to review the Air Force reports, and they both recommended to me that it would not be appropriate to promote Brigadier General Schwalier to the rank of major general, and I accepted their recommendation.
I discussed this matter with President Clinton this morning and the President accepted my recommendation that Brigadier General Schwalier's name be withdrawn from the promotion list.
Brigadier General Schwalier recognized that a car or truck bomb parked on the edge of the Khobar Complex posed a serious threat to his personnel, but he did not take adequate account of the implications of this terrorist threat or develop an effective response plan.
As my report explains, there were several security deficiencies, but two of them stood out. First, Khobar Towers had no effective alarm system to warn of an impending terrorist attack. Second, the evacuation plans for residents in Khobar Towers were inadequate, and the command had not developed, tested, and trained personnel to use evacuation plans.
All military successes and failures ultimately reflect the effectiveness of the chain of command, which shares responsibility for personnel safety. But as Brigadier General Schwalier acknowledged, force protection is first and foremost the responsibility of the commander on the scene. His chain of command kept him apprised of the threat that he faced, and offered support on force protection. He never referred any protection problems up the chain of his command. Therefore, I've concluded that no adverse action should be taken against officers in Brigadier General Schwalier's chain of command.
Commanders, particularly senior officers, make complex decisions every single day. Leadership involves assessing risks and balancing competing requirements. I know that perfection is impossible. I also know that a zero defect attitude can make commanders very cautious and timid, jeopardizing success in battle.
Service in our armed forces is inherently dangerous and there is no way to avoid all risk, but we do expect high standards of performance for the commanders in the field. A general officer, in particular, must demonstrate awareness, resourcefulness and judgment.
Brigadier General Schwalier is a fine officer who has served his country well during a long career. His primary mission over the skies of Southern Iraq, Operation Southern Watch, was well led and well executed. But force protection -- an implied task for all commanders -- did not get his specific attention with regard to developing adequate defensive measures against a perimeter attack, and it was for this reason that I reached the conclusion detailed in the report that I delivered this morning to President Clinton.
General Shalikashvili: Good afternoon. Let me just add that after a careful review of the facts, I, too, concluded that Brigadier General Schwalier's name should be removed from the promotion list to major general, and I so recommended to Secretary Cohen, as he just stated.
Some might say that we must support our operational commanders and not second guess the decisions they make in the field. This is certainly true, but only up to a point. For it is also true that commanders are responsible for the actions and decisions they make, and where appropriate, they should be held accountable for actions and decisions that fall short of what we can reasonably expect of them.
This is not something new or recently fashionable. Indeed, it is the cornerstone of our profession. But, and I want to be very clear on this point, accountability does not mean zero defects. We are human, and we expect there will be some mistakes made at all levels -- from senior leaders to the most junior troops. All of us in the military profession know and expect our actions to be judged against the standard of what is reasonable to expect of a person of a given rank and experience. And it is reasonable to expect a senior commander, a general officer, when he is responsible for the safety and security of the young men and women under his command, operating daily under the known threat of terrorist attack, to have a workable evacuation plan. It is reasonable to expect such a senior commander to ensure that there's an effective and dependable means of alerting his people to imminent danger. And certainly it is reasonable to expect a senior commander to make certain that the safety and security procedures at his command are frequently exercised and evaluated to determine their effectiveness.
We must avoid the temptation to circle the wagons around one of our senior officers. The appropriate response is to do what we have always done -- to assess performance and potential against the standards we expect of a general officer. Promotion, after all, is an affirmation of the President's and the Secretary's continued full confidence in that individual to assume greater responsibility.
Therefore, based on my review of the facts in this case, it was my recommendation that Brigadier General Schwalier should not be promoted to major general. Thank you very much.
Secretary Cohen: Before we answer your questions I'd like to make one other statement.
When I met with President Clinton this morning, I recommended that he nominate General Michael Ryan to serve as the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. The President accepted my recommendation, and has just announced his intention to nominate General Ryan.
General Ryan is currently the Commander of both the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and the Allied Air Forces Central Europe. I selected him for three reasons.
Number one, he has combat experience and he understands the risks and the pressure of warfare. He flew 100 missions over Vietnam.
Secondly, he served with distinction on the Joint Staff, including a stint as Assistant to the current Chairman, General Shalikashvili.
Third, he has operational experience as an allied commander in Europe. He led the allied air operations over Bosnia -- the campaign that helped pave the way for the Dayton talks and the peace accord in Bosnia. As you know, General Ryan comes from an Air Force family. His father was also the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. He is the first son to follow his father as Chief of Staff of a service in the history of the U.S. military.
Now we'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Q: Your words today seem to indicate that you do not want and do not expect a zero-defect officer corps, yet your actions send a very strong message about that issue. As you know, there's been a lot more controversy than even we know on that issue. Can you explain to us how your actions do not drive people toward the conclusion that they can't have anything wrong in their background? That action plus the personnel reviews that have been going on with regard to sexual pasts and so on.
Secretary Cohen: I think it's clear from the report itself. If you look at the analysis that I made of all the reports, I tried to be as fair and balanced as possible, looking not simply with hindsight, but looking with some foresight. It seems to me that what we have to insist upon is that our commanders take all reasonable measures to protect their troops. Not that they take every conceivable measure, but what is reasonable under the circumstances. I think, if you look at the circumstance where you have a threat area which has been identified as a potential and quite probable source of attack, and that you have men and women who are exposed to that particular danger, that you must take all reasonable precautions.
If you look at that situation you find that there, number one, was not an adequate alert system; and I detailed that in the report itself. It was hard to activate. The siren itself, or the so-called "giant voice", had not been tested since 1994. The voice aspect of the "giant voice" system could not be heard by most of the people on the inside of the building. They would have to go to the windows, even go outside to hear what was being said, exposing them to even potential greater danger. And there was no effective means of alerting them to a danger other than what was adopted on an ad hoc basis -- namely, once there was a danger spotted, the only means they had of alerting the people inside that eight story building was to go from floor to floor knocking on the doors saying "get out". Not saying where to go, but simply "get out". That, in itself, could have presented a great danger to those involved.
So it seems to me that's elemental. If you're in a high threat area, one of the elemental things you must look for is, number one, a means of alerting your troops to the danger, and a means of having trained and tested the system of evacuation to make sure that you know exactly what you're to do under those circumstances where the danger becomes a reality. I think that's not zero defect. That's a test of reasonableness.
Q: Mr. Secretary, much has been made of the rivalry among the services, that there was a different approach toward force protection in the Air Force versus say General Downing or General Peay's approach in the Army. Can you address that at all? Did you find that to be the case? Is it necessary to have a judgment stick for all the services in terms of force protection that was lacking?
Secretary Cohen: I think we have to have the same standards for all services. We are, of course, committed to joint operations. We are moving more and more to a sense of jointness as a result of the Goldwater/Nichols legislation passed some ten years ago. It seems to me that we do not have one standard for the Army and one for the Air Force or Navy; we have one standard for all -- Marines, everyone included. If there has been in the past a separate standard or separate approach to force protection, that has to come to an end. I think that General Shalikashvili may be in a better position to make a judgment in terms of whether or not we now have a single standard or whether one service is better prepared to conduct force protection. My own assessment is that we need to have one standard, and everybody has to understand what force protection means and be trained appropriately and be held accountable under those circumstances.
Q: Did General Schwalier have a standard by which to judge?
General Shalikashvili: May I respond to the first part of the question? This is an issue that has, in fact, been brought up by some people after Khobar Towers. I have had a number of discussions with all our Chiefs and other senior leaders. I don't know of any senior leader from any service who would accept that they should have a different or lower standard from the rest.
Force protection and caring and worrying about the security of the men and women charged to you is inherent in command. Every senior leader, regardless of what color of uniform he wears, wouldn't want it any other way, and that's the one standard that we must have. Did General Schwalier have a single standard? General Schwalier had a single standard. General Schwalier never questioned whether he had a standard or didn't. He recognized his responsibility to provide force protection. He did an awful, awful lot. You must understand, and I'm sure those of you who have read the reports recognize just how much he did. But that doesn't say that he did everything, and I think what was pointed out by Secretary Cohen and myself, that there are some lapses that in fact did occur. It is reasonable to expect that a commander of his rank and his experience would not have had those lapses.
Q: General Downing's report found problems up and down the chain of command, although it singled out General Schwalier. Can you explain a little more fully why it is you feel that only General Schwalier should receive this sort of action? Why not anybody else in the chain that was identified in the...
Secretary Cohen: Because General Schwalier himself recognized in the various interviews that were conducted, force protection was fundamentally his responsibility. Yes, there are those who are superior in the chain of command who can provide advice, can provide some resources, but they are not generally in a position to challenge the commander on the ground in terms of his judgment -- unless they see something that is clearly wrong with his capabilities.
In this particular case, General Schwalier indicated he had no problems with force protection. He never reported any difficulties either in dealing with the Saudis, any corrective measures he took in terms of trying to work around the issue of that open, uncontrolled access parking lot, and never brought to the attention of his superiors any difficulty.
Under those circumstances, it seems to me that we put the accountability exactly where it belongs, and that is with the person who is in charge of force protection.
Q: You wouldn't agree with anybody who said that is being made a scapegoat. You wouldn't agree with that.
Secretary Cohen: No. He's not being made a scapegoat. He's being held accountable.
As I tried to point out in my report, I praised him, and I think he's a fine officer. He did outstanding work in many respects. He made a number of improvements. Many improvements following the bombing at OPM-Sang. That is the first wake-up call that occurred in Saudi Arabia. There was a presumption that terrorists could not or would not operate on Saudi territory; that the kind of protection the Saudis had provided would insulate our men and women from any kind of a terrorist attack. OPM-Sang, that occurred almost a year before, was a wake-up call. Suddenly it went from a low threat area to a high threat area. A number of precautions and force protection measures were taken at that time.
In this particular case, not enough was done. I think it was reasonable to expect a commander in the field who has responsibility to recognize that if he's got an exposure in an area where there's very little distance between a complex tower holding men and women in his command, that he must take measures which are reasonable to protect their lives. In this particular case, the kind of defensive measures that were necessary were not conducted and were not provided, and as a result, we saw great damage that was done.
This is not to in any way detract from the fine service he performed, but that essentially, force protection, is his responsibility. It's a team effort, obviously, up the chain of command to provide advice, support, resources, but ultimately you have to have commanders in the field who also request information, point out difficulties they might be having, or resources that they need so that the chain can then respond.
Q: General Shali, you said in your remarks that we must resist the temptation to circle the wagons. Is that a "not-so-veiled" critique of General Fogleman? And did General Fogleman know of this decision to take this action against General Schwalier before he decided to retire early?
General Shalikashvili: That remark was not at all intended towards General Fogleman. It is, rather, intended towards the young commanders out in the field. They must understand that we would do our profession no good if we got into the habit of circling the wagons around senior commanders to protect them because they're senior commanders. What we must do is use our best judgment and reasonable standards and hold commanders responsible and accountable against those standards. We owe nothing less to those young men and women that we often lead into danger. We must provide them commanders who are held to high standards, and then when something goes wrong, we must not be afraid to look at the facts and take appropriate action where things have not gone right.
So my remarks are simply directed at all those fine young commanders out there who are searching which is the right way to go.
As far as my second part of the question is concerned -- yes, I did discuss my recommendation to the Secretary of Defense prior to the time that General Fogleman announced his retirement.
Q: I have a question about the Air Force in general. We hear of morale problems in the Air Force. We see statistics showing pilots leaving the service for work in commercial areas. Is there a deeper problem in the Air Force that the other services are not experiencing at this time? And if so, why?
Secretary Cohen: I think there's always a problem when commercial airlines begin hiring, that you'll always see a decrease in retention in the Air Force. But I think it's a temporary situation. We've had these many times in the past. Yes, there may be some deeper level of discontent in terms of PERSTEMPO, operations tempo, that's something that we're trying to address. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has addressed this in many of the sessions with the other members of the Joint Chiefs. It's something that has been discussed with the CINCs, the Commanders in Chiefs of the various combatant commands. So we're looking at ways in which we can reduce PERSTEMPO, operational tempo, and at the same time maintain a high standard and quality of readiness. So it's a delicate balance. But I don't think there's anything endemic to the Air Force that would separate it from other services, other than the fact that you have airlines that are offering very attractive proposals in order to attract some of the best and brightest that we have.
Q: How concerned are you about the morale problems in the Air Force?
Secretary Cohen: I'm not concerned about the morale problems in the Air Force. The Air Force... One thing I've found in traveling all around the world is wherever I go, morale is high. I just returned from a trip to Eastern and Central Europe, and visiting our forces, and wherever I've gone, the morale has been sky-high. People are committed to their work; they're professional; they're well trained; they're patriotic; they're dedicated. Frankly, when you get beyond the daily headlines or criticism, it doesn't seem to be affecting them, at least from my meetings with them. They have a very high morale.
Can it be better? Obviously any time you have a consistent or persistent series of negative stories coming out that's critical not just to the Air Force but the military itself, then that, ultimately, if it continues unabated, will have an impact.
I think, for example, General Ryan will come to the job, he'll follow in the footsteps of General Fogleman, who's been an outstanding officer. He's looked up to by many, if not most, of everyone in the Air Force -- I would say all. An outstanding officer. I think that people look up to him. They will also look up to General Mike Ryan to inspire them, to lead them, to go through a period of time in which perhaps they won't have as many flying missions, won't see as much combat, hopefully, and that, of course, affects morale itself in terms of what are they doing. Are they simply "boring holes" in the sky? So those are issues that we have to deal with in an era in which we're not faced with a Soviet Union threat, that we're not engaged in combat, but we are carrying out peacekeeping operations which require some level of continuity and perhaps even boredom in carrying out the missions.
But that takes leadership. We've had good leadership in General Fogleman and in others, and we will have it in General Ryan.
Q: Can you evaluate reports in the press after the Khobar blast that there were negotiations going on between the Air Force, I believe that's General Schwalier's command, and the Saudis to move that fence, that perimeter, back and away from Khobar a safer distance, and that the Saudis were dragging their feet on that. Is that true? And secondly, all the signs and sightings before the blast, all that intelligence did not go up the chain of command at all? Is that correct?
Secretary Cohen: Two factors are involved here. Number one, the Saudis apparently expressed disagreement about moving the perimeter of the fence at the lower levels. It never was raised to the level of General Schwalier himself. Rather than taking that up with his counterpart he decided to, in his own words, to work around it. So he didn't raise the issue with his own counterpart in the Saudi military which might have gotten a much higher profile and much greater attention, nor did he raise it as an issue with his own superiors in the chain of command in the military. So it didn't reach that level.
Subsequent to the blast, apparently the Saudis were in fact willing to move the perimeter of the fence and did so, but prior to that time it had not been moved and it had not been raised to a very high level of concern. The decision was made to perhaps compensate for the lack of perimeter distance by having greater Saudi patrols, the number of which I don't think have ever been identified, and to put sentries on top of the rooftop of the complex with sniper rifles.
Q: And the warnings did not go up the chain?
Secretary Cohen: The warnings that were received, in fact I think General Schwalier was quite aware of. There were a number of activities, some of which were ambiguous. Not all of them could be interpreted as being potential terrorist threats. Some were ambiguous. There were others, however, where one truck, by way of example, tried to move one of the Jersey barriers. As a result of being apprised of that, the barriers were doubled and they were spiked down. So a number of them did, in fact, come to the level of General Schwalier.
Q: What happens to General Schwalier now? Is he forced to retire effectively?
Secretary Cohen: The answer is no. That's a choice that he will make or can make.
Q: Did you discuss this issue with General Fogleman? And did you endeavor to dissuade him from resigning? And the second question, how much of a contributing factor was the political decision to only post people to Dhahran on temporary assignments, to keep the publicly reported numbers down, which meant a constantly and completely chaotic rotation of staff officers commanding, I think?
Secretary Cohen: I did discuss this matter with General Fogleman on two prior occasions, and I met with him this morning, as a matter of fact. I did not have occasion to meet with him prior to his announcement that he was going to retire, and I think that announcement, obviously, is firm. It's not subject to reconsideration on his part. He made it very clear that he would like to retire and he will. But I did not discuss his retirement prior to my own decision.
With respect to the deployment of forces in that region, obviously there is some concern on the part of the Saudi government that we not have a permanent operation, or troops be stationed permanently in that region for the political problem it may generate for the Saudi Government itself. Whether or not that has contributed to the situation at Khobar is another matter, but I don't believe there's a causal connection. One can perhaps argue about the position as to whether or not a rapid turnover in any way caused that kind of turbulence that he didn't have continuity, but in terms of this particular terrorist act that was directed against the Tower, that was something that was, number one, foreseeable, and we believe the potential for minimizing it was there and it should have been minimized.
Q: Did General Fogleman concur with your conclusions in your study? If not, what was his reaction?
Secretary Cohen: I would assume the answer is no. [Laughter]
Q: Although foreseeable, the very day that it happened, it happened as close as possible probably to a no-notice or nearly no-notice attack. You've mentioned fire alarms and evacuations as two shortfalls, looking back now. Would those have really helped at all given the very short notice nature of the attack? And then I have a quick follow-up.
Secretary Cohen: The answer is, I believe they would have been helpful. Whether or not they would have, in fact, saved all the lives and the hundreds of people who were injured is an open question.
It seems to me, however, where you have a complex which houses that many people in one building and you are so exposed to a potential terrorist attack, they were well, I think, protected for a penetration type of attack. General Schwalier did a fine job in erecting the kind of barriers that would prevent a penetrating attack. But if you look at the maps, if you look at the photographs, you will find that there was only a perimeter distance of roughly 80 feet -- less than that between home plate and second base on a baseball field -- between that fence and the tower. Under those circumstances, at a very minimum, one would say you should have in place an alarm system which would alert people to the danger that would hopefully allow for an expeditious evacuation of the people inside, and to know where they're going, which is the second part of this which is very important.
There were a number of evacuations in that complex prior to this bomb. They took place because of false alerts, packages that were discovered. But they were never timed. In fact there was an assumption on the part of the leadership that it would take no more than five minutes to evacuate eight floors, eight stories. The investigators found, however, that it was much closer to 10 to 15 minutes.
So now you have a situation in which an alert system for a siren would have to go from the sentries on top, who spotted the truck, to call to the central security center, for them to then call the operational center, and then for the operational center to contact the commander, and then the commander could give the okay to sound the siren. They were still in the process of trying to sound the siren when the bomb went off, some four minutes.
Now in a four minute period of time, would it be possible to evacuate the eight floors? Possibly. And I think that there was a good possibility of that having been done if there was practice, if they had been trained, and if they knew where to go. This is the other aspect to it. It's one thing to say that you're training for a SCUD attack. With a SCUD coming in, you stay inside. If it's a perimeter attack and you're likely to have an explosion on the outside, you would not evacuate and stand outside. Those instructions were not clear, they were not understood. Very few, if any, of the people in the building understood that to be the case. So the only method they had, as a last resort under those circumstances, was to knock on doors and try to get outside. As it turned out, many of those who's lives were saved were in the stairwell where they had the greatest protection so they didn't get outside where they could have been injured and killed.
So the answer is, I believe it would have been helpful. We are left in the realm of speculation because you cannot prove conclusively, and if you could prove conclusively, that would raise a different issue.
Q: How do you assess today the threat of terrorism against U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia?
Secretary Cohen: I think we have to assume that the threat level remains high. I think that all of our forces in that entire region must be on high alert.
Q: Do you agree with General Zinni's statement that they're virtually being targeted?
Secretary Cohen: I believe that all of our forces are prime targets, as such, for terrorists. For that reason we have to take extraordinary precautions. All reasonable measures that we can take. We've increased and enhanced force protection a great deal since Khobar. It will never be perfect. We can assume that there will be other attempts to target U.S. personnel in the future. We hope that won't take place, but we have to assume that will continue to take place, and we need to do our level best to protect against it.
Q: You sound very sure today in your decision, that the evidence is pretty clear. Could you explain to us why the Air Force seems to be on the opposite side of you, considering that one of the words you used was "elementary". Elementary in the alarm system. Why the disconnect?
Secretary Cohen: I think you'd have to ask the Air Force rather than me. What I've tried to do is to go through very systematically and look at General Downing's report to examine that in detail, to look at General Record's report, and then to look at the Air Force IG's report. It was voluminous in terms of the totality of the material. What I tried to do is to examine it in as fair-minded fashion as I could, not making any rush to judgment, not looking for any scapegoats, but rather to find out whether there should be accountability. There needs to be accountability.
So my examination of the facts led me to a different conclusion than that of the Air Force. Frankly, I found some significant differences in their interpretation and my own, and ultimately I have the responsibility of making a decision, and that's what I did.
Q: Can you discuss the kinds of protective steps that they've taken to ensure that something like this won't happen again?
General Shalikashvili: First and foremost, let me start by saying that we must not fall into the trap of believing that we can just build high enough walls and far enough separation distances then we'll all be safe. We always have to try our very best, but you have to understand that a terrorist is also watching you and trying his very best to circumvent whatever you do. So this is a continuing process.
In the area where we are in the highest danger in Saudi Arabia and on the Arabian Peninsula, we have done, indeed, a great deal. We have relocated people to a much safer place than they were before. We have sent back most of the family members to ensure that we reduce the danger to them and to their children. We have gone back and relooked all of our directives and publications on the subject of force protection and antiterrorism to make sure that we strengthen those directives and regulations where we need to, and correct them where they might have been out of whack. That is essentially done.
We have relooked completely and revamped completely the training that we provide the troops that we deploy now into the high threat areas, including training we have instituted up to senior leaders on force protection. We have worked very hard to institutionalize those changes so that a few months from now, if things were, hopefully, going better from the force protection and the antiterrorism standpoint, that we wouldn't fall into some kind of a false sense of security. To do that, we have established a new office at my headquarters whose sole purpose it is to watch after that. The Secretary of Defense has appointed me as the focal point in DoD for force protection.
We have relooked the whole way that we assess our installations. We have established a new set of inspections and evaluation teams that we send out to evaluate on a common standard those installations out there. Every one of our deployment orders, whether that's sending one man over there or a whole unit, addresses the force protection requirements in that particular region and ensures that we address with each deployment the training that is required for those people to be prepared to deal in a terrorist environment.
The list is really very extensive. The overall goal, if I can leave you, is to make sure that as quickly as possible we make American forces the preeminent force in force protection. You know very well that if we were talking about fighter aircraft operations there's no doubt that the United States is the best. When we're talking about mobile armored warfare, the rest of the world knows where to go and find out how to do that is here. My task is, and my challenge to all of the commanders and all of those staff officers who work with me, is to make the United States, as quickly as possible, the preeminent force in force protection so that the day will come -- hopefully sooner rather than later -- where people will come to us and say how in the world do you do this? We need to learn also how to protect our forces and our troops.
Q: Will you make the two Air Force reports public?
Mr. Bacon: Yes. The Air Force reports are available in a room down the hall. We have a copy of the Secretary's report, and also there are some comments from the Air Force as well.
Q: How tough of a decision was this for you?
Secretary Cohen: It was a difficult decision in the sense that it required me to spend a good deal of time reading as much as I could, trying to make as fair an assessment of the facts as I could and come to a decision. Obviously, the first four or five months were taken up dealing with a favorite subject of mine, the QDR, which I will not mention any more today. But also then dealing with other issues that tend to come up on a day by day basis including all of the travel. Then trying to coordinate everything with the White House.
Today was the first day, for example, that I was able to meet with the President to go over the details of the report itself. So I wanted to have an opportunity, number one, to talk to the President, and that's not always easy to coordinate.
But the answer is, it's difficult because we're dealing with human beings. On the one hand, we have a fine officer -- General Schwalier is a fine Air Force officer. And yet I have to make the judgment as to whether assess accountability, which affects his career. So those are not easy decisions. But by the same token, we have families that need to also have an accounting and want to know whether or not measures could have been taken which possibly might have reduced the chance that their sons and daughters could have escaped harm or death.
These things are never easy, and I just tried to be as fair-minded as I could and I came to this judgment and finally issued it.
Press: Thank you.