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DoD News Briefing: Mr. Dennis Boxx, DATSD PA

Presenters: Mr. Dennis Boxx, DATSD PA
April 04, 1995 1:30 PM EDT

Tuesday, April 4, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.

Mr. Boxx: Good afternoon.

I'd first like to welcome to our briefing today 26 journalism students from American University.

I have no other announcements. I'd be happy to try to answer your questions.

Q: Can you tell us what went into the decision to apparently reverse the decision and award Purple Hearts to the service members killed in the friendly fire incident of last year?

A: The Service Secretaries of both the Air Force and the Army made that decision. There was some discussion between them and the Joint Staff as well as Secretary Perry. I think all parties agreed that this was something that needed to be looked at very carefully. Dr. Perry did not make the decision, he did not direct the decision but asked the services to look at it, and they came back with the decision that was announced a little while ago.

Q: Why was it initially decided that they would not receive Purple Hearts?

A: I think you need to go back to the services and talk to them. I think the decision was--is now based on the fact that they were on a mission patrolling for hostile forces. They reviewed the facts of the case and decided that was the proper conclusion and, I think, made the right decision.

Q: Can you describe for us what the relationship is currently between the U.S. military and the Guatemalan military?

A: As you probably know, on Friday Dr. Deutch came down and announced a rather extensive review of the issue regarding what involvement elements of DoD may or may not have had in Guatemala. That review is now underway. In fact, the General Counsel issued rather extensive guidelines to the services on late Friday afternoon that walks through in significant detail what their responsibilities are to look into this.

Generally, I can answer the question to say that right now the involvement is very limited. We have a few units that occasionally do Reserve and Guard training in Guatemala. This is--engineering type units that go down there on humanitarian missions to do road construction, school construction, and that kind of thing. That's an ongoing process.

Q: Are they there now?

A: I'm not sure if we have anybody in place there right now. I believe we do.

Q: Is there any preliminary information that any records or documents have been destroyed?

A: Not yet. We continue to pursue this aggressively, but I have nothing--I can give you no report, no status report at this point.

Q: Can you confirm the Army Times report yesterday about the non-combatant evacuation operation practice which is going to be held on April 7th?

A: I'm sorry. I don't have anything on it. Who reported it?

Q: Army Times.

A: Is it an Army exercise? I would refer you to the Army.

Q: It was supposed to be a nationwide exercise.

A: We can check into it. If it's an Army exercise, you probably need to go to them.

Q: Can you tell us--back to Guatemala--what were the instructions of the General Counsel? Do you have some specific things that she has ordered?

A: Yes. The direction from the General Counsel is that all the services, the Joint Staff, the Under Secretary for Policy, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, and Communications, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy including ISA [International Security Affairs] and SOLIC [Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict], NSA [National Security Agency], and DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] as well as the National Guard shall: Conduct a search within all organizations and activities under your authority, direction, or control for information regardless of classification or compartmentalization covering the period 1 January 1980 to the present concerning any involvement with Guatemalan military or civilian personnel who have had any knowledge or involvement in the deaths of Michael DeVine and Efrain Bamaco Velasquez, any involvement with Colonel Julio Roberto Alpirez, any involvement with or knowledge of destruction of records or failure to report information concerning these deaths; any other information which in any way is related to these individuals or events; and these taskings should be completed by April 14, 1995.

In addition to that, the Joint Staff has been asked to provide all orders governing the deployment of U.S. military units or personnel to Guatemala or locations anywhere in the region with missions related to those individuals or events; develop a chronology of the deployment of any personnel assigned to missions related to Guatemala concerning activities including but not limited to training, military assistance, special operations, counter-terrorism, counter- narcotics, intelligence, counter-intelligence, and intelligence-related activities. This search should include information concerning all personnel or units whose activities were in any way related to the subject of this inquiry, whether based in Guatemala, the U.S., Panama, or any other country; whether assigned to overt or covert units, whether assigned to DoD or any other agency on temporary or permanent assignment.

Shall I keep going?

Q: Okay.

A: To save time and paper, we'll provide you with a copy of the guidance in DDI.

Q: Your earlier answer to what the relationship is between the U.S. military and the Guatemalan military, you said there are periodic engineering exercises. Is there any financial arrangement between the two services at this point? Are there other kinds of ties? For example, are there Guatemalan officers now at the School of Americas?

A: That's one of the areas that this review will determine as to what exactly are the relationships and what do we have. At this point, to my knowledge, I don't know of any, but I do not want to be absolute in that because we do have a review underway.

As far as the School of Americas, we do not have anyone there at this time. We have not had anyone there since September of '94.

Q: You don't know of any ongoing financial arrangement between the Defense Department and the Guatemalan military?

A: I don't know of any. That's not an all-inclusive response. I think we need to look at this review, take a little more time. Remember, we started this Friday night in earnest and it is now just Tuesday, so we need a little bit of time.

Q: It doesn't have to do with deep secrets...

A: These are all pieces of the issue that are being collected.

Q: Can I return to the Iraq helicopter friendly fire incident for a moment? The family members that we've talked to welcome the Purple Hearts. A lot of them felt they should have gotten them all along. But they continue to question the outcome of the investigation. Can you explain why it is that Secretary Perry had a news conference here and announced a long list of problems and General Shalikashvili said that there was a shocking number of people who failed to do their job, but yet here one year later, only one single person is facing charges in this incident?

A: I think I need to be careful in what I say because that one case is currently pending. But I think the record clearly indicates an exhaustive investigation, a long litany of corrective actions that were taken both in terms of process and also personnel actions. I think that the Secretary's commitment to get to the bottom of this, to correct it, and to try to ensure that it does not happen again has been met.

It is a very difficult problem. It is something that has confounded everyone that has looked into it. But we need to move on and make sure that it doesn't happen again.

Q: Have any senior officers been disciplined in any way in this case?

A: I'll have to take the question. I'm not sure how far I can go on personnel matters. We'll take a look at what we can provide you on that.

Q: The other thing the family members continue to complain about is the difference between their compensation and the $100,000 payments made to foreign nationals. Can you explain again why that difference exists?

A: I think I'll take the question. We've gone through this a number of times before. I frankly didn't bring anything with me on it. We've got it. I can give it to you.

Q: Secretary Christopher, a few hours ago in a speech, indicated that the U.S. has new evidence that Iraq is engaged in trying to develop a large biological weapons capability. Is this something that is new or is this basically doing derivative deduction from the fact that the UN is unable to find some of the chemicals that could be used in a biological program?

A: I don't want to get into characterizing whether it's new or old information. I would say it's a combination of factors that deal with both what Mr. Ekeus has seen and reported and what our intelligence capabilities tell us.

Q: Do you believe that there is some new, large biological capability that Iraq has developed?

A: I don't want to characterize it as new, Jack. I'm not certain of the ground I'm on here. Secretary Christopher was pretty clear in his statement that he believes they are developing an offensive biological program. Whether that's new in terms of yesterday or new in terms of last month or last year, I'm not in a position to characterize.

Q: What can you say about the current status of their chemical or biological program?

A: That Secretary Christopher indicated today that he has evidence that they are trying to develop an offensive biological weapons program.

Q: Mr. Ekeus said probably sometime last week that the new factories that they rebuilt is not only for chemical warfare purposes. Does this contradict with what Secretary Christopher is saying?

A: I don't think so. I think Secretary Christopher, in fact, is basing part of his assessment on UNSCOM's investigations and reviews of what the capabilities are there. So I think they are in fact complementary, not exclusive.

Q: What do you mean by offensive biological weapons system? Something is offensive, that means you're referring to some type of delivery system or an intent to use biological systems offensively. Can you amplify that in any way?

A: I think an offensive weapon system is pretty self-explanatory. These are weapons that would be used against other forces. I don't know how I can expand on that. You mean in terms of what are they? I'm not going to be able to get into that.

Q: There's a scheduled meeting later this month between Deputy Secretary Deutch and Admiral Kimmel's son. Do you know if that case could be reexamined in the building?

A: I know there's a meeting scheduled. I'm not sure what the prospects of an outcome for that would be. Let us take the question and see. I'm not sure that that's exactly what the makeup of that meeting is intended to result in.

Q: Now that the Turkish offensive into Northern Iraq is several weeks old, does the Defense Department have some assessment about how successful that operation has been, and how much support the United States continues to have for those forces staying in Northern Iraq?

A: We have the information that I think you've all seen regarding the effectiveness of the Turkish effort to deal with the PKK. The last report I saw said in the area of 200 PKK killed, somewhere around 26 or so of their camps destroyed. We continue to take the position that this needs to be an operation of limited duration, of limited scope, and that incorporates careful consideration of human rights of those individuals who are not the targets of the Turkish effort. We don't have any indication or any reason to believe that this will be otherwise from the Turkish government.

Q: There were reports today apparently of some shepherds that were out apparently tending to their flocks that were marched away by the Turkish army as potential suspects and were all found dead on the mountainside several hours later. Do you have evidence that the Turks are, in fact, maintaining a clean human rights record in going after PKK suspects?

A: I have not seen that report that you're speaking of. The indications that we have so far are that they are making sincere efforts to abide by human rights standards.

Q: Have you been given any assurances by them when they're going to be out of Northern Iraq?

A: Not a date certain. We continue to receive assurances from senior Turkish officials that they too desire this to be of limited duration and limited scope, and hope to be in and out of there in a reasonably short period of time. But no one has set a timeframe on that.

Q: Can you tell us if there has been any additional evidence developed that would link a member of Aristide's government with the political assassination last week?

A: I can't. There are 16 FBI agents in Haiti assisting with that investigation, and I haven't heard any results of that. Your best bet would be the FBI.

The U.S. multinational force and now UNMIH forces are not particularly involved in that investigation. That is now under the auspices of the FBI.

Q: Can you update us on when and how many U.S. troops will begin moving as part of the drawdown to get to the UN force size?

A: The number's about 4,300 there now. That's about 500 down from where we were on the 31st of March. I think we said at the last briefing we would look probably to be down to the 2,400 or 2,500 figure by the middle of the month. That's still the expectation.

Q: Is the Pentagon satisfied with the don't tell/don't ask policy, or would you like to see it changed in any way?

A: We think the current policy is working. We think it is the correct policy. We plan to continue to defend it and see that it's implemented fairly and properly.

Q: Back to the Turks for a minute. You say you haven't heard anything about the incident involving the shepherds, but have you had any reports from this operation indicating that the Turks may not be living up to their rhetoric on protecting human rights?

A: Not that I'm aware of, no. I've not seen anything. I've seen press reports on occasion, from time to time, but I've seen nothing that would verify that.

Q: Can you tell us anything about a report we received that the U.S. military was transporting extradited Pakistani drug lords to the U.S. for trial?

A: I haven't seen anything on that.

Press: Thank you.

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