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Secretary Rumsfeld Roundtable with Radio Media

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
January 15, 2002

(Roundtable with radio media: AP, BBC, NPR, and VOA.)

Q: We thought we would give you an opportunity to, if there's anything that you had wanted to bring out, anything you'd wanted to say, any issue you'd like to mention, this is probably the opportunity of the day to say whatever you'd like to say.

Rumsfeld: I must say I just spent some time with the senior enlisted personnel who have been, from each of the services including the Coast Guard. We had lunch and talked a good deal about what they have been doing, which is to -- they've been in touch with the men and women in the armed services all across the world. And they said what I feel every time I come back from a trip or I've had a chance to meet with the folks in uniform and that is just what a wonderful job they are doing and how grateful the people in the country are to them for it.

Q: Let me start off with Afghanistan then, if you'd like. Could you tell us the latest in the search for new targets that might be hit, in the search for new areas that might have both holdouts and weapons? What is the latest?

Rumsfeld: The latest is that we keep discovering additional caves and additional tunnels and additional caches of weapons and intelligence information. It is a big country and there are lots of locations and some of the locations are ones that we have only very recently been able to get into or that anyone was aware of, and the result of this effort is that additional intelligence information is being gathered, and very, very sizeable arsenals are being discovered. Tanks and artillery pieces and surface-to-air missiles and small arms and all kinds of things that they've been in the process of destroying a great deal of it in different locations.

They also have from time to time run into additional pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban and been able to deal with that part of the problem.

We are continuing to receive so-called detainees from the various locations around the country and in Pakistan and processing them.

Everyone who is there is very busy.

Q: And on the search for weapons and detainees, I understand in the last 24 hours, for instance, U.S. forces have gotten another seven detainees. Can you tell us the latest in capturing the detainees? Also you mentioned that you're continuing to discover caves. Have you found new ones?

Rumsfeld: There have been some new ones that have been discovered and are in the process of being worked on.

We're in the final stages of working on the so-called possible weapons of mass destruction sites. I don't know that that's a great characterization of it but we received reports numbering in the many dozens, three or four or five dozen locations. A number of them, most of them now have been examined and the materials from them have been sent for processing and evaluation. There are four, five, six, eight, ten that are still being looked at. A number of them turned out to be drug processing, which of course has been an enormous activity in Afghanistan over the years. It would be a terrible thing for the world if Afghanistan returned to drug production in a large way. But many of those locations have been destroyed and that part of the process also is going on.

Q: The seven detainees that have been captured just recently, in the last 24 hours. Have you gotten some more details?

Rumsfeld: There have been some, yeah. They're being processed like the others. We have, oh goodness, I don't know, over 400 I think at the present time in Afghanistan. And the number keeps changing. We keep passing some back to Pakistan that we've processed and don't want. They are handling a number of their own folks.

We keep receiving more from Pakistan that we want to process. We keep finding more. And we keep sending out people to Guantanamo Bay. I don't know what there is down there now, but I think we've either sent or 30 have arrived.

Clarke: Thirty more arrived.

Rumsfeld: There's going to be a rhythm of every day or two or three another tranche will be sent.

So it's a big process, it's a lot of work; there's an awful lot of people involved. There are teams of people from the Department of Justice as well as the CIA and the military, defense establishment, for the purpose of first -- the most important thing, of course, is to try to find out as much intelligence as we can through the interrogations, and that is our principal focus. It is a matter of recognizing that the threats exist against our country, that there were thousands of people who went through these al Qaeda training camps. What we need to do is to just gather as much information as we can and try to prevent additional attacks to the extent that's possible.

Q: Mr. Secretary, it's my burden to ask you one of your least favorite questions. (Laughter)

One of the big television networks last night reported that the CIA now believes that bin Laden has left not just Afghanistan but also Pakistan and is out of the region all together. Is there anything new to say about -- what's your reaction to that?

Rumsfeld: I see intelligence materials every day, and I see a lot of it. There have been those kinds of reports for months and there have been conflicting reports arguing that they're in Province A, B or C, also every day for months. I wouldn't give any particular credence to that any more than I do to the rest of it.

The fact is that we're looking. We have been looking. And we intend to keep on looking not just for those two individuals but for their senior associates. I expect we'll find all or most of them.

Q: A more serious angle on that question, what does the fact that we have not located them signify as far as our intelligence-gathering effort? Are there any lessons or significance to be drawn from it? For example, on the HUMINT capability versus other forms of intelligence gathering? Would it have been different if we'd had 10,000 Marines on the ground as opposed to the local forces? What's the significance of the fact that we've not been able to get them yet?

Rumsfeld: Let's take a couple of those points. I've thought a good deal, in fact many of us have thought a good deal about the question as to how might we have affected the task of finding certain individuals with more or less people physically on the ground in Afghanistan? I've concluded that when you balance the pros and cons of that, that it would not have been helpful. That is to say you can have hundreds of thousands of people on the ground and they end up occupying a specific area. They don't occupy the whole country. Then they move across the country and they end up forcing people out and away. And my impression is that to the extent people, if Afghanistan's landlocked and it has five or six countries around it all of which have porous borders, that the larger number of Americans on the ground might very well have hastened one's departure as opposed to delayed it. So I think that's a non-starter as an argument. It just is not persuasive analytically.

Second, if you have a lot of people on the ground in a country that is historically anti-foreigner, you might very well find yourself with an awful lot of opposition to you and hostility and fear that you're going to come in and try to occupy their land or take their land, which we are not interested in doing. But being reasonable and rational, explaining that to people may not be persuasive. There's an awful lot of people in Afghanistan, the Taliban, who were lying throughout the entire exercise, who had we had a lot of people on the ground would have been saying that they obviously are coming in to take your country, in which case you would have gotten everyone in Afghanistan against you as opposed to just the Taliban and the al Qaeda.

So I think that you look at the pros and cons of those two approaches and it seems to me it's unambiguous, that we had the right approach.

Then the test is how successful can you be getting Taliban, previously held Taliban area pacified? How do you do that? The people who don't live in that area are the people you work with to help you do that. And the people that are in that area are the people that were not unfriendly or possibly even friendly to the al Qaeda and to the Taliban.

So you have to find a way to do that that is the least offensive and would elicit the most cooperation. And we've been doing that.

We've got people all across the country, local Afghan people working where we have embedded in them our people, our special forces working with them, and we're actively out trying to find rumors and tips and leads and suggestions as to where these folks are.

The third thing I would say is that there have been, in violation of federal criminal law, there have been a lot of leaks of classified information about intelligence gathering, and to the extent that happens the people we're trying to find obviously develop knowledge about how we try to find them. And to the extent they develop knowledge about how we try to find them, they develop ways they can, alternative methods they can use to communicate with each other or to connect with the people they need to connect with, and they use deception and denial techniques. These are not stupid people. These are not people who are unaware of high technology activities. Therefore, they get more sophisticated and more sophisticated and it makes it that much more difficult.

So to the extent people run around and break federal criminal law and leak and provide classified information publicly, it is very harmful to what we're trying to do and that has happened.

We know that as these things occur our sources of information tend to dry up. And that is notably unhelpful as well as being illegal.

Q: Some of the efforts in Afghanistan have led to the discovery of intelligence information affecting other countries. We've heard recently about the Singapore government's crackdown. There's also a new warning out that has surfaced against the U.S. embassy in Yemen.

How concerned are you, given what you've achieved in Afghanistan, the global effort to cut off his finances, how concerned are you about the possibility of further attacks from al Qaeda and its sympathizers?

Rumsfeld: I expect them. I haven't got time to be concerned about them. I expect them and we take all the steps we can to try to prevent them and we have taken appropriate force protection measures around the world, but we get threat warnings by the dozens every day in different parts of the world for different people, different facilities, different activities, some specific, some general, and we make sure people are aware of them. But the truth is you cannot defend every place against every technique at every moment of the day or night. You cannot do it. The only way to deal with this problem is to do the best you can by way of defense, but to take the battle to them, and to go find them and root them out. And that is what we're trying to do. And that is why we're putting a major effort on gathering intelligence and learning more about these folks and arresting and detaining people and interrogating them and doing sweeps throughout Afghanistan trying to find all the kinds of things that would give us additional information and we're having a lot of success and we'll prevent a lot of bad things from happening, but we sure won't prevent them all.

Q: Is one of the places that --

Rumsfeld: There isn't any way to do that. Excuse me.

Q: Is one of the places that we're hearing about today, there are reports now talking about the first significant U.S. military expansion of the war on terrorism is unfolding in the Philippines because rather than a couple of dozen advisors it now appears that there will be more than 600 U.S. troops going in there.

Is this, and these aren't just exercises. They're described as actual operations against a group that's linked to al Qaeda.

Are we likely to see U.S. soldiers drawn into combat there and eventually an expanded American role in the Philippines?

Rumsfeld: Well, what we have currently going on is training and exercises, and it is not a modest number, it's several hundred plus. But it is a group of people that are going to be with the Philippine forces for the purpose of training. And in addition we have support personnel there. We have medical people there and we have various other types of assistance that are there.

The Philippine government and the United States have had discussions about the terrorist problem that exists there, and as we have done with dozens of countries around the world we're providing the kinds of assistance that we can by way of in some cases technology, in other cases training, to assist that government at their request in ways that are appropriate for their circumstances.

These people are not all in one place. These people are in several places as I recall. There's at least two islands that I can think of. One was I think Basilan and another was [sic] Juno [Jolo], if I'm not mistaken, where they've had terrorist problems and indeed there's I believe still a couple of Americans that are held hostage there, have been for months and months and months. Some of the hostages have been killed, some have been released, and so they have a very real terrorist problem. We have been friendly with the Philippines for many many years and we're happy to be providing assistance to them and training.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I think it's my turn.

If I may, I wanted to begin asking you about the situation on Guantanamo Bay and about the treatment of the detainees that have been brought over to Cuba.

My first question is this. You have made a public commitment to humane treatment of these detainees.

Rumsfeld: Why my goodness yes. That's what our country does is treat people humanely.

Q: But how does that square with what we know of their condition, being kept in what are being described as cages, six foot by eight foot, the hoods and the shackles that we just caught a glimpse of as they were being put onto the planes in Kandahar. Many groups, both in the United States and outside, do not feel that that is humane treatment.

Rumsfeld: Well, I can't speak for many groups but I can assure you that the United States has been from the outset, is now, and will in the future treat all detainees in a humane way.

What you have is a photographs taken of people in transit. And the fact of the matter is that A, you're beginning with people that are very dangerous. They killed dozens and dozens and dozens of people in Mazar-e Sharif. They are the hardest of the hard core. They broke loose in Pakistan and killed Pakistani soldiers. They are -- so you start out with the fact that these are the very hardest core terrorists. People who walk out as they did recently in Kandahar with a hand grenade and blow themselves up and try to blow other people up coming out of a hospital. So you begin with that.

Therefore, if we're going to ask the men and women in the armed services of the United States to manage them and detain them, my advice to the men and women in the armed services and their commander was to do it with great care and great caution lest they get killed themselves, or unless additional detainees get killed. So they did that.

The most dangerous period is when you're transferring people from one place to another. So what they did was they, which you see it in country after country every day. When prisoners are being transported or moved, they tend to be under restraint. This is nothing new. So your "many many groups" who are alarmed about this need not be alarmed. All they saw was people in transit who were being restrained, as they properly should or they would have killed somebody.

Second, one of the ways of helping people from becoming more dangerous than they otherwise might be is by putting hoods over their heads. Now they were put on their heads during the transport period. They are not permanent, unlike the burkhas that were required in Afghanistan by the Taliban and the al Qaeda.

Next, they are being fed well. There was one person, I believe, who was sedated; maybe two or three, one of which I think asked to be sedated. Mildly. And so they could be transported.

Needless to say, someone who wants to use a pejorative phrase could use the word cage, but they are in facilities that are temporary, that are being replaced by facilities that will be something other than temporary. My recollection is that the people who are doing this have talked to the people at the Bureau of Prisons and they've arranged for various types of facilities to be erected down there and that's in the process of taking place.

But I can assure you that these folks are in an environment that is a lot more hospitable than the environments we found them in.

Q: There are three British --

Rumsfeld: Where they were voluntarily, running around killing people.

I do not feel even the slightest concern about their treatment. They are being treated vastly better than they treated anybody else over the last several years and vastly better than was their circumstance when they were found.

Q: Do you feel any concern that for example, perhaps, America's closest ally in this war, Britain, now sees that three British citizens are in Guantanamo Bay and there is a real political concern in Britain to make sure that those people have their rights representative, that they have some sort of legal representation at some point in this process, and that they are treated humanely? Does it concern you if in Britain people are beginning to wonder?

Rumsfeld: First of all, Britain has just been terrific in this conflict and has been and is today, has been a superb partner. My understanding of the process is that we captured a group of people who were out killing people and we've stopped them and we've put them in restraint for a period, a relatively limited period thus far. And we're in the process of interrogating them because we're trying to find intelligence information that will help us from having their associates and their colleagues and their best friends around the world go kill more people. That is our highest priority.

Now it's my understanding that the International Red Cross is being permitted to look into their humane treatment and opine on that, which is fine. And one would think that reasonable people -- first of all, you're never going to get everybody in any country, even the United States or Britain, agreeing on everything. But reasonable people, one would think, after the International Red Cross looks at this situation and accepts it for what it is which is humane treatment and says so, one would think that most reasonable people in Britain and the United States would say well, that's fair enough.

Now is everyone going to be perfectly happy with it? No. Can anyone ever make everyone perfectly happy? No.

Q: A final point on this, if the process continues through interrogation and there are people that you believe should be tried by the United States as a result of what you discover about their activities, and some of them you believe in the end should be punished by the death penalty, will it make any difference to you if some of them or one of them, for example, were British? Where the British government insists that it doesn't believe in the death penalty and it will not extradite and will not cooperate with the Americans, that the Americans implement the death penalty? That could be an issue down the track.

Rumsfeld: Look, there's what, 180, 190 countries in the world. Every one's sovereign, every one has their own rules and regulations and laws and constitutions, written or unwritten. That's fine. We don't expect everyone to agree with us all the time, nor should anyone else think that we'll agree with them all the time.

But what's happened here is that we were attacked, thousands of people were killed. We've gone into Afghanistan and we've put our hands on several hundred people who are people that were running around killing people and we're in the process of interrogating them. I would think that most people would think that's a fairly reasonable approach.

Q: But when it comes to justice will you hand them over to British authorities if --

Rumsfeld: That's a political decision that somebody other than me will make. It's not a military issue for me. What we're going to do is find out what they know and we're going to treat them properly. It's not going to be a country club, but it will be humane. And we're going to find out what we think we need to know. And our goal isn't to hold these prisoners or to have prisoners. It's a big expense for us; it's a big pain in the neck. I'd rather not have any. But we have to do it and we're doing it.

Q: Just a quick follow-up on Afghanistan if I might.

Rumsfeld: Sure.

Q: You mentioned discovery of new caves that presumably are beyond Zhawar Kili. Could you elaborate on that?

Rumsfeld: No, I can't. It has been a discovery process from the first day in that country. We have found more tunnels, more caves, more openings practically every week that this has gone on. It just continues and they're in all different parts of the country.

Q: And you mentioned the weapons of mass destruction, that intelligence had found any, what's new on that?

Rumsfeld: Not much new. We still haven't finished the number of identified possible sites, nor have we gotten the reports back on the analysis in all of the places. As I say, an awful lot of it involved drugs, and in some cases where there was radioactivity at least it preliminarily looks as thought it might have been depleted uranium warheads as opposed to something that could be considered a radiation weapon as such.

Q: The significance of that would be?

Rumsfeld: And the significance of that is really nothing. People have used depleted uranium warheads because of their penetration characteristics for years, and at least at the moment one of the locations where radiation was detected that turned out to be the case.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you said last week that the al Qaeda training camps in Somalia go from being active to inactive to active --

Rumsfeld: Not just Somalia. Everywhere. All over the world. I've noticed that these training camps, when they get a lot of press attention, suddenly people become scarce. When they get less press attention they become more active.

Q: The ones in Somalia are getting a lot of press attention. Does that mean they're inactive? What's the status of --

Rumsfeld: I haven't looked today but I would suspect that's the case. It's a fairly logical thing, isn't it? If you're a terrorist and you read about in the press that there's a lot of interest in your particular area why one would think you wouldn't spend a lot of time on the parade ground.

Q: They are inactive in Somalia?

Rumsfeld: I didn't say that. (Laughter) I said I think that's a fairly reasonable conclusion without even trying to look. I'm not even thinking about Somalia, but anywhere. Anywhere in the world. If there's a lot of press attention about it people get scarce. They aren't playing on the obstacle course or out on the firing range or messing around in the mess hall.

Q: Sir, given the Taliban being dismantled in Afghanistan, the al Qaeda on the run, are you getting any sense from the new authorities in Afghanistan that they think it's time for the Americans to go home?

Rumsfeld: First of all, there's not a "they". Just as there isn't in any country. You have a variety of views, in the government you have a variety of views. The interim government has what, four or five more months in office and then it will be replaced by a permanent government, one would hope or think, assume that the council meets as was provided for in Bonn and the transition takes place.

I can't speak for what may come because no one knows what it will look like or who will be in it.

With respect to the interim chairman, Mr. Karzai, he has been uniformly cooperative and been working off the same set of goals and hopes and expectations and aspirations that we have. I've not noticed any difference.

He has been helpful. I've spoken to him on the phone from time to time, as Secretary Powell has. The combatant commander General Franks has. And he and his associates have been very helpful and very cooperative.

I feel very good about the relationship and the arrangements that we've made.

Q: You don't feel like they're in caves trying to --

Rumsfeld: Absolutely not. Not even slightly. I would say that indeed quite the contrary. That is to say they recognize that they have several things that need to be done. They, every bit as much as we, want to see those pockets of Taliban and al Qaeda taken out. They, every bit as much as we, would like to see the senior people in both al Qaeda and Taliban captured or killed. They, every bit as much as we, would like to see order and a lower level of criminality and violence in their country. They are very pleased with the Kabul International Security Assistance Force. Some have suggested that there may be other parts of the country where they would like to see an international security assistance force. Every time we deal with them they are very pleased with what we're doing in Bagram and what we're doing in Kandahar and our activities in Mazar-e Sharif and various other parts of the country.

Now can you find someone who will say gee, I wish this or I wish that? I'm sure you can. But overall, just the overwhelming position of the government has been enormously positive. Furthermore, they want assistance. They want humanitarian assistance. They want food, they want clothing, they want medical assistance, they want reconstruction, they want runways fixed and hangars built and things done so that that country can begin to function again. And goodness knows, the United States and lots of other countries, Colin Powell's over in Tokyo heading for Tokyo pretty quick now to have that meeting with Japan on donor nations to talk about what might be done.

No, I think that implication would be absolutely a misunderstanding of the current situation.

Q: Mr. Secretary thank you very much.

Q: Thank you for taking the time, that was very helpful. Thank you.

[Off the record portion deleted.]

Q: Thank you very much.