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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Reuters TV and Wire

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
March 04, 2004
Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Reuters TV and Wire

     Q:  These devastating attacks in Karbala and Baghdad this week, is that prompting you perhaps to delay a decision to withdraw U.S. forces from central Baghdad temporarily?


     Rumsfeld:  Those are decisions made by the local commanders and by General Sanchez and General Abizaid.  We have been asked repeatedly by the Iraqis to allow the ever-growing Iraqi security forces to take a larger and larger role in security for the people of Iraq.  That's the process that's been taking place.  It's a good process.  It's been working.  I don't know that the implication of your question is necessarily correct.  That is to say that had some different security forces been there that it might have been different.  I don't think that's a fair conclusion.


     I think that terrorists can attack and they can kill people and they did.


     Q:  Having said that, sir, the attacks including additional attacks yesterday and today on a telecommunication site, what does that say about the Iraqi security guards' ability to keep security in Iraq?


     Rumsfeld:  Look, a person can kill another person.  They can walk up and kill them.  A person can attack somebody else.  A terrorist has the advantage.  They can attack at any time, any place, using any technique.  It's impossible for anyone -- an Iraqi security force, a U.S. security force, a coalition security force -- to defend at every place against every conceivable technique at every moment of the day or night.  That's the reason there has to be a global war on terror.  That's the reason one has to go after the terrorists where they are.  That's the reason the 90-nation coalition is doing what it's doing using all elements of national power, putting pressure on bank accounts, putting pressure on law enforcement around the world, and seeking out terrorist havens and attacking the terrorist networks.  That's the only way to deal with this problem.


     All of your questions presume something that's not correct.  That it's possible to provide for perfect security.


     We have over one homicide a day in several U.S. cities, in cities of Europe.  One a day.  Think of it.  365 a year.  In some cities it's multiples.


     Q:  Are you intensifying the hunt for al-Zarkawi and how?  And are you convinced that he is in fact in Iraq?


     Rumsfeld:  I'm not going to say where we think he might or might not be.  And I don't know how you can intensify an intensified hunt already.  We've been looking for that fellow for some time, and I suspect we'll find him.


     Q:  Mr. Secretary, do you think he's alive?  There's some question as to whether he's alive or not.


     Rumsfeld:  I think he's alive.  I don't know that, but the best information I have is that he's probably alive and that we'll find him over some period of time and capture him.


     Q:  Does he appear to be actively in charge of these --


     Rumsfeld:  I'm not going to get into details about what we think about that.


     Q:  Mr. Secretary, the charges were brought on February 24th for the first time against two detainees at Guantanamo Bay.


     Rumsfeld:  What were brought?


     Q:  Charges.  Human rights groups, as you know, have been critical of the rules established by the United States for the military commissions.  What assurances can you give that these trials will be fair and meet international legal standards and not, as some critics have said, be a kangaroo court, something less than meeting international standards?


     Rumsfeld:  I think the proof will be in the tasting.  We'll see what they're like.  The United States is a country that makes a practice of doing things in a fair and responsible way and we will.  People will see that.  In the mean time, people will make irresponsible charges like you just did with the kangaroo court allegation and suggestions.  There's nothing we can do about that.  All we can do is proceed in an orderly, responsible way, and that's what the President has done.  We've included a team of distinguished outside lawyers from around the country, Republican and Democrat alike.  Very thoughtful people.  They've advised on this subject.  We've taken a lot of their advice.  We feel that the process will be a good one, and notwithstanding that fact in a free country you're going to find people standing up and alleging this and alleging that without anything to back it up and life will go on.


     Q:  So you're very confident that full and fair trials will result from the process?


     Rumsfeld:  There's no doubt in -- I'm not a lawyer and I'm not going to be managing the process, but I have no doubt that any Administration, Republican or Democrat in the United States of America is going to conduct, would in fact conduct these commissions or tribunals in a manner that is proper and appropriate for the circumstances.


     Q:  There are two areas that have come under particular criticism.  One of them is the lack of independent judicial review.  In other words, that appeals can't go to civilian courts of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Another is the issue of --


     Rumsfeld:  Let's take them one at a time.  If these were legal matters that properly belonged in a court of law under Article 3 of the U.S. Constitution they would have been put there.  They obviously were deemed, as has been the case in previous conflicts, they obviously were deemed to be something that were not appropriate to an Article 3 of our Constitution.  Therefore to compare them in every detail is obviously a non-starter and any people who have looked at history and looked at prior conflicts and looked at how prior conflicts were handled know that.


     That doesn't mean somebody can't do what you've just said and say this is different from that.  Of course it's different from that.  Why else would one have done it?


     Q:  Mr. Secretary on the illusive Osama bin Laden, given the fact that the Paks are giving us much greater cooperation on their side of the border and (Inaudible.) the tribal areas, and the weather will begin to improve for a possible spring offensive or whatever you want to call it on the Afghan side of the border.  Do you think there is reason for perhaps increased optimism that he might be caught?  While not making a prediction --


     Rumsfeld:  Come on, Charlie.  I'm not going to get into that.  Increased optimism, slightly decreased pessimism.  Look, he's at large.  He's probably alive.  He's probably in Afghanistan or Pakistan.  And we're probably going to catch him or kill him.  We'll know in time.


     The idea that there are gradations of closeness or gradations of probability I think is just, I just don't do it.  I noticed that some other people do and that's their privilege.  People in government do.  And as I say, that's their privilege, but I just don't.  The way I look at the world is you either have him or you don't have him.  We don't.  We'd like to but we don't.  We will but we don't.


     Q:  Do you have any intelligence on his health, how it might be?  He wasn't a very healthy man.


     Rumsfeld:  I've heard things like that but as long as he's at large and functioning we're after him.  Healthy or unhealthy.


     Q:  Let me just return to Guantanamo Bay.  Some of the detainees have been held there for three years without being charged and without being given legal counsel.  What are the chances that even with the Administrative Review Board process that you announced a couple of weeks ago that the United States will continue to hold detainees at Guantanamo for years into the future?


     Rumsfeld:  Well, in past wars people that have been scooped up on the battlefield as the Guantanamo detainees were have been put into camps and held and they were held not because they had committed some sort of a crime like robbing a bank or stealing a car, and therefore you wanted to punish them and have a trial and sentence them to jail and have them then pay a penalty to society.  That wasn't the point.


     The point here was these people were scooped up, captured on a battlefield, and as in World War II, the goal was to keep them off the battlefield.  Not to pretend they stole a car or robbed a bank and you want to try them, but to keep them off the battlefield.


     They were out there killing people, innocent men, women and children.  Now they're being held, and they're being held as enemy combatants, unlawful enemy combatants, and they will be held for a period under conditions that would in every respect comply with the Geneva Convention, even though they may or may not merit that since they, for the most part were in civilian clothes, were carrying concealed weapons and killing innocent men, women and children, and not functioning as an Army which the Geneva Convention applies to.


     And they're held under very good conditions.  They're being well fed, well treated medically, well housed, and given exercise, given reading materials, and we're keeping them off that battlefield. 


     We're also doing several other things.  We're releasing those to home countries that will -- We don't want to keep these people.  We just want to make sure they're probably handled.  So if other countries want to take care of them and retain them and prosecute them, that's fine.  So we've transferred a good many and we will be transferring more. 


     We are, as you pointed out in your questions, allowing at least an annual review of their situation and we've released some completely to be free because we deemed that they no longer are a threat to go back to the battlefield for whatever reason.


     I think that it's being handled in a very proper, in a very legal way, in a way that's consistent historically.


     Q:  Just so I completely understand your answer, there is the possibility that they could remain there for --


     Rumsfeld:  Some could.


     Q:  We understand that the Pentagon Inspector General's office may have prepared a report that finds that Lieutenant General William Boykin did not break any rules with the remarks he made before various functions in the past.  What are the results of the review, and --


     Rumsfeld:  I haven't been briefed.  I'm not aware that the report's completed.  In fact I doubt it is. 


     Q:  Mr. Secretary, going back to these attacks again, these increasing attacks, as you've pointed out a number of times the face of war has changed dramatically.  These people will stop at nothing, these guerrillas will stop at nothing in killing innocent people.


     Is this prompting your determination perhaps to use U.S. Special Forces around the world to go after these people?


     Rumsfeld:  My determination didn't need strengthening.


     Q:  Might you use Special Forces -- Sorry, go ahead.


     Rumsfeld:  I have done a lot of things since I've been here in three years with respect to the special operations capabilities of the country.  We've increased their budget, we've increased their numbers, we've added conventional forces to take over some of their responsibilities that they might otherwise have been engaged in.  We have changed their authorities so that now the Special Operations Command is not only a command that is in support of other commands, but that on occasion will be a command that will be supported by other commands.


     We have connected the United States Marine Corps to the special operators for the first time in any significant way.  And we have given encouragement to them.


     Q:  Might these troops be used (Inaudible.), even perhaps on loan to CIA to gather intelligence information or perhaps even launch attacks?


     Rumsfeld:  The Defense Department has worked closely with the CIA, going both ways on any number of occasions over any number of years in any number of situations.


     Q:  By going both ways you mean --


     Rumsfeld:  We've taken them for cooperative arrangements, they've taken some of our people sometimes.  They may be doing something where it requires some competence that we have distinctively, so we've worked very cooperatively with them.


     Q:  And they could I guess, despite military rules, they could be used out of uniform --


     Rumsfeld:  I didn't respond to that and I don't intend to.


     Q:  I see.


     Q:  Mr. Secretary, the Senate Budget Committee is considering a budget blueprint that includes roughly a $7 billion reduction in the Bush Administration's proposed defense spending for the next fiscal year.  Is such a reduction acceptable?  And what effect would this type of reduction have on the ability of the United States to wage the war on terrorism and other vital operations?


     Rumsfeld:  Let me come back to that and finish up on Charlie's question if I might.


     If you think about it, we have had people doing things, the Department of Defense, around the world that from time to time are not in uniform.  There's nothing new about that.  They may be performing a function that doesn't require a uniform.  So I think it would be unfortunate if you walked away with a sense that the uniform was a determinant in this instance.


     With respect to the budget, the White House is engaged in that, the Office of Management and Budget.  I'm told today in a briefing I received that there were negotiations, discussions, taking place with the senior leadership in the House and the Senate very recently.


     I don't know what will finally be decided but I have heard that there are some in the Congress that are putting pressure on the defense budget and the budget for homeland security.  I would just say this.  The President's budget is the President's budget.  It's the one that he worked out, that he believes is the right budget for the country.  We worked closely with the Office of Management and Budget and the White House in fashioning our budget.  We believe that our budget is a sound one.  And I have trouble believing that the Congress would really want to make any significant cuts in the Defense Department or the Homeland Security Department during a war.  I just think the members of the House and the Senate will over time consider that, debate it, discuss it, and decide not to do it.


     Q:  Mr. Secretary, what you said --


     Rumsfeld:  Which I believe would be in the best interest of the country.


     Q:  You said don't assume that a uniform would be a determinant.  Are you saying then not to assume that use of Special Forces to fight the war on terror --


     Rumsfeld:  I was referring to military generally.


     Q:  Are you saying that use of Special Forces or other troops to fight the war on terrorism would not necessarily be in uniform?  You could use them out of uniform.


     Rumsfeld:  I wasn't answering that.


     Q:  No, I understand.  But you said uniform wouldn't be a determinant.  So are you saying in fact they could be used out of uniform in certain instances?


     Rumsfeld:  I'm trying to think -- I can think of a situation where the United States was asked to help provide some protection for a foreign individual in a difficult situation.  My recollection is that when I met with those people they looked more like they were appropriately part of that person's entourage than they did like U.S. military.  That's a perfectly understandable thing.


     Q:  President Karzai.


     Rumsfeld:  I certainly wouldn't want to begin talking about who it was, but I've seen it.  So I say to myself in answer to your question has it ever happened?  Yes.  There certainly are appropriate times where that might be the case.  Where you'd look at them, and they may have a uniform, a dress I should say, that is more appropriate to the circumstance they're in than if they were on a parade ground out in front of the Pentagon.


     Q:  Mr. Secretary, on the issue of human rights, do you feel that Congress is hamstringing you in relations with countries over human rights?  In countries like Uzbekistan and poor countries in that region?  Or perhaps Indonesia.  (Inaudible.) contacts, military contacts there, to influence these guys.


     Q:  Certainly it's not a matter of hamstringing me or the Department of Defense, it's our country is the issue.  And the way to address the issue is at any certain period of time when one takes a snapshot of a relationship between our country and another country, we have multiple interests because international relationships are multi-faceted.  We have political interests, we have security interests, and we have economic interest, so the Congress, just as the President, has to take all of those and balance them and say given those multi-faceted relationships what ought we to do with respect to each piece of our connections -- political, economic and military.  Those are tough calls.  They aren't simple.


     There have been times in our country's history where we've made a conscious decision, for example, that we would work in close relationship, very close relationship, with brutal dictatorial regimes.  In World War II we were on the same side as Joseph Stalin, a man who killed millions of people in the Soviet Union, and we were giving them aid, we were assisting him, trying to defeat Adolf Hitler.  Deemed to be a more serious threat outside of his borders than at the time we deemed the Soviet Union to be outside of its borders.


     We did it notwithstanding total disconnect on political issues, on human rights issues.  No economic interests at all, but a big security interest.


     Q:  Perhaps instances where we could or should do this now.


     Rumsfeld:  Let me take you to another instance.  I'll give you an instance where we didn't allow a relationship.  Pakistan.  For a period of years we discontinued military to military interaction with Pakistan.  As a result there's a generation of Pakistani and U.S. military that did not have the benefit of training together, linking together, having exercises together and knowing each other.  And having the very beneficial effects of having U.S. military officers who believe in human rights and who believe in civilian control connected to the military of that country.  That was a disadvantage to us ultimately.  It was done for perfectly rational reasons, for perfectly understandable reasons, because they had a debate and discussion over the political linkages vis-à-vis the military linkages and decided that for whatever reasons the political, the discomfort that existed in the government of the United States about steps Pakistan was taking at that time really overrode the advantages that accrued to our country and Pakistan by having a closer military to military relationship.


     Here we are today, we would be better off had we not done that in retrospect one might say.  But those are tough judgments and tough calls and they're the kind of calls that ought to be debated and discussed in our society.


     One way to think about it is not looking at it at an absolute scale.  The United States said we're not going to deal with countries unless they have the same political values, the same economic systems, have the same military goals and aspirations as we do we wouldn't deal with almost any country in the world except a few handfuls.  We can't do that.  We can't live that way.


     So we tend to say are things getting better or worse?  We tend to look at a trajectory.  Is the country deteriorating and what might we do to turn them back up?  Or conversely is the country, no matter how bad it might be, is it improving?  And I look at, you mentioned Uzbekistan.  I look at Uzbekistan and I say to myself they've gone from being one of the Soviet Union's republics and a part of that process which is a process we did not agree with politically, economically or militarily, and they have had to make, what is it now, 12, 13 years, they've had to make a whole series of choices, and they've made a lot of very good choices.


     Are they behaving exactly the way we do?  No.  Do they have the same political system we do?  No.  Do they have the same economic system we do?  No.  Do we think it would be better if they'd track more closely there for their people?  Yes.  We believe that freer economic systems make people more prosperous and freer political systems give people choices and that's a good thing, we believe that.  So we encourage that.  And Uzbekistan, as you know well, has been enormously cooperative to us and assisted us tremendously in the global war on terror.  They've assisted us in the Afghanistan conflict, they've cooperated in the global war on terror.  So the relationship's been a good one.  So our country has to balance all those things and make a judgment and that's what we'll do.


     Q:  Are these (Inaudible.) in Uzbekistan and Indonesia, hurting the Administration, the United States (Inaudible.)?


     Rumsfeld:  The ones in the past in Indonesia I believe have separated the Indonesian military and the U.S. military because there were times when it was felt that the Indonesian military some years back when they were first put on, had done some things that the United States in its wisdom decided ought not to be rewarded and therefore it was penalized.


     To my knowledge, Uzbekistan is not currently being denied anything.  It has to get an annual certification, I think, that it's making progress.  I think it's that deliberation that is currently underway, if I'm not mistaken.


     Q:  Mr. Secretary, in light of the cancellation of the Crusader and the Comanche, are you looking at other possible weapon systems for termination?  The F/A-22, the V-22 Osprey, the Joint Strike Fighter, anything?


     Rumsfeld:  (Laughter.)   Anything.  My job is to look at everything.  What do you mean, anything?


     All of us here are interested in being good stewards of the taxpayers' dollars on the one hand, and we're also dedicated and determined to try to see that we make the investments on behalf of the American people that will assure our country that we'll have the kinds of military capabilities that will deter and defend our country.  They are a very tough set of issues that we have to worry with, and we do it seriously, we do it continuously.  In the case of the most recent decision on Comanche, the Department of the Army conducted a six-month study and looked at its circumstance particularly with respect to Army aviation and made a set of judgments that I believe were the correct judgments.  Acting Secretary Brownlee and Chief of Staff of the Army Pete Schoomaker, General Schoomaker, have handled that in a very responsible way.  They've stepped up and made a tough decision.  Do others in the department have to review things periodically?  Sure they do.  And they're tough calls.  I have a great respect for the Army for making the decision it did.


     Q:  Are you going to turn over these internal e-mails to the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Boeing tanker deal?  I mean they're holding up Larry's file and they're holding up several others.


     Rumsfeld:  I don't think the Senate Armed Services Committee has asked for them.  My recollection --


     Q:  What --


     Rumsfeld:  My recollection is that Senator McCain has asked for them.  I think he may have asked for it in the context of the Commerce Committee.  Do you know?


     Q:  Are you going to turn over these internal e-mails?


     Rumsfeld:  Just a minute.  Do you know, Larry?


     Lawrence Di Rita [principle deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs]:  I don't.  I think it (Inaudible.) from the Commerce Committee.  I think it was Senator McCain.


     Rumsfeld:  I think it's an individual request as opposed to a committee request, and I think it's a different committee individual request than the one you mentioned.  Just to kind of get everything straight.


     It is an issue that is clearly, I agree very much with Senator McCain, that any allegation of wrongdoing merits careful attention, aggressive attention, and I compliment him for his dedication and his determination in this matter.  We've got the Inspector General looking at this matter.  We've got the Department of Defense General Counsel looking at the entire question of how it was handled from an ethics standpoint.  We've got management reviews taking place to see that we are going to approach the tanker issue fresh and make a judgment that we believe is the best interest of our country.


     The question of the e-mails is a complicated one.  My understanding is that Senator McCain already has a good many of them because they were given to him by the corporation that had been involved in the pending contract.  The issue of the executive branch giving e-mails, which are pre-decisional if you will, I think that's the legal word that's used, is a complicated one and it's one that involves not just the Department of Defense, but the White House, the Justice Department, and all of those who have to make judgments that would create a precedent.  And the question is what precedent do you want?  What about everybody's phone logs?  What about everyone's conversations in the halls?  Who's going to give advice or not give advice if that's the way business is done?  And so I think that's the dilemma, the issue that's cast and the issue that's being considered broadly in the government, not simply because of the Department of Defense.


     But in terms of getting to the bottom of this, there's no question but that Senator McCain and I are very much on the same track and going down the same road.


     Q:  But there is no decision yet --


     Rumsfeld:  Not that we've been told.


     Q:  Thanks very much.

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