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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability en route to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
January 27, 2002

(Press briefing en route from Andrews AFB, Md. to Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.)

Q: Can you tell us if this is your first visit to Guantanamo Bay and why are we going there today?

Rumsfeld: I first went to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 1951 as a midshipman in the Naval ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps). I was in the ROTC and I had my summer cruise and we went to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That was my first time. I went back again in 1953, and then when I was a Navy pilot, I would go down there from time to time when I was flying in the reserves after I left active duty and we would do various types of training down at Guantanamo Bay. So I've been down there a number of times.

The reason I'm going down is not because I had nothing else to do today. My daughters were in town, and I -- but I have absolutely full confidence in the way the detainees are being handled and treated. I have spent a lot of time talking with people there about it, and I am not down there for that purpose. I am going down there to talk with the troops and thank them for what they are doing. It is a tough job and there has been a lot of confusion and misinformation about what they're doing down there, and these are terrific young men and women doing an excellent job and I want to tell them that.

I also want to meet with the camp's detention center officers about the next steps. We've got some issues about how the more permanent facilities will be built, what numbers of cells. I've been struck by this, that when some people want to talk about this they prefer the word, "cage" so it conjures up animals, whereas most people use the word "cell" which conjures up the image of a prisoner who has done something wrong. I just thought that I'd mention that I prefer the latter. The other thing I may do is to the extent that there are any people from the International Committee of the Red Cross there, I may find an opportunity to meet one-on-one with them.

Q: We're getting reports that some of the detainees are trying to communicate with each other, passing notes back and forth with rocks and stuff. Do you have anything on that?

Rumsfeld: It's much like what happened at Mazar-e Sharif. Anybody who has looked at the training manuals for the al Qaeda and what these people were trained to do, and how they were trained to kill civilians -- and anybody who saw what happened to the Afghani soldiers who were guarding the al Qaeda in Pakistan when a number were killed by al Qaeda using their bare hands -- has to recognize that these are among the most dangerous, best trained vicious killers on the face of the earth. And that means that the people taking care of these detainees and managing their transfer have to be just exceedingly careful for two reasons. One, for their own protection, but also so these people don't get loose back out on the street and kill more people. This is a very, very serious business and it ought to be treated in that manner.

Q: Sir, before you go --

Q: (Inaudible)

Rumsfeld: They are not POWs, they will not be determined to be POWs and when we have our discussion later today, I'll walk through that and several other issues.

Q: Do you have any reaction to the comments of Jack Straw and Chris Patton regarding (inaudible).

Rumsfeld: Oh, I know who he is.

Staff: Time to go, sir.

Q: But before you go, sir, one more question on another subject. There's a Washington Post story today about a four-star command for domestic security. What are your feelings on that? Do we need that?

Rumsfeld: I'm going to be presenting the president with my proposals with respect to the Unified Command Plan in the immediate future. It will have a number of changes. It will also be a very good proposal.

Q: Do you support the four-star command?

Rumsfeld: I make my recommendations to the president.

Q: What about taking a small pool of reporters into Camp X-Ray with you today so we could, without cameras, so we could eyeball it and report because there has been so much misinformation?

Clarke: I talked to (Maj. Gen.) Gary Speer (acting commander in chief of U.S. Southern Command) yesterday. He wasn't too thrilled. But I will check with him again.

Rumsfeld: I can talk with the camp commander, but there are a lot of reporters down there already, aren't there?

Q: But they haven't been able go in. They have been kept away. No reporter has been inside the complex. So --

Rumsfeld: Don't forget that we're treating these people as if the Geneva Convention applies --

Q: But no cameras.

Rumsfeld: -- and the Geneva Convention has, I'm told, some words on this subject and also some precedent. And the International Committee of the Red Cross has some views on these subjects and we are, have been, are now, and intend to be in the future to be attentive to those things. And the basis of them is respect for the individuals being detained and not having them "held up to ridicule," is I believe the phrase. It is not clear to me whether that means just photographs or it means just viewing of them -- that could equally be considered that.

Q: Could you talk to them? Could you talk to the commander?

Rumsfeld: (Nods yes).

Q: Great.

Staff: Thank you.

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