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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability after Visiting Camp X-Ray

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

(Remarks with Senators Stevens, Inouye, Hutchison and Feinstein at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba)

Rumsfeld: To the men and women in uniform here we want to say thank you so much for what you're doing. You're doing a great job. We know it, you know it, you ought to be proud of it.

They tell me it's been just 21 days since this operation has been in business and that is a very short period of time to have accomplished all you've accomplished. We appreciate it.

I suppose everyone here was introduced. Senator Hutchison?

Hutchison: Yes.

Rumsfeld: Good. You all spoke? Terrific. We've got people from California and Texas and Alaska and Hawaii here, I suspect. Did you check?

Feinstein: We did.

Hutchison: Yes.

Rumsfeld: First of all, let me say a word about the war on terrorism. We have been at it just a matter of months, not a long time. And it is going to be a much longer time that we will have to be at it, let there be no doubt.

The task that the President has set out for us is to deal with the terrorist networks. They exist. Thousands of people have been trained to kill innocent people -- not just Americans, but people across the globe -- and the President is determined to stick at it until the job is done.

I was asked why I was coming down here today. Was I coming down to check and make sure that everything was being done properly? I said no. I wasn't. That I knew it was being done properly. It had been from the beginning. The men and women here doing this job are people who went to our high schools and our grammar schools who are responsible, they're properly trained, properly led, and have been doing a first-rate job. I came down to say thank you.

Voices: Hooah!

Rumsfeld: Now, are there questions from the troops first? I'll answer all of those I know how to answer and I'll leave the tough ones for the senators. (Laughter)

Inouye: They want to know when they can go home.

Rumsfeld: They just got here!

I used to come to Guantanamo Bay back in 1951 and '52 and '53 and '60, and '64 and '65 and '70. That was back before they had air conditioning. It didn't even exist in those early days.

I'd be happy to respond to some questions from the press and so would the members of the United States Senate here.

Q: Can you describe, sir, what you saw? What impressed you about what you saw? Start with that.

Rumsfeld: What we have seen here today is a lot of very talented people who came down here a few weeks ago and this entire center was, as I recall, in a state of considerable disrepair. It hadn't been used for some time, and it has been very quickly put in shape that they could receive and hold something in the neighborhood of 150 or 160 detainees and as you hear behind me, the SEABEEs working to see that that number of cells will increase so that we can hold additional people here.

I've had a chance to visit with a chaplain. I've had a chance to visit with the medical people. We've had an opportunity -- And I might just say the detainees here are receiving medical care that is identical to the medical care that the men and women you see here in uniform receive every day. In fact I think I see the Chief Medical Officer. Raise your hand right there. There he is. They're doing a terrific job.

We saw the security system, which is appropriate. We saw people who have just come out of surgery recently in various states of recovery from bullet wounds and various breaks and problems they've had. We were briefed on the security situation.

Q: Did you got any kind of feeling, though, in your gut when you looked in on the people who are, who we allege have been part of the organization that were engaged in this war against us? Any sort of feeling or reaction looking at these people?

Rumsfeld: We did see the detainees. We also talked to the people who are in the process of interrogating them for law enforcement purposes and for intelligence-gathering purposes. We have teams, multidisciplinary teams, of people who are engaged in that. What else?

Q: Mr. Secretary, for Swedish Television. For how long time will these prisoners, detainees, be held here and do you envision a military tribunal being set up right here at Guantanamo?

Rumsfeld: As you know the President has signed a military order permitting the establishment of a military commission, to use the phrase of the military order. He has not, as yet, assigned any individual to be subjected to that commission and as a result we don't have plans at the moment as to where any commission might be held.

Q: Sir, can I ask on the, do you share at all the sentiments of Senator Stevens on the reaction of British parliamentarians? He said they had done a great disservice to young American men and women here. And do you believe that the British detainees here seek any kind special treatment? And in particular, what's your response to --

Rumsfeld: Wait, let's just do one at a time just for the heck of it. (Laughter)

Do I think anyone ought to get special treatment? No, I don't. I think that we have a group of people who are al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists, who have been captured in various parts of Afghanistan. They have been brought here because they are considered individuals that ought not to be out on the street with the possibility that they could kill somebody else, and the interrogation process will go forward. But no, I don't think people at the moment -- I suppose after a period in most prison situations an assessment is made as to who are the most serious and dangerous of the prisoners and they tend to be handled in a manner that's appropriate to that, and those that are considered to be somewhat less dangerous tend to be handled in a manner that's appropriate to that.

Q: Mr. Secretary, did you hear from any of those inside Camp X-Ray that there is a concern that some of the detainees are communicating with one another in a way that could possibly (inaudible)?

Rumsfeld: The subject was discussed.

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Q: Could I have a follow up?

Q: Mr. Secretary, would it be terribly dangerous to blur the distinction between lawful combatants and unlawful combatants? Could you help us understand what legal entity, organism, international or otherwise, does make that distinction (inaudible) the Geneva Convention between unlawful and lawful combatants?

Rumsfeld: There is a definition of what a lawful combatant is and there are four or five criteria that people look to historically. There's precedent to this, and there is a reasonable understanding of what an unlawful combatant is.

The characteristics of the individuals that have been captured is that they are unlawful combatants, not lawful combatants. That is why they are characterized as detainees and not prisoners of war. The al Qaeda are so obviously a part of a terrorist network as opposed to being part of an army -- they didn't go around with uniforms with their weapons in public display, with insignia and behave in a manner that an army behaves in, they went around like terrorists, and that's a very different thing.

It's important for people to recognize that this is a different circumstance, the war on terrorism. It requires a different template in our thinking. All of the normal ways that we think about things simply don't work.

For example, there were no armies or navies or air forces for us to go after in Afghanistan. We're going after terrorists. That means you have to go and find them and root them out and stop them from killing people. And --

Q: What is your response to the British Foreign Secretary --

Sec. Rumsfeld: You've had a chance.

Q: Is there evidence that the detainees have been communicating with each other and have developed some kind of a hierarchical organization with perhaps a troop leader?

Rumsfeld: I'm not in a position to respond to that except that you can hear them communicating with each other.

Q: But is there some kind of an organizing effort going on?

Rumsfeld: Most detainees when they get together in a prison environment do talk to each other and do discuss things. It's a fairly common pattern. They've only been here a very short period of time. Whether it's happened thus far here, I don't know, but I suspect it will.

Q: Mr. Secretary, are you satisfied with this facility? Do you think they should go forward with the next step -- what they're calling the modular facility -- and when would that be?

Rumsfeld: I am very satisfied that these folks have done a terrific job of getting this facility up and operating in 21 days. They have been improving it every single day. They find ways to do it better and they're making it function better.

It is extremely manpower intensive, and these fine folks, they're limited in number and what we've done is we've put a pause on bringing more people in. I do believe we're going to have to go forward with the so-called modular next phase. The big question before the house is how many cells would be appropriate? The numbers that are floating around are in the hundreds right now, not the thousands, although some people have suggested larger numbers but I doubt that. At some point we will process the paper in the ordinary way and present it to the Congress and ask for some support so that we can have a facility that is not a permanent detention center that would last 100 years, but something that is much more appropriate than the cells here that have been put together in the past few weeks.

Q: The Australian government said that it would like the Australian citizen, David Hicks, home to face trial there. Is that going to happen? And under what conditions are foreign nationals going to be allowed home to face trial in their own countries?

Rumsfeld: I am not a lawyer. Those are the questions that lawyers answer and I don't.

I'm searching my memory to see if I -- I cannot at the moment recall any country that has contacted us and said they wanted the opportunity to try nationals from their country that are currently being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It may be that someone did through the State Department or through some other portion of the government that I'm not aware of, but I'm just simply not aware of that so it's really a hypothetical question at this stage.

Q: Sir, did any of these detainees try to talk to you and did you exchange any words with them?

Rumsfeld: No.

Q: What kinds of specific things did these detainees do to get them selected to come here? And is it possible that some could be in custody, U.S. custody, for years to come?

Rumsfeld: The problem with answering that question the way it's posed is that these are individuals. They're not a group completely, although they all were captured and they all were captured in Afghanistan, I believe. No, they were not. Some I believe were captured in Pakistan and turned over to us. The kinds of things they did was, in the case of the al Qaeda, they took over much of Afghanistan, they organized cells in 50 or 60 countries, raised millions and millions of dollars, and attacked a number of locations around the world including the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

The Taliban have been linked tightly to the al Qaeda and behaved as they do, worked closely with them, organized with them --

Q: But they were selected was a larger body of detainees in Afghanistan. Why were these detainees selected to come here?

Rumsfeld: Ah. First of all, a journey begins with a single step. What we're doing is trying to sort through these people. What they do is we've sorted some and we've given them to Pakistan back. We've looked at some that Pakistan has captured and taken them because we felt they would be useful from an intelligence-gathering standpoint. We have given some back to Afghanistan.

Then what they've done at Bagram and Kandahar is to sort through these people, do a quick sort, and make judgments as to who they believe to be ones that might prove to be particularly useful from an information standpoint and sent a group of them here. I'm sure in some cases we'll find that that first sort wasn't perfect. But it's that kind of a process.

Q: You were in the building on September 11th. You felt it rock, and I know that you worked through the smoke and the stench and you went to the memorial service for those almost 200 Pentagon employees. What were your personal emotions when you walked through that gate seeing people that you believe are responsible for that?

Rumsfeld: I guess the feeling I have is that we are darn fortunate that the United States went to Afghanistan, worked with the Afghan people to liberate that country from the al Qaeda and the Taliban, that we were able to capture and detain a large number of people who had been through terrorist training camps and had learned a whole host of skills as to how they can kill innocent people. Not how they can kill other soldiers, but how they can kill innocent people, and that we've got a good slug of those folks off the street where they can't kill more people.

We'll take two more questions.

Q: To what degree have the interrogations provided you any useful information?

Rumsfeld: To a considerable degree. There have been terrorist activities that have been stopped and disrupted prior to their being successful in killing innocent people.

Q: On the Red Cross recommendations, once they are made, will you release that report?

Rumsfeld: I am glad you asked that question.

Q: Could you tell us now what they told you?

Rumsfeld: What they told me is that they have a longstanding practice of confidentiality. That they, if we want them to tell us things, we do it on the basis that we will not reveal that information to others. That is what their policy is. They believe very sincerely that to the extent they maintain that practice, they will have the ability to go into more countries, see more circumstances, do more of the things they do for the good of humanity than if they do it in a different way.

Q: But will you release their report?

Rumsfeld: That's what I'm responding to.

Their arrangement when they go in is that what they tell us will be confidential by them and by us. And to the extent they know it will not be confidential, their policy is that they don't provide that information to us. Therefore, if we want that information we need to enter into an understanding with them that it will be confidential and that is to preserve their ability to move around the world and have the confidence of people. And also they -- I don't even know if I should be talking for the International Committee of the Red Cross. Are any of them here?

Voice: No, sir.

Rumsfeld: Except to say that they -- I don't know what kind of a report they will issue if any, but I do know that it would be markedly different if we told them that we would release it. Therefore if we want the benefit of having them here and having them offer their advice, which we do and I feel that, General, you feel it's been a useful thing from your standpoint.

General Lehnert: Yes, sir. We've had a very professional and cooperative arrangement with them.

Rumsfeld: And so at the moment the answer is it looks like there will be nothing released by us because if we were to release something and they knew we would do that we might not get a report anyway.

Q: Sir, could you clarify what you said earlier? Are you saying sir, that based on the interrogation of some of these detainees that future terroristic operations have been stopped?

Rumsfeld: No. What I said is that if you take the aggregation of all detainees we've taken and interrogated -- in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, here -- that information gained from detainees has been useful in disrupting other terrorist acts.

Last question.

Q: Sir, the British Foreign Minister has issued a statement saying that he would like the British detainees to be tried in the United Kingdom. What is your response to that?

Rumsfeld: My response is that if in fact he's made a statement like that -- Is he the appropriate person to speak for the government in that regard?

Q: He could be. It was endorsed (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair.

Rumsfeld: It was. Then it would probably go to the Department of Justice or to the United States government. They would then look at it, process it, and respond in some way. Then issues as to the appropriateness of doing that would be addressed; issues as to when it might be done. Have we gotten the kind of intelligence information we need from them already? If so, that would fit one fact pattern.

The question, we would work out arrangements with other countries as to whether or not they would be willing to share any intelligence they got prospectively, which would also be a factor to be considered. And I must add, there certainly are some countries that support terrorism that I doubt we would be willing to do that with simply because we want these people off the street. We don't want them out committing other terrorist acts.

Thank you.