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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Larry King, CNN

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
December 06, 2001

Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2001

(Interview with Larry King for CNN Larry King Live)

King: We're at the Pentagon, the Department of Defense. The secretary of Defense is our special guest tonight, the Honorable Donald Rumsfeld. He's served his country in many capacities. Do you like this job?

Rumsfeld: It's an amazing job. It is so important to the country and it's so complex, but the great thing about it is you're dealing with such spectacular people, the men and women in uniform.

King: You've got a lot of them in this building.

Rumsfeld: Well, you do. All over the world, as a matter of fact.

King: Do you get to really know this building?

Rumsfeld: Oh, sure.

King: You've been all over this building?

Rumsfeld: Oh my goodness, yes. I had lunch down in the cafeteria today.

King: You eat with the guys right, and the girls.

Rumsfeld: Sure. Every once in awhile if I don't have a meeting with congressmen or something like that.

King: Let's take first things first. We have a lot to discuss tonight. What can you tell us about the death of the three troops and the 19 injured and the B-52 accident?

Rumsfeld: Well, I guess the most important thing I can say is it's a terrible tragedy and our heart goes out to the families and the friends of those fine people. We lost some Afghans also in that same incident.

There's an investigation underway. The first report was that there might have been a car bomb. The later report is that it looks more like it was an errant piece of ordnance that landed, a so-called JDAM, a 2000 pound bomb which is I think probably the most likely situation. And as we know in every conflict there are unexpected, unintended deaths. It is a shame, but it happens.

King: How, Mr. Secretary -- Who makes the call? Does the President call the relatives? When someone dies like this --

Rumsfeld: We have a whole set of procedures and they see that it's done. The commanding officers of the units are involved and the chaplains are involved. It's just such a terrible tragedy for those families.

King: What's it like for you?

Rumsfeld: Oh, it just --

King: It can't be just dismissed as casualties of war.

Rumsfeld: Oh, no, no, no. These are human beings. They've got brothers and sisters and wives and children and parents.

King: Have you ordered a thorough investigation?

Rumsfeld: Oh, you bet.

King: Will this stop any other B-52 type occurrences?

Rumsfeld: No.

King: Things go on as planned.

Rumsfeld: Oh, indeed. But in every conflict, in the history of any country there are really three categories of casualties. One category is combat inflicted by the enemy; another are inflicted by friendly fire; and the third are the kinds of things where we lost two crew members in a helicopter in Pakistan where it was neither. It was an incident or an accident or something that occurred that was not in a combat zone. And there's a reasonably predictable percentage that fall into each of those categories. It's just the nature of what's happening.

I mean the real people responsible are the al Qaeda and the Taliban for attacking this country because we wouldn't be in this war. We didn't pick this fight. This is something we've got to do to defend the American people, and thank goodness there are wonderful young men and women who are willing to voluntarily put their lives at risk so the rest of us can live in freedom.

King: When the results of this are known, is it released?

Rumsfeld: Oh, sure.

King: Do you tell us what happened and why it happened?

Rumsfeld: Absolutely. That's the kind of a country we have. We tell the truth about what took place and how it happened. In this case, if you think about it, I don't want to prejudge any investigation because I have no knowledge at all, but if you think about it, let's take a hypothetical case. There's someone on the ground and this is a GPS-guided weapon that is very accurate. There's someone on the ground who decides what the coordinates are.

King: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: Latitude and longitude, where it should be aimed. They then communicate that to the aircraft and then the aircraft then manually puts it in to the fire control system, then it goes into the weapon.

Now there's plenty of places for error.

King: The human element is involved.

Rumsfeld: Well, the coordinates could have been wrong in the first instance. They could have been transmitted incorrectly. They could have been received incorrectly. They could have been put into the fire control system incorrectly. There are many other things that could also have happened. There could be a bent fin on the weapon. The weapon could be one of the weapons that didn't work correctly.

If you think about your automobile -- anyone listening to your program has had an automobile accident of some kind. They've bumped a fender, they've made a mistake. Human beings make mistakes.

Second, they know that their cars are in the shops part of the years and they're in there because they don't work right. And when we think of our weapons, we have the most accurate weapons on the face of the earth, but a very smart weapon, a good weapon, might work 85-90 percent of the time. The rest of the time it doesn't work right.

Now that's a very good percentage, but it means that there is one out of ten that's going to not do what it was intended that it do.

King: So every soldier knows this --

Rumsfeld: Oh, you bet.

King: -- going in. They've got a chance to be killed by their own --

Rumsfeld: You bet.

King: That's the breaks of the game, as they say.

Rumsfeld: And God bless them, it's one of the risks they take to defend this country.

King: Today aside, is this effort going as seen?

Rumsfeld: I think what the public is seeing is what is happening. I think the American people can feel that it's a tough job, it's a dirty job, it's going to take time. There isn't any army we can go out and defeat. There's no navy we can sink. There's no air force we can shoot out of the sky. It is a very complicated process where we have to apply pressure on the terrorist networks all across the globe by arresting people and interrogating them, by gathering intelligence from people who live next door and know something, by the countries that have friendly intelligence services, by freezing bank accounts, by working with people like the opposition forces in Afghanistan to try to root out the Taliban who have been harboring the al Qaeda terrorists. It is a complicated, long, difficult, messy, dirty job.

King: Is there therefore possible to be a victory day?

Rumsfeld: Well, there won't be --

King: A celebration of one day?

Rumsfeld: -- a signing ceremony on the Missouri like there was when the war ended, World War II ended.

It isn't going to end in a sense of a climactic victory. It's going to -- We're going to be successful and we're going to be successful because the President is absolutely determined to stick at it.

King: But how will we know? We could have stopped something today, right? At an airport. It might have been stopped. How will we know we're successful?

Rumsfeld: That's the problem. We know we are having success because we're making lives very difficult for these terrorists. We're making lives difficult for them in Afghanistan. The amount of real estate they can move around on is vastly restricted today. Their money's short. They're having trouble communicating with their troops. But they're still there, they're still alive. The senior leadership for the most part is there, but we're going to get them.

We're also making life difficult around the world in a lot of other countries.

So you're quite right. We could have today, this hour, have stopped or prevented -- Because of an arrest in the Philippines or in Malaysia or in Saudi Arabia or some place else, stopped a terrorist attack in the United States and not even know precisely that for two, three, four months.

King: Because of this therefore, do you support all of General Ashcroft's moves?

Rumsfeld: Well I think Attorney General Ashcroft is doing a good job for this country. He's a serious person. He's a thoughtful person. He is working very closely with the president and has undertaken a series of steps that fit the circumstances that we're in. We have to recognize that weapons of mass destruction exist. There's no question but that the terrorist networks will be willing to use them. There's no question but that the terrorist networks have relationships with countries that have weapons of mass destruction. That means we've got to be vigilant and we have to go about this task in a serious, purposeful way. We have to do it in the American way, and we have to do it in the way that's respectful to our values. Certainly the President and the Attorney General understand that and will do that.

King: So none of these measures give you pause or make you think this is not the American way?

Rumsfeld: Well take the one that I'm involved in, the so-called military tribunal. The president has signed a military order designating me as secretary of Defense to be responsible for a military commission or tribunal in the event one is required.

There's been a lot written and said about it on talk shows and so forth. A lot of it's been interesting and thoughtful and constructive. Some of it's been kind of shrill, I've thought, and not terribly well pointed or well aimed. Sometimes, there's an old saying in the Pentagon -- ready, fire, aim. (laughter) Getting it a little mixed up. And I've taken some of the things I've heard and read about this subject to be a little bit of that. Instead of ready, aim, fire, they're ready, fire aim.

King: But you agree with the concept of --

Rumsfeld: Oh, sure. We've got a history in this country from the Revolutionary War on of using a military commission. It has some distinct advantages. It's a tool that ought to be available. Obviously it would receive very limited use. It hasn't received any yet. The president hasn't designated anybody. But when he does, we're going to be very careful and measured and responsible with respect to the use of that authority.

King: A lot of bases to cover. We'll be right back at the Pentagon with the secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. This is Larry King Live, don't go away.

(break)

King: Let's touch some other bases, Mr. Secretary. Are we trying to capture or bring Mullah Mohammed Omar to trial? Is there a price on his head?

Rumsfeld: Oh, you bet there is. He is the one who rejected every single one of the President's and the United States' requests that he turn over the al Qaeda leadership and Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants. He has been every bit as vicious and terroristic in his behavior, I don't know if that's the correct way to characterize it. He has been harboring the terrorists and has been every bit as strong and anti-innocent people as has Osama bin Laden.

King: Would you classify him with Arafat?

Rumsfeld: No. I think --

King: It's been said that Arafat harbors terrorists and if you harbor them --

Rumsfeld: Oh, I see what you're saying.

King: Can you draw a line between them, or is this apples and oranges?

Rumsfeld: In the first place I think what we have is we have a situation where Mullah Omar and the Taliban have harbored the al Qaeda in that country and the al Qaeda unquestionably have been involved in killing thousands of innocent Americans -- men, women and children of all religious faiths from two or three, four dozen countries. That is a sizeable event that occurred, and they are threatening additional attacks on the United States.

King: That's different from the Palestinian/Israeli situation.

Rumsfeld: Well it certainly is from our standpoint. Now Mr. Arafat clearly has a background as a terrorist, and there's no question there are terrorists as part of the Palestinians in his general geographic area. He has been an interlocutor, however, with the Israelis over a period of time which is something one could not say about Omar or Osama bin Laden.

King: I ask it of you because you served so many posts, and one of your posts for President Reagan was Special Envoy to the Middle East.

Rumsfeld: It is indeed one of the posts I served in.

King: So you have experience. And Colin Powell said last week that of all the problems this is the toughest.

Rumsfeld: It is a tough one, no question.

King: Is it solvable?

Rumsfeld: All of our adult life that's been a problem for the world and for the people in that region. It's a terrible, sad situation. Israel has, of course, a very energetic, vibrant economy, and the neighboring countries are quite poor and don't have very good economies, and if they could create a peaceful environment there, there's no question everyone would benefit in the region.

King: But it's tough.

Rumsfeld: Oh. There's so many people in that part of the world who would like to shove Israel into the sea and not have it be there, and until people are willing to accept the presence of Israel, Israel obviously is not going to be able to make a deal.

Mr. Barak went quite a distance and Mr. Arafat walked away from that. Now we see these terribly vicious suicide bombing attacks coming out of the Palestinian community which are just so vicious.

King: Do you understand Israel's retaliation?

Rumsfeld: Well, I must say I do. I think that a country that is that small, does not have a big margin for error, it is impossible to defend against terrorists in every place at every moment against every technique. The only way you can do that is to take the battle to them. Therefore, you used the word retaliation. I don't think of it as retaliation. I think of it as self defense. What we're doing is self defense.

King: you're not retaliating.

Rumsfeld: No. It's not retribution or --

King: Or revenge?

Rumsfeld: -- or revenge. In my mind. Goodness no. That's not what I'm about. What I'm about is we've got a wonderful conflict, and thousands of Americans were killed, and they were killed by people who have vowed to do it again and again and we can't let them do that. We simply are not going to change our way of life. We're free people. That is what we are. We're not going to live in a fortress and we're not going to live underground in tunnels, and we're not going to spend every minute of our waking days looking around for someone afraid they might kill us. We can't function that way.

We need a peaceful, stable world for this economy of ours, for people to have opportunity, for people to be able to go to school and know their kids are going to come home safely. That's why we're doing this. We're not doing this to be retaliating or for retribution or revenge.

King: Where, Mr. Secretary, do you think or do we know it will stop? What are your views on going to Iraq, other nations that harbor terrorists? What's your view?

Rumsfeld: I don't know what will be decided by the president. It's certainly something that is at that level for our country.

King: It's his goal, right?

Rumsfeld: You bet. And what the rest of us can do is to discuss with him and offer advice and counsel.

But the reality is that there are a set of countries on the terrorist list that have a history of engaging in terrorist acts and in harboring terrorists. Many of those countries have weapons of mass destruction. We must not make a mistake on this issue. Because if weapons of mass destruction come into the hands of terrorist networks that are vowing that they will engage in vicious acts against our country and our deployed forces and our friends and allies, that means not thousands of people dead, it means tens of thousands of people dead. These are enormously lethal, powerful weapons.

King: So you have to think about taking action. Premeditated action.

Rumsfeld: Preemptive action, exactly. We have no choice but to say to ourselves what do we owe the American people as part of this government of the United States? What does the President owe the American people? He has to make that judgment. And he made that judgment. He said we are going to go after the al Qaeda. They have done a terrible, terrible thing and have threatened to do more. We can't let them do that. We can't let them keep killing thousands of Americans. So we're going to go find them, we're going to root them out. Whether they're in Afghanistan or some other part of the world, and they are all over the world. They must be in 40 or 50 countries. The al Qaeda organization.

King: If we do go to Iraq are we going to need Turkey to say okay?

Rumsfeld: I don't like to even get into the subject of Iraq, Larry. It seems to me that that's a decision that is not mine to make. It is something that --

King: Would you be asked for your opinion?

Rumsfeld: I generally am on things like that. But it doesn't serve any useful purpose, really, to be speculating, for me to be speculating --

King: Premature?

Rumsfeld: Yeah. Other people can speculate, but in the job I'm in, it's not useful.

King: We keep reading, you can clear this, I've known you a long time and we've done a lot of interviews.

Rumsfeld: Yep.

King: In various posts. How about a rift between you and the secretary of State?

Rumsfeld: Utter nonsense.

King: You want to go and he wants to --

Rumsfeld: Utter nonsense. He's a friend of mine. We're on the phone twice a day. We meet together probably at least once a day. He's a thoughtful person. I enjoy working with him. And needless to say nobody can agree with everybody on every issue every day of the year. But we have a superb working relationship. I've got a lot of respect for him. And to suggest that there's some sort of a rift is just plain false.

King: How has the press handled this though, generally, in this whole -- Here we go.

Rumsfeld: Well --

King: Do you not --

Rumsfeld: My wife Joyce tells me in the morning, she says, "Now Don, the press has their job and you have your job." And that's fair. That's my approach.

King: You didn't have it in private industry.

Rumsfeld: No, you don't really. But I must say the Pentagon press corps I've gotten to know and they're good, talented people. They're serious people. There are some really talented people there. They make it a profession.

You know, war brings either the best or the worst out of people, and it's going to bring some of the best out of journalist just as it will other people. Soldiers and sailors and marines and airmen.

King: And secretaries.

Rumsfeld: Yeah.

King: It's tough. These are not easy times.

We'll be right back with more of Secretary Rumsfeld. Don't go away.

(break)

King: We're back with Secretary Rumsfeld.

Do you like this image? You now have this image called sex symbol --

Rumsfeld: Oh, come on. (laughter)

King: You are "the guy."

Rumsfeld: For the AARP group. I'm pushing 70 years old, Larry.

King: You're kidding.

Rumsfeld: No. I was 69 a half year ago. Don't give me that stuff.

King: Do you like being kidded on Saturday Night Live?

Rumsfeld: I must say I found it amusing.

King: You watched it?

Rumsfeld: I did not watch it, though, someone gave me the tape and then I saw it on CNN.

It's amusing. It's in good fun. I thought it was clever. (laughter)

King: Let me touch some other bases.

Rumsfeld: Overstated, however. (laughter) I'm not that bad.

King: Would we ask friends to help us? Like Kuwait. Would we ask Kuwait to help us say launch troops?

Rumsfeld: Well, we are asking them to help us and they are helping us. We must have 30, 40, 50 countries around the world right now that are helping us right now on this project.

King: Is Saudi Arabia helping?

Rumsfeld: Sure.

King: Egypt?

Rumsfeld: Yes, Egypt's helping. Dozens and dozens of countries are helping with overflight rights, with landing rights, with intelligence gathering, with law enforcement, with freezing bank accounts, with supplying troops in some cases, in supplying aircraft and ships in other places.

King: Is it very important that the coalition hold?

Rumsfeld: No.

King: It's not important.

Rumsfeld: No. Let me explain my answer.

First of all, there is no coalition. There are multiple coalitions. The project of going after terrorism involves every aspect of the globe, and a whole variety of different ways of doing it -- financial, economic, political, diplomatic, military, overt, covert. Countries do what they can do. Countries help in the way that they want to help. It is not a single coalition for a single project, for the entire project. It's a single coalition for a single project. And those countries that want to supply intelligence are doing it; those countries that want to supply law enforcement assistance are doing it; and that's the way it ought to work.

I'll tell you why. The worst thing you can do is to allow a coalition to determine what your mission is. The mission has to be to root out the terrorists. It's the mission that determines the coalition. So it's what element of that task do countries want to help with, and that then is the coalition --

King: But the task is preeminent.

Rumsfeld: The task overrides everything. We have to go do this to defend this country.

King: Bin Laden, is it a must to get him one way or the other?

Rumsfeld: Well sure.

King: Absolute, because he's a symbol or more than a symbol?

Rumsfeld: I'm afraid the truth is that if he were not here, if he disappeared off the face of the earth which would be a wonderful thing for the world, the al Qaeda network would still go on. So we have a bigger job than one person. I think it trivializes it slightly to personalize it into a single human being. But he's important, let there be no doubt. And we're after him and we intend to find him and get him.

King: What do you make of this kind of tragic case of young Mr. Walker? His father was on our show the other night. Captured in the Taliban area, an American 20 years old.

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know quite how we're going to handle him yet. We're thinking about that.

The fact is he was in the prison uprising where an American was killed, and is an al Qaeda member. He was fighting on the al Qaeda side, the non-Afghan forces against us, against the people in that compound where an American was killed. How do you handle that? Well, I guess you can look throughout history and see how things like that are handled.

King: Do you think he might be brought to trial?

Rumsfeld: I'm trying to think precisely what I should say, to be honest with you. I don't want to --

King: I like you, Don. (laughter)

Rumsfeld: I don't want to -- What we know at this moment is there is a person who says he's an American and probably is, who was fighting with the al Qaeda force against Afghanistan opposition forces and against U.S. forces that were with those people. He was found in a prison, having been captured. And there was an uprising in the prison and they killed an American.

King: You're building the case.

Rumsfeld: I didn't build the case, he did. His behavior is what it is.

I think when someone does that why the United States has an obligation to be very, to very seriously make judgments about how that ought to be dealt with and we will make those judgments, and we're in the process of thinking that through, and I don't want to be prejudging anything.

King: Speaking of casualties of war, we've interviewed his brother and sister. The pilot of that American Airline plane that went into this building can't get buried at Arlington Cemetery --

Rumsfeld: Oh, no, no, Larry. That will all be worked out.

King: Are you going to get him buried here?

Rumsfeld: Well I don't know. But you've got very limited space at Arlington Cemetery. There are a set of rules that the Congress and the Department have worked out over years that seem to be fair and reasonable. In every case that comes along somebody falls inside the rule or they fall outside the rule.

In this particular case the pilot obviously was a very fine person, he'd served on active duty, he'd served in the Reserves, he is I believe eight years younger than the age when the rule permits a person under that aspect of the rules to be buried in Arlington Cemetery. On the other hand, his father's buried in Arlington Cemetery. There is a family plot. And it may very well be that in the course of discussions with the Army that they'll find ways to work those things out.

King: Are you the decider?

Rumsfeld: Oh, goodness. Normally it's done under a set of rules that have been approved by the Department of the Army which is the custodian. There's a superintendent for the cemetery, there's the secretary of the Army, there's me, the secretary of Defense, then there's the president of the United States. That's the chain of command and people at various levels, and the Congress can always enter into the thing as well.

King: The way you sound is, it looks like it's going to happen, though.

Rumsfeld: Well I don't know, but there's also, there's several issues that need to be talked about and thought about, but I think that it would be wrong to say isn't that a shame that somebody falls outside the rules. The rules -- People can fall outside of one rule and inside another rule depending on how things can be accommodated.

King: Times change, right?

Rumsfeld: Sure.

King: Events change.

Rumsfeld: Sure.

King: Mr. Secretary --

Rumsfeld: Everyone has to have respect for the life he lived.

King: Do you take this job home?

Rumsfeld: I'll have to think about that. I'm rarely home. You start out awful early in the morning and get home awful late at night, and generally work there. The phone, last night I suppose rang at 1:00 in the morning.

King: That's never good, right? A call at 1:00 in the morning --

Rumsfeld: No, it had to do with this friendly fire death.

King: Yeah.

Rumsfeld: They never call with good news and wake you up with good news.

King: You were right here when the Pentagon --

Rumsfeld: I was.

King: And someone told me that you had spoken to a congressional delegation --

Rumsfeld: Right here in this room.

King: -- in this room about terrorism that morning?

Rumsfeld: I had said at an 8:00 o'clock breakfast that sometime in the next two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve months there would be an event that would occur in the world that would be sufficiently shocking that it would remind people again how important it is to have a strong healthy defense department that contributes to -- That underpins peace and stability in our world. And that is what underpins peace and stability.

In fact we can't have healthy economies and active lives unless we live in a peaceful, stable world, and I said that to these people. And someone walked in and handed a note that said that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. And we adjourned the meeting, and I went in to get my CIA briefing --

King: Right next door is your office.

Rumsfeld: -- right next door here, and the whole building shook within 15 minutes.

King: It was a jarring thing. And you ran toward the smoke?

Rumsfeld: Uh huh.

King: Because?

Rumsfeld: Goodness. Who knows? I wanted to see what had happened. I wanted to see if people needed help. I went downstairs and helped for a bit with some people on stretchers. Then I came back up here and started -- I realized I had to get back up here and get at it.

King: I know we're out of the allotted time, but Gary Hart has said that he expects, his commission previously said this would happen; you were pretty prophetic that morning.

Rumsfeld: Yeah.

King: That it's going to happen again.

Rumsfeld: Well, we have to recognize that it's a dangerous and untidy world. There's a lot of very powerful lethal weapons that exist and ways that people can impose enormous damage. And we have to be vigilant. We have to be willing to invest, to see that we have the kinds of capabilities that we can deter and defend and where necessary preempt.

King: So it's an every-minute job.

Rumsfeld: It is. It is.

King: Thank you, as always.

Rumsfeld: Thank you. I appreciate it.

King: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. When we come back, four former members of the Reagan Cabinet will discuss the current Secretary of Defense, lots of other things. Don't go away.

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