Q: First the Schlesinger report, then the Fay report came out as well. Both of those reports at least somewhat critical of the secretary of defense and his office. And Donald Rumsfeld joins us now here at Real Life with David Lebowitz.
Mr. Secretary, welcome to the program. And what brings you to town?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, I was down in Yuma this – first of all, I’ve been in New Mexico and I was over in Crawford Monday meeting with the President. And this morning, I went down to Yuma and met with the Marines and I’m en route back to New Mexico and stopped in here to speak to the Greater Chamber.
Q: I understand you also met with the governor of Arizona. We had her on the program just a few minutes ago. She had told us that she was going to speaking to you about the Arizona National Guard and her concerns with deployment. How did that go for you?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, we had a good talk. We talked about that and several other subjects of interest to the governor and I walked through what the plans are with respect to the Guard and Reserve and how we’re in the process of rebalancing the active components of the U.S. military wit the Reserve components, so that we have certain skill sets move to the active force, the skill sets that tend to be called up more often, which is really unfortunate for the folks in those skill sets. So we need more of those on active duty, so we don’t have to call up the Guard and Reserve’s office. And that rebalancing is taking place right now, particularly within the Army, but also within the other services.
Q: You mentioned the rebalancing. And last week you were talking about the movement of 70,000 or so U.S. troops, shifting them primarily from Europe and Asia here to American soil. Is this marking an American withdrawal from the world or is this just kind of a new reality for American military?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Oh, goodness, no. Certainly, not a withdrawal from the world. Our country, of course, is more engaged in the world than we’ve ever been and the nations of the world are more closely interlinked. And we have a great interest. What happens elsewhere is enormously important here in the United States, as you know well. No, what it reflects is the reality that we still have our forces located around the world, basically where they were during the Cold War, which means that they are in defensive positions.
In the case of Europe in the northern part of Europe, in large measure, looking for a Soviet Union tank attack across the North German plain, which is not likely to happen. So, what we need to do is to reflect that new reality and get our forces adjusted so that they’re more agile and more deployable and, frankly, more usable. We had trouble, for example, some countries – neighboring countries in Europe said we wouldn’t be allowed to use rail transit through their countries. Well, that isn’t going to work for us. We need to be able to use these capabilities on the behalf of the American people, wherever they’re needed. And, so we are going to be, as you say, bringing some folks to the United States where we don’t have that problem and yet we will be increasing our activities around the world in terms of rotational deployments and exercising with other countries and training with other countries.
Q: You know, you mentioned the idea of deployment and we were talking on the show, I guess it was last week about a U.S. soldier who had named you in the lawsuit. He’s concerned about the stop-loss orders that the military is issuing and we’ve talked about a backdoor draft before. Is that something that you’re seeking to address?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, there’s always going to be somebody who’s going to raise a question like that, but of course, there’s nothing like a draft or a backdoor draft. Every person serving in the military, whether active, guard or reserve is a volunteer. Each one raised their hands and said that they want to serve and the military has used stop losses from the earliest days. And the reason, obviously, is that if a unit is to be deployed or if a unit is already deployed, they end up using a stop loss so that the unit cohesion can remain the same. That’s something that people know when they sign up. There’s no issue there at all.
Q: Mr. Secretary, in the last couple of days, you’re obviously well aware the Schlesinger Panel has come out with its report. The Fay Panel has come out with its report. But they haven’t put the blame for Abu Ghraib in your lap. They’ve certainly laid it at your doorstep. You accept the responsibility for what happened in that prison and where did we go wrong?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, if you think about it, I testified before the Congress many, many weeks ago and said, you know, the senior person has a responsibility. On the other hand, I don’t think anyone with any judgment expects the person in my position to know what’s going on in the nightshift 6,000 miles away over a period of a few weeks. What you’ve got is – we’ve got in any given year the Department of Defense has something like 3,000 court martials and 17,000 criminal investigations. We’ve got about 3.5 million people, counting our civilian employees, and we’ve got 70 correctional facilities around the world, some 13 of them overseas. The Army is the executive agent for detention.
And I think the impressive thing that I would say is that the abuses were certainly a terrible thing to have happened. They were announced by the United States Army in Iraq, when they occurred that they had allegations of abuses. They then announced that there were criminal prosecutions. They then proceeded to prosecute criminally. We then have opened a series of five or six different investigations – two of which reported this week – and the Defense Department is proceeding energetically to see that wherever there was wrongdoing or an allocation of wrongdoing, that it’s investigated and if it’s a factual one, that it’s prosecuted and that’s the way it’s always been and that’s the way it should be.
Q: It seems like you’re coming pretty close to arguing that this was a group of renegade soldiers and yet the, you know, Tillie Fowler says, you know, talking yesterday “We found a string of failures that go well beyond an isolated cell block in command. We found fundamental failures throughout all levels of command.” I mean, you know, does this go up to your doorstep?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Certainly, what the commission – the Schlesinger Commission characterized was that the one shift at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was out of control and that is a bad thing. And that is their characterization. I have to be careful about characterizing any individual case because of the problem of command influence and the fact that there are criminal prosecutions under way.
Now, were things not done properly there, obviously. You can’t look at those photographs or read these reports and not appreciate that. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of the men and women in uniform in Iraq have been over there successfully fighting a war, helping to rebuild that country and doing a superb job. And, it seems to me that that is the important message out of all this and that when some wrongdoing took place and was discovered, which it was and reported, that immediately steps were taken to deal with it. And it seems to me that’s how the process is supposed to work.
Q: I’m sure you’re continuing to take steps, sir. And I wonder about the interrogation of prisoners and unlawful combatants, whether they’re Al Qaeda guys or other people that we’re holding at Guantanamo. Are we bound by the Geneva Convention?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Oh, yes. Everyone in Iraq was part of the Geneva Convention that was announced immediately by the president. Everyone out there knows that. I think the interesting thing about the Schlesinger Panel is there a conclusion that, in fact, the abuses seem not to have anything to do with interrogation at all and any suggestion to the contrary, it would seem to me, would be incorrect given what we know at the present time, as a result of their report. These were apparently acts of abuse that took place not in the context of interrogating people, but most of the people, in fact, who were abused, I’m told, were not security detainees at all. They were criminals for the most part and not people that anyone was trying to extract any information out. But quite apart from that, the answer to your question is absolutely, the Geneva Convention applied. The people out there were told that by the president. They were told that by me. They were told that by their senior officers.
Q: But doesn’t the report indicate that there are military intelligence officers, 27 of them involved here and civilian contractors and of course, some of these abuses happened under interrogation circumstances?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: That’s not the report of the Schlesinger Panel. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite of what the Schlesinger Panel says.
Q: Doesn’t the Fay Report and the independent panel after that, the more recent, you know, the ones that will come out later this week indicate otherwise?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I do not believe that – let me put it this way. I have not seen anything thus far that says that the people abused were abused in the process of interrogating them or for interrogation purposes. Now, is it possible we’ll find something going forward, yes, we still have two or three investigations under way. And, as with anything, you kind of want to reserve final judgment. But the Schlesinger Panel indicated that these abuses that were reported were abuses that involved, for the most part, criminal detainees and were not a part of an interrogation process. In any event, they are being prosecuted and if they were illegal, people will be penalized.
Q: Very good. Now I got to ask you the most important question of all, Mr. Secretary, which is: I would have had you pegged for a bulldog guy, but I’m reliably informed that you’re a fellow Daschund owner?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Listen, that dog owns the house – Reggie does.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: And when I heard you had a miniature Daschund, I just howled because they really have an attitude.
Q: Oh, yeah. Yes, kindred souls, indeed. Well, I’ll tell you what, Mr. Secretary, thank you a ton for the time. And one day maybe Reggie and Ripley can hang out together.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: There you go. [Laughter]
Q: Secretary of Defense on Real Life with David Lebowitz. Mr. Rumsfeld, thank you very much for your time. We certainly do appreciate that.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Glad to do it. Thank you.
Q: Take care. Enjoy your stay in Arizona.