MATT LAUER: Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld is at the Pentagon this morning.
Mr. Secretary, good morning to you. Thanks for joining us.
RUMSFELD: Good morning.
LAUER: I don’t know if you were able to hear Senator Biden as he was talking just now. I know you were just sitting down. But he basically says he wants to know what did you know and when did you know it. When did you find out about the abuses taking place at Abu Ghraib prison?
RUMSFELD: The first indication that the Department of Defense received was, I believe, on January 13th, when a soldier who saw some abuses taking place, apparently, reported them up his chain of command to his superior out there in Baghdad area. And the Central Command, the United States military command there, made an announcement to the world January 16th indicating that the charges of abuses had been made and that an investigation had been initiated by General Sanchez.
LAUER: And the investigation – the report by General Taguba was completed – the date I have is March 9th. And yet, when questions really started to be asked about this last week, General Myers, General Kimmitt, I asked, and you, as of yesterday, said you have not yet read the full report on this, and from what I understand from your comments, hadn’t seen the pictures of this abuse until they aired on CBS last week. Why did it take so long for a report of such gravity to make its way up the chain of command?
RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, the report, as I understand it, is a stack of a report coupled with a whole series of annexes. And so when I’m asked a question as to whether I’ve read the entire report, I answer honestly that I have not. It is a mountain of paper and investigative material. Second –
LAUER: But in general terms, were you aware –
RUMSFELD: Just a minute. Just a minute.
LAUER: -- of the abuses taking place prior to that?
RUMSFELD: Just a minute. I’m going to respond to your question.
Second, the report and the information was part of a criminal investigation. And when there’s a criminal investigation, as you know, whether it’s in the military or outside the military, those things are managed in a prosecution or prosecutorial mode, and the materials are pretty much kept within that chain.
Third, the information about the abuse led to the investigations from a management standpoint that were initiated almost immediately, and then sequentially thereafter to the point that there are six different aspects of it that have been looked into.
The system worked. And it was announced publicly. There was no secret about it. They went right before the world in Iraq and told the Iraqi people, the American people, everyone, “Be on notice. There have been these charges made.” So it worked.
LAUER: When you say the system worked, you’re talking about the system of investigation. Clearly there are parts of the system in place in the prisons in Iraq that are broken. The military report calls these incidents, quote, “horrific abuses.”
LAUER: It continues to say they were, quote, “wanton acts of soldiers in an unsupervised and dangerous setting.” So who, Mr. Secretary, is ultimately responsible for that unsupervised and dangerous setting?
RUMSFELD: Well, clearly it’s the United States Army and the Central Command have the responsibility for the management of the prisons in that part of the world. And they are determining responsibility at the present time. And there have already been some criminal actions undertaken.
LAUER: Reserve Brigadier General Janis Karpinski has said – and she’s the person who was in charge of the prisons in Iraqi – and she said that the cell block where these abuses took place at Abu Ghraib was off-limits to everyone, including her. Again, she’s in charge of the prisons there. She’s a general. How could that be?
RUMSFELD: There’s two aspects to the facility there at Abu Ghraib. One aspect, of course, is detention. It’s keeping people off the street so that they can’t go out and commit a criminal act.
A second aspect is interrogation, and it’s asking people questions to try to glean information that can save the lives of American soldiers in Iraq. And one aspect of it is handled by the people who handle detention and another aspect is handled by the people who handle the process of asking questions to try to save the lives of American soldiers.
LAUER: But can the people who handled the asking questions aspect of it really tell a brigadier general that she cannot have any access to that cell block?
RUMSFELD: Those are legal questions that are being studied in the investigation and determined to try to assess responsibility and culpability.
LAUER: Let me read you something from the Washington Post in their editorial this morning. It says, quote, “A pattern of arrogant disregard for the protections of the Geneva Conventions or any other legal procedure has been set from the top by Mr. Rumsfeld and senior U.S. commanders.” What’s your response to that?
RUMSFELD: Well, it’s not accurate. The fact of the matter is that from the very outset, the decision was made by the government of the United States that the people detained would not be treated in a manner that was – (correction?). The decision was made that the Geneva Convention did not apply precisely but that every individual would be treated as though the Geneva Convention did apply. And as a result, the provisions of the Geneva Convention were the basic rules under which all people were detained. So it would not be accurate to say what that editorial said.
LAUER: When you said, though, in February of 2002, and I’m quoting, “The set of facts that exist today with the al Qaeda and the Taliban were not necessarily the set of facts that were considered when the Geneva Convention was fashioned” – again, in February 2002 – by questioning the relevance of the Geneva Convention in certain circumstances, with al Qaeda and the Taliban, have you laid the foundation for the atmosphere in which these abuses may have occurred?
RUMSFELD: Certainly not, because in close proximity to what you quoted, I think you’ll find the statement I just made, that the United States government, the lawyers, made a conscious decision and announced it to the world and announced it to all the people engaged in the detention process that these people would, in fact, be treated as though the Geneva Convention did apply.
LAUER: When the president went to Iraq, he took the moral high ground. He said, “Look, Saddam Hussein is abusing and torturing the Iraqi people. We can provide a country where the Iraqis don’t have to live in fear.” You’ve talked about the war of ideas. How do these photos, how do these incidents, impact that war of ideas?
LAUER: Just one word?
RUMSFELD: Well, I’ve responded. I don’t know what else one can say. There’s no question that when any citizen, soldier or civilian, breaks the law, abuses people in a manner that’s inconsistent with the way people are trained and taught and with the way decent human beings behave, then that’s harmful to the United States.
LAUER: Real quickly, Mr. Secretary, if you will, would you support a congressional hearing into this? Would you testify before that hearing? And would you issue a formal apology to the Iraqi people for these abuses?
RUMSFELD: Well, anyone who sees the photographs does, in fact, apologize to the people who were abused. That is wrong. It shouldn’t have happened. It’s un-American. It’s unacceptable. And we all know that. And that apology is there to any individual who was abused. It seems to me that these things have occurred. The task for me, as the responsible person in the Department of Defense, is to see that if it’s an isolated instance that it’s punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. If it’s systemic, if there’s something broader than that, obviously we have to undertake the kinds of investigations we’re taking to see if other individuals conceivably have behaved that way.
LAUER: And real quickly – I’ve only got 10 seconds left, Mr. Secretary – you say if it’s an isolated incident. There are some 20 other investigations ongoing now about possible cases of abuse. Are you convinced it’s an isolated incident?
RUMSFELD: Of course not. We wouldn’t be conducting these investigations if we thought we knew the answers. We don’t know the answers. And that’s why, starting last January, at the first indication of this, these investigations were initiated.
LAUER: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Secretary, I appreciate your time this morning.
RUMSFELD: You bet.
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