United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share


Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability Enroute to Baghdad

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
May 13, 2004
Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability Enroute to Baghdad

           SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  Well, General Myers and I decided we thought it would be a useful thing for us to go to Iraq and to meet with some people who have been involved in various aspects of things that are important to us.  We’re not on an inspection tour.  We’re not inspectors.  We’re not Inspector Generals or - we’ve got talented people throughout the government - in and out of the government for that matter who are addressing these things in an orderly way.  Notwithstanding that it was our judgment that we could usefully talk to the troops and, tell them, what we think about the fine job they’re doing. We could usefully talk to the military

commanders and be briefed and visit with them about what’s taking place and their progress and the work they’re doing.  We’ll be meeting with people from the Coalition Provisional Authority and get an update on that.  And we also will take the opportunity to meet with some of the people who have been involved in various ways with respect to detainee operations and hear their thoughts and give them an opportunity to, visit with us about that. 


         MALE VOICE:  Do you intend to stress to the people of Iraq again what you have.  That - that this was an operation that -



        SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  I am waiting for the - I’m waiting for the results of the inspection and the assessments and the studies to make a judgment as to whether or not it was an aberration.  And - and other people are saying that and other people are saying it’s systemic.  And I’m saying I don’t know.  That’s why we have all these people doing all these things is to try to find out.  And I keep getting misquoted over and over and over again about the Geneva Convention.  About that, about every - and I think it’s useful given the - the, volatility and the energy that’s in this debate.  I think it’s very useful for you folks to try your damnedest to be precise and don’t repeat things that are inaccurate if you can possibly avoid it.  And when you see things that are inaccurate knock them down because there’s a bucket of it floating around. 


          MALE VOICE:  I guess what I meant is - I guess what I meant is when you said to paraphrase in your press conference at the Pentagon, that this was a tragedy for them.  [Inaudible] for their families and -


        SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  It’s terrible for them. 


        MALE VOICE:  Well, I guess what I mean, do you intend to stress this again personally for people of Iraq while you’re there?  That’s what I’m -


       SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  I have asked my friends, John Craddock and Larry and General Myers and General Abizaid to think through how I can most usefully engage while I’m there.  My guess is that the schedule is not fixed finally.  I do not happen to know if I’m going to be addressing Iraqi people directly.  I have been almost continuously out in the public, talking and hearings and press briefings and what have you, since this broke.  I intend to keep doing what I can to try to get the people who are serving as the transmission belt for the information on this to do it as accurately and precisely and fairly as possible.  The garbage that you keep reading about cover up and the Pentagon doing something to keep some information from people is unfair, inaccurate, and wrong.  And if I find any evidence that it’s true I’ll stop it.



       MALE VOICE:  - in Iraq trying to gauge the damage that this has done for the [inaudible]?


      SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  No.  I’d be happy to take any information you or anyone else has, or anybody [inaudible].  But the idea that I can go in there and do a Gallup poll, it’s not possible.  I just can’t.  I’m going to be there a relatively short period of time.  I’m one person.  I’ll do my best.  And I’m not - I think the way to gauge this is not today and not yesterday and not tomorrow, but over time.  I mean we’ll know more.  More - more bad things will come out, unquestionably, and time will settle over this and we’ll have - be able to make an assessment of what the effect has been.  It clearly has not been helpful.  It has been unhelpful.  We have been lied about, however, day after day, week after week, month after month for the last 12 months in the Arab press, in al Jazeera and al Arabia.  So there’s an awful lot of people that already have a rather unfavorable impression of what the United States is doing in Iraq, and how you deal with that I don’t know.  The answer is the United States deals with it imperfectly.  But we tend to tell the truth and, uh - uh, we try to tell the truth, goodness knows, and, uh, and they lie. 


       General Meyers:  In my - in my view the best thing we can do for the Iraqi people -- and I’ve said this before as well -- the best thing we can do for them is let this process that we’re in run its course.  There are allegations.  The process has to run its course.  It is not a fast process.  You would not want it to be fast because it is a judicial process.  It - or at the minimum an administrative process or due process is appropriate.  General Abizaid has been meeting with senior leaders in the region.  I just talked to him as I got out of the car and came up the steps.  His one comment was, he said, um, every one of them brings support and so forth because we know your system will work.  Let it work and let us see the results.  We’ve got to - we’ve got to calm this down a little bit and let the process work, or you’re in the danger of violating our constitution.  Because I for one and the Secretary for another, and everybody in uniform around here has held up their right hand and sworn to defend.  It’s very important, not - not to rush the judgments, to let the process work.  And that’s - that’s our process.  Our UCMJ process - military processes are very good and time tested, and in the end we would like to –


      SECDEF: Let me say one thing about the Geneva Convention and then we’ll shift gears maybe.  I apologize for not being here when Jim was talking, but - a senior official?  Um, we’re seeing editorials, columns, and speeches by critics that the United States government is not adhering to the Geneva Convention.  That the unwillingness to adhere to the Geneva Convention has created a mood or a climate that led to this type of thing.  Anyone - first of all, remember, anyone who looks at these pictures and has an ounce of sense couldn’t say that.  What took place in those pictures is something over the edge.  Second, the United States government announced with respect to Iraq that the Geneva Conventions apply.  Articles III and IV apply for the Iraqi prisoners of war and apply to the civilian non-military detainees.  That has been the case from the beginning.  We believe that the [inaudible] - the instructions that have gone out were reviewed by military and civilian council and in their judgment conformed to the Geneva Convention.  Fair enough so far? 


        MALE VOICE:  [Inaudible]. 


        SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  All of the orders and instructions that I’ve seen or that I know about say that.  People are trained in that supposedly.  Full stop.  Therefore anyone who is running around saying that Geneva Convention did not apply in Iraq is either terribly uninformed or mischievous.  In either case it’s harmful to the country.  Second, with respect to Afghanistan, I am not a lawyer.  I’m no expert in this, although I’ve learned a great deal more than I ever though I’d need to know in recent days, my recollection of this is that there was an interagency process.  Shortly after the Afghan war it was initiated.  The discussion was essentially that - and Jim, chime in and help me here if I need help.  The discussion was essentially that the Geneva Convention applied to parties, states.  It did not apply to terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda.  Therefore, Al-Qaeda was not covered specifically by Geneva Convention.  It did apply to Afghanistan and Taliban -- and I’m going to be careful how I say this -- because Taliban was running Afghanistan at the time so it applied.  And the President said so.  This was a presidential decision with hundreds of lawyers involved in it.  They then concluded that the Taliban did not qualify because under Geneva there are certain things that one looks for to determine whether or not they are lawful or unlawful combatants.  Had the Taliban worn uniforms, had the Taliban used weapons that were visible, had the Taliban functioned in a chain of command, had the Taliban done three or four other things that are the indicators or the criteria by which Geneva suggests it be judged as to whether someone is or is not a lawful or unlawful combatant.  Had they had those characteristics and met those criteria, the President would have announced that the Geneva Convention applied specifically to Taliban.  The judgment was that they did not meet those.  They were not running around in uniforms.  They were not doing those things that lawful combatants do.  So the President made a decision that not only Al-Qaeda did not merit under the criteria of Geneva, the specific provisions as lawful combatants, but so too Taliban did not even though Afghanistan did as a country.  Now, he then went on to say, however, the United States government intends to -


        MALE VOICE:  He ordered you.


       SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  He ordered me -


       MALE VOICE:  - Consistent with the Geneva Convention. 


       SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  Those are the words.  Say it one more time.


      MALE VOICE:  That he directed me to treat any detainee humanely and consistent with the principles of the Geneva Convention. 


     SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  Now, that’s the circumstance.  The - the implication that that created some sort of an impression of distain for Geneva is exactly opposite.  And the reason that the decision was made was because of respect for Geneva because Geneva is designed to distinguish between lawful combatants like our men and women in uniform who we want protected under Geneva, because they wear uniforms, they wear - carry weapons that are exposed, they do function in a chain of command, they meet the criteria.  And the Geneva Conventions were designed to protect people like that and not to protect people not like that. 


      MALE VOICE 1:  And to encourage people to behave like that.


     SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  And to encourage people to behave like that.  So -



     MALE VOICE 1:  - international laws of war.


     SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  So to the extent that unlawful combatants do what they do, that is to say blend into civilian, women and children, put them at risk, put them in danger, attack men and women and children who are civilians and innocents, to the extent they do that they are deemed by Geneva Convention to not be appropriate to fall under the provisions of Geneva. 


     MALE VOICE:  Was this treatment on film a violation - an obvious violation of the Geneva Convention?  Not whether you intended that to happen or not, but was it an obvious violation? 


    SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  My understanding, of the Geneva Convention is that it is inappropriate at the minimum to, present images of prisoners or detainees in positions that can be considered, um -


    MALE VOICE:  We may be asking your question - did you think that specific acts that you’ve seen constitute violations? 


    SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  I think I’m going to answer it generically, which is what I think that I have to do given the fact that these investigations are still going on.  What’s the word?  Demeaning or - images that -


    MALE VOICE 1:  Public -




   MALE VOICE 1:  Curiosity or -


   SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  Curiosity.  So those are the words.  Public curiosity or ridicule.  And - and if you’ll recall, we were concerned, when the photographs in Guantanamo Bay were taken, as an example.  So we’ve had a policy in - in the government to avoid doing - taking - presenting images that could be considered humiliating or putting a person up for public ridicule. 


   MALE VOICE 1:  So you’re not talking about so much the actions that were taken against these people, but any possible pictures of such actions. 


   SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  I wasn’t referring to these people. 


   MALE VOICE 1:  I know.


   SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  I was describing what my understanding of the Geneva Convention is.  So - now, if something is, taken and against the law released - something that’s in an investigation file or something that’s in a criminal prosecution and is released to the media, that certainly is a violation by the United States government. 


   MALE VOICE:  [Inaudible]. 


   MALE VOICE:  Not to release future photographs or the photographs that the Senate is seeing later today. 


   SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  There are several issues there.  We have what we have.  We do not know if it’s everything.  We have to assume that it’s not.  [Inaudible] with digital cameras and video cameras and all kinds of things that exist.  So we assume we don’t have all there is.  We didn’t take steps to release anyone - any of it to the public, so that - for several reasons.  One is privacy issues.  There are images in these disks that are of U.S. military personnel and have nothing to do with the detainees.  One would think that those would - would bring into play privacy issues.  Second, there’s the Geneva Convention issues about the images that do involve the detainees.  As a result we’ve - we’ve decided that it’s important that the, appropriate people in the government be aware of what’s on those disks.  And certainly the prosecution and investigations that are taking place have to have access to that kind of information.  But at the present time there is, to my knowledge, no one has resolved - as far as I’m concerned I’d be happy to release them all to the public.  Get it behind us.  But at the present time I don’t know anyone in the legal shop, in any element of the government that’s recommending we do. 


    MALE VOICE:  In view of those releasing subsequent photographs because of what you now know about the Geneva Convention? 


   SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  I’ve known all along about the Geneva Convention. 



   MALE VOICE:  Did you oppose subsequent release of photographs because of the Geneva Convention? 


   SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  No, what I said was my first choice would be to release them.  It’s my understanding that at the present time the people who have an obligation to take into account privacy issues, legal requirements under privacy laws, and Geneva Convention are advising against it. 


   MALE VOICE:  Does the President [inaudible]?


   SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  We’ve made it available to the - we either have or are in the process of making them available to the United States Congress.  Now, the United States Congress will now have them.  If they decide they want to wrestle with those issues of the Geneva Convention and the privacy issues, clearly they’re - Article I of the Constitution they can do what they wish with them. 


   MALE VOICE:  They have control of them?


   SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  If they - if they indicated that they wanted to have them, uh, I personally think that we could make them available to them.  At the present time we’ve advised them of these difficulties, these legal issues, and they’re aware of those legal issues and from everything I’ve been told they’re current intention is to handle them in a way that we’ve handled them, which is a - is to recognize those, legal difficulties. 


   MALE VOICE:  So are you giving it to them - you giving the pictures to them is in - nothing in public? 


   SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  It certainly is not in the public.



   SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  No, we - we are comfortable -


   MALE VOICE:  [Inaudible].


   SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  - that - we have a request from them in writing, from the Congress, and we are making them available to them on the basis of their letter of request. 


   SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  [Inaudible] though, let’s not forget what the pictures -


   MALE VOICE:  [Inaudible].


   MALE VOICE 1:  Calibrate me if I say something I shouldn’t here, would you please? 


   MALE VOICE:  [Inaudible]. 


   MALE VOICE 1:  Can I - just a little bit of background.  Let’s not forget that these pictures were initially confiscated as part of a criminal investigation.  And as part of a criminal investigation, as I’ve testified now several times to in many other meetings, there’s a - there’s due process that’s required so people have, their - their rights.  And there are not only privacy issues, but there are other issues.  And the worst outcome - the worst outcome could be that, those who perpetrated these alleged atrocities - more than alleged - the alleged atrocities, they haven’t been convicted yet - the alleged atrocities is that they get off.  The worst possible outcome is that they get off.  That somehow, through all the, discussions that we’ve been having and somehow through releasing evidence that we have, that the people that deserve to be punished somehow are released.  And we ought to have that as a backdrop.  That is a real legitimate worry for anybody, a chain of command - I’m not in the chain of command but I have the same worry because I could be asked by the Secretary to opine on any of this at any time, and it’s just something we’ve got to keep in the back of our mind. 


    SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  The real problem here are not the photographs.  The real problem are the actions that have taken place on the detainees.  And, they’re serious.  We don’t know everything yet.  It’s a - it’s a discovery process with all of these investigations going on.  We continue to learn more.  So I think the focus on the photographs is a little misplaced.  [Inaudible] -



    MALE VOICE:  What was the Department’s response to - given the fact that the Geneva Conventions had universal jurisdiction and Iraq is a signatory.  Should these acts be deemed violations of the Geneva Convention?  What would the Department’s view be if the new government of Iraq asked to try these soldiers, or in fact any other country who’s a signatory to the Convention wanted to try them as war criminals?


    SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  But the United States government is going to take care of the people who end up being convicted of some wrongdoing and it will be moot.  The justice system in the United States is serious, professional, and it’s - it’s underway. 



   MALE VOICE:  Can you give us a reason for why it is that the two of you are not acknowledging if the Geneva Convention was violated in Iraq?


   SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  There haven’t been convictions.  I think reasonably one - as the General said, we have to avoid command influence.  We have to avoid saying things that end up having guilty people released from penalties because of our words.  So how can we prejudge?  There are a lot of people who aren’t in our position who are running around judging things and opining on this and opining on that.  We heard some of it today in the hearing.  And, they can do that.  That’s their privilege.  I can’t and the General can’t.  This department can’t. 


    MALE VOICE:  Senator Warner said yesterday that it was his understanding that some of these photos were going to be shown to the families of the prisoners who were shown in humiliating positions as a threat to get more information out of them.  Do you know anything about this?


    SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  I’ve never heard that.  Have you?


    MALE VOICE 1:  No.


    MALE VOICE:  - these POWs in this case. 


    SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  Now, there was a big discussion inter-agency that went on and on and finally it was resolved and they went up to the President and the President made this decision.  And the decision was made because of respect for Geneva.  The idea that it was - that - that his decision in any way was designed to undermine Geneva is - is inaccurate.  But - so I’ve now exhausted everything I know on this subject. 


    MALE VOICE:  [Inaudible] because it’s only consistent with the Geneva Convention, does that allow you to treat prisoners in a way that’s less than the standards defined by the Geneva Convention? 



   SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  I think that everyone has to make those judgments themselves because if you think about it, Geneva doesn’t say what you do when you get up in the morning.  It - it has a set of principles, if you will, then countries take those and you have to develop a piece of paper that goes to the people who are managing prisoners of war, detainees, lawful combatants, unlawful combatants.  And they have to look at that and they then have to decide what they do when they get up in the morning.  So senior policymakers have to provide them with that information.  And the President gave the macros the information.  The next level, our level, gave a sub-macro, and the micro came down through the services, through the people responsible for managing detainees.  And they were required to be, as we have just discussed -


    MALE VOICE:  [Inaudible] at one time about had the standard of treatment [inaudible].


    SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  The inspections that are taking place - and you’ll get a briefing on that in a minute from Admiral Church.  I got the briefing last night at 8:00 and we’re happy to let you hear about it.  Um, the - there are always going to be differences of views as to whether something does or doesn’t.  The test is what is decided and what is issued, and then is it adhered to?  And what we know is that the lawyers cleared what was issued down through the system.  What we can’t know at any given moment of every day is to whether each person is executing them consistent with what was approved by the lawyers down through the system.  We have periodic inspections, periodic reviews.  We have the International Committee for the Red Cross.  They come in and take a look at it.  Inspector Generals look at it.  Congressmen, Congressional delegations go down there.  Press go through there.  Uh, you know, there’s a constant review of that and people will say different things when they walk out.  Some will say, gee, I think that’s unbelievable how - how well that’s done.  Some will say, well, I think it’s terrific except that in my view it is mental torture to do something that is inconvenient in a certain way for a detainee.  Like standing up for a long period or some other thing that someone else might say is not, uh, in any way abusive or - or harmful.  And, uh, there’s no way to get everybody to agree to all that because when Geneva was prepared and agreed upon, it didn’t go to that level of detail.  Um, so I’ll be happy to tell you that just whatever they found they just went back down to get - no, there’s another ICRC report on GTMO and, uh, they looked at some things one way - this review that just was made by Admiral, Church, who’s going to brief you, and he looked at it and said here are the facts.  Here’s what they say, here’s what we say.  And, uh, and that’s the nature of the beast.  There’s always going to be somebody who [inaudible]. 


    MALE VOICE:  Mr. Secretary, as you go into Iraq do you think the U.S. military is losing the high moral - the moral high ground? 


    SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  I’m going to stop.  My voice is starting to go.



    MALE VOICE:  - because this is going to be looked at as you going in there to throw water on a fire and you’ve emphasized -




    MALE VOICE:  - [inaudible] that the Iraqi people that look on this, coming at this time, is assurance that you intend - that you intend to do the right thing and stop this.  I mean -




    MALE VOICE:  - that’s why they’re allowing to be looked at.


    SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD:  Is anyone thinks I’m there to throw water on the fire they’re wrong.  I’m there to do the things I said we’re here to do and we care about the detainees being treated right.  We care about soldiers behaving right.  We care about command systems working.  We have an obligation to have people who are knowledgeable and responsible look at things and report back to us so we can make judgments about what’s the best way to do it.  It would be a misunderstanding if anyone thinks that Dick or I can go in there on - for a short period and - and serve as a - a - whatever you said.  A solution to the concern among the Iraqi people, or a solution - or solve all the problems that may exist in the process.  You can’t.  We - we care a lot about it.  We’re going to go in and do what we can do.  We’re going to meet with people we should meet with.  We’ll go back more knowledgeable than we came, and we’ll continue to rely on people like Admiral Church and - and, uh, Jim Schlesinger and others who are good enough to pour themselves into these problems.  I’m going to stop talking. 

Chairman Meyers:  This is a leadership - a leadership trip.  And there’s - just as the Secretary said, there are really valid reasons why you’ve got to get your feet on the ground, hear what’s going on.  You get a much different texture than you do when you’re - when you’re back in Washington.  So that’s what it’s about.  And we’re going to have some time to talk to troops and pat them on the back.  To your question on the moral high ground, I don’t - this is terrible tragedy.  We’re not going - we’re not going to ever try to say it’s not.  It’s not good.  But what the region wants is the process to run its course and then to arrive at the appropriate judgment [inaudible] individuals involved.  I think what the Iraqis would contrast us with is - the moral high ground?  I think we have the moral high ground and I think we’ve had it and I think we had it when we went into Iraq.  And that is we’ve taken care of one of the worst humans this planet has ever seen.  The people now to go to school, get medical treatment, the hospitals are back operating again, being renovated with medicines that - that he deprived them of because of some of the shenanigans with the oil for food program.  I think we absolutely have the moral high ground.  Seven people alleged of them things, or more if it turns out, or whatever is not going to change that.  It just can’t - cannot change that. 

Additional Links

Stay Connected