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Secretary Rumsfeld Live Interview with MSNBC TV

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
April 12, 2002 11:45 AM EDT

(Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld live interview with Lester Holt, MSNBC)

Holt: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. Thanks for making yourself available to us. We want to talk about Afghanistan, the war against terror, but as you well know, there's been another devastating suicide attack in Jerusalem. Is it hard for you to look at that and not see what Israel is engaged in as the same war on terror that you are leading in this country?

Rumsfeld: There's no question that terror and terrorism involves the killing of innocent men, women and children. And that's what happened in this building six months ago, that's what happened in New York at the World Trade Centers, and it clearly is what's happening in Israel. When a suicide bomber goes in and takes their own life and kills innocent men, women and children, the word "terror" is the correct word.

Holt: On a diplomatic level, this country is urging Israel to restrain itself at this point. As a Defense Secretary, someone who is responsible for insuring the best military defense for this country, do you look with some empathy to what Israel has to do right now?

Rumsfeld: Well, it's a very complicated problem. They've got a very small country with a relatively small population, and a number of people around them that don't wish them well, wish they didn't have a country, and as the president and the secretary of state have both said, they have a difficult management job of living in that environment, and attempting to protect their people, which any sovereign nation has to do, and yet doing it in a way that leads ultimately towards a peace process, and a security situation that will permit them to live in peace. It's not an easy task.

Holt: I know you've said repeatedly that no one has come forward asking for a military involvement in a peacekeeping role, but should Secretary Powell hit upon something during this trip and it comes up, do you think it's a proper use of the U.S. military if they agree that that's what they'd like to see.

Rumsfeld: Where?

Holt: In Israel, the West Bank.

Rumsfeld: Well, that is a subject that has not come up at all. It has not come up by the Arab states, or by Israel, or by the United States. There has been some speculation about some observers, but there is certainly nothing happening or working that would suggest that the parties involved would think that's a good idea.

Holt: Let's turn to the war on terror. We just passed the six-month point in the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Operation Anaconda, was that the last major combat we're going to see over there?

Rumsfeld: No. No, I think there will be more. There's no question but that there are still Al-Qaeda and Taliban in the country. They're in the mountains, they're in the villages, they're also over the borders, and attempting to regroup from time to time. We intend to find those pockets as they assemble, and go after them and capture them to the extent we're successful. I think that there will be additional operations that will take place in Afghanistan in the period ahead.

Holt: I recall -- I don't recall his exact words, but I recall at the outset of the war the president was clear there were some things that would have to be kept secret during this war. That's a given. Can you at least tell me, have you been successful in secret, in covert operations? Are there successes that you wish you could be shouting from that podium over there?

Rumsfeld: Sure. The complexity of this war is that unlike World War II or Korea, there is not a line and the good guys are on one side and the bad guys are on the other side where everyone can see how you're doing and see the progress. Our effort is worldwide, and it involves all elements of national power. It involves shutting down bank accounts, arresting people, law enforcement, maritime intercept of ships as a deterrent to see that they don't transfer terrorists or terrorist capabilities.

Holt: And we've stopped something?

Rumsfeld: You bet.

Holt: In secret.

Rumsfeld: You bet.

Holt: And we know about Singapore, we know about some of the embassy threats.

Rumsfeld: There's no question but that intelligence information has been gathered, shared by dozens and dozens of countries that have, in fact, stopped terrorist attacks and led to the arrest of people who were engaged in planning terrorist attacks.

Holt: How big a deal was the apprehension of Abu Zubaydah?

Rumsfeld: Pretty good. He's clearly number three probably in the Al-Qaeda organization, maybe four depending on how you rack it up. And he is a fountain of information, he's been deeply involved in planning their operations. What we'll be able to get out of him remains to be seen.

Holt: When you said fountain of information, is he giving information?

Rumsfeld: No, he's a fountain of knowledge.

Holt: Fountain of knowledge.

Rumsfeld: He just hasn't turned the spigot on yet.

Holt: Is he belligerent, cooperative, how would you describe him?

Rumsfeld: He's sick.

Holt: I know he was wounded.

Rumsfeld: Badly. He was wounded in several places, and has had some infections from those wounds. He is recovering. Most of his problems are behind him at this stage. It looks like he'll live. And we are asking for a good deal of information, and intend to keep on doing it. I think he'll be around for a long time.

Holt: Will he stand trial?

Rumsfeld: I would certainly assume so.

Holt: When you're done questioning him.

Rumsfeld: Oh, my goodness, the first task is to get everything we can out of him, and keep him off the streets so he isn't killing more people, and get as much information as we possibly can so we can stop other terrorists from killing people.

Holt: I know you have been very careful to try to downplay making this war personal. Osama bin Laden, we know, has not been captured, his whereabouts are unknown. Has there been a point over the last six months where you thought you had him, you thought you either had him cornered or you thought he was dead?

Rumsfeld: No. There have been times when other people in the government have thought we had him, I have not. I'm -- my attitude about it is, we're going to keep after him. I think we'll eventually find him. But we haven't, and until you have, you don't have him.

Holt: Right now, we don't know if he's dead. So he's not a martyr. He's not issuing videotapes right now.

Rumsfeld: That's interesting.

Holt: It's interesting. Do you kind of like him right there right now, where he is a nothing at this point? No factor.

Rumsfeld: Well, I think my first choice would be to have him in custody. But, if you don't have him in custody, you certainly want him feeling the pressure, and there's no question but that he and his associates recognize that we're putting a lot of pressure on him. We're looking hard, and they've got to be very careful about, if they're moving around, they've got to move around frequently. They have to watch out who they deal with so that someone doesn't turn them in. There are rewards out for those folks. And he's a mass murderer. He's a dangerous person. We would prefer to have him. But we're going to keep the pressure on until we find him.

Holt: Mr. Secretary, if I had a dime for every pundit I've interviewed over the last several months talking about Iraq, should the U.S. attack, should the U.S. not attack, I'd be a rich man. The fact is, this administration has continued to talk about the threat that Iraq poses weapons of mass destruction, a threat to its neighbors. Assuming that all that is true how can you not attack, how can you not respond militarily?

Rumsfeld: Well, you know, it's a big world, and there are six, seven countries on the terrorist list, North Korea is, Cuba is, Syria is, Libya, Iraq, Iran. And they have had a past where they have engaged in terrorist acts, or assisted terrorist organizations, or harbored and provided sanctuary for terrorists. The ones that are developing weapons of mass destruction are clearly of particular concern. To the extent those weapons get in the hands of terrorists, there is no question but that they would use them, just as they flew airplanes into buildings.

Holt: And Saddam Hussein is on your list?

Rumsfeld: And that being the case, it seems to me that the world, not just the United States, but the world has to recognize that we have a very modest margin for error. We simply have to be very aggressive and attentive to those countries, and do everything humanly possible. There's lots of ways you can put pressure on people. You can do it diplomatically; you can do it from an economic standpoint.

Holt: But that hasn't worked.

Rumsfeld: They have not used those weapons.

Holt: Well, certainly there's been economic and embargoes, and United Nations inspectors have been expelled for the last three years.

Rumsfeld: There's no question but that the economic has not worked in Iran -- correction, in Iraq. They are continuing to be able to get in military capabilities that make them more powerful.

Holt: Is it a matter of when or if the U.S. goes?

Rumsfeld: Well, first of all, it's a matter for the president and the country and for other countries to consider the situation that the world is in. If, in fact, weapons of mass destruction are used by terrorists, or by terrorist states, we're not talking about a few thousand people; we're talking about hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people who could die from a biological attack, or a nuclear attack. So this is something that people have to take aboard, they have to consider, they have to weigh in their minds, and as that happens, as people begin to understand the enormous size of that thought of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of people who flew their airplanes into the Pentagon here, people have to recognize and I think it's going to take a lot of countries coming to that conclusion.

Holt: Mr. Secretary that's all the time we have. But I want to thank you for taking the time and doing this. It was a pleasure to see you in person.

Rumsfeld: Thank you very much.

(End of interview)

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