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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with The Sunday Times London

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
September 22, 2002

Saturday, Sept. 21, 2002

(Interview with Tony Allen-Mills, The Sunday Times London)

Q: Perhaps I can begin with an obvious question. The senior members of the administration have expressed public doubt that weapons inspections are going to make very much difference in terms of reducing the threat in Iraq. Does that mean that war is affectively inevitable at this point?

Rumsfeld: No. I think it means exactly what the president said at the U.N. He was very clear. The goal is not inspections as such, the goal is disarmament. And the history of inspections suggests that they have a place in this world and that place is when a country has decided they want to disarm or they want to do whatever it is they have agreed to do and they are anxious to have inspectors come in so that this can be validated for the world community so you have a cooperative government in a country that is requesting inspections so that they can demonstrate and regain the support of the world community by showing that they've adhered to whatever stipulations they have undertaken. The history also suggests that, absent a cooperative government, inspections don't work.

Countries are big, denial and deception is today relatively easy. Things can be so widely dispersed that they involve hundreds of locations as opposed to one or two. They can be put underground. Denial and deception is, in a country like Iraq, in a very advanced sophisticated stage. So I think the real question is not inspections are not but it is how does one achieve disarmament. And if someone is arguing inspections than the case has to be made that the government of Iraq is a cooperative government and they would have to review the past 11 years and come to that conclusion one would think.

Q: Do you regard Iraq as a cooperative government at this point?

Rumsfeld: Well, of course its not for me to make those decisions. The Congress will and the United Nations and the international community and the president of the United States. Certainly reasonable people looking at the past period of years would I think have trouble coming to that conclusion.

Q: At the beginning of this week Saddam said that he would accept unconditional arms inspections then he or some of his officials said perhaps there might be restrictions and I gather in the last few hours he is saying, well, maybe it's not unconditional at all but it should to do with previous resolutions not any new resolution. It seems a familiar pattern of response from Saddam. How do you deal with that? At what point does that become insupportable?

Rumsfeld: Well, fortunately, I don't have to deal with it. That falls Colon Powell's area. And he will be working with his colleagues in the United Nations and coming to conclusions about that. You're quite right the way you phrased your question that that is a relatively familiar pattern with Iraq that they have a history of leaning back and being uncooperative until at some moment they think it's to their advantage to lean forward but never very far forward and always prepared to lean back and that has been the practice.

Q: Are you now or is the administration now in a position where it is committed to a process of allowing the weapons inspections to unfold over a period of time which some inspectors say may take as long as a year to have any real idea of what exists in Iraq or could there come a point at which you would just seek to interrupt that process on the grounds that it was getting nowhere?

Rumsfeld: These really are questions that have to go to the president and they have to go to those that are going to make judgments about balancing the threat that is seen against the risks that the threat poses against the risks of conflict and the use of force, and each has its disadvantages. Each has its advantages as well. But I can't speak for president and I don't know what he will conclude.

Q: One of the options is the use of force and the president has unveiled yesterday his strategy or the doctrine of preemptive strikes and it's reported in the New York time this morning that president has received a detailed military plan. Firstly, can you confirm that the Pentagon has presented a military option to the president?

Rumsfeld: I just simply don't talk about those types of things and I must say it floors me that people think that it's desirable to talk about those types of things and to run around printing things that second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, 15th level people seem compelled to put out. It's obviously people's lives are at risk. Now, that's a specific comment. A general comment is that the tasks of defense ministries in our country and yours and most countries is to think through various types of contingencies that can occur that can be difficult for our country and develop plans and programs and approaches as to how would one deal with.

For example, today there is conflict in the Ivory Coast and so one would ask, well, has the United States thought about the possibility of a noncombatant evacuation from a country that's having a civil war of some sort. And the answer is, sure. We sit down and think through things that conceivably could happen that would be adverse to the interests of the American people and of ours friends and our allies and our deployed forces and we develop approaches as to how those things might be dealt with. To fail to do so in a defense ministry would be irresponsible.

Q: In his address to the United Nations the president set out very clear and compelling case for a regime change in Iraq. Do you feel that by turning to the weapons inspectors as a means of achieving disarmament that America has somehow lost the initiative in terms of regime change because weapons inspectors presumably they are not going to effect a regime change?

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know that the United States has turned to inspectors. In other words, I'm not sure that I agree with the premise in your question.

Q: My question is really has the United States lost the initiative in the sense of setting the agenda because the United Nations is now attempting to set the agenda for weapons inspections?

Rumsfeld: Well, let me see if I can separate a couple things. One is that the Congress of the United States some years back passed legislation called I believe the Iraqi Liberation Act.

Staff: '98.

Rumsfeld: In 1998. I think that that word "liberation" is the single most appropriate word in a system that's dictatorial, repressive, vicious, that the people of Iraq, I am confident -- indeed I know a good deal about it -- would in fact feel liberated were that regime not there. So if you begin with that as the statutory policy of the United States government, then you go to the subject of the president's speech, which talked about the threat of weapons of mass destruction and that then leads one to the U.N. resolutions. So the U.N. is addressing the fact that repeated U.N. resolutions have been ignored and rejected by the Iraqi regime over a period in excess of a decade. One of those resolutions at least involved the agreement on their part to disarm and to allow inspectors to come in and participate in that process of disarming. The talk that's taking place, and as I say it's not clear to me it's by the United States but it's clearly taking place up in the United Nations, about inspectors is not surprising because they had had inspectors in there previously and the inspectors had been thrown out.

But one would think that the United Nations and other countries in the world will have to face a very tough question and that question is if the goal is disarmament, and if disarmament requires the cooperation of the government, and if inspectors' purpose is not to cause disarmament but to validate the fact that disarmament has in fact taken place, and it requires a cooperative government to do that, then people are going to have to face up to an issue and that's that issue as to whether or not they judge the Iraqi government to be a compliant, cooperative host for inspectors and that's something that every parliamentarian and every head of state and the populations of our respective countries have to ask themselves and balance the risk of being wrong against the advantages of the hope that one would be cooperative.

Q: Is the United States working in coordination with the United Nations on this or does the States have its own policy that it will pursue irrespective of what may or may not happen with the United Nations?

Rumsfeld: My impression is that president would not have gone to the United Nations and spoken had he not believed in his heart that that was the right thing to do, that we have many friends in that body who share the same concerns about the situation in Iraq and that he is anxious to have the Security Council members for sure but the other countries in the United Nations work in a cooperative fashion to try to find a solution to this.

Q: One issue that is raised often in Europe and elsewhere and I believe this week by the Russian defense minister concerns the evidence the new evidence concerning the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction program. Do you believe that there's any obligation on the United States to produce new evidence to justify its allegation that Saddam poses a threat?

Rumsfeld: Well, of course this is not a court of law where one would go into the court of law with evidence that could prove something beyond a reasonable doubt, in other words someone is murdered. You have to find a gun or you have to find a motive or you have to find witnesses and that and that type of thing and the reason for that is because that is a law enforcement activity, it is a matter of punishing someone for violating the norms of the society. What we're dealing with here is something quite different. If we wanted to wait for the smoking gun, needless to say it would be a little late, you would have already experienced an attack using a weapon of mass destruction and instead of several thousand people you're running the risk of tens of people being killed. So those who say where is the smoking gun or where is the hard conclusive evidence that is possible to achieve after a crime or after an event of that type, even then it's difficult.

Think of all the books that have been written about why England slept and about Pearl Harbor, what happened. Even now there's a couple of books out about why weren't the dots connected before September occurred and we lost 3,000 people, what was there about the intelligence that we should have conceived, someone should have conceivably known and connected the dots to have prevented that activity. What the evidence that exists today is substantial, but it is vastly more difficult to connect the dots before something happens than it is after it happens.

But if one thinks about it, president laid out the case, I laid out the case for the Congress earlier this week, you have a dictator who has confessed to the U.N. that he had weapons of mass destruction, chemical biological and nuclear programs, he has used those weapons against his neighbors and against his own people, he is currently paying $20,000 or $25,000 to families, or at least saying he is, to families of suicide bombers, he has been on the terrorist state list for many years. He has relationships with terrorists networks and there are al Qaeda currently in the country so he is a classic example of the nexus between a terrorist state and well advanced weapons of mass destruction programs and relationships with terrorists. And the old question about well, isn't he deterrable? Aren't there other ways to, as we did with the Soviet Union during the Cold War for so many years, persuade a country, particularly a country with a state, with an address, as oppose it had a terrorist network or individual terrorist, can't you persuade them that it's not in their interest to do something?

Well, the world community has tried to do that diplomatically. We've tried to do it with economic sanctions. We've tried to do it with military force in the Gulf War and more recently the wonderful pilots and crews of planes from England and the United States are doing it every day flying in the northern and southern no-fly zones and getting shot at regularly and risking their lives. So there have been a lot of attempts to persuade that country to adhere to the U.N. resolutions, which they agreed to and to the agreements they made at the end of the Gulf War, which they have not, not in any respect have they.

Q: Can I turn now to al Qaeda and the arrest this weekend in Pakistan of Ramzi bin al-Shaibah, who has openly boasted of his role in September the 11th. In your view is he a prime candidate for a military tribunal, and, basically, do you think the death penalty should be applied to someone like him?

Rumsfeld: The question about whether -- I believe they are not called military tribunals in the United States, they're called military commissions under the military order that the president signed. One wouldn't know that from reading the press --

Q: Sorry.

Rumsfeld: but almost everybody uses the other phrase. I don't know why. Maybe it's more gripping.

Q: Well, there hasn't been one yet?

Rumsfeld: That's true. That's true. And the answer to that is I simply don't know. That's a judgment that the president would make. He is the individual who would or would not assign somebody to be considered for a military commission and he has not yet done that.

Q: Has to your knowledge this character been cooperating with interrogators, American interrogators?

Rumsfeld: I don't get into the question as to whether or not people that are being detained in this country or other countries are saying anything. I just don't talk about what they are doing or not doing.

Q: The broader question concerns the prisoners that are being held in Guantanomo Bay and some of them are British citizens. I think in fact the last time I spoke to you in March it wasn't clear how these prisoners would be dealt with, when they would be brought to any kind of legal proceeding. Is there yet a plan? Do you know what you are going to do with them or is this something that's simply indefinite?

Rumsfeld: Well, that issue is something that the interagency process in our government addresses from time to time. We know thus far that the decisions have been that these clearly unlawful combatants, they are being held in for the most part in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, they are being treated humanely, they are being well fed and provided excellent medical attention. Countries that want to see nationals from their countries have the opportunity to interview them for law enforcement purposes and a great many countries, including yours, have visited Guantanamo Bay. The international committee for the Red Cross is there all the time, observing what's taking place. The reason they are there is because they were fighting in a war and were captured and it was decided that they were people who were determined to kill and terrorize other people, innocent men, women and children. And that they would be better off, and that the world would be better off, if they were off the street and not able to go right back and kill more people.

Our purpose, however, is not to punish them or to engage in law enforcement actions per se at the present time. What we're dealing with here is something that's quite new for us, it's quite old for some other countries that have dealt with terrorist problems but what we've decide was the single most important thing was it get them off the street, off the battlefield and, second, to interrogate them and begin to patch together that information so that we can prevent other terrorists acts from happening. And that is exactly what has been taking place. It has been taking place in our country. It has been taking place in dozens and dozens and dozens of countries all across the globe. We have a coalition in the global war on terrorism of over 90 countries, something like half of all the nations in the world. It is without question the largest coalition in human history. And those countries are arresting people every day. And all of that information that is being shared and the result of that sharing of intelligence information has been to save a great many lives.

There have been any number of terrorists acts that is have been stopped that did not happen, people who were not killed because of this process of intelligence gathering and interrogation that's taking place in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and all across the globe, including your country. Goodness knows there has been no country from the world who has been as forthright and helpful as Prime Minister Blair and his government in cooperating in the global war on terrorism from day one.

Q: The point has been repeatedly made in various countries that that cooperation is potentially jeopardized if the United States goes it alone on Iraq. Even in Britain there is a strong undercurrent of doubt that an attack on Iraq is currently justified by the evidence that's been presented so far. What is most important to the United States, that it defend itself in the manner that it sees fit or that it preserves these international alliances that is it has very painstakingly built?

Rumsfeld: I find it fascinating to listen to the loose language that politicians and the media use, "go it alone". That is precisely what you said is what you hear and read all over the world. The global war on terrorism has 90 countries participating. Does that sound unilateralist? Not to me. Not to you, I'm sure. It's a breathtakingly broad and deep coalition. It is a current, modern, visible manifestation of the fact that the United States recognizes the value of cooperating with other countries and yet it has become so fashionable, particularly in Europe, to want to stick a stick in people's eye and say call it unilateralist. It's utter nonsense. With respect to your question, my assumption is that sovereign states act for good and valid reasons that they believe are in their interest. The global war on terrorism exists. It will be a long one. A lot of people on the globe are vulnerable to terrorist acts. To suggest that if any one of the sovereign nations of the 90 in the global war on terrorism did something that one or another of the other 90 nations didn't agree with that they would then penalize themselves by not cooperating in the global war on terror and shoot themselves on the foot, if you will as a figure of speech -- I don't know if you use that in England but...

Q: Yes, we do.

Rumsfeld: ...we do in Chicago -- would be mindless. The allegation on its face is ridiculous. Second, it seems that at the moment just as it was fashionable at the beginning of the global war on terrorism to suggest that the United States was unilateralist, it's fashionable today with respect to Iraq. Now, the fact of the matter is it's false. We have any number of countries who have agreed to cooperate with respect to Iraq. So, the "go-it-alone" is more a statement by a person in a single country who personally, as opposed to their country, may or may not agree with what the media is saying the president is thinking. How is that? Is that sufficiently clear and direct?

They read something in the press and say oh my goodness, isn't that terrible, the president is not going to go to Congress and ask for their help, the president is not going to go to the United Nations and ask for their help, president is going to, quote, "go it alone". The United States Government has been talking to dozens and dozens and dozens and dozens of countries all over the world and any number have agreed to help in one way or another. And any number have said they would prefer that this happened or prefer that that happen or if this doesn't happen they may not be able to help in that way but they could help this some other way. So to prejudge the outcome of, at the very beginning of that process -- as president said when he spoke to the United Nations, this is the first step -- to prejudge it negatively, about him and about the United States, and then repeat it mindlessly day after day after day is unimpressive.

Q: I gather that you did many years ago once encounter Saddam Hussein during a visit to Iraq. I'm just wondering if you have any particular recollections of that meeting.

Rumsfeld: Vivid.

Q: How was he?

Rumsfeld: He is a survivor. He took over by the use of force. He maintains his position by the use of force, vicious force. It is clearly kind of one of the last Cold War, authoritarian regimes. The damage that he has done to the people of that country who are intelligent and like most people one would think freedom loving but been denied that freedom, the number of expatriates around the world who have gone on to do wonderful things and talented things is a reflection of the energy and the vitality of those people. But if you read what the international organizations that look at human rights, I'm just floored at all of the people in the world who normally would be concerned about human rights who when it comes to Saddam Hussein turn a blind eye, seem not to be concerned about what he has done to those human beings. It is a tragic, terrible story. And yet people who one would think would be concerned seem not concerned, selective.

Q: Thank you very much indeed.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

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