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DoD News Briefing with Rear Adm. Harris from the Pentagon

Presenters: Commander, Joint Task Force, Guantanamo, Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris
September 07, 2006
Rear Adm. Harris via teleconference from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

BRYAN WHITMAN (Pentagon spokesman): Well, good morning, Admiral Harris. We have a picture of you here. Can you hear me okay?

ADM. HARRIS: I can hear you fine. I can't see the picture, though.

MR. WHITMAN: Let me try that again.

Admiral Harris, this is Bryan Whitman at the Pentagon. Can you hear me?

ADM. HARRIS: Yes, sir, I can hear you fine. Can you hear me? MR. WHITMAN: Yes, we can. In fact, we can see you, or at least a likeness of you on the screen. Thank you for taking some time this morning.

As all of you know here in the press corps, yesterday the Department of Defense announced that at the direction of the president of the United States, it took custody of 14 high-value detainees captured in the war on terror, and placed them under the control of the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. These detainees include some of the world's most dangerous and vicious individuals, including those who are alleged to have planned the attacks of 9/11, the bombing of USS Cole, and the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Today, Rear Admiral Harry Harris has kindly offered to join us by telephone today to briefly discuss the transfer of these high-value detainees to Guantanamo earlier this week. So he'll be able to give you a little bit of perspective on taking custody and control of these individuals, and give you a quick update on their arrival and in- processing.

There will be a lot of information that he will not be able to provide to you and not be able to give you answers to your questions, which I'm sure that you will have interest in. So I forewarn you that there is a limited amount of information that we'll be able to provide on these individuals, but we'll do our best to give you some perspective on that.

And with that, Admiral Harris, let me turn it over to you.

ADM. HARRIS: Well, good morning. And thank you, Mr. Whitman. And thanks to all of you who have taken time out of your busy schedules to attend this briefing today in the Pentagon. You've got me at a disadvantage because you have my picture there, but I can't see all of you. But be that as it may, it's a pleasure for me to be with you this morning.

Yesterday, as you know, the president announced that by his order, 14 high-value detainees arrived at Guantanamo Bay for detention under the control and custody of the Department of Defense. The White House has provided you all the names of these detainees already. As Mr. Whitman said, I won't be able to provide you with any further details on these individuals and would refer you to the CIA about any aspects prior to their arrival.

I can, however, provide you with a little background on their transfer.

They arrived earlier this week and were formally transferred to DOD control. They arrived safely, and all appeared to be in good condition. Upon their arrival, I personally verified their identification and I personally signed for each and every detainee. They were moved by our vehicles to our ferry dock on the western side of the bay, and then transferred -- transported, rather, via ferry to the eastern side of the bay, and they were then driven to the confinement facility.

Upon arrival, they began the standard in-processing procedure. The transfer went extremely well, from my perspective -- a textbook operation, I believe. They are being in-processed like any other detainee who arrives at Guantanamo. They've undergone a physical and dental examination, and will be issued the normal items provided to all detainees. They are being provided the same dietary and cultural amenities that are afforded to all other detainees here.

The Joint Task Force, we took control of these individuals earlier in the week. They've been registered with the ICRC, like all other detainees. And we are in the process of assigning them internment serial numbers or ISNs. At the appropriate time, they'll be afforded the opportunity to meet with representatives from the ICRC. They are being treated in accordance with U.S. law and international obligations and treaties, to include the Convention Against Torture, Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the Detainee Treatment Act, and Defense Department directives and instructions governing detainee ops. They are treated appropriately and in accordance with Guantanamo policies and procedures. And it's our policy that every detainee that has come under DOD control be treated humanely, as directed by the president's order of February 7th of 2002, and in compliance with Secretary Rumsfeld's directive of January 19th of 2002.

As is the case with other detainees, they receive adequate food, shelter and clothing. They are afforded the opportunity to worship, and will have access to the Koran in their native language, and other prayer accessories. They will be allowed to send and receive mail. Their medical and dental care is comparable to that received by any service member deployed here at Guantanamo. They will be given access to reading material. They will have the opportunity to exercise. And they get three culturally-sensitive meals a day and, if appropriate, blessed by an imam.

This JTF, as you know, exists to ensure that extremely dangerous individuals, such as these men, are unable to engage in their efforts to plan or conduct terrorist attacks. As you are well aware, intelligence gathered from detainees has contributed significantly to an understanding of terrorist organizations, their planning, financing, and operational techniques in executing deadly attacks.

For security and operational reasons, I cannot provide any additional details on their housing arrangements. And additionally, I cannot provide any information about these detainees prior to their arrival at Guantanamo. I would refer you to the CIA for any of those questions.

I want to thank you again for allowing me a few minutes to provide you with some details about our role in ensuring that these men would no longer be capable of planning, directing, or carrying out acts of terror.

I am confident in the men and women at Guantanamo, and I am proud to be their commander. They, and their families that support them in our mission here, serve our nation proudly and with honor.

I could not ask any more of them.

I will now be happy to take some questions pertaining to the information that I've provided.

MR. WHITMAN: All right. Thank you, Admiral, and thank you for that overview. And we'll try to do a few questions here that fall within the parameters of things that you can address.

Mr. Burns.

Q Admiral, Bob Burns from AP, ask you about the physical arrangements of their confinement. Are the 14 being held as one group? Are they being held in isolation or are they being held as part of the larger group?

ADM. HARRIS: Hey, Mr. Burns, all I can tell you is they're being held in a facility controlled by us, us being the JTF Guantanamo by me. The president described it yesterday as a high-security facility, which is in fact what it is. And beyond that, for operation security reasons, I'm not going to give you anymore information. I think you understand why.

Q Well, Admiral, are the detainees, will they be permitted to meet with lawyers as some other Guantanamo detainees have? And when are they going to before the Combatant Status Review Tribunal here?

ADM. HARRIS: I don't have the details on the "when." All that is being worked out. But they will be afforded an opportunity to meet with counsel, as all other detainees that are part of commission's process will be, and they will be afforded a Combatant Status Review Tribunal at an appropriate time. I just don't have that information. As you know, the CSRT process is a process that's independent of JTF Guantanamo; it's part of the OARDEC process. And again, that's an independent entity from me.

MR. WHITMAN: And perhaps just to clarify, the opportunity to have counsel is achieved once charges have been brought against these individuals, and up until that point, that does not apply. So they have been designated by the president for eligible -- for commissions.

But the next step would be the formulation of charges.

Pam?

Q This is Pam Hess with UPI. Will they continue to be interrogated? And if so, will that be by DOD or other government representatives?

ADM. HARRIS: Hi, Ms. Hess. Let me tell you that they will be available for questioning, as are all other detainees in DOD custody here at Guantanamo. This could include questioning by other agencies. But in order to preserve the -- you know, the effectiveness of the intelligence collection and law enforcement activities, I'm not going to comment on any plans in this regard now or in the future.

MR. WHITMAN: Just a couple more.

Go ahead, John.

Q Admiral, it's John Hendren at National Public Radio. We've seen detainees held in Iraq with their eyes and ears covered, and pictures of them being shipped to Guantanamo with their eyes and ears covered. Does the new ban on sensory deprivation mean that that can no longer happen? In other words, are these people able to see and hear?

ADM. HARRIS: Of course they're allowed to see and hear, as all -- as are other detainees. As I've mentioned, they're in DOD custody, and they're going to be subject to our policies on detention operations. And our JTF-Gitmo policies and procedures apply.

Q If I can just follow up, but that continues to happen in transit, right? I thought I'd seen pictures in which their eyes and ears are covered. I know I've seen that in Iraq.

ADM. HARRIS: You have me there. I've never been out there. And this is the first set of incoming detainees that have been brought to Guantanamo since I've been here.

MR. WHITMAN: John, you go ahead.

Q Admiral, John Diamond with USA Today. Are you -- we yesterday were briefed on the new interrogation rules and regulations that have been promulgated. Are you personally responsible for any interrogations that happen and how they happen?

And as a follow-up to that, will -- regardless of who is actually questioning these individuals, if they're questioned, will the interrogators have access to answers they've previously given in earlier interrogations that happened under different rules of engagement?

ADM. HARRIS: Mr. Diamond, for the first part of your question, I am solely responsible for the conduct of all interrogations here at Guantanamo. I'm the sole authority for that evolution, if you will. So I'm the accountable figure for interrogations. No matter who does the interrogations, the interrogations are conducted under DOD custody.

So I'm the accountable figure for that.

With regards to the second question, I can't answer that. I simply don't know the answer. If those who are asking the questions will have access to information that was gathered before they got here, I would refer you back to the CIA for that.

MR. WHITMAN: We'll do two more, Josh and -- okay, we'll do three more -- (laughter) -- Luis and then Pam.

Q Mine's short.

Q Admiral Harris, it's Josh White with The Washington Post. How long have you known that these detainees were going to come to Guantanamo? And in light of that, have there been any policy changes in the way that guards deal with other detainees at the facility in anticipation of their arrival?

ADM. HARRIS: Mr. White, for the first part of the question, I'm not going to answer that.

And for the second part of the question, they are -- there have been no changes in procedures.

MR. WHITMAN: Go ahead.

Q Luis Martinez with ABC News. Admiral, regarding their transfer in, did it occur or span several days, over one day? Did it involve one particular flight or was it a matter of several flights coming inbound?

ADM. HARRIS: Mr. Martinez, I'm not going to get into the details of precisely when they got here or how they got here. Suffice to say, they did get here and we have them now in our custody.

MR. WHITMAN: Well, we've reached that point where we've gotten everything out that we can, but we do have one last clarifying, small, follow-up question from Pam. Q Pam Hess again. In response to the question about blindfolds, I was unclear. Were they blindfolded during the ferry transfer? Are they able to see the camp, or how did you handle that? It seems like it'd be dangerous to see --

ADM. HARRIS: Ms. Hess, I'm not going to give you any more details than what I've already given you in the statement and the previous questions.

MR. WHITMAN: Well, Admiral, we knew that we had reached this point relatively quickly, but we do appreciate you taking the time to give us your perspective, to talk to us a bit about the transfer, and thank you for that. And unless you have anything else that you'd like to add, we'll bring it to a close.

ADM. HARRIS: Thanks, sir. I have nothing else to add.

MR. WHITMAN: Very good. Thank you very much.

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