Skip to main content /transcript



Bush: Navy Will Quit Bombing at Vieques, Pro-Defense Outraged

Aired June 14, 2001 - 17:00   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington.

We take you now directly to the United States Capitol, where Secretary of the Navy Gordon England has been briefing senators on the decision today to announce to stop U.S. bombing practices on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. Let's listen now to Senator John Warner and then, presumably, from Secretary England.


SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: ...specifically asked the Department of Defense if it is their intent to have the law modified, that the secretary of defense should take the initiative to forward to the Congress a draft of the language desired.

The secretary -- deputy secretary indicated that he would consult with the White House and in all probability, that language will be forthcoming. Because there is a very specific law in effect, and the policy enunciation thus far by the Department of Defense, and largely through the deputy secretary and the secretary of the Navy, enunciates the policy that requires a specific action by the Congress, prior to November when the referendum is scheduled to take place.

Further, I have asked Chairman Carl Levin if, as I anticipate, that legislation comes forward, that we, then, have a hearing of the Senate Arms Services Committee, and he said that he would take that under advisement. And I believe Chairman Stump, you've indicated that you will be having a hearing...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct.

WARNER: In the House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before the first of July.

WARNER: Senator Hoff.

SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: I will make mine very brief, because I have a 5:10 commitment that will take about five minutes; then I am going to come back. I would only say that I had spent three years on this issue, have been all of the way around the world to every possible conceivable alternative site, and I see this as an issue that means American lives. On March 12th, we had an accident, an accident involving an F-18 dropping 3 500 pounders, killing five Americans and one other individual.


INHOFE: In the Gulf. And they were supposed to have trained with live ordinance in Vieques, and they were not able to do that. I have a very serious concern about the recommendation that seems to be coming from the White House, in its effect of all of the ranges around the world -- and I am talking about Copa Da Larda (ph), where they've already said -- it would be down to 22 days and now it's going to be less than that, Cape Laravh (ph), all the other alternatives.

We are going to lose other ranges if the range is lost. So I have very strong feelings about it, and my intention is, as Senator Warner is aware, that I will do everything they can within my power to keep from changing the law, so that we can go ahead with the November referendum, and let the self-determination on the island of Vieques take place.

Let's keep in mind: we're not talking about Puerto Rico; we're talking about Vieques. And that's a smaller group of people who have different ideas and views than the rest of Puerto Rico.

WARNER: Chairman Stump?

REP. BOB STUMP (R), ARIZONA: Let me just say that there are very strong feelings in the House Arms Service Committee. I had the conversations with the secretary, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and all of the assistant secretaries, and all the others that I could contact in the White House of how serious this was and how it was going to be treated in the House.

We have been through this; I think that this place is irreplaceable; there have been numerous attempts made to try to find an alternative training site, and so far, we were unable do to that. So we were a little surprised of the suddenness of the announcement, and consequently, announced that we would have hearings, and invite everyone concerned into it, and try to find out what we can do about this.

But I think it's a step in the wrong direction. I think it's setting a bad precedent; we have others areas, even within this country, there have been numerous complaints about our training around our bases and I think that once you give into this kind of action down there, that the Puerto Ricans are doing -- we are inviting trouble in many other places. Thank you.

REP. JAMES HANSEN (R), UTAH: I am Jim Hansen, I chair the Resource Committee in the House site. I am also one of the senior members of the Armed Service Committee.

I've been working with Senator Inhofe for a number of years on this particular issue. I think that he put right when he said it's a matter of lives. I know we have had hearings on this indirectly with past secretaries and other individuals, and one thing that jumps out at me all the time is, they say we are going to lose lives if we don't train these people.

Senator Inhofe alluded to one that happened in Kuwait, where lives were lost; they should have been trained in that particular item.

Now we also look at the 33 ranges we have in the 48. And I can probably name all of them, because I have been in most of them. Every one of those has a challenge of some kind. Our Japanese friends are not at all happy with what is happening in Okinawa right now. They have wanted us to leave for a long time, and there's been a few mistakes made over there.

What do we tell them? We won't bomb on ours, we'll bomb on yours? What do we tell the people in Korea? What do we tell people in China Lake? What do we tell people in Utah Test and Training Range? How about, you name it, there is somebody doesn't like it. I think I spent half of my time between resources and armed services trying to put out the fires on someone that's mad about having a test in the training range.

All right, to me it's the line in the sand. You give on this one, where's the next one to come out? We'll be standing in front of you folks another 10 years, talking about who is the next one to go. Well, it's kind of important you do that. I am past Navy myself, and I know that's what you do. You train, train, train.

I hope we never fight. But when they fight, we want them to be trained and be the very best. Kind of customary for our presidents to stand up at the State of the Union and they all say, we want to have the best trained, the best equipped, the best military there is.

Well, I think there's an encroachment here. I have great respect for President Bush and Vice President Cheney; I sat next to Cheney for six years on the Interior Committee when he was here, and I know what a capable man he is. But I am very concerned -- it may be a mistake but let's see. I agree with what the senator pointed out, let's see the language and what they have in mind.

And id there a way to work this out? There's a lot of ifs, ands, and buts to work about at this time. Thank you.

WARNER: I failed to mention that Senator Cochran was also at our meeting, he's chairman of the subcommittee, and Senator Inhofe is ranking on that subcommittee now. I am prepared to take your questions and share them with my colleagues.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Senator, specifically, what does the administration want...

WOODRUFF: We've been listening to comments by senators and House committee chairs, on the decision announced today by the Bush administration, that it plans to stop military training exercises, bombing exercises, on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

This has been a controversial practice, protested by the Puerto Ricans, people living on the island for quite some time, and today's announcement appeared to opened up a hornet's nest. Because what we've been hearing now are members of chairs and active members of military affairs committees, both on the House and the Senate side.

And as you can tell, both from Senator John Warner, who said that he thinks that there's a law that says this can't be done without Congressional approval.

We heard Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, say he has very serious concerns about the effect this will have on other training sites around the world.

We heard the congressman say that they were surprised at the suddenness, that it is a step in the wrong direction.

We heard the last Congressman, Jim Hansen, say if we draw the line and step back here, then we will hear the protests about every other site where U.S. training exercises occur around the world.



Back to the top