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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Briefing With Robert Hill, Australian Defense Minister

Aired January 10, 2002 - 12:13   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to interrupt our coverage now to go to the Pentagon where Secretary Rumsfeld is talking with reporters.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: They voluntarily risked their lives to protect their fellow citizens from a very dangerous enemy. All of us are grateful for their service, and we extend our condolences and our sympathy to their families and their loved ones.

Their deaths, along with that of the U.S. Special Forces soldier last week, underscore the fact that the mission in Afghanistan remains difficult and remains dangerous. We have said that repeatedly. It is a fact, and it will continue to be a fact during the weeks and months ahead. It's a war we did not choose, but one that we will fight and win.

Doing so will require the help of many dedicated friends and allies around the world, and it is clear to me, and has been for many, many years, indeed decades, that America has no greater friends than the people of Australia.

Minister of Defense Hill and I have had good meetings today, good discussions. We discussed a range of issues, and I can assure you that I thanked him, from my heart, for Australia's strong and very effective support and for his country's many contributions to the war on terrorism, as well as its friendship over, what, 50 years now, our relationship in ANZUS.

RUMSFELD: Mr. Minister, do you want to make an opening comment?

ROBERT HILL, AUSTRALIAN MINISTER OF DEFENSE: Thank you very much.

Can I first, Mr. Secretary, add the condolences of my government and the people of Australia to the families of those -- the government and the families of those who lost their lives?

Can I take the opportunity to thank the United States for its leadership in the coalition in the war against terrorism? Australia sees its responsibility to play a part, and we've been very willing to do so. We're doing so in relation to special forces on the ground in Afghanistan, our naval contribution and also an air force contribution.

We intend to stick with the United States and those in the coalition until the job is done, and the job is done, as far as we're concerned, when we can all be much more confident that the terrible forms of terrorism that we've seen in the last 12 months will never be repeated.

Thank you.

RUMSFELD: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, might I ask in conjunction with film -- the pictures, TV pictures that are now coming out of Kandahar -- has the United States begun to transfer Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees to (inaudible)? And as reported, are you considering or will you use such restraints as perhaps tranquilizers and even hoods to keep these people calm, these, as you say, dangerous people calm, as you transport them?

RUMSFELD: The transportation from Kandahar, very likely, is being handled by TRANSCOM, and the detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are being handled by the acting combatant commander there for SOUTHCOM. And they have been authorized and instructed to use appropriate restraint. As you recall, I have no idea what specifically that means.

What they have done is consult a variety of experts on prisons and prisoners. They have reviewed, at my instance, the uprising at Mazar-i-Sharif where a great many people were killed because of the prison uprising. They have reviewed the difficulties that the Pakistani soldiers had where some people were killed as the Al Qaeda and Taliban forces that had been detained by the Pakistan army broke loose.

RUMSFELD: And they're fully aware that these are dangerous individuals. As you undoubtedly know, one of them came out of the hospital recently in, I believe, Kandahar, and blew himself up and others -- at least himself. I suspect not others, because they were all aware that that is -- that there are among these prisoners people who perfectly willing to kill themselves and kill other people. So I hope that they used the appropriate restraint, and that's what I suspect they will be doing.

I would like to offer anyone from the Australian press here.

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: Let me finish, and then I'm going to find you.

QUESTION: Has the transfer begun, sir?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I'm sorry, yes. It may have.

(LAUGHTER)

You never know until it starts. But, I mean, there is an intention to begin taking some relatively small numbers of detainees from the detention area at the Kandahar -- in Kandahar -- to -- I think it would be from that detention area. Although, you know there are several areas that they could take them from. And begin, at some point, bringing them to Guantanamo in the immediate future. It may have started. It may be soon to start, or it may -- they may to decide, for whatever reason -- weather or something -- to have not started. I just don't happen to know.

Yes?

QUESTION: The Australian Al Qaeda member, David Hicks, is he still on the USS Baton? And when will he be released into Australian authority custody, given that, your statements earlier, that people would only be released or repatriated if they were severely punished? And has he provided any useful intelligence?

RUMSFELD: If I said what you said, I probably should have said appropriately punished as opposed to severely, because we -- until one makes decisions about individuals, one can't judge how they ought to be treated by a justice system in whatever country.

RUMSFELD: My recollection is, there is an individual who says he's Australian, and his name is Hicks, and that he may very well be among the group that, at some point will be going to Guantanamo Bay. Whether he's in the first or second tranche, I just can't be certain because I'm not there and I'm not managing that piece of the puzzle.

What we have said about all detainees and what I've advised the minister is, it's in our interest -- indeed, I think it's in the world's interest -- to take these people of various nationalities, including an American as well as an Australian, and see that we engage in the kinds of interrogations and intelligence gathering that will enable us to do the best job possible to stop future terrorist attacks.

And what you find is that there is an initial sort, where you take a look at these folks -- and there's hundreds of them, so it's not like it's an easy thing to do -- and you attempt to identify them and take a picture and get fingerprints and that type of thing. And then you attempt to figure out who they are, if they'll talk to you, and figure out what language they're talking and begin to put them in baskets: Are they senior people that merit special attention? What nationalities are they? What kinds of likely intelligence might we get? And then they begin a process of interrogation to try to gather intelligence as rapidly as possible from them.

The truth is that, at some point, you get what you think you can get from a given individual, but you know, in the back of your mind, that you may discover some intelligence material or a laptop or an address book in a house in Kabul or Kandahar or Herat, wherever, that would connect this person. So you know that after you've gone through that first interrogation, it's best to wait a bit and see what other kinds of information comes up from other people, from computers, from various other types of intelligence gathering, including law enforcement actions all across the globe. You might arrest somebody with pocket litter that connects that person to one of the people you're interrogating.

RUMSFELD: So you don't hurry through this. When you're talking about defending against terrorist actions, against this country and our friends and allies around the world, you take your time and you try to do it right, and that's what we're doing.

QUESTION: Mr. Hill, what's your best intelligence on the extent of Al Qaeda infiltration into nations in your region? We've heard from the podium here that Al Qaeda is in up to 70 nations around the world. From your piece of the world, what is the extent of Al Qaeda penetration?

HILL: We do have some extremist groups, religious -- and Islamic extremists groups within our region. And whereas they have concentrated their activities within state and generally within specific localities within state, there is evidence of contact with other terrorist organizations.

And I think that's been one of the lessons of the last four months, that now that the effort has been made to look at linkages, we're perhaps finding more than what we would have otherwise anticipated.

Now, that doesn't mean that it got to the stage where we might have evidence that they intended to carry, to migrate their activities elsewhere. But that was always the risk that that was going to occur. And the intelligence that we've been able to gather and we're continuing to gather, I think, will help us best ensure that that doesn't, in fact, occur.

QUESTION: What is the latest on the Marine crash, the aircraft crash yesterday, as to what happened and have any bodies been recovered?

RUMSFELD: My understanding is that there is no evidence that it was anything other than an aircraft crash. That is to say, there are always going to be eyewitnesses that have different impressions as to what they saw, but as best as Central Command can tell me, as of this morning, is that they have no evidence that it was anything other than a crash into that ridge line and that, because it was an air refueler, it had bladders of fuel aboard. And the fireball occurred, according to the best evidence we have, as it hit the ground, not before it hit the ground.

QUESTION: And the body recovery process?

RUMSFELD: My understanding is that they have proceeded with that and that they have names and have notified families and believe that all seven individuals aboard that aircraft are dead.

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: It's a very difficult area. And I do not have specific knowledge as to the extent to which all of the bodies may or may not have been recovered at this stage. QUESTION: Secretary Rumsfeld, what can you tell us about the dispatch of the small advance team of U.S. special forces to the Philippines? What is their mission? And How can the U.S. help the Philippines in its hunt for terrorists?

RUMSFELD: The United States has had a long relationship with the Philippines. We have had military-to-military relationships with the Philippines over many, many years. I can't recall precisely when it was, but certainly some time back, I signed understandings that we would provide some training and assistance to the Philippine government. I don't believe there's anything mysterious about it at all.

We all know that the Philippine government has been very seriously attempting to deal with terrorists on one or two islands in the Philippines, that they have some hostages that have been taken over time, some of whom have been killed, some of whom, I believe, may have been released. But some are still held, including some Americans.

And the Philippine government and their army has been, I'm sure, engaged in attempting to deal with that terrorist problem that they have.

QUESTION: And logistics, can you clarify? Will the U.S. troops be, in any way, directly involved in the hunt for terrorists? Could you describe in general what kind of...

RUMSFELD: I've given you as fulsome a response -- we don't talk about future activities, as you know, therefore, I'm not going to talk about the future.

I can tell you that we have been involved in training. And to my knowledge, that's what we're currently doing.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary? RUMSFELD: Do you talk like an Australian...

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: As your war on terrorism goes beyond that...

RUMSFELD: I guessed well.

QUESTION: ... do you foresee the continuing need for allies, such as Australia, to participate militarily in your actions?

And to the minister, does Australia foresee a need to continue to support the United States, as it moves in tackling Al Qaeda beyond the boundaries of Afghanistan?

RUMSFELD: Well, I would respond very briefly, simply by saying, you bet. There's just no question but that this is going to be a long process. There are terrorist networks well beyond Al Qaeda, and they exist in many parts of the globe. And our view is that there's no way in the world the United States can or should be engaged in this activity alone. We've had wonderful support from dozens and dozens of countries, not least of which is Australia, and we value that.

On the other hand, from our standpoint, we want to do the best possible job of dealing with terrorists and terrorist states. Therefore, we believe it's up to each country to decide in what ways -- how, when and where -- they want to cooperate with that and to characterize it themselves.

Mr. Minister?

HILL: Yes, we haven't set time lines. We think that this task will take a considerable time yet. We think there's still a great deal of work that needs to be done in Afghanistan, but I agree, the terrorist linkages extend beyond Afghanistan. And if the goal is to best ensure that terrorism can't be export (ph) as it was last year, then, obviously, we'll have to turn our attention to areas beyond Afghanistan. But the correct way in which to do that in terms of the most effective outcome will obviously differ greatly according to the circumstances and have those sort of discussions that are ongoing.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what concerns do you have about Iranian military or intelligence officials operating inside Afghanistan? What evidence does the U.S. have that Al Qaeda officials may have fled into Iran? And is there any evidence that Iran is, in fact, harboring Al Qaeda?

RUMSFELD: Well, those are very good questions. Unfortunately, they go to intelligence information, which I'm not inclined to reveal.

We do know that Iran is a neighboring state to Afghanistan. We know that it has a forest border, and we know people have moved back and forth throughout history, and we also know that they've been moving back and forth in recent history. Iran also is featured on the list of terrorist states and has been active in assisting terrorist networks. That's all a matter of public record.

You asked me how I feel about it.

RUMSFELD: I would prefer that countries not harbor terrorists and that countries not provide haven for AL Qaeda and that they not support terrorist networks.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. in communications with Iran in any form or fashion to try to gain information from them or at least assurances from them that whoever -- didn't they have...

RUMSFELD: I'm not at the State Department. I do know there have been contacts at places like Bonn. If my memory serves me correctly, there were representatives from a lot at the Afghan gathering that took place to select the interim government. And I'm quite sure there are Iranians there.

I also know that there that there have been Iranians inside Afghanistan connected to various tribal chiefs and particularly in the western area around Herat, and that the United States has forces embedded with those same people. So in answer to question, are there contacts, indeed there are contacts at various locations; the relationship is not eminent.

Yes?

QUESTION: Minister Hill, what have you learned about the allegations of the sexual antics on board the (inaudible)

RUMSFELD: I think I called on the wrong person.

(LAUGHTER)

HILL: You probably know nothing about this.

(LAUGHTER)

RUMSFELD: When I went like that, I didn't mean that, I mean this.

HILL: I'd say she's talking about an Australian ship.

RUMSFELD: I see -- fortunately.

(LAUGHTER)

HILL: I shouldn't laugh. There have been allegations, as you know. And as you also know, the navy has announced an investigation into them, and no doubt, I have confidence will deal with it appropriately. And I'll wait anyway until I get the navy response to it.

RUMSFELD: And we'll make that the last question.

Nice to see you all.

WOODRUFF: We have been listening to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with his Australian counterpart there, talking about not just the situation in Afghanistan, but getting a little bit farther afield discussing the Philippines, Iran, and elsewhere.

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