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Pentagon Briefing

Aired January 28, 2002 - 11:32   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Victoria Clarke now, live in Washington.


QUESTION: ...he is saying about unlawful combatants and everything else that goes with it perhaps is applicable to the Al Qaeda. But even though the Taliban was not an elected government, it was a de facto government, a government in place. And people fighting for that government, Taliban troops, often were not given uniforms, because somebody couldn't afford them or whatever. Anyway, how do you justify calling the Taliban unlawful combatants when they belong to a government in power and they were fighting a type of war?

CLARKE: Let me try to address it this way, and then I'm going to stop because I can only get myself in trouble. There are policies, procedures, considerations you want to take in determining the application of the Geneva Convention. Then once you have the application of the Geneva Convention, the convention itself treats different people different kinds of ways, lawful and unlawful combatants. Those are the kind of things they're looking. Those are the kinds of things they're deciding. With that, I'm going to stop.

QUESTION: House keeping question.


QUESTION: Number of detainees in Afghanistan. Perhaps, you could enlighten us. They seem to have increased by about 20 over the weekend. If you could tell us how that occurred and also evidently, reporters are being pulled out of GITMO today or shortly and won't be there for another week or so. Can you enlighten us as to why that's occurring? Is there some event taking place this week?

CLARKE: That's not my understanding, but we'll look into it. I mean we've been trying to rotate the media through there pretty regularly. And there have been some numbers of them.

QUESTION: At some extended times. Is there any consideration to getting them back...

CLARKE: I don't know what the time frame is, so I'll look into it.

QUESTION: You will have reporters back in before they resume the flights? I mean resuming the flights and not have reporters --

CLARKE: I don't know what the circumstances are. I just -- this is the first time I've heard it, so I'll look into what the circumstances are. It is our desire to facilitate as many media as possible and facilitate as much access as possible, so we'll look into it.

QUESTION: And the numbers?

CLARKE: She's got it.

STUFFLEBEEM: With that, I'll say good morning to everyone.

Yesterday, Afghan forces with assistance of U.S. Special Forces, conducted an operation to secure the Kandahar hospital from the control of a group of Al Qaeda members who had seized one of the wings of the hospital. Despite numerous attempts to negotiate their peaceful surrender, six Al Qaeda forces had been holed up in the hospital for almost two months.

Initial reports indicate that all six of those forces were killed in yesterday's attack.

Several of the Afghan forces were wounded in the confrontation; only one would be considered serious. There were no U.S. injuries.

To bring you up-to-date on the detainee numbers, there are 324 detainees in Afghanistan and 158 detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and that brings our total to 482. The additional detainees that were over in Afghanistan were from the Afghans to U.S. control, and you should expect that the numbers will continue to fluctuate as the interrogations continue of those that are being detained by the Afghans.

And with that, I'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Can you say where they came from? Where the Afghans (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what part of the country? Anything on why they were taken in as detainees?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, this particular group -- I don't know where this group came from. There are detainees throughout the country; north, south, east and west. I mean, there are over 300 being detained in Herat. There still are hundreds that are still being detained up in Sheberghan in the north. And so, there are initial interrogations that are going on while they're in custody of the Afghans.

The Afghans are recommending those to the U.S. whom they think we would be interested in. And so, when we have the opportunity to get our forces moved around, we'll go and do the interrogations of those and then we continue the screening process until it becomes obvious that these are individuals whom we do want to continue to interrogate or to hold. And then, I'm assuming there's some process where we and the Afghans agree to turn these over to our custody and we've taken those to Kandahar. QUESTION: Are most detains in Kandahar or are there still some in Mazar-i-Sharif and Bagram?

STUFFLEBEEM: U.S. detainees are in Kandahar and in Bagram right now.

QUESTION: Are you ready to release the list of names of the detainees? And also, which are the countries really basically fighting or supporting these, what we call terrorists and the worst of worst and very dangerous people like (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? And why we are supporting or (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because they have killed targets of peoples and they will kill more in the future, that's what they said? So they should be treated just like -- they should be hanged.

CLARKE: First, as to the names, I don't even know if we have rock-solid identifications of everyone. One of the things we're working on, as we look at destination and disposition, is how you identify these people and who belongs in which category, if you will.

And two, as I said, not being an expert on the Geneva Convention, but what we are trying to do here is make sure we're applying the principles and the policies that we feel very, very good about. And I think at the end of the day, after a lot of hard work and consideration and deliberation, the American people and the people around the world will see that we are (a) treating these people very, very humanely; and (b) adhering to the principles that we care very, very deeply about.

QUESTION: When you say, treating them very humanely, what is their future? I mean, how are you going to, after the interrogation, how long you're going to keep them? And what is their future? What are you going to do with them? Number one.

Number two, if the countries where they belong to, have you heard from one of those countries, they are supporting them or to release them?

CLARKE: A, what's going to happen them are things that are being decided at much higher levels than mine.

QUESTION: And the countries...

CLARKE: I honestly don't know which countries we've heard from and who we haven't.

QUESTION: Admiral, regarding the collision this morning, I understand that the Greenville is headed to Diego Garcia. Is she moving on the surface, can she submerge? And where is the Ogden going now?

STUFFLEBEEM: As I understand it, USS Ogden is staying on station. They have had a diesel leak in an underwater line diesel fuel tank. They're pumping that tank dry. By now I would suspect they probably have already done that. Divers have been over the side to assess the damage. They have abilities to effect repairs to just punctures of the skin. I think that their divers will determine whether or not they will need any additional work done. The submarine, as I understand it, is on the surface, and that's just as a precaution.

QUESTION: Admiral, can you please, in as much detail as you are able to at this point, tell us exactly what happened in that accident?

STUFFLEBEEM: We don't know very much. The two ships were getting together to facilitate the transfer of two crew members of Greenville for further transfer back home, based upon, I think, there were deaths in the family. To do that, between a submarine and a surface ship, the surface ship deploys a rigid, hull-inflatable boat to go over to the submarine and pick up these crew members and bring them back.

As I understand it, in the maneuvering to bring the ships into proximity to start to do this transfer was where they bumped. Starboard aft side of the USS Ogden to the diving plane or control plane of the port side of the USS Greenville. And so the two aft ends touched. No apparent damage to the submarine, but there are qualified divers to make that assessment there. That's all we know so far.

QUESTION: Was this in the dark or in daylight?

STUFFLEBEEM: Daylight. It happened, I believe, at 9:25 local in northern Arabian Sea time. So that would have been daylight.

QUESTION: What was the condition of the sea at the time, do you know?

STUFFLEBEEM: Don't know. That'll have to come out in the investigation. I just don't know.

Now, you can appreciate -- I mean, these two COs, these two commanding officers, would have agreed ahead of time as to how they would intend to rendezvous and what heading they would be, and the sea-state and winds all play a factor into that, as well as to other traditional ship driving expertise. And what went wrong, we don't know.

QUESTION: Do you think that some members of the Greenville crew were crew men at the time of trawler accident?

STUFFLEBEEM: No idea. I don't know.

QUESTION: Admiral Stufflebeem or Torie, understanding there's a sense of a question, can you tell us anything about whether the military has been asked by Pakistan to get involved in the search for Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter? Have you been asked? Is there anything that you could do to assist in trying to locate him and get him back?

CLARKE: Best I can do is direct your inquiries over to the Department of State.

QUESTION: Well, has the military been asked by Pakistan, the U.S. military's Central Command, which is running this operation, to get involved in this at all?

CLARKE: Not that I'm aware of.

STUFFLEBEEM: And not that I'm aware of either.

QUESTION: Can we revisit the raid from last week? That several reporters have been to the compounds that the U.S. attacked, and there is a very different story emerging on the ground than was the version of the story presented by the Defense Department.

First of all, do you have a clarified version of who it was that the U.S. was attacking last week? Do you have better clarity on that? Have you talked to the people who are incarceration? What would be a reasonable explanation for finding dead bodies with hands bound with plastic binders who are dead? Can we just revisit that? And what do you know today that you didn't know last week?

STUFFLEBEEM: I don't know anything different than the reports that I have been briefed on. So let me just briefly go back over that.

Hazar Kadam, as I pronounce it, a series of compounds, two compounds where we, the U.S., derived our intelligence over a period of time, this had the clear indications of being a legitimate military target based on the indicators that we had been observing over time. Without breaking any classification, I would say stolen U.N. vehicles had been seen moving in and out of this compound. Late at night, groups of vehicles had been driving in and out.

So there were clear indications that this was some sort of a meeting house of people who were doing something that does not look like a traditional village, and in fact had clear indicators of being something that was protected and guarded much like compounds we have seen where Taliban and Al Qaeda have gathered before.

STUFFLEBEEM: Due to the intelligence that was generated by observing this facility, the commander decided to put a force on the ground to basically go into this compound and find out who was there, what they may have been up to, and try to get some detainees. It was clearly not a case to bring in bombers and drop guided weapons and just level the place, as has been done in some cases in the past.

And so when the U.S. force was on the ground, when the compound was initially breached by U.S. Special Operating Forces, those forces were fired upon. And in defending themselves, there were -- I don't have the exact numbers -- I think there were 15 or 16 people who were killed, and the remainder were taken into custody, 27.

Those individuals are being interrogated now. I believe they're in Kandahar, but I'm not sure about that, but they are in U.S. detention, and they are being interrogated for who they are and what they were doing.

Now, we determined in the course of this raid that they had individuals whom they had in detention. Without knowing all the facts, because obviously I'm not that close to it, that tells me that there must have been somebody who had somebody else in their custody. That explains what we're talking about in terms of those bound and found dead.

It also was obviously an ammo dump. That's an American -- that's my term, an ammo dump. It was not a storehouse of weapons. These were caches of ammunition. And it was then, after these buildings were cleared -- i.e. those who were alive were taken into U.S. custody were and removed, and it was then that the AC-130 was called in to get rid of the ammo.

QUESTION: The locals, their version of this, is that at the instruction of the Karzai government, they were collecting ammunition and weapons from the area and stockpiling it in these compounds. There clearly was some tension between various factions in this local area about who would be in control of the ammunition and the weapons. Is that not a reasonable explanation for why there might be a large cache of ammunition and weapons?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, in the realm of possible, that could be an explanation for what this was and why it was there. But what it does not explain are the traditional Taliban and Al Qaeda modus operandi of moving in the groups of vehicles that they do, at the times that they did, and guarded in a way that it was. Nor does it explain why the U.S. forces were fired upon to the extent that they were.

As the chairman described, this was an intense fire-fight. Whomever had weapons used them.

QUESTION: Did the Americans arrive on the ground and attempt to communicate with the people inside? Or was it a fire-fight because a compound was being attacked, or seemingly being attacked by some outside force, that locals wouldn't know who it was, didn't understand the language? I mean, there's reasonable explanations for why local people might want to pull the trigger.

It was nighttime.

STUFFLEBEEM: It was nighttime. Our U.S. Special Operating forces, as they move -- under this case, the cover of darkness -- is, one, for a matter of security; and, two, for a matter of stealth and surprise. And they also bring an expertise in speaking a language.

Once the element of surprise is up -- i.e., you've announced yourself by having kicked in a door, for instance -- U.S. Special Operating forces are very directive in the language of the area to say, "This is who we are. This is what we're doing. This is what we want you to do."

Now, if the response that comes back is automatic weapons fire, you defend yourself.

CLARKE: I'd just add one thing to it. Some of the reporting I've seen on this in the last couple of days seems to be based on talking to some numbers of locals, and it seems to be a very small number of locals. Not to give the operational report here, but before we do something, especially something of this category, we will talk to the locals, more than one or two. We will observe the place, probably for some time. We'll have surveillance of all sorts of kind. And it's the combination of information and intel that leads us to take the kind of action we take.

QUESTION: What have the interrogations revealed about who these people in custody may be aligned with -- Taliban, Al Qaeda?

STUFFLEBEAM: Well, it's a fair question, but the truth is I don't know.

STUFFLEBEEM: I called and asked this morning of the people who are in control of this. They are still doing the interrogations. They didn't have anything that they could tell me differently than what they did a couple of days ago, which the indications are that these appear to be Taliban.

Now, that's initial indications, and, you know, we don't have the names of who they are, we don't know what they were doing. And you recall, on more than one occasion, for those we've interrogated, when you do it more than once, all of a sudden you may get a different name. And that may be because we don't understand nicknames or what name is used in this long string of ones or are they changing stories. And so it'll take a little bit of time to develop this and confirm...


QUESTION: Do any of those in custody support these versions given by some of the locals, that this was a weapons transfer station, that they were working on behalf of the new Afghanistan government?

STUFFLEBEEM: No. There have been no indications that support this assertion from other locals.

QUESTION: When General Myers first briefed us on this, if I'm not mistaken he said that you thought it was an Al Qaeda facility, and then once the operation went down found out it was Taliban. So, I mean, even that would suggest that there might have been some misunderstanding about what that place was. Am I jumping to a conclusion here?

STUFFLEBEEM: No, not what it was, but I would say that it just wasn't clear whom exactly we were dealing with. Was it Al Qaeda? Was it Taliban?

In the MO -- I keep using that term, I'm probably misapplying it, but that's my word -- in looking how we derived the intelligence and what we saw, this looked like it was an Al Qaeda or Taliban -- not to differentiate, they're indistinguishable. When these bad guys have been getting together, this is what it looked like. And oftentimes the Al Qaeda have gotten together with themselves to regroup, as has been sort of their ilk of late. But there also, in these previous times, were coordination between them.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up? There have been a number of these reports or speculation, I should say, where local groups are suspected of having fed bad information to the United States in order to further their own interests against some rival group. Given that background, what's your level of confidence in at least the human intelligence that you're getting surrounding these operations?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, let me just refer to General Franks' statement recently. In receiving reports of all kinds, we know there are times when we're getting bad information. There is no single report that will stand on its own. We're going to verify everything.

So we'll take all the reports, we'll work with all the local leaders, and then we'll use other means and methods to verify something before we take action.

QUESTION: Hamid Karzai is in town. Has anyone checked with him whether or not this compound was under orders from his government? Is there an intention to do so?

CLARKE: I don't know where he is.

CLARKE: I know there's a meeting at the White House at about 1:20, 1:30 this afternoon, and then he'll come over to meet with the secretary last afternoon.

QUESTION: Is there intention to do so, to get to the bottom of this, because wouldn't he be the final source on it?

CLARKE: I don't have a specific agenda on the meeting.

STUFFLEBEEM: Let me just say that I'm not exactly sure to what degree that there's a compelling need to get to the bottom of something. The central commander was confident in the intelligence derived as to what this appeared to be. He put a direct action group on the ground, which is a much more prudent way to develop more intelligence rather than just drop bombs on a facility.

It was clearly an uninhabited area or a lightly inhabited area, more rural than certainly village or city by any means, and when the Americans showed themselves, they were fired on. So I'm not sure what else there is to do.

Now, the fact that the local villagers may have made some claims and assertions, I think that the Karzai government will look into that and satisfy themselves. And if there's any U.S. participation in that, it'll be invited.

QUESTION: Admiral, switching to the raid at the Kandahar hospital, there were six Al Qaeda killed. Were they killed by friendly Afghan forces or were they killed by U.S. Special Forces?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, the Afghans led the raid. So they were the front force that attacked the wing and met headlong with those Al Qaeda members, who obviously did not intend to surrender. We assisted them. We supported them, but I think it's fair to say that because it was Afghan-led that the Afghans properly get the credit for having brought this to a conclusion. So in terms of how many rounds were fired, who fired them, and who might have killed whom, that's not being tracked. QUESTION: To go to the issue of the identity of the detainees, particularly the ones in Cuba, if you're not sure who they are, how could they have been characterized as the worst of the worst? What did you know about them that allowed you to make that characterization?

STUFFLEBEEM: Remember again, this is an extremely -- I'm using a strong adjective, sorry -- and that's an e-word too -- this is a fully vetted process. If this is an individual who previously was under Afghani control, then there is a level of interrogation and a level of confidence that is built by those who hold them. They are then offered to the Americans. If they were captured by the Americans outright, the same process works into it. It's going to be a series of interrogations.

I think I read this morning that in terms of the numbers of interrogations, we have more than 6,000.

Now, that's not individuals that you've interrogated, that's a relatively small number compared to the force you're looking for. But you're repeatedly rescreening and determining different levels, whom this individual is or what this individual has done.

So by the time it gets to a process where Afghanis have screened an individual, our folks at Bagram and at Kandahar would have screened them, the process continues to get a level of confidence that this individual was found or picked up in this location, they had previously been associated with involvement of these people, and these were the operations that they were known to be associated with.

Since being under detention, some have lied, some changed their stories, some have tried to attack our people. It would appear, as you had seen yesterday, that they are working to organize an organization down there, probably for no good. They've made death threats against all Americans and those including their captors.

So these are not unknowns in the sense that they are bad guys. These are the worst of the worst. And if let out on the street, they will go back to the proclivity of trying to kill Americans and others. So that is well-established.

The names of who they are, if you were to go ask an individual what his name is, he might tell you one and he tells us something different. We're cataloguing all the names, you know, for this particular detainee.

QUESTION: Has a date been set for the resumption of transfers? And do you tell the people when you're moving them that they're going to Cuba?

CLARKE: Date has not been set.

STUFFLEBEEM: And we do not tell them they're going to Cuba.

QUESTION: Going back to the Kandahar raid, could you explain why the decision was made to raid the hospital at this time? And also, the last assault began just shortly after they had their prayer, or noon day prayers or Islamic noon day prayers, does that cause any concern?

STUFFLEBEEM: Well, not to us, because, again, this was an Afghan-led operation. You know, it was the Kandahar province commander who has been trying to work a negotiated surrender of these individuals for almost two months.

You recall that initially there were eight people in this wing, two of whom tried to escape. One committed suicide, and I don't remember what happened to the eighth one. Of the six remaining, they had threatened anyone who would hear them that they'll kill themselves before being taken and what they wanted was their medical treatment.

And so, here they were hold up. And the Kandahar province commander, he made the determination that the chances for a negotiated surrender are over, it is time to forcibly remove them. Those individuals would determine the outcome of that. So if they wanted to start shooting and throwing grenades, that would sort of dictate how it would probably end.

QUESTION: Admiral and Torie, there are reports that approximately 100 of the 158 detainees at Guantanamo are Saudi nationals. First of all, can we confirm that?

And secondly, there's also a report that Saudi Arabia wants to bring some of those detainees back there to receive justice. Can we confirm that that might be a possibility? And some of the countries that want to bring them back, have we determined which ones we feel would be able to administer the type of justice that we seek and proper judicial justice, I should say?

CLARKE: I'd say, one, we don't have a breakout by country that we can share with you.

Two, one of the things we're working on in terms of the disposition of the detainees is those countries that we feel would handle them appropriately. Depending on the person, depending on the circumstances, that probably will happen. We have no desire to hold on to large numbers of detainees of any kind for any great length of time, but we want to make sure these people are not back out on the streets, back out on the roads doing what they've done.

I mean, never forget who these people are. They are part of organizations that plotted and planned for a long time to kill thousands and thousands of civilians on September 11. They are people who were involved in the Mazar-i-Sharif uprising, which resulted in a lot of deaths, including one of our guys. They are people who attacked their Pakistani handlers and killed people. They are people who since they have been in detention have vowed to kill more.

So just understanding the kinds of people we're dealing with, appreciating that we're going through a very thoughtful deliberative process to determine their disposition, then you can understand our concerns and our desires to make sure, as we work with other countries, what they may do with people from their country. And with that, I apologize. Admiral, it's all yours. You done too?

QUESTION: Admiral...

CLARKE: Can he go with me? Thank you.

STUFFLEBEEM: Thank you all.

HEMMER: All right, the briefing at Pentagon, four main topics. There is certainly the visit of Hamid Karzai in Washington. We saw the flag raising earlier today at the Afghan embassy in Washington. He will be at the White House with the president later this afternoon.

Three other topics to talk about. One a lot of talk about the raid north of Kandahar, about 60 miles north of Kandahar. The Pentagon now saying that was a Taliban hide-out. However, there has been some discrepancy, and some controversy. Locals -- Afghans in the area say that the people raided there were not Taliban. In fact, they were friendly to the new government. Still trying to sort to the facts on the ground there.

Also, the Kandahar hospital, you might have seen the exclusive videotape we brought to you. Ben Wedeman and his crew working in the town there. We now know that it was the Afghans who helped lead that raid, but we do know U.S. Special Forces were involved in the killing there of six al Qaeda fighters earlier today.

And certainly, still a sticking point, the detainees in Cuba. One interesting thing there, the detainees, we are told, are not informed that they are off to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. It was reported in Kandahar a few weeks ago when we were there, that many of the detainees simply had no idea where they were. Whether they were in Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or on a ship somewhere, and apparently that does continue. No detainees are told as to their whereabouts or where they might be going.




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