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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Defense Department Briefing

Aired April 3, 2002 - 12:31   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.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Of course, you want to stay right there because any moment now we are going to the Pentagon and/or the White House, for briefings there on many developments today.

Here they come: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Gen. Richard Myers, the chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of staff -- let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Myers has just taken me into a dining room where a large number of New York Yankees are eating lunch, and doing it with a lot of young men and women in uniform, to all of their great pleasure.

QUESTION: Did they get your autograph?

RUMSFELD: Charlie (ph). But I can tell you that Don Zimmer was among them, a former Chicago Cub coach.

QUESTION: I rubbed his head.

(LAUGHTER)

RUMSFELD: Is it good luck?

(LAUGHTER)

There's been some speculation on Abu Zabaida, and let me just be very precise so that some of the misinformation and misunderstanding that's sweeping the airways in the last 24 hours is put to rest.

We, the United States government, have made a conscious decision not to release his location, as a matter of security.

Second, the United States is providing him appropriate medical attention. We have every interest in seeing that he remains alive and has an opportunity to discuss a variety of things with us that conceivably could be helpful to the global war on terrorism.

Third, the United States is responsible for his detention, and any speculation to the contrary is inaccurate.

Next, I'd like to elaborate, modestly, on a point I made the other day to the effect that Saddam Hussein and the regime in Iraq are offering $10,000 per family if they're able to persuade a family to have their teenager strap explosives on them and go out and kill themselves and kill innocent men, women and children.

It turns out that he has raised that amount and it's $25,000 per family, not $10,000 per family.

Think of it. Here is an individual who is the head of a country, Iraq, who has proudly, publicly made a decision to go out and actively promote and finance human sacrifice for families that will have their youngsters kill innocent men, women and children. That is an example of what it is we're dealing with.

General Myers?

GENERAL RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Good afternoon.

As the secretary said, we had another opportunity, just a few minutes before arriving here, to talk about out men and women in uniform who represent our nation so proudly in the work against -- in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Interestingly, as the secretary said, the group that we were talking to also wears a distinctive uniform and also proudly represents New York. We were joined for lunch by Yankee manager Joe Torrey and several New York Yankee players.

They had a chance this morning to see the Pentagon's Ground Zero, and afterwards we talked about experiences and values our military shares with the famed Bronx bombers. We talked about how, with barely a pause, that our Pentagon family went back to work after the attack here, and how the Yankees, after a short spell to honor the missing and dead, also went back to work. We talked about how their commitment to excel represents our American spirit and our way of life, and how our men and women in uniform are also fighting for this way of life.

We talked about the need for a strong offense, at the plate in their case, as well as in our case on the global war on terrorism, and also a strong defense in the field or in the skies over our nation.

And we talked about our men and women in uniform, including a 10th Mountain Division soldier from New York who participated in Operation Anacdona. That soldier, as probably many of you read recently, explained how clearly he understood the reason he was fighting. It was so 9/11 could not happen again, for the protection of his loved ones in New York, for firefighters, for emergency workers, police, and co-workers who charged toward danger rather than yield to it in the effort to save others.

With such clarity and purpose, such common traits among members of our armed forces at work in the global war on terrorism, it's no wonder they remain so motivated, dedicated and enthusiastic.

Today, operations continue in Afghanistan, and our activities are focused on looking for remnants of Al Qaeda and Taliban and on exploiting sites where they may be found or where they may have been in the past.

We're employing a broad mix of forces to achieve this, ranging from small teams of special forces, to larger contingents of conventional forces, to elements representing our coalition partners, and of course Afghan military forces.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, how do you know that Saddam Hussein has raised the ante, as you say, from $10,000 to $25,000?

RUMSFELD: It is being said publicly.

QUESTION: How is this getting out? I mean, is he spreading leaflets? Is it by radio? Is it by word of mouth?

And to your knowledge, is this money being paid in cash or what?

RUMSFELD: He is pleased with his idea and is promoting it in the region. It is a matter of public record.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can I ask you to respond to complaints from private humanitarian aid groups about the practice of U.S. military personnel operating in humanitarian role, out of uniform; that they feel this adds to the risk for the civilian humanitarian workers, in Afghanistan I mean?

RUMSFELD: You know, it is a serious issue, and General Myers is addressing it and will comment in a moment.

I do think, however, it ought to be remembered that humanitarian workers have been driven out of Afghanistan during the Taliban and Al Qaeda rule. The people of Afghanistan were suffering, being deprived of food and medical care, and were being repressed by the government.

The only reason that humanitarian workers are today back in Afghanistan is because of the U.S. military. And I think it's important to get that into perspective.

And one of the great advantages of the fact that the Al Qaeda and the Taliban have been driven out of positions of power in that country is that, in fact, internally displaced people have been able to go home; roads have been opened; refugees are beginning to return; and humanitarian workers from all countries in the world are able to return.

It is also true that U.S. military people have delivered a great amount of food, have provided through their civil action and civil assistance programs a great deal of assistance themselves.

And I think that gives it a little texture and perspective, and possibly General Myers would like to comment on the technicalities of uniforms and not uniforms.

MYERS: Just a couple of comments to add to what the secretary said. That we do have a limited number of U.S. personnel that are working in remote areas in Afghanistan that are authorized to wear civilian clothing while they're doing their work, primarily for force- protection concerns; also sometimes just because of the nature of the work they're doing, because they're involved in civil affairs in those regions.

These civil affairs activities are legitimate and, as the secretary said, are often the means by which we provide a secure and stable and safe environment for other aid workers to work in.

Nevertheless, we have, and we have continued from the time that we started our work in Afghanistan, to review our policy on uniform wear. And as you can imagine, from the time in October when this conflict started to now, the nature of that conflict has changed, and therefore some of the wear of the uniform and the rules associated with that have changed as well.

And we're continuing to review that, and General Franks does that on a periodic basis. He will do that again and provide some input to the secretary on that.

QUESTION: Are you saying that you're considering changing that so that these people would operate in uniform rather than...

MYERS: No, I'm not saying that at all. I think there's some legitimate things that our people do where they don't necessarily have to be in uniform. As I said, it's mainly for force-protection concerns.

RUMSFELD: I would add that this problem, of course, is not unique to Afghanistan. I mean, for the sake of argument, transport yourself into the Philippines. What does a person there who's training on an island that is known to have a good many terrorists as part of the terrorist network that exists there -- he spends his day training and decides it's time now to go someplace and do something other than work. It's the end of the day. He wants to maybe go to an ATM machine someplace, or he wants to go somewhere else.

What ought that individual be required to do? Must that person be in uniform or not in uniform? Which is better from the standpoint of the community; which is better from the standpoint of the individual? Ought that individual to be armed -- visibly armed or not armed in off-duty periods?

And those are calculations and calibrations that have to be made, as General Myers indicated, by local commanders and discussed in a way that a balancing of the risks is taken into account.

QUESTION: In the Middle East, you and General Myers told us Monday that there were no plans at that time to send U.S. troops into the Middle East to perhaps provide a peacekeeping force or a buffer force between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Is that still true today?

And what about the force in the Sinai? Any thoughts about moving them up there to take over that kind of an action? RUMSFELD: My response yesterday was correct; it is still correct today. The force that exists in the Sinai is there for the purpose that it was originally put in for some 22 years ago. And there is no plan or intention whatsoever to move it.

QUESTION: And other forces, I mean, going into the...

RUMSFELD: As I said, my answer yesterday was exactly correct, and it is still correct. We have no such plans.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the Geneva funding conference for the Afghan national army, (inaudible) said yesterday that they expect to need an army of 200,000 to 250,000.

RUMSFELD: First of all, I don't think the conference is over. It may have just ended the second day, but I think it is apparently not a donors' conference. It is a planners' conference. And if I said donors' conference, as I may have earlier this week, I should correct that now to a confidence relating to funding for security purposes in the country, but it's more of a planning mechanism. It's not looking for an immediate answer in terms of dollars.

What was the second part of your question?

QUESTION: You know, just yapping.

(LAUGHTER)

RUMSFELD: No, you weren't.

QUESTION: I'd like to hear myself talk on C-SPAN later.

(LAUGHTER)

RUMSFELD: That's very funny.

(LAUGHTER)

I don't think it's complete, and when it is complete, I'm sure that they will come out of it with appropriate ideas as to how they should proceed, because there's no question but that money is going to be needed, not just for the Afghan army, but also for the border patrol and also probably for police.

The issue as to the size of that army I think depends on what one's talking about. Are they talking about simply the army, or are they talking about the army plus the border patrol plus police? And I know of no plans to have an Afghan national army of anything approximating the size that you've just mentioned.

QUESTION: Of the $45 million that you all talked about, about how long will that carry training...

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: It depends on what it's used for. It depends on if it goes for just the army or just the border patrol.

There are several things happening. The Germans are doing a fine job in training, I believe, border patrol...

MYERS: Police.

RUMSFELD: Or police group. There are some folks who are in the process or getting ready to train some border patrol. The U.S. has been assisting in training a relatively small number of people who conceivably could serve as a guard for the interim Afghan authority.

And then there are plans to do additional things thereafter. But there's a lot of good work going on by a number of countries.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you said earlier that Abu Zabaida is under U.S. control or the U.S. is controlling his detention. Can you help us understand what the priorities are with a prisoner like this? Is it to get intelligence from him first and to prosecute later. And if that becomes a difficulty, just focus on the intelligence gathering? Is that how you approach an individual like this?

RUMSFELD: There is no question but that the overriding important issue is intelligence gathering.

QUESTION: And is there a debate within this administration as to whether or not a third country might be a better recipient of this particular suspect?

RUMSFELD: There is no debate, and there is no plan to have -- let me rephrase it. There is no debate at all on anything relating to this individual that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: To hand him over to a third country?

RUMSFELD: On any aspect of this individual, I know of no debate within this administration.

QUESTION: OK. We'll play with the words then.

RUMSFELD: No, no, there's no playing with words. I don't believe there is a debate about any aspect of this individual's circumstance.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding that the United States will maintain control of this individual?

RUMSFELD: I could be wrong, but I thought I said that we are responsible for his detention and we intend to remain responsible for his detention. And that means exactly what it means: that we, the United States of America, are responsible for him.

QUESTION: And you don't plan to change that control?

RUMSFELD: We have no plans to change the issue as to whether or not we are responsible for him. QUESTION: When you say -- the wording here is confusing for me, at least -- responsible for his detention, does that mean the United States is holding (inaudible)?

RUMSFELD: It happens that we are. I used the word because it's conceivable that -- well, I have never been one to willy-nilly throw away options. I can't conceive of why we would not want to hold him. We currently are holding him. But I don't need to promise the world that we will hold him in perpetuity; therefore, I don't. Therefore, I selected a word that is exactly the word I wanted to use. It is exactly the right word. It conveys exactly the mean that I intended convey.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you said yesterday...

RUMSFELD: You're not going to belabor the same subject, are you?

QUESTION: Well, I am actually.

(LAUGHTER)

You said yesterday that you refuse to disclose his location for security reasons.

RUMSFELD: I still do.

QUESTION: OK. What detention facility could be more secure right now than Guantanamo Bay? And why wouldn't he be transferred to that site?

RUMSFELD: I have no desire to discuss the issue. We've made a good decision. It's the right decision. I've explained it in exactly the depth that is appropriate to explain it.

QUESTION: Why belabor this?

RUMSFELD: I'm not belaboring anything.

QUESTION: The point is, you brought up the...

RUMSFELD: You're belaboring it.

QUESTION: The reports indicate that you might, or the United States might transfer him to a third country because that third country might put electrodes on him or whatever might -- is that what you're saying here?

RUMSFELD: That is what I saw on television, and that is wrong and irresponsible. I saw a report that referred to a word I don't even want to use. And I don't even know if the person's in the room.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: Yes, I think you've got it, Charlie. And that's wrong, and it's not correct, and the implication of it is enormously unhelpful. And it struck me that coming down here and trying to set the record straight with the faint hope that it might not be belabored excessively would be appropriate. And believe me, reports to that effect are wrong, inaccurate, not happening and will not happen.

Now, is there anything else I could say that would add clarity to this?

QUESTION: Is it possible...

QUESTION: Will the U.S. military conduct the interrogations of Abu Zabaida?

RUMSFELD: I have no intention of getting into the subject of who's going to do what. I think I've said as much as is appropriate. He will be properly interrogated by proper people who know how to do those things.

QUESTION: And as a follow-up, could you expand...

RUMSFELD: And under our -- we will be responsible for that interrogation -- not we the Department of Defense, we the United States of America.

QUESTION: Can you expand a little bit on the hope of what you're trying to get out of him? I mean, it's obvious a little bit, but could you expand about what...

RUMSFELD: Hope springs eternal. I would hope that every single thing that this very senior Al Qaeda operative knows would ultimately come out of him.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: Of course not.

QUESTION: But you're not excluding the possibility, Mr. Secretary, that Abu Zabaida could, even if he's under the control of the U.S., could be detained and questioned in a third country other than Afghanistan -- or a fourth, other than Afghanistan, Pakistan or the United States.

RUMSFELD: I think I've answered that twice, and I see no reason why I should get into a series of hypotheticals which are not on the radar screen. They're not on the radar screen.

(CROSSTALK)

I'm not going to systematically rule out this, this, this, and this. I am saying we have him, he is under U.S. control at the present time. We are responsible for him. He is receiving medical care. And we intend to get every single thing out of him to try to prevent terrorist acts in the future.

And if any responsible government official who had any goal other than trying to stop additional terrorist acts -- here's a man who knows about additional terrorist acts. Here's a man who trained people to do this. And all this concern about that individual as opposed to concern about the terrorist acts that that individual has tried to commit, has in fact participated in, who has trained people to do it, and who has knowledge of additional people who are located around the world -- it seems to me that I've got it exactly right. I've got first things first, and anything else comes a clear tenth, eleventh or twelfth.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, may I follow up on that?

RUMSFELD: You may.

QUESTION: On the documents that were found last week, there are reports that among those documents show that Zabaida had been actively involved in planning future attacks on the U.S. Can you elaborate on any information now that you might have showing his involvement in some future attacks?

RUMSFELD: I've thought about that, and I can't imagine why it would be useful. I just -- there's no question but that when an individual is taken, the individual generally is taken, in this case lots of individuals were taken, not one but 50-plus. Along with them come their clothes and pocket litter and things they had when they were surprised. And all of that is in our custody, and all of that is being examined.

And we are going to do our best to protect the American people and people of other countries. And we're going to do it as skillfully and as rapidly and as thoroughly as we know how.

And I'm going to go way to the back of the room, because hope does spring eternal.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Could you talk about the significance of these recent raids in Pakistan being conducted so far from the border, what that tells you about Al Qaeda's movements?

RUMSFELD: Tells us nothing we didn't already know; that there are Al Qaeda in 40 or 50, 60 countries around the world. They tend to hide in safe houses, in caves, in tunnels, in different locations.

QUESTION: Do you believe that these people that were captured came from Afghanistan?

RUMSFELD: Oh, you know, there's 50 of them. I'm sure there were some we missed. Just being, you know, realistic, I'm sure some were out getting a cup of coffee someplace and we didn't get them. But they come from all over.

QUESTION: It doesn't tell you that Pakistan is a more porous and hospitable place for these people than you might have hoped?

RUMSFELD: Look, we're realistic. All one has to do is look at the border. Every single inch -- 360 degrees of Afghanistan's border is porous. It does not matter which country you're talking about. We've known that; we've said that; we've announced that to the world. We recognize it. These tribes have been moving back and forth across those borders for hundreds of years.

LIN: That is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

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