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Interview With Donald Rumsfeld

Aired March 23, 2003 - 11:32   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'd like to interview the defense secretary right now. He is joining us live from our Washington studio. Secretary Rumsfeld, thanks so much for joining us. I know this is an incredibly busy time for you, but let's get right to some of the immediate issues at hand. First of all, as you well know, within the past few moments, the Al Jazeera Arabic language television network has broadcast Iraqi television video of American POWs that they say are now in the hands of Iraqi officials. Some of them alive, others killed in action. What can you tell us about this?
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SEC.: There have been reports throughout the morning here in the East Coast to the effect that some U.S. soldiers were unaccounted for, whether the ones that are being shown on that particular station or not, that network, are those individuals, I'm not in a position to say.

We do know that the Geneva Convention makes it illegal for prisoners of war to be shown and pictured and humiliated. And it's something that the United States does not do. And needless to say, television networks that carry such pictures are, I would say, doing something that's unfortunate.

BLITZER: On the other hand, you could argue, some would make the case that at least their family members are seeing them, seeing them alive even if they're not in the best of condition, they could get some comfort from seeing these videotaped pictures.

RUMSFELD: You can make that argument, if you wish.

BLITZER: But what I hear you saying is that you're urging all worldwide news organizations, television networks not to broadcast these images of these American POWs?

RUMSFELD: What I'm saying is that it's a violation of the Geneva Convention for the Iraqis to be -- if, in fact, that's what's taking place, to be showing prisoners of war in a humiliating manner.

BLITZER: How many missing American military personnel are there right now?

RUMSFELD: The -- I can't answer your question right now. I know as of this morning it was a very small number.

BLITZER: Will this affect the course of the war, the fact that the Iraqis now have American POWs? RUMSFELD: Wolf, there have been prisoners taken in every war since the beginning of mankind. We treat our prisoners well. We have over 2,000 Iraqi prisoners of war at the present time. They're in POW camps that have been brought along. They're being fed. They're being provided medicine where it's appropriate and needed.

The course of this war is clear. The outcome is clear. The regime of Saddam Hussein is gone. It's over. It will not be there in a relatively reasonably predictable period of time. And the people in Iraq need to know that, that it will not be long before they will be liberated. The leadership and the military in Iraq needs to know that they should act with honor and stop defending a regime that is shortly going to be history.

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, this broadcast is being seen live around the world, including in Iraq. What is your message to those Iraqi government officials who now have control of these American prisoners?

RUMSFELD: That they treat those prisoners according to the Geneva Convention, just as we treat Iraqi prisoners according to the Geneva Convention. And further, I would say that they'd be well advised to put down their arms, follow the instructions that have been communicated, and act with honor and help liberate the Iraqi people from the vicious, repressive regime of Saddam Hussein. The outcome is clear.

BLITZER: When you say it's predictable, the outcome is clear, how much time do you think it will take for the U.S. and British forces to achieve their objective?

RUMSFELD: At the present time, there are U.S., British, Australian and Polish forces that are on the ground. There's some 46 nations that are publicly politically supporting this coalition effort. There is a broad and deep coalition that is being enormously helpful in this effort, and their forces are wonderful, fine young people, as well.

The time -- the time is going to depend on how much resistance there is, and the loss of life will depend on how much resistance there is. And our hope and our prayer is that this will end soon, with a minimal loss of life on the part of the Iraqis as well as the U.S. and coalition forces.

BLITZER: Are you talking days, weeks or months?

RUMSFELD: We will be at it until it's over, and I do not -- it's not possible to know. There are any number of things that could happen that would cause difficulties, that could delay things. But there is nothing that can happen that will change the ultimate outcome. The outcome is certain, and the armed forces of the Iraqi government should put down their arms, follow the instructions that they've been given and end any resistance at all, because it's futile.

BLITZER: The Iraqis claim to have shot down a coalition aircraft over Baghdad. There were pictures of Iraqi troops firing into the Tigris river. Have all U.S. and coalition aircraft returned safely to their bases and aircraft carriers?

RUMSFELD: There have been -- I know nothing about what you're saying that the Iraqis are saying about some river. There have been some aircraft that have not returned safely. One was a U.K. aircraft that was shot down by a Patriot battery, we believe, and that is being investigated. There were some helicopters that collided in mid-air over Kuwait and did not return safely. To my knowledge, no other aircraft are missing or unaccounted for.

BLITZER: There was a very disturbing incident, as you know, yesterday at Camp Pennsylvania here in Kuwait, involving apparently the suggestion is a U.S. soldier lobbed a grenade or more into a tent with officers and troops from the 101st Airborne Division. What can you tell us about that incident?

RUMSFELD: There is apparently an investigation that's under way at the present time, and an individual is the subject of that investigation. And that it has to run its course, and we'll find out precisely what took place.

BLITZER: Do you have anything you could tell us about the motivation, what may have caused this individual to act?

RUMSFELD: I have no idea.

BLITZER: And do you know if he was acting alone or in conspiracy with others?

RUMSFELD: The investigation will determine that, but I've heard no indication that there was any conspiracy.

BLITZER: We're getting reports now from some of our embedded journalists on the front lines suggesting that the Iraqis are placing so-called human shields at various military and other strategic targets as U.S. and coalition forces move up towards Baghdad. If that's the case, will that deter you from going after those targets?

RUMSFELD: I do not have information to that effect, although we've seen photographs indicating that the Iraqis have written on the tops of some buildings that there are human shields there. That also is a violation of international law. The Iraqis have a practice of violating international law and ignoring international conventions and treaties.

Wolf, the outcome of this is determined. It's certain. This conflict is going to end, and the regime of Saddam Hussein will be gone. And it will end sooner if people behave rationally and put down their weapons and stop resisting. It will end longer if they are foolish and get themselves killed because they refused to surrender and put down their arms, but the outcome is clear. We are not going to be deterred, at all.

BLITZER: Have U.S. and coalition forces encountered so far any evidence of Iraqi chemical or biological weapons, indeed, any weapons of mass destruction whatsoever? RUMSFELD: Wolf, the coalition forces have been on the ground for something about 72 hours. The number of forces in Iraq grows every hour. They are basically in the south, moving towards Baghdad. They're in the west, worried about the Scud baskets in that area and trying to avoid having any missiles, ballistic missiles fired at neighboring countries, and they're in the north, working with Kurdish forces, and a number of teams up there. The task is to remove this regime and then go about the task of looking for weapons of mass destruction. At the present time, they're focused on winning the war.

BLITZER: Has there been any evidence that any of the missiles or rockets that were fired by Iraqis, whether into Kuwait where I am right now or into southern Iraq or elsewhere, had anything other than conventional warheads?

RUMSFELD: Nothing that I've seen validated.

BLITZER: Is there any evidence that Iraqis have actually fired a Scud missile?

RUMSFELD: Not that I've seen.

BLITZER: That missile that went into Iran and hit an oil depot, was that fired by the Iraqis or as the Iranians and the Iraqis suggest by an errant perhaps cruise missile or other U.S. weapon?

RUMSFELD: The present speculation is that it was an Iraqi weapon, but it's possible that it wasn't, and that's the kind of thing that will have to be looked at, and the debris, the remnants of the weapon probably could be inspected and some determination made finally, but only after you have ground troops. Certainly if it was an errant weapon from a coalition force, it would have been an accident and totally unintended, but at least the preliminary estimate is that it's -- it was an Iraqi weapon.

BLITZER: What happens if the Iraqis, as the U.S. and coalition forces move closer towards Baghdad, Tikrit, which is the hometown of Saddam Hussein, what if the Iraqis do use chemical or biological weapons, radiological weapons against U.S. troops? How will the U.S. respond?

RUMSFELD: The coalition forces are trained and equipped to operate in that environment. There's no question but that if it's done, it will slow things down. There's no way it will change the outcome, and what is also certain is that anyone who is involved in following out an order to use weapons, chemical or biological weapons, will be hunted down and treated with accordingly.

The important thing to remember, Wolf, is that Saddam Hussein cannot use weapons of mass destruction himself. He can give the order. But someone is going to have to carry out that order, and numbers of people are going to have to carry out that order, and those people are being told in no uncertain terms that they must not do that. If they follow those orders, they will be tracked down and punished. BLITZER: By all accounts, Mr. Secretary, the big battles are still coming. The notion that it was supposedly relatively easy in the south where the Shia are dominant, as you get closer to Baghdad, Tikrit, the Republican Guard, the Special Republican Guard, the defenses, the resistance might be more intense. Are you expecting heavy resistance from these so-called elite Republican Guard units?

RUMSFELD: It's a distinct possibility. The Republican Guard units and the special operators have been pulling back towards the Baghdad/Tikrit area for a period of some weeks. We have been in touch with some of them. There is at least the prospect that some of them will surrender and assist us. There's also the prospect that the resistance will get a good deal more difficult, and that the progress will be slower.

We've been in the country just for 72 hours, and the forces are moving towards Baghdad, and thus far, the air war and the ground war have gone along in an excellent manner.

BLITZER: How far precisely, if you can tell us, are the troops from Baghdad, the outskirts of Baghdad?

RUMSFELD: Well, they're moving along ahead of plan. Let me leave it there. We have smaller elements in various places, and then we have main elements that are moving up towards -- from the south in the direction of Baghdad, but I don't want to give particulars as to exactly where they are.

BLITZER: Is, as far as you know, Saddam Hussein alive?

RUMSFELD: We have to assume he is. There's no question but that there were senior Iraqi regime leadership in the compound, which we attacked several nights ago, and the intelligence reports suggest that the attacks were successful in terms of hitting targets. What is not knowable from the air or from long distance is precisely who was where in that compound at any given moment when the weapons actually struck. But we are optimistic that we have effectively hit a regime command and control target, and time will tell who was in it.

BLITZER: Is there any evidence Saddam Hussein was injured in that specific attack on the first night of the war?

RUMSFELD: You know, the word evidence is a hard one. The standard of evidence that people hold others to varies depending if you're in a court of law or in a war. And in a war, the kind of evidence that people are thinking about doesn't exist, for the most part. You just don't get ground truth instantaneously in situations like that. We have reports from people who suggest that they were eyewitnesses to certain things, but we can't go out and double check them, and you can't talk to other people who had a different perspective, and, therefore, it's not possible to know of certain knowledge precisely what took place.

BLITZER: Is he, though, in control, as far as you can tell, of his military and of the regime? RUMSFELD: Well, we'll know more the closer we get to Baghdad and Tikrit, one would think. But we hear reports that there seems to be some disarray in the Iraqi leadership, that is -- by -- that's speculation. I would call it speculation. It's surmise. It's hard to say precisely. In these kinds of situations, we could be being tricked in some way.

So these things will unfold. What we do know is that the outcome is certain, that if people want to save lives, they should surrender. We're telling them in multiple ways through leaflets, through the radio, through television, through direct communication by telephone how they can avoid being killed and how they can help their country and liberate their people, and they'd best do that, because it will just take us longer, but it will still happen.

BLITZER: Could you tell us what the line of communication is between the U.S. and the Republican Guard in trying to encourage them to surrender?

RUMSFELD: It varies from unit to unit, and it tends to be in a variety of different ways, and I don't know that I'd want to get into the details.

BLITZER: But you can tell us it's ongoing, it's continuing right now?

RUMSFELD: That's correct. On a unit level.

BLITZER: Are you upbeat -- are you -- on a unit-to-unit level meaning U.S. military personnel or intelligence community personnel?

RUMSFELD: It varies, but it is at the unit level. It is not at a senior Iraqi armed services or regime level. There aren't any kind of negotiations going on at the very top level. The discussions that take place relate to specific units, and we've had good success in a number of units surrendering, and that's made a lot of sense. People's lives have been saved.

BLITZER: There was a report here in the Gulf suggesting three top Iraqi leaders may have been killed in that initial air strike, Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister, Ali Al Majeed, so-called Chemical Ali, and Izzat Ibrahim. Do you have evidence that any of those three may have been killed in that initial air strike?

RUMSFELD: No, I don't.

BLITZER: Let's move on and talk about the air strikes. As you know, they're meeting with widespread criticism. The pictures that were seen around the world showed huge explosions in Baghdad, and the air strikes, of course, continue. How can you be so sure that innocent civilians are not dying in those air strikes?

RUMSFELD: Wolf, I saw some of those images that were carried on television around the world, and no one could watch them and not just feel your heart break that people can be killed and that there can be some unintended loss of life. The fact, however, is that there was not an attack on Baghdad. There was an attack on the Iraqi regime, and it was as precise as ever before in the history of warfare. The care that went into the targeting is just breathtaking, and it is -- and the battle damage assessments and the people from the ground that we talked to are telling us that very -- to a great extent in Baghdad, people are going about their business, because they are so impressed with the precision of those targeting and those bombs and those attacks, that they feel that the coalition forces are doing it in the best possible way.

It looks like it's a bombing of a city, but it isn't. It is a bombing of military targets, very precisely, and regime targets, and the television image is belied by what's seen on the ground.

BLITZER: But we've spoken to journalists, Mr. Secretary, who were there, who heard the explosions, the thunder, they said the earth basically shook for them, they said it was a terrifying experience. There are some five million people who probably were terrified during that ordeal and continue to be terrified right know. The question is this, is this the way to win over the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people?

RUMSFELD: Wolf, the Iraqi people are hostages to a vicious regime. They will be liberated. It's going to happen. The only way to do it, they tried diplomacy for 13 years. They tried economic sanctions. Neither worked. They tried limited military applications in the northern and southern no-fly zones. That didn't work. They tried 17 U.N. resolutions. President Bush went one extra step and provided 48 hours for the Iraqi regime to leave the country and leave it without a conflict. Every single effort was rebutted, rejected.

Now, that leaves only one course. You say, is there any way to do it without conflict? No, everything else was tried. And the Iraqi people are going to end up liberated. The ones that have been liberated in the southern part of this country are grateful and appreciative, and that will be the case as Baghdad is liberated.

BLITZER: But there are plenty of people out there, counterterrorism experts, who have already expressed fear that the images of this bombing, the Shock and Awe campaign, will merely ferment terrorism, create new recruits for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to go after American targets.

RUMSFELD: Wolf, I know there's lots of so-called experts opining on this and that. The fact is that the terrorists did not need any provocation. They attacked the United States of America on September 11, viciously killed 3,000 innocent men, women and children of every religion, of every nationality across the globe. That was not a response to an attack on Baghdad. It was an unprovoked attack.

They are raising money, they are training people. We stopped them in Afghanistan. We tore up their terrorist training camps. We drove them out of that country, and in that country now there's a government that's representative of the Afghan people. And that is what's going to happen in Iraq. And the idea that -- that this is provocative is wrong. Weakness is provocative. It entices people to do things they otherwise wouldn't do, and war is everybody's last choice. No rational person wants war. President Bush doesn't. The American people don't.

BLITZER: General Myers said the other day that the war was moving on all fronts in the south, in the west and in the northern part of Iraq. Let's go through a few specific details. In the south, I assume Umm Qasr, the key port in the south, has been captured and secure. What about Basra and Nasiriyah?

RUMSFELD: I don't use the word secure, and the reason I don't on the port is because nothing's perfect. There's no question but that the coalition forces have occupied the port area. They're now in the process of taking mines out of the waters so that humanitarian assistance and medical supplies and food can come in through that port.

But I suspect that there will continue to be sporadic firefights from some dead-enders who don't want to give up, so I think that secure is probably somewhat of an overstatement.

Basra is the same situation. The forces that moved in from the south. Most of the resistance has ended in the Basra area, but there will, I would suspect, continue to be some dead-enders who will continue to fire at coalition forces.

The oil wells in the south have been secured, quote/unquote, but there again, there could be some untidiness as we go forward. And British forces are now occupying the bulk of those -- that area where the oil wells are, and it's important that they be saved for the Iraqi people. There are about 10 wells that are burning, and we have people coming in in the next 48 hours who will begin to put those fires out.

As forces move north, there will be conflict and firefights, but we won't know whether the resistance, once we get closer to Baghdad, will be different from what we've experienced in the south, but I think it's reasonable to expect that it might be much more fierce.

BLITZER: And in Nasiriyah, is that yet under coalition control?

RUMSFELD: The forces are clearly in that area, and I'll leave it to General Franks and his terrific team of people to characterize the progress that's being made by coalition forces.

BLITZER: Let's talk about western Iraq for a moment. Can people in Israel sleep easier tonight because U.S. forces are in control of that so-called H-2 and H-3 airfield from which so many Scuds, 39 Scuds, to be specific, were launched against Israel during the first Gulf War?

RUMSFELD: Well, there's no question but that that is the area where the ballistic missiles were launched last time, and they put at risk neighboring countries as well as Israel. We have a lot of special operators ranging across that generally vacant area, unpopulated area, and we feel pretty good about the fact that we've covered a lot of that ground. I wouldn't want to say that it's absolutely certain that something couldn't be fired from that area, but given the overhead control we have, the air superiority, indeed, air dominance in that part of the country and the number of people on the ground, I think that we can feel much better today than yesterday or the day before with respect to that issue.

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, I know your time is limited. Before I let you go, very briefly on the north. Turkey, there are conflicting reports whether Turkish forces have, indeed, moved across the line into northern Iraq or not. Have Turkish forces gone into northern Iraq, and does the United States want them to be there?

RUMSFELD: I've been hearing reports from the press almost every four hours for the past three or four or five days reporting or alleging or speculating that Turkish forces have moved into northern Iraq in force. I can say two things about that, we have no intelligence evidence that suggests that's true. Second, the Turkish forces tell us repeatedly that it is not true.

I believe them. In the event that we find that not to be the case, why, obviously that would be unfortunate.

BLITZER: Are U.S. warplanes flying over Turkish airspace now as they go on bombing runs towards Iraq?

RUMSFELD: U.S. coalition aircraft are flying over all of Iraq. There's no question about it. They're covering every inch of that country.

BLITZER: And the Shock and Awe campaign is going to continue for how long?

RUMSFELD: The ground attack and the air attack is going to continue with precision and care until the Iraqi regime is removed, and we have been able to find and dismantle their weapon-producing capabilities.

BLITZER: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, thanks very much for joining us.

RUMSFELD: Thank you.


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