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DoD News Briefing -- Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers (Also participating: General Richard Myers, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff)
Rumsfeld: Good afternoon. The United States, as I have said, strongly supports the Geneva Convention. Indeed, because of the importance of the safety and security of our forces, and because our application of the convention in this situation might very well set legal precedence that could affect future conflicts, prudence dictated that the U.S. government take care in determining the status of Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees in this conflict.
The president has, as you know, now determined that the Geneva Convention does apply to the conflict with the Taliban in Afghanistan. It does not apply to the conflict with al Qaeda, whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere. He also determined that under the Geneva Convention, Taliban detainees do not meet the criteria for prisoner of war status.
When the Geneva Convention was signed in the mid-20th century, it was crafted by sovereign states to deal with conflicts between sovereign states. Today the war on terrorism, in which our country was attacked by and is defending itself against terrorist networks that operate in dozens of countries, was not contemplated by the framers of the convention.
From the beginning, the United States armed forces have treated all detainees, both Taliban and al Qaeda, humanely. They are doing so today, and they will do so in the future. Last month I issued an order to our military, which has been reaffirmed by the president, that all detainees -- Taliban and al Qaeda alike, will be treated humanely and in a manner that's consistent with the principles of the Geneva Convention.
As the president decided, the conflict with Taliban is determined to fall under the Geneva Convention because Afghanistan is a state party to the Geneva Convention. Al Qaeda, as a non-state, terrorist network, is not. Indeed, through its actions, al Qaeda has demonstrated contempt for the principles of the Geneva Convention. The determination that Taliban detainees do not qualify as prisoners of war under the convention was because they failed to meet the criteria for POW status.
A central purpose of the Geneva Convention was to protect innocent civilians by distinguishing very clearly between combatants and non-combatants. This is why the convention requires soldiers to wear uniforms that distinguish them from the civilian population. The Taliban did not wear distinctive signs, insignias, symbols or uniforms. To the contrary, far from seeking to distinguish themselves from the civilian population of Afghanistan, they sought to blend in with civilian non-combatants, hiding in mosques and populated areas. They were not organized in military units, as such, with identifiable chains of command; indeed, al Qaeda forces made up portions of their forces.
What will be the impact of these decisions on the circumstances of the Taliban and al Qaeda detainees? And the answer, in a word, is none. There will be no impact from these decisions on their treatment. The United States government will continue to treat them humanely, as we have in the past, as we are now, and in keeping with the principles of the Geneva Convention. They will continue to receive three appropriate meals a day, medical care, clothing, showers, visits from chaplains, Muslim chaplains, as appropriate, and the opportunity to worship freely. We will continue to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit each detainee privately, a right that's normally only accorded to individuals who qualify as prisoners of war under the convention.
In short, we will continue to treat them consistent with the principles of fairness, freedom and justice that our nation was founded on, the principles that they obviously abhor and which they sought to attack and destroy. Notwithstanding the isolated pockets of international hyperventilation, we do not treat detainees in any manner other than a manner that is humane.
Myers: Well, thank you, Mr. Secretary, and good afternoon.
I'd like to give you an update on current operations. As of just a few hours ago, we do have military personnel on the ground in the Zhawar Kili area. You may remember this was the area at the beginning of the week where we had a strike. There are over 50 personnel involved in this operation, and of course, their mission is to exploit any intelligence that can be gathered at the site.
To answer what might be the first question, no, we don't have any reports yet from the ground. This is due to the fact that it's nighttime there. That's when they were inserted. And they're going to wait 'til first light to begin their sweep.
Yesterday we received 28 additional detainees in Guantanamo Bay, and we now have a total of 186 detainees in Cuba. We hold an additional 271 detainees in Afghanistan.
And with that, we're happy to take your questions.
Question: Mr. Secretary, how do you respond to criticism from people who say that the reason you won't call these detainees prisoners of war is because, as prisoners of war, they might be tried by military courts martial, where their rights would be much more carefully spelled out, as opposed to possible tribunals, which the president has authorized?
Rumsfeld: Well, I'll respond factually, by saying that that's not correct. Those issues have never been discussed, nor have they ever been any part of the consideration in the determination. The considerations have been continuously, as they've been discussed by the lawyers, issues as to precedent, what is the right thing to do, what is consistent with the conventions, and what establishes a precedent that is appropriate for the future. We could try them any number of ways. And that has not been a factor at all.
The convention created rules to make soldiers distinguish themselves from civilians, and the reason for that was so that civilians would not be unduly endangered by war. The convention created, in effect, an incentive system, and it was an extremely important part of the conventions, that soldiers who play by the rules get the privileges of prisoner-of-war status. To give a POW status to people who did not respect the rules clearly would undermine the conventions' incentive system and would have the non-intuitive effect of increasing the danger to civilians in other conflicts.
Question: Mr. Secretary, can I ask you a question about Guantanamo Bay?
Question: Are you considering any limitations, new limitations or an outright ban on TV or photo coverage of Camp X-ray?
Rumsfeld: Am I currently considering anything like that? I don't know that we are. I must say, I have found the misrepresentation of those photos to be egregious, notwithstanding the fact that we had a caption under that, I'm told, from the outset.
Question: You're talking about the original photo?
Rumsfeld: The original photo. And it has -- those people were there in the circumstance when they came out of the airplane, off the bus, off the ferry, off the bus, into that area. They were in there somewhere between 10 and 60 or 80 minutes at the maximum as they were taken individually and processed in a tent right nearby, where they were met, data gathered, and then they were placed in individual cells.
The newspaper headlines that yelled, "Torture! What's next? Electrodes?" and all of this rubbish was so inexcusable that it does make one wonder, as I said to Jamie, why we put out any photographs, if that's the way they're going to be treated, so irresponsibly.
Jamie's contention was we should put out more photos with captions. I'm not sure -- I almost always agree with Jamie, but in this case I'm not quite sure. One thought that someone has suggested, I don't know if it's still under consideration, is that we release photos but with a mandatory caption, that the caption we supply be used if someone wants to use the picture. But I haven't thought about that. I don't know if that's a good idea or a bad idea.
Question: It's a bad idea.
Rumsfeld: It's a bad idea? (Laughter.)
Question: Now you're talking about official photographs.
Question: I'm asking you about independent news organizations' coverage by photo or TV. Is there any?
Rumsfeld: Well, as you know, there is a -- there are -- I'm not going to say there are not rules, but there are certainly patterns and practices that have evolved since the Geneva Convention where it is frowned upon to allow photos that could be seen as being embarrassing or there's a couple other words they use, invasive of their privacy, what?
Victoria Clarke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs: Curiosity -- holding them up for public --
Rumsfeld: Holding them up for public curiosity. So we have to be careful about photographs that are taken.
Question: But the answer to my original question was no, you're not considering any new kind of restriction or --
Rumsfeld: Am I personally?
Question: Well, the department, you --
Rumsfeld: I have no idea about the department. We'll check with Torie. She might very well be.
(Cross talk.) Right here. Yes?
Question: Can you explain -- I know the administration has said that the Taliban do not qualify for POW status because of these four criteria -- (inaudible) -- uniforms, special insignia --
Question: -- and yet there's another part of that that says the armed forces of any party in the conflict should qualify as a POW. Why would you not put the Taliban under that category, which does not have those four criteria?
Rumsfeld: Well, the president has said the Taliban does apply -- the convention does apply to the Taliban.
Question: It applies to the Taliban -- but not POW status.
Rumsfeld: Well, that's a different set of criteria for that.
Question: Exactly, and that's what I'm saying. The second criteria -- you have four criteria, and it's outside --
Rumsfeld: For POW status.
Question: For POW status. But one also says you --
Rumsfeld: One what?
Question: One of the articles says that you qualify for POW status if you are a member of the armed forces of a party in conflict. Why does the Taliban not qualify as POW under that? Why have you put them in this separate category, where they would be militia?
Rumsfeld: I think you're -- I may not be following the question, but I think we're mixing apples and oranges.
Question: The four criteria for militias --
Question: The four criteria are for militias. So the administration --
Rumsfeld: They're -- no. Well, the four criteria are as to whether or not they're POWs.
Question: But there is another category that says they qualify for POW status if they are a member of the armed forces of the party to a conflict. I don't want to get in these big legal issues --
Rumsfeld: Yeah, because I'm not a lawyer, and --
Question: -- but that's written exactly above the militia, where the four --
Rumsfeld: We'll ask the lawyers. This was a decision not made by me, not made by the Department of the Defense. It was made by the lawyers and by the president of the United States. And we'll --
Question: But would you say the Taliban is the armed forces of that country?
Rumsfeld: We will take your question and see if the lawyers that made the decision would like to address it.
Question: Could you please provide some more detail for us about this attack on Monday -- why it occurred, who were the suspected targets, how it occurred? And also, among these 50-plus Army personnel who have arrived there today, does that include any forensics teams?
Myers: First of all, the teams that are going in there are prepared to gather whatever kind of intelligence they come across. So whether the forensics teams are with them or whether they're trained to gather the evidence and take it back to a team, I can't tell you. But I think they have -- they're aware that there may not be a lot of evidence. They may have to gather small evidence and bring it back and see if it could be evaluated.
On terms of the target itself, it was developed over a period of hours. I would say several sources of intelligence fed into that. There were lots of discussions among Central Command and other folks on the target, and it was concluded that it was a valid target and it was struck.
Question: Could you -- what does a "valid target" mean? I mean, a valid target how? Were they considered to be senior al Qaeda leaders, as has been reported?
Myers: I think all we better say right now, until we gather the evidence -- because again, this is -- we had nobody on the ground close by when this occurred, I think we better wait for this team to do their work and tell us. But -- well, let's just leave it at that.
Rumsfeld: Yes? Right here. Thelma?
Question: A Geneva question.
Rumsfeld: Right here.
Question: In Geneva --
Question: No, there were not SUVs?
Myers: There was one truck at the scene, as I understand it.
Question: One truck. Not an SUV?
Rumsfeld: Here we go.
Question: In Geneva -- back to Cuba for a second. In Geneva, a spokesman for the International Red Cross is saying that the decision falls short because the International Red Cross says that all al Qaeda or Taliban are POWs unless a competent tribunal decides otherwise. What would be your reaction to that?
And also, you didn't mention how this decision would affect them legally, such as their access to legal counsel, the way they're interrogated. Two angles to that, first the International Red Cross.
Rumsfeld: With respect to the second part of the question, I'm told it doesn't affect their legal status at all, nor does it affect how they'd be treated. And -- that is to say, it does not affect their status from the way they have been being handled prior to the decision by the White House or now. There's no change either -- to my knowledge -- in their status or how they'll be treated.
Question: Or answer questions like -- they may not give any more than their name, rank, serial number? Does it affect how they're interrogated?
Rumsfeld: That, I believe, applies to a prisoner of war, under the Geneva Convention.
With respect to the International Committee of the Red Cross, my guess is that if they have lawyers who encourage them to say what they say, that very likely the lawyers that came to the opposite conclusion will have something to say about what they said. And that's the way the world works. These kinds of things -- if we begin with the truth, and that is that it's not affecting how they're being treated, and then take this whole issue and say that it really revolves around a discussion between lawyers as to precedents for the future, it seems to me that it's appropriate to let the lawyers discuss those things. The announcement was made by the White House -- Ari Fleischer -- and I suppose that the answers to those kinds of legal questions should come from Ari Fleischer as well.
Question: Have you made any progress that you can share with us in deciding the next step? In other words, will these people be sent to commissions, to tribunals, to the civilian justice system, back to their countries? Have you made any progress in any of that?
Rumsfeld: Sure. Sure. Sure. We are interviewing them. They've -- I forgot what the number is, but it's something like, if there were 158 down there prior to the latest [look], I think something like 105 of those have been interrogated and met with, and the intelligence information is being gathered from them. The question as to whether any of them will be subject to the presidential military order for a military commission, some people call it tribunal, but commission I think is in the order, the answer is that's up to the president. He decides whom -- which among these people -- he would want to put into the category, and he has not made any decision with respect to anyone being dealt with in that manner.
Question: But I believe you were working on a plan here at the Defense Department on what the standards were for how these people would be sorted out and treated.
Rumsfeld: We have been, you're right.
Question: Is there anything you could share with us about any progress you've made in those decisions?
Rumsfeld: Except to say we've made a lot of progress, we've cleared away a lot of underbrush, we have four or five things that I think we're reasonably well settled on that we would use. And there, obviously, has to be then discretion -- a degree of discretion -- left to the individual commissions as to how they deal with a variety of different issues.
Question: Mr. Secretary, the Geneva Conventions of course cover many other things besides prisoners of war. They govern, for example, what's a legitimate target, what's not a legitimate target. As U.S. military operations go forward against al Qaeda in the future, will those operations be governed by any or bounded by any international legal constraints at all?
Rumsfeld: Well, I guess the phrase is, "In accordance with the laws and customs of war, that's how the men and women in the armed services are trained. That's how they conduct themselves" -- I think is the appropriate answer.
Question: Because it's your own will to conduct that way. But you don't see any laws that actually would apply to U.S. military operations against al Qaeda, I mean international laws of war that would apply to military operations against al Qaeda?
Rumsfeld: We've not noted that the al Qaeda have adhered to any international laws of war or customs. The United States does, has and will. That is how every single man and woman in the United States armed forces is trained, and they understand that.
Question: Whether it's obligated to or not?
Rumsfeld: I beg your pardon?
Question: Whether it's obligated to or not?
Rumsfeld: Yeah. I mean, we have said that as a matter of policy, that's the way we behave, that's the way we will handle people, that's the way we will function, and have been.
Question: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned one of the principles from the Geneva Convention that soldiers should be distinguishable from civilian populations. But isn't it true that you have Special Forces in Afghanistan have grown beards, they're not wearing insignia uniform? And how would you feel if a member of the U.S. Special Forces -- God forbid -- were captured in Afghanistan, but were treated humanely, would you object if they were not given prisoner of war status?
Rumsfeld: The short answer is that U.S. Special Forces -- I don't know that there's any law against growing a beard. I mean, that's kind of a strange question.
Question: Yeah, what about not wearing insignia --
Rumsfeld: What's wrong with growing a beard?
Question: Well, not wearing insignia, not --
Rumsfeld: Wait! Wait! Wait! You asked it, I'll answer it. They do wear insignia, they do wear uniforms. Those photographs you saw of U.S. Special Forces on horseback, they were in the official uniform of the United States Army, and they wear insignia and they do carry their weapons openly, and they do behave as soldiers. That's the way they're taught, that's what they do. They may have a beard, they may put a scarf over their head if there's a stand storm, but there's no rule against that.
They certainly deserve all of the rights and privileges that would accrue to somebody who is obeying the laws and customs of war. And they carry a card. You've probably got one in your pocket right now, of their Geneva Convention circumstance.
Myers: Yeah, the ID they carry are Geneva Convention cards. I mean, that's the standard.
Rumsfeld: And they all have that.
Question: Mr. Secretary --
Question: Can I follow up on that?
Question: Can you say how many of the detainees are al Qaeda, how many are Taliban?
Rumsfeld: I don't know. I've looked at several of the forms that are being used to begin to accumulate the data. They have photographs, they have identifying features. Then they have the information that the individual has given us, that is to say their nationality, roughly when they were born, what languages they speak so you can talk to them, and a whole series of things like that. Whether they say they're al Qaeda, whether they say they were Taliban, what units -- activities they were doing, where they were trained -- those types of things. There's a form that they fill out that's the preliminary information. Whether it's true or not -- there's a lot of them who don't tell quite the truth.
Question: But haven't they been screened at this point?
Let's -- you want to go through the screening process. Let's ... it might be useful.
Someone who is detained -- and they may be detained by Afghan forces, Pakistani forces, U.S. forces -- a sort is then taking place. The ones that we have, they will be interviewed by a team of people, three or four or five people -- sometimes Department of Justice, sometimes Army, mixture of Army, sometimes CIA, sometimes whatever. And they're met with, and they're talked to, and they're interviewed. And a preliminary discussion takes place and a preliminary decision is made.
In some cases, they just let them go. They're foot soldiers, and they -- they're going to go back into their village, and they're not going to bother anybody. In some cases, they're al Qaeda, senior al Qaeda, in which case they're treated in a totally different way, in a very careful way. In some cases, it's unclear, and they then are sent someplace, if we have custody of them, and they will go either to Bagram or they'll go to Kandahar. In one or two cases, they've gone to a ship for medical treatment. And then, in some cases, they end up at Guantanamo Bay.
If the Afghans hold them, they'll tell us what they've got, what they think they've got. And as we have time, we then send these teams in and do the same kind of a screening and make a judgment. Same thing with the Pakistanis when they have clusters of them.
There are, you know, 3(,000) or 4(,000), 5(,000), 6(,000), thousands of these people. We have relatively few that we have taken and retained custody over.
Question: But have you determined the -- of the ones that you do have, have you determined their status individually, on an individual?
Rumsfeld: Yes, indeed, individually.
Question: So you know which are al Qaeda and which are Taliban?
Rumsfeld: "Determined" is a tough word. We have determined as much as one can determine when you're dealing with people who may or may not tell the truth.
Rumsfeld: So yes, we've done the best we can.
Question: So there's no need for status tribunals to decide who's Taliban and who's al Qaeda?
Rumsfeld: My understanding is that when there's -- when doubt is raised about it -- a process then is a more elaborate one, where they then are brought back into discussion and interrogation, and other people will ask about them. Well, we will ask other people in the mix who these people are and try to determine what the story is. But -- and now, once they've gone through one or two sorts like that and they're determined to be people we very likely will want to have a longer time to interrogate and want to get out of the imperfect circumstance they're in -- they may be in -- that the Pakistanis would like to get rid of them or the Afghans would like to get rid of them, or there's not enough room in Kandahar -- we take them to Guantanamo Bay as soon as the cells are made fast enough.
And there they will go through a longer process of interrogation.
Question: General Myers, what were the assets involved in the strike on Zhawar Kili? And were there casualties that were garnered -- or gathered from subsequent intelligence? And also, are the U.S. troops accompanied by Afghan soldiers? And if I may, to add one more on there, was this believed to have been a strike on Osama bin Laden? I mean, I think that's what everybody seems to be wanting to get to. Was he believed to be at this place at that time?
Myers: The strike was on some individuals. Who, has yet to be determined. And that's what they're in there gathering the intelligence on. It was from a Predator. And as far as I know, to answer, I think, the second part of your question, there are -- I don't believe -- let me check. I do not know if there are Afghan forces with them. I don't know the answer to that.
Question: Can you address the question of why there was not a U.S. -- I gather it's a non-U.S. military Predator, and therefore -- and the question is, why would there not have been a U.S. military asset in that area, I mean if this was intelligence gathered over hours?
Myers: That gets into the tactics and the techniques, and I'm just not going to go into it.
Question: Mr. Secretary, a couple of points, since you invoked my name.
Rumsfeld: It's complimentary, though.
Question: One, I would just point out that the -- while the caption to this picture does indicate that these people are in a holding area, it doesn't provide the context that you provided immediately after its release and again today. Two, while some of the press coverage might have been, in your words, misinformed or misleading, that wasn't universally the case.
Rumsfeld: No, of course not.
Question: And some of the most egregious ...
Rumsfeld: Isolated pockets, I said.
Question: Most of the most egregious coverage, like the headline you cited, was from a foreign paper.
Question: Not a U.S. paper.
Rumsfeld: Exactly right.
Question: And, that said, I want to ask my question.
Rumsfeld: Yes. I agree with everything you've said again.
Question: I have a question for ...
Question: Is there any ...
Question: I know you don't know who was killed in the strike on Monday, but is there any evidence that would suggest that Osama bin Laden might have been among those killed?
Rumsfeld: We just simply have no idea.
Question: Have you ruled out that possibility?
Rumsfeld: We have not ruled in or out anything. If you lack knowledge, you don't do either. You don't tell left or right or rule out, rule in. You just say you do not know the answer.
Question: And on the question of POW status, are you confident that you're not setting a precedent here that could rebound to the disadvantage of American troops captured sometime in the future in another conflict?
Rumsfeld: Of that I -- again -- first of all, to know what kind of a precedent you're setting you have to be very, very smart and see into the future. That's hard to do. It's hard even for very smart lawyers -- which I'm not.
I am very confident that we are not doing anything to -- in any way disadvantage the rights and circumstances of the U.S. military. I think that the decision was made by the president with that very much in mind, and it was expressed by a number of the people in the deliberative process, and it was expressed over a period of time because it was very carefully dealt with. It was not a hasty decision. This took us some days.
What I cannot say about the precedent is that that decision, or any other decision, conceivably could end up having an effect, a precedental effect down the road that is difficult to anticipate now. And it was because of that caution and that concern that they wanted to apply it very carefully that so much time was taken in attempting to make that judgment. But the one thing that I am reasonably satisfied with is the question you asked, and that is that we have taken every care to ensure that the decision would not in any way adversely affect U.S. armed forces.
Question: One more point on this, if I might. I would just argue that when you believe that there has been bad press reporting or misreporting, the solution to that is more sunshine, not less. If you become more secretive, your friends will suspect, and your enemies will believe, the worst.
Rumsfeld: Right. That's true. It's good -- fair enough. Ought to add that to Rumsfeld's Rules! (Laughter.)
Way in the back.
Question: Are the Afghan forces that are participating with the U.S. troops wearing clear uniforms, insignia and the other parts of that Geneva Convention?
Rumsfeld: You know, I can't speak to all of those units. But I certainly have seen Afghan forces that had uniforms on, and insignia, and were carrying their weapons openly, and were part of one of the various Northern Alliance elements. Have I seen them all in Afghanistan? No, so I can't answer your question as to whether there might be some. But I certainly have seen Afghan forces that do in fact comport themselves in a manner that would be consistent with the Geneva Convention.
Question: Mr. Secretary, if I forgo my own statement, can I ask two brief ones? (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: It's a tough crowd today, eh?
Question: ... are there not CIA agents or intelligence agents of some kind on the ground who are not wearing uniforms and insignia? And are they not in a combatant role, in other words, helping to coordinate things such as airstrikes?
Rumsfeld: I don't know of people doing that who are coordinating airstrikes. Do you?
Question: And secondly, on the photos, a number of lawyers who deal in international law have suggested that this is kind of an unprecedented interpretation of the restriction on photographs. In other words, that the idea was that you not parade prisoners out to a jeering public.
Question: It wasn't intended to bar incidental news photos.
Rumsfeld: Yeah, so that's why you have to be somewhat careful. And that's why we've tried to be somewhat careful. You know, should the pendulum be over here or over here? It's hard to know. This is -- this is a new set of facts for us. It's a new situation. They've been down there, these prisoners, detainees, what?, I don't know, 20 days. Something like that, 25? Not long.
Myers: And just to remind you, we have the International Committee of the Red Cross down there essentially continuously talking to the detainees.
Question: I was just asking about the news photographs.
Rumsfeld: Yeah. I mean, I don't know the answer to all these things. What we have tried to do is to try to do it right, and we -- as we learn more and as they get more comfortable with the situation, they end up improving how they're handling things all the time. I went down there last Sunday, a week ago Sunday, and I must say my impression is that those folks are doing a darned good job under difficult circumstances. And I give them a lot of credit.
Myers: Can I say one other thing on detainees?
Rumsfeld: Mmm hmm.
Myers: You know, we get pretty far down on these arguments. We go down to the third and fourth level of detail on these arguments about the Geneva Convention and treatment and so forth, and I think we've answered those forthrightly and we've taken lots of people down. In fact, I think there's a congressional delegation down there today. But let's never forget why we have them in the first place. We have them because probably there's a good chance that one or two or all of them know of the next event. And that's -- it's our obligation, consistent with humane treatment and the Geneva Convention, to try to find that out. And I think as we have these, in some cases, more esoteric debates on this business, we're trying to find out what's going to keep another incident from happening, in this country or in our friends' and partners' countries.
Rumsfeld: Good point.
Question: Mr. Secretary, a U.S. plane flying over the Philippines last week was shot at flying over Muzan (ph), over northern Muzan (ph). I'm wondering what kind of operations are we prepared to conduct there in the Philippines? Are we prepared to go into combat, and if so, against whom?
Rumsfeld: I think it was a helicopter that was shot at.
Question: A C-130.
Rumsfeld: Ah. What are we doing there? We are engaged in a process of training some 4(,000) or 5,000 Filipino soldiers who are embarked on the task of trying to deal with a terrorist network, particularly on the island of Basilan.
Second, in another part of the -- and there is -- this is relatively few numbers of hundreds, something less than 600, as I recall -- in another part of the island, at some point -- and at the present time, I think there's only a couple hundred people there, but it's heading --
Question: (Off mike) -- North?
Question: (Off mike.)
Rumsfeld: Let me rephrase that with greater clarity. On Basilan Island, I believe, at the present time there's 2(00), 300 people -- I don't know precisely, but it may go as many as 600 -- who are training at the battalion level.
In another part of the country, on a different island, there will be -- and I do not believe it has started -- an exercise of some sort that's going to take place later. That is what they're doing. They are not engaged in combat. They do have rules of engagement that permit them to defend themselves, if they're attacked, clearly. But their responsibilities are a training responsibility.
Question: Sir, could you maybe send us one of these lawyers that has made the decision? Because I think we still all have some questions about the finer points of this, and you might stop -- (chuckles) -- further questioning of you-all on this if we can get the firm answers.
Rumsfeld: Yeah. I do not have the power to deliver White House lawyers or the president of the United States, who made the decision.
Question: How about general counsel of DOD -- general counsel of DOD to interpret it for us?
Rumsfeld: I'm wondering if maybe getting an outside lawyer to come in and talk about it -- I don't know that the general counsel of the department is -- whether it is fair to put him in a position of interpreting the White House decision. It may be that could bring in an outstanding lawyer who could talk about it in some depth.
Question: It would be ideal if someone could express the government's interpretation of this, as opposed to a general interpretation.
Rumsfeld: Ari Fleischer's done that.
Question: But he's not a lawyer, and we have very specific.
Rumsfeld: But he has, to my knowledge, given the official position of the president of the United States.
Question: Well, I hope you'll take it under consideration that we still have questions, and they'll keep coming up unless we can get those final, very specific answers from someone with a legal background.
Rumsfeld: Yeah. I watched Ruth Wedgewood on the Lehrer program, and she's, I guess, a Yale lawyer. And she certainly knows an awful lot about it. There are other people who do as well.
Question: We can interview those people on our own --
Question: -- but what we need is somebody from the government that can say, "This was the balancing factor for us."
Rumsfeld: Then I think you ought to have your representatives at the White House ask the White House because that's where the decision was made.
Question: Mr. Secretary, you said about 105 of these people -- I think you've used the figure 105 -- have been met with, interrogated --
Rumsfeld: In Guantanamo Bay.
Question: At Guantanamo.
Question: And you said, of course, you're trying to get more information, trying to learn -- are these people being in any way cooperative? Are they being?
Rumsfeld: They are. Some are. Some are, some aren't. Varying degrees. Some are less so the first time, more so the second time. But there's no question we're gathering information.
Question: And have you gotten important information from them that has warded off attacks?
Rumsfeld: Yes. That has what?
Question: That might have warded off, might have allowed you to prevent a future attack?
Rumsfeld: I don't know that I want to say that because the information is -- it goes into a fusion cell and it's matched and mixed. And it may -- for example you might get some information from a person from pocket litter about an address some place, and you might go to that address and get some information there, or you might get tipped off to another human being, or something else. And it's all connected. And trying to track it back by threads as to exactly what enabled you to prevent a future terrorist attack is very difficult to do. We do know that there have been terrorist attacks that have been prevented.
Question: On the four criteria, and your description of why you believed the Taliban forces did not meet the criteria for POW status -- you talked about lack of differentiation from civilians, no proper unit, no real hierarchy -- but I wish we all had a dollar here for every briefing we heard during Enduring Freedom when we were told that we were attacking Taliban command and control, we were attacking identifiable Taliban forces, and that these were clearly differentiable by our Special Forces from civilians. Those seem to be rather different from your entire statement.
Rumsfeld: Well of course it's because it's of a different order. The kinds of things that the Geneva Convention talks about are the kinds of things you see when you're standing right next to a person looking at how they're handling themselves.
The kind of things that we were talking about on command and control would be communication intercepts, it would be people firing at Northern Alliance forces and attacking them, it would be concentrations of artillery or surface-to-air missiles, and those types of things that would -- and knowledge that they are not Northern Alliance. And yet you see them there and you can identify a series of things that tell you they are combatant forces that are engaged in fighting against the Northern Alliance forces, and it enabled the people on the ground and the people in the air to make those kinds of judgments.
Is that pretty --
Question: But just to pursue, wasn't it clear that the Taliban forces were operating as units? Whether they call themselves companies or platoons or ... is another matter, but they were operating as coherent military, which our air strikes could attack, and it's clear they were receiving orders down the chain of command and control, which is why we're attacking command and control.
Rumsfeld: There's no question but that on any one of those things, you might be exactly right, that you could make that case. No one, I think, could make the case on all four of those criteria.
Question: But were they the armed forces of Afghanistan at the time that the United States was attacking them? Were they considered?
Rumsfeld: That's a legal question. The president has said he is going to -- I shouldn't repeat what he said, what the statement from the White House said. You know what it said. And he applies the convention to the Taliban. And the answer to your question is, either as a matter of policy or a matter of law, they are being considered as being covered by the Geneva Convention. I don't know why you would ask the question.
Question: I asked it before and you said you'd get me an answer from Legal.
Rumsfeld: Oh, no, it was a different question you asked before.
Question: We'll go back over that.
Rumsfeld: Yeah. I think ...
Question: I think I asked -- (inaudible) -- question.
Rumsfeld: Oh, really?
Question: Can I ask --
Rumsfeld: Well, wait a second. No. Stick with this.
Question: I'm happy to go over it again if you want to. There's a section in the Geneva --
Rumsfeld: Oh, no, that's the question we'll get you the answer to.
Question: That's the question, but whether or not ...
Rumsfeld: That's a different question.
Question: The Taliban were the armed forces of Afghanistan, because if they were, they could be considered.
Rumsfeld: Oh, for the POW standard.
Rumsfeld: I see what you're saying. I'm sorry. We'll get you the answer to that.
General Myers, as long as I've got your attention, can you tell us what damage you know has been done near Zhawar Kili? I know you have people on the ground looking to see who might have been killed, but do you have a sense how many were killed? Was the truck destroyed? And you said that was the only vehicle?
Myers: It was, in a general sense, personnel and a few.
Question: (Off mike) -- and not the truck?
Myers: I don't think so.
Rumsfeld: Two questions. Yours, and yours.
Question: Thank you. The foreign minister of North Korea is quoted as saying that North Korea also has the choice of military strike, not just the United States. What is your comment on that?
Rumsfeld: Well, they have one of the largest armies in the world. They have ballistic missiles. They have artillery pieces. They have chemical, biological weapons. They've been working hard to develop a nuclear weapon. I don't know how one could disagree with what I think you said, that the foreign minister of North Korea says that they have the ability to strike somebody. Of course they do.
Question: Would you specify --
Rumsfeld: That's obvious. It's self-evident.
Question: Would you specify what kind of military measure the U.S. will take against North Korea?
Rumsfeld: The president's made no indication of anything like that. What he has said was that North Korea has the capabilities I've just said, poses a threat to South Korea, has a practice over a sustained period of time of being willing to sell almost any piece of military equipment they have to almost anybody who wants it. And that is a very dangerous thing with respect to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And that was the president's point.
Question: On a completely different matter, your general counsel has now sent a memo to all elements of the department and the military ordering the preservation of all documents, correspondence and email related to the Enron Corporation. And this letter from your general counsel came specifically because the Justice Department said they had reason to believe the department could have information related to the federal investigation.
Rumsfeld: The Justice Department said they have reason to believe this department?
Question: Yes, they did, in their letter to your general counsel. Your general counsel then sent a memo to all elements of the department ordering the preservation of all documents, correspondence and email.
Rumsfeld: Seems like a reasonable thing to do.
Question: Well, what -- do you have any reason to believe at this point, from what you know, that this department, number one, does have any information. And are you confident that so far, there has been no shredding in this building -- (laughter) -- and that all documents, email and correspondence has been preserved?
Rumsfeld: I have every reason to believe that people have behaved in a perfectly responsible and legal and ethical way. It seems to me that if there was such a letter from the Department of Justice to this department, which I happen not to have seen, and if the general --
Question: (Off mike.)
Rumsfeld: (Laughs.) Yeah, good. -- and if the general counsel sent out such a letter, it would seem to me to be a perfectly proper, responsible thing to do, that the minute one has reason to know that someone might be interested in something, that you make sure that it's preserved and not unintentionally disposed of. We all have normal process where we dispose of things, and one would not want to have done that if in fact it's conceivable that someone would like to know something that would be contained in those materials.
So I have no reason to believe anything either way.
Question: There's no reason to think you've got anything to share on the matter at the moment?
Rumsfeld: I don't know. [The General Counsel Memorandum forwarding the Department of Justice letter to U.S. Forces.]
Rumsfeld: Thank you folks.
Question: Thank you.
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