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The Most Tragic Hour in America's History

The Most Tragic Hour in America's History

Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense. DoD News Briefing. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 - 6:42 p.m. EDT [Also participating were Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Hugh Shelton, Secretary of the Army Thomas E. White, Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), and Senator John Warner (R-Va.)]

Rumsfeld: This is a -- first of all, good evening. This is a tragic day for our country. Our hearts and prayers go to the injured, their families and friends.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hosts a press conference in the Pentagon Briefing Room Sept 11, 2001. He addressed media in the aftermath of the Sept. 11th terror attacks to the United States.

U.S. Navy photo by Photogapher's Mate 2nd Class Jim Watson

We have taken a series of measures to prevent further attacks and to determine who is responsible. We're making every effort to take care of the injured and the casualties in the building. I'm deeply grateful for the many volunteers from the defense establishment and from the excellent units from all throughout this region. They have our deep appreciation.

We have been working closely throughout the day with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Dick Myers, who is currently participating in a meeting elsewhere in the building, and a great many other officials from throughout the government.

I should say we've received calls from across the world offering their sympathy and indeed their assistance in various ways.

I'm very pleased to be joined here by Chairman Carl Levin and Senator John Warner. Senator Warner called earlier today and offered his support and was kind enough to come down and has been with us. We've very recently had a discussion with the president of the United States. Chairman Hugh Shelton has just landed from Europe. Secretary of the Army Tom White, who has a responsibility for incidents like this as executive agent for the Department of Defense, is also joining me.

It's an indication that the United States government is functioning in the face of this terrible act against our country. I should add that the briefing here is taking place in the Pentagon. The Pentagon's functioning. It will be in business tomorrow.

I know the interest in casualty figures, and all I can say is it's not possible to have solid casualty figures at this time. And the various components are doing roster checks, and we'll have information at some point in the future. And as quickly as it's possible to have it, it will certainly be made available to each of you.

I'll be happy to take a few questions after asking first General Shelton if he would like to say anything, and then we will allow the others to make a remark or two.

Shelton: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Ladies and gentlemen, as the secretary just said, today, we have watched the tragedy of an outrageous act of barbaric terrorism carried out by fanatics against both civilians and military people, acts that have killed and maimed many innocent and decent citizens of our country.

I extend my condolences to the entire Department of Defense families, military and civilian, and to the families of all those throughout our nation who lost loved ones.

I think this is indeed a reminder of the tragedy and the tragic dangers that we face day in and day out both here at that home as well as abroad.

I will tell you up front, I have no intentions of discussing today what comes next, but make no mistake about it, your armed forces are ready.

Warner: The chairman.

Rumsfeld: The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin.

Levin: Our intense focus on recovery and helping the injured and the families of those who were killed is matched only by our determination to prevent more attacks and matched only by our unity to track down, root out and relentlessly pursue terrorists, states that support them and harbor them.

They are the common enemy of the civilized world. Our institutions are strong, and our unity is palpable.

Senator John Warner.

Warner: Thank you.

As a past chairman, preceding Carl Levin, I can assure you that the Congress stands behind our president, and the president speaks with one voice for this entire nation. This is indeed the most tragic hour in America's history, and yet I think it can be its finest hour, as our president and those with him, most notably our secretary of Defense, our chairman, and the men and women of the armed forces all over this world stand ready not only to defend this nation and our allies against further attack, but to take such actions as are directed in the future in retaliation for this terrorist act -- a series of terrorist acts, unprecedented in world history.

We call upon the entire world to step up and help, because terrorism is a common enemy to all, and we're in this together. The United States has borne the brunt, but who can be next? Step forward and let us hold accountable and punish those that have perpetrated this attack.

Again, I commend the secretary, the chairman, and how proud we are. We spoke with our President here moments ago. He's got a firm grip on this situation, and the Secretary and the General have a firm grip on our armed forces and in communication the world over.

Rumsfeld: Thank you very much.

We'll take a few questions and then we'll adjourn.


Q: Mr. Secretary, did you have any inkling at all, in any way, that something of this nature and something of this scope might be planned?

Rumsfeld: Charlie, we don't discuss intelligence matters.

Q: I see. And how -- how would you respond if you find out who did this?

Rumsfeld: Obviously, the president of the United States has spoken on that subject, and those are issues that he will address in good time.


Q: Mr. Secretary, we are getting reports from CNN and others that there are bombs exploding in Kabul, Afghanistan. Are we, at the moment, striking back? And if so, is the target Osama bin Laden and his organization?

Rumsfeld: I've seen those reports. They -- in no way is the United States government connected to those explosions.

Q: What about Osama bin Laden, do you suspect him as the prime suspect in this?

Rumsfeld: It's not the time for discussions like that.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you said you could not be specific about casualties. Can you give us some characterization, whether it's dozens, hundreds in the building?

Rumsfeld: Well, we know there were large numbers, many dozens, in the aircraft that flew at full power, steering directly into the -- between, I think, the first and second floor of the -- opposite the helipad. You've seen it. There cannot be any survivors; it just would be beyond comprehension.

There are a number of people that they've not identified by name, but identified as being dead, and there are a number of causalities. But the FBI has secured the site. And the -- information takes time to come. People have been lifted out and taken away in ambulances. And the numbers will be calculated, and it will not be a few.

Q: Mr. Secretary, could you tell us what you saw?

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yeah?

Q: Mr. Secretary, do you consider what happened today, both in New York and here, an act of war?

Rumsfeld: There is no question but that the attack against the United States of America today was a vicious, well-coordinated, massive attack against the United States of America. What words the lawyers will use to characterize it is for them.

Q: Does that mean that the U.S. is at war then?

Q: Mr. Secretary, you said that the Pentagon would be open for business tomorrow. What kind of assurances can you give the people who work here at the building that the building will be safe?

Rumsfeld: A terrorist can attack at any time at any place using any technique. It is physically impossible to defend at every time in every place against every technique. It is not possible to give guarantees. The people who work in this building do so voluntarily. They're brave people, and they do their jobs well.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can you give a sense of what happened -- what did you see when you left your office, ran down to the site and apparently helped people on stretchers and then returned to the command center?

Rumsfeld: The -- I felt the shock of the airplane hitting the building, went through the building and then out into the area, and they were bringing bodies out that had been injured, most of which were alive and moving, but seriously injured. And a lot of volunteers were doing a terrific job helping to bring them out of the buildings and get them into stretchers and into ambulances and into airlifts.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can you tell us how many of the dead were soldiers and how many were civilians? Have you been able to determine that?

Rumsfeld: Absolutely not.


Q: Mr. Secretary, today we saw military planes both in New York and in Washington. How much more of a military presence will we see, now that this incident has occurred, for the next week?

Rumsfeld: Those kinds of decisions are made day to day. It is correct that we had aircraft flying protective missions at various places in the United States today. And they will do that as appropriate.

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Q: -- what do you say to the American people who may have questions on how something so coordinated has been carried out against this nation? What do you say to them who might not have confidence that our intelligence and security are what they should have been?

Rumsfeld: I say to them that the president of the United States will be making some remarks to them this evening that will address those subjects.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you've declared -- the Pentagon has declared Threatcon Delta for forces around the world. Could you tell me why? Have you received any threats? Or has anyone claimed credit for this?

Rumsfeld: We have in fact declared Force Protection Condition Delta and a condition of high alert -- indeed, the highest alert. We did so almost immediately upon the attacks, and it is still in force.

Q: Mr. Secretary, were there threats issued against other U.S. facilities elsewhere in the world today?

Rumsfeld: The -- I don't know that there's a day that's gone by since I've been in this job that there haven't been threats somewhere in the world to some facility somewhere. It's a -- it's one of the complexities of the intelligence business that you have to sort through those kinds of things. But we don't get into the specifics.

Yes? You had your hand up? Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary, there were rumors earlier in the day that the plane which crashed in Pennsylvania had been brought down by the United States, either shot down or in some other manner.

Rumsfeld: We have absolutely no information that any U.S. aircraft shot down any other aircraft today.

Q: I wonder if we could just ask Senator Levin one thing, Senator, if that's all right.

Levin: You bet.

Rumsfeld: Senator Levin, you and other Democrats in Congress have voiced fear that you simply don't have enough money for the large increase in defense that the Pentagon is seeking, especially for missile defense, and you fear that you'll have to dip into the Social Security funds to pay for it. Does this sort of thing convince you that an emergency exists in this country to increase defense spending, to dip into Social Security, if necessary, to pay for defense spending -- increase defense spending?

Levin: One thing where the committee was unanimous on, among many, many other things, was that the -- we authorized the full request of the President, including the $18 billion. So I would say that Democrats and Republicans have seen the need for the request.

Q: Mr. Secretary, could you describe what steps are being taken -- defensive measures -- beyond force protection, and whether there's been any operational planning for homeland defense and as to --

Rumsfeld: Those aren't the kinds of things that one discusses.

Q: Sir, the perpetrators of the Khobar Towers bombing were never found -- the Cole bombing as well. What assurances or what confidence do you have that the perpetrators of this act will be found?

Rumsfeld: All one can offer by way of assurance is a seriousness of purpose. We're still taking bodies out of this building, so I would say that that's a little premature.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yes?

Q: You've talked about -- and others at the podium have talked about being ready, the military is ready, General Shelton said. And we understand the Navy has dispatched two carriers and some guided-missile cruisers and destroyers and a couple of Marine Corps helicopter amphibious ships, such as the Bataan -- it's not the Bataan -- here and to New York. Can you tell us if that's true? And also any other things you can share with us about how the United States military is preparing to take on whatever in the next few days?

Rumsfeld: We don't make announcements about ship deployments.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yes?

Q: Can you describe the fire-fighting efforts that are going on right now in that corridor and the search-and-rescue efforts that are beginning?

Rumsfeld: Can I describe them?

Q: Yeah.

Rumsfeld: Why don't we let the Secretary of the Army, who was out there with me a few minutes ago and has been talking to the incident commander on the site.

White: I think it's fair to say at this point that the fire is contained, and will shortly, if not already, be sufficiently controlled to allow entry into the building. That entry will be supervised by the FBI, who are in charge of the site, assisted by the fire departments that are present. We, on the Army side, will support them as they go in the building and search for casualties and bring them out, then we will support them in dealing with that. That's what's going on on the ground.

Rumsfeld: We'll take one last question.

Q: Is the government operating under the assumption that this attack is done, or is it poised or bracing for more action?

Rumsfeld: The government is certainly aware that it's difficult to know when attacks are concluded.

And I want to thank Senator -- Chairman Levin and Senator Warner, and certainly Secretary of the Army White and General Shelton for being here with me. And we'll excuse ourselves. Thank you.

Q: Thank you.



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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).