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DoD News Briefing: Friday, November 30, 2001

DoD News Briefing: Friday, November 30, 2001

Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense: DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Friday, November 30, 2001 - 11 a.m. EST. Also participating was General Peter Pace, vice chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. The map shown in this briefing is on the Web.

Rumsfeld: Good morning. Over recent days the number of U.S. forces in both the North and the South have increased. With the speculation recently as to what the United States Marines are doing around Kandahar and the nature of the action around Mazar-e Sharif, it might be useful just to recap where we are, what we're trying to accomplish, and how we're going about it.

Our objective remains unchanged. It's to put pressure on the Taliban and the al Qaeda in a variety of ways, in what clearly will be over a sustained period, until they're not a viable force and they're no longer capable of terrorizing people and destroying lives in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

Today a relatively small segment of Afghanistan is controlled by Taliban and al Qaeda forces, and it seems to be growing smaller every week. Coalition forces continue to apply pressure on Taliban and al Qaeda forces around Kandahar, and they are unquestionably having an effect. The Taliban can no longer freely move around the country. They're finding it increasingly difficult to manage their remaining forces.

Ironically, however, as the size of the Taliban real estate diminishes, the danger to coalition forces may actually be increasing. As the president said earlier this week, the campaign against terrorism has entered a dangerous phase. Every day coalition forces face difficulties and dangers, but they have already made a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Afghans who have suffered under years of brutal repression. And before the fight is over, they will make a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands or more of the Afghan people.

We've said since the beginning of the campaign that there will be casualties, but that that would not deter us. Indeed, it will strengthen our resolve to root out the terrorists and those who support them.

Our first killed in action highlights both of these points. As you know, CIA agent Mike Spann was killed in the prison battle in Mazar-e Sharif earlier this week. He knew the risks of his profession, and he accepted them on behalf of his country. We certainly are proud of him, and his family is right to call him a hero. He was one of the professionals who have helped to contribute to meeting the conditions we need to go after -- creating the conditions we need to go after bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and other Taliban and al Qaeda leadership.

And make no mistake: as Mike's father told the press the other day, it is bin Laden and his supporters who are responsible for his death. It is they and others in their terrorist network that will be held responsible for the death of thousands of people on September 11th.

And let there be no doubt: there will be further casualties in this campaign -- in Afghanistan and elsewhere. There will be other downturns involving our forces. We may have troops captured or killed. There will -- but it will not deter us for a day or for a moment from our objectives. We are going after the al Qaeda, and the Taliban that support them, and terrorists and their supporters wherever we find them.

Commanders at every level have been unambiguously instructed, and they know that our mission is clear and our will is unwavering. There will be no pauses, no regrouping, no stand-downs. As the president said, our forces will have everything they need to do the job.0

General Pace.

Pace: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Yesterday, approximately 110 strike aircraft flew missions in Afghanistan. They focused primarily on targets in and around Kandahar and also in the cave and tunnel complexes near Jalalabad.

Humanitarian relief, food distribution -- the 34,000 that were delivered yesterday brought to over two million the number of rations that have been delivered by the military.

The Marines have continued to improve their forward-operating base location in Southern Afghanistan. About a thousand Marines there now. And they will continue to operate from that for the foreseeable future.

And the Commando Solo missions continue with the broadcasts, and the leaflet drops continued yesterday, as well.

With that, we'll answer your questions.


Q: Mr. Secretary, I want to ask you, is the United States now seeking to get custody of Ahmed Rahman and other al Qaeda captives of opposition groups, to put them on U.S. military trial?

Rumsfeld: Without getting into individual names, the United States has, from the beginning, and continues to seek out opportunities to interview, interrogate, question -- whatever the proper word may be -- al Qaeda and senior Taliban leaders who are detained, captured, imprisoned -- whatever the definition may be -- by the forces that have been opposing the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Q: And how about taking custody of --

Rumsfeld: We have not yet taken custody of anyone.

Q: But would this interrogation, these questions, lead to possible charges from the United States, and military trials? Has that been worked out?

Rumsfeld: Well, until the interrogations are complete and until one knows what there is to know about various individuals, one does not know which basket to put them in. And there are a variety of options available, obviously.

Q: And just one brief follow-up, sir. Has a decision been made --

Rumsfeld: I want everyone to understand, those, in fact, ARE follow-ups. (laughter)

Q: Has a decision been made to go ahead with military trials? Has the president given the option on whether or not to conduct these trials, or simply how to do it?

Rumsfeld: Well, I think that the matter is very clear. The president has issued a military order: with respect to military commissions, and it is there. It has been discussed by the White House counsel, who was involved in its preparation. It's been discussed by the attorney general of the United States. It's been discussed by the vice president. It's been discussed by the president.

My responsibility -- and no individual has been turned over, assigned to me for that purpose. It is my responsibility and I have undertaken it to begin that process of thinking through exactly what might be the appropriate criteria, what might be the various ways of dealing with such a tribunal or commission, how -- where one might -- were it to happen, where it might occur. And we have elevated a series of issues that we're discussing with thoughtful people around the country who have experience in these matters and a good deal to contribute. And at that point where we end up being assigned an individual by the president, obviously we would hope that we would have completed this work and been able to then deal with it appropriately. But all I can say by way of elaboration is that we're doing it with a great deal of care and thought and consideration because it's an important issue.

(cross talk)

Q: A legitimate follow-up?

Q: Mr. Secretary, the way you --

Rumsfeld: I want to see a hand go up and someone say, "An illegitimate follow-up." (laughter) That will be the day.

Q: Your explanation today seems to be in sharp contrast to what the Justice Department is doing. The Justice Department rounded up more than 500 people, and it is now in the process of sorting them out. You say that what you're doing or what the U.S. military is doing is sorting them out and then we'll decide who you should take into your custody. Is there a reluctance --

Rumsfeld: No, no, no, no. That's a misunderstanding of the situation. First of all, the Department of Justice has a totally different set of issues than does the military. We are -- the people that are being dealt with in Afghanistan are being dealt with almost exclusively by the forces that have been opposing the Taliban, not by the United States of America. These aren't people that we've arrested, as such. These are not people that we have custody of, as such. They are people that the opposition forces have taken prisoner, for one reason or another, and who have surrendered or been imprisoned. So I think to even begin to compare them is not a good idea.

Second, if one thinks about it, let's say that there were to be a senior person that -- and we ended up interrogating, and we ended up saying to the opposition forces that we would like to take custody of this individual, first of all, it's up to the people who have custody to determine if they want to transfer custody. And then one would have to decide what one would do with it, that person. And it may be something that would be handled by the Department of Defense totally apart from the military commission -- military order proposing the possibility of commissions by the Defense Department. It may be handled in any number of other ways. It could also be handled by another agency of government. I could end up being handled by the Department of Justice.

So I think that it is not a simple matter. It is a matter that requires a good deal of thought and attention, and we are giving it that serious thought and attention.


Q: Mr. Secretary, if I could follow up. I think the majority of American people might think it would be a simple matter if we identify a senior Taliban or al Qaeda official, why don't we just get our hands on that person and take him into our custody.

Rumsfeld: Well, we have not identified such a person yet.

Q: Are you saying then that no --

Rumsfeld: I can assure you, we would have an interest if we did.

Q: Are you saying that no one that these forces have taken, captured or won the surrender of is of a level that they would be a candidate for trial?

Rumsfeld: I am saying that as of this moment, to my knowledge, we have not taken custody.

Q: But they have someone that we haven't taken custody of, or they don't have anybody of that level right now?

Rumsfeld: They have thousands of people in a variety of locations spread across Afghanistan.

They are people who, for the most part, don't walk up and volunteer their names and identification numbers with a sample of DNA. What they do is they blend into the other prisoners. And it requires people going into a prison -- which is where the danger occurs, and where the American was killed -- going into a prison, interrogating somebody, trying to find out who the people are, sorting them, and deciding what you're going to do with them. These are thousands of human beings. It's a messy business.

Q: So they might have a big fish, but we don't -- we, or they, don't know yet? Or they might not know --

Rumsfeld: Anything's possible.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you said --

Rumsfeld: I started over here.

Q: I hope you consider this a legitimate follow-up regarding the tribunal --

Rumsfeld: The only legitimate follow-up is a follow-up on a question that you've asked yourself, I think. Isn't that the rule? (laughs)

Q: That sounds like a new rule! (laughs)

Q: There will be -- there will be a follow-up of questionable legitimacy coming. But anyway -- (laughter). But anyway -- but to continue with the discussion about military tribunals and the deliberations which are occurring, I'm wondering if you agree that they're very time-sensitive, and if you have a target date in mind when you will have decided what to do?

And secondly, as part of that same question, will you announce what the procedures are going to be?

Rumsfeld: Until we have sorted -- first of all, I don't think there will be a single set of procedures. I think it may vary, depending on individuals. Until somebody -- namely, the president of the United States -- designates somebody as fitting within his military order and assigning them to me, I wouldn't have the vaguest idea as to how -- what one might do with a person, because you don't know the fact pattern, as yet.

Therefore, what we will do is we will proceed in a responsible way to sort through these questions hypothetically, and begin to prepare the kinds of information and background information that will be helpful to us at that point where the president, if he decides to assign someone here, actually does so.


Q: You said that it would be up to the groups who held detainees to decide themselves whether or not to turn them over to the United States. My question is, does that include Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, if in fact they become detainees held by groups inside Afghanistan? Is it up to those groups to decide if they turn those two individuals over to the United States? Would you take them against the will of those that are holding them?

Rumsfeld: Well, one would hope one would not have to do it against their will.

Q: But you've laid down a policy, haven't you?

Rumsfeld: We have a relationship with all of these elements on the ground. We have provided them food. We've provided them ammunition. We've provided air support. We've provided winter clothing. We've worked with them closely. We have troops embedded in their forces and have been assisting with overhead targeting and resupply of ammunition. It's a relationship. Possession has a certain virtue. It gives you the ability to do or not do something with something if you have it, physically.

Now, let there be no doubt, we would want all, each, every single senior Taliban leader. We would want al Qaeda people not to be set free. We would want them not released into other countries where they can continue to perpetrate terrorist acts. And we would do everything reasonable to see that we had access to those people, first to interrogate them and find out who they are, and second if they are people that we believe we want, to actually get physical custody over them.

Q: Well, what instructions are being given to the U.S. military personnel, then, who will be conducting interrogations about the procedures for getting custody of these people there? What's the rule, here? How does that happen?

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know that I can describe the instructions in great detail. I don't think we have time. But they are being told what we want. They are -- they know what we want. There are not ambiguities with respect to it. And if you're suggesting that we would interrogate somebody that was a al Qaeda or Taliban leader and that the interrogators would not know what to do with them or what we would want to do with them, that would be mistaken.

Q: Do they have the authority to take custody of them from those who are holding them?

Rumsfeld: You can be certain that in the event we find someone we want, that we will have the authority to receive them from those that actually currently have custody of them.


Q: Mr. Secretary, can you paint the picture in and around Kandahar and what's happening there from the Pentagon perspective? And are the reports from the Northern Alliance leaders that there's heavy fighting on the outskirts there accurate?

Rumsfeld: Pete, why don't you do it?

Pace: Sir.

In and around Kandahar right now the situation is fluid. We do know what we can see, which is from the teams we have on the ground with the opposition forces, and they are able to provide air support to those opposition forces. We do not know what we cannot see, which is how many actual fighters there are inside the city. There has not yet been a major ground offensive battle. There are, we know, negotiations going on between the opposition forces and the Taliban leadership for surrender. We do know for certain that this fight will continue until Kandahar is in fact a free city, as is the rest of Afghanistan, or the majority of Afghanistan right now. But we do not have clarity other than what we can see from the air and what we can see with our eyes from our special forces there on the ground with the leadership.

Q: No major movement from yesterday to today?

Pace: Not that I'm aware of.

Rumsfeld: I would add one thing with respect to Kandahar. There's been some speculation in the press that Omar conceivably could be attempting to find some way to negotiate a surrender of the city -- or I see speculation to that effect -- with somebody. I can assure you that the United States would vigorously oppose any idea of providing him amnesty or safe passage of any type.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yes.

Q: Apparently, you have communicated to various coalition partners that the United States does not want a large influx of peacekeeping forces on the ground in Afghanistan prematurely. That has an effect on the flow of humanitarian things in by road into Afghanistan. Can you talk about -- explain to us your thinking and how you have communicated this to the allies, and your concern about the impact this could have on the people of Afghanistan versus your war-fighting campaign, which is important for the Pentagon?

Rumsfeld: This is a complex issue, and let me just take a minute or two to walk through what's actually happening.

It is not for the United States to decide whether or not or when, and if so, what makeup a peacekeeping force might come in or what role they might play with respect to the various sections of the country. It is the -- the two players on that are the forces on the ground in the area where people are speculating there conceivably could be peacekeeping forces. One of them's Kabul; another is the area from Mazar-e-Sharif up to the Freedom Bridge in Uzbekistan. But I'm sure it will come up with respect to other cities, as well. The two players are the people on the ground that happen to occupy that real estate, and second, the political level, which is having meetings in Bonn and in various other locations from time to time.

Needless to say, we would -- we do not want anything, including that, to happen in a way that would inhibit us from pursuing our goals of seeking out the al Qaeda and Taliban leaders and seeing that the country is not a haven for terrorists.

But the real issue isn't that; the real issue is, at what point will the forces on the ground and the political figures, who are discussing a potential provisional government of some sort, decide that it is in their individual and collective interest to have peacekeeping forces, where, and with what makeup? And it is that that is going to determine it, not the United States.

Q: But don't peacekeeping forces, if they were to be on the ground, provide a certain problem for the United States, because they can get in the way of trying to execute the overall goals of the United States that you have so often repeated here?

Rumsfeld: On the one hand, it's conceivable, but in the areas -- for example, in Mazar-e Sharif, I can't imagine it would be any kind of problem at all. In Kabul, I can't imagine it would be a problem, to be perfectly honest. It's in the areas where we're active, which is east and south of Kabul, for the most part, setting aside the pockets of resistance elsewhere -- that is a bit more of an issue. But on the other hand, I haven't heard anyone proposing peacekeeping forces there. So I don't see it as a big problem.

The real problem is that unless there is reasonable security, we're not going to be able to get the humanitarian aid in, and we need to. And that's important, and it's -- the immediate area that is important, if you'll recall -- the eastern portion of the country tends to be the best nourished. If you look at those State Department maps, they have been -- food's been coming in from the Pakistan side, and the entire area to the east and southeast is reasonably well-nourished. The big problems are to the north and certainly -- and up to Mazar-e Sharif and south of Mazar-e Sharif. And it's not just a food problem, it's a distribution-of-food problem. So you could get it into some central locations and still have it not get to the people who need it.

And so there's two problems. One is getting it into main centers, and then the second problem is getting it to people who need it. And we know there are still plenty of people roaming around, bandits and criminals, as well as Taliban, with weapons, that are killing people.

Q: Which would argue for the immediate introduction of peacekeeping forces in those northern areas, would it not?

Rumsfeld: Not necessarily. What it would argue for is providing security. In the most immediate period, it would argue for getting the bridge open and getting the area to Mazar-e Sharif safe -- (indicating place on map) -- and then finding ways to get in here, where there is the greatest need. It does not matter if that stability is provided by peacekeeping forces. What matters is that it's relatively safe. And to the extent that the opposition forces in those areas are capable of and willing to provide that kind of security, then the aid workers are happy to come in, and we're happy to have people fly into airports.

So I think, I think, it's the -- the press reports are focusing on it in a way that does not look at it from a 360-degree picture.

The important thing is, what are you trying to accomplish? And what you're trying to accomplish is to get food into the hands of needy people. And it does not matter what creates the more stable situation to allow that to happen; it's just important that it happen.


Q Mr. Secretary, you said earlier the danger to U.S.

forces is going to be increasing. Why? What are they doing that's going to be more dangerous?

Rumsfeld: It is not so much what they're doing, it's that the situation is less certain in that country, in this sense: to the extent the Taliban owned the country, and the opposition forces were in discrete places up in the Northeast, for the most part, you knew who was what. Now the bulk of the country is not controlled by the Taliban but there are still plenty of pockets of resistance, and there are plenty of Taliban people who "defected," and may or may not stay defected. There are plenty of people who just melted into the cities and into the mountains, that are still there and that are still armed.

And indeed there is one other factor that's happening from time to time, we've seen, you've read, that some of the opposition forces have had dust-ups with each other. And to the extent we have forces with both sides of those dust-ups, that's a problem.

And you have large numbers of prisoners who have to be searched, and some of them are perfectly willing to blow up a hand grenade and kill people.

Q: And will the Marines near Kandahar --

Rumsfeld: The short answer is, it's not as tidy, it's not as neat, it's not as clear at the present time as it was just a couple of weeks back.

Q: And have you ruled out whether Marines will head into the city of Kandahar to help root out those final --

Rumsfeld: We not only don't rule things out, we don't announce that we've ruled things out.

Q: Mr. Secretary, as General Pace outlined early on, that we're continuing to go after the cave and tunnel complexes, how do we know who's in the caves that we're trying to seal up in these hits? How do we know who's there?

Rumsfeld: (pause) Well. We don't. And the people who hide in caves, it seems to me, for the most part are people we would prefer not to be hiding in caves. But you can't know of certain knowledge who's in a cave unless you crawl in there to find them. And what we're doing is we're helping them, by closing up the entrances to caves so that they can't be used. And that will reduce the problem.

Q: But we're convinced that seniors from Taliban and al Qaeda are in those caves?

Rumsfeld: No. I said we can't be certain of anything unless you're down on the ground. We know they've been used by them. We know they are continuing to be used by them. We have all kinds of intelligence information. We can see things from the air. We can see things from the ground. We hear things. We talk to human beings who are chasing them down.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you spoke a minute ago about dust-ups between some of the various tribes and factions. Given that you've got the Northern Alliance and the Pashtun, which have clearly different interests for Kandahar as they begin to sort of converge on that area, have you seen any clashes between those various competing factions?

Rumsfeld: No.

Q: How great a -- secondly, how great a concern is that as they start to move on the same area?

Rumsfeld: It's an untidy situation, but I'm not staying up at night worrying about it. I'd like to see the Taliban out of Kandahar.


Q: I'd like to take you back to the peacekeeping forces for just a second. And maybe, General Pace, you'd like to weigh-in on this. How much does the prospect of introducing a multinational peacekeeping force actually increase vulnerability on the ground? We saw this happening in Bosnia when you still had armed factions in the area, and they ended up becoming targets and being used as shields. How much is that figuring into it?

And also, do you think that if they're not invited in by Northern Alliance and other opposition groups, that they could end up in conflict with them? I mean, could they add to the disquiet on the ground there?

Rumsfeld: Well, with respect to the last, it's unlikely they would come in if they are not invited, because most of the airports are controlled by the opposition forces on the ground. And it's just not clear to me that it's likely to happen, absent the cooperation of opposition forces.

Go ahead.

Pace: Ideally, in Afghanistan, as in any country, you would wish to have the host country's forces able to provide security for their own people. And to the extent that generals like Dostum and Fahim and Atta and the others are able to provide security in the local areas, which they have been able to do so far, not perfectly, but certainly within the area that they control, they've been able to provide security -- as long as they can do that, then bringing in outside forces is not necessary.

Q: Is there an increase in vulnerability if you do bring in outside forces? Because all of the sudden you maybe have, you know, 500 British peacekeepers that are surrounded and then the U.S. has to run in and -- the Marines have to come up and save them? I mean, is that a scenario that you guys have tackled?

Pace: It is very complex on the ground any time you have any type of force on the ground in Afghanistan, there's going to be threats to that force, whether it be an Afghan opposition force, or the U.S. Marines who are there now, the U.S. Army that's there now, or any other country that might come in. So there's always concern about a threat. But from a military viewpoint, you only want to have the forces on the ground that you need to complete that particular mission. And as the secretary said, a peacekeeping force, by definition, is a force that's invited in by the government to do peacekeeping.

Rumsfeld: And it presumes that the situation that they're coming into is peaceful and that they're going to keep it that way, as opposed to "make peace," which is a little harder.


Q: On that same point, with respect to the prisoners, you emphasized how the United States, by virtue of all the aid that we've provided the Northern Alliance, have a lot of influence with them.

Couldn't you use that same influence to sort of nudge them in one direction or another, as far as their disposition to work with a peacekeeping force?

Rumsfeld: That's a good question. You could. The question is, what are your priorities? And second, do you want to -- well, is it more desirable to have stability provided for by people who live there or by people who don't live there? And I think that the general is right, that your first choice is that you would have a stable situation created by people who live there, because anything other than that is unnatural. It's abnormal. It's out of the order. And it becomes a target, as was suggested by an earlier question. I mean, we had 241 Marines killed in Beirut sitting in an airport as -- creating a presence, if you will.

So it's a dangerous business, and if people don't want you there, and you're supposedly in a peacful situation and you're there to keep the peace, it can be dangerous. And so the -- you really do want, first choice, the people there to provide that kind of security. Yet, you must have security because you've got to be able to get food in there or people are going to be starving. So it's -- it is a complicated, three-dimensional problem. And it is not checkers. It's chess, and it's hard.

Q: But, sir, if they're fighting each other, how can they be stable providing a force on the ground to be stable?

Rumsfeld: I didn't say they were fighting each other.

Q: You said opposition groups had dust-ups.

Rumsfeld: I said there have been a couple of dust-ups, disagreements between people in various opposition groups. And that's historic. That's throughout the history of Afghanistan. It doesn't mean that they aren't able to provide reasonable security in their areas of occupation, it seems to me.


Q: Mr. Secretary, the other day, I guess it was General Myers who suggested that there are differing behaviors between Omar and Osama bin Laden, with bin Laden apparently going to ground and Omar exerting -- exhorting his troops to fight onward. Over the past several days, have you folks seen any indications that this apparent split, either in behavior or coordination and communication between these two guys is increasing? What is your sense of each of their attitudes and behaviors now?

Rumsfeld: I haven't noticed any timidity on the part of either one of them, in terms of suddenly ending their aggressiveness or desire to control that country.

You're right; the impression is that -- from the press that bin Laden is in a secure location somewhere, attempting to deal with his network in whatever way he does, and that Omar is trying to save Kandahar. But I have not noticed any particular changes in their behavior in recent --

Q: Do you think that press perception is accurate?

Rumsfeld: I think this -- I think it is likely that Omar is a dead-ender, that he is determined to try to reenergize Taliban, to get the Taliban fighters to consolidate somewhere and to kill people and to the extent they can hang on to Kandahar, hang on to Kandahar; to the extent they can't, get in the mountains and wait their time and come back.

Bin Laden clearly has a different interest. He uses Afghanistan as a lily pad, a place to be, a place to go out and kill other people around the world, to manage his al Qaeda network. It's -- they have quite different interests. One's an Afghan. The other isn't.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yeah?

Q: Could you respond to some of the concerns that have been raised by human rights groups? Amnesty International said, I think the day before yesterday, that they were concerned that the response of the opposition when the Taliban prisoners took over or overpowered their capturers at Mazar-e Sharif may not have been proportionate. What's your view of that?

Rumsfeld: Well, I wasn't there. And I guess that I would say that -- say this: There were thousands of prisoners, and they clearly had not been thoroughly searched, and they unquestionably had weapons when they were imprisoned, and they also apparently were able to get weapons from guards that were overcome by the weapons they already had. That is a powerful force.

The people who were outside the prison -- and a number of opposition forces and one American were killed. So I mean, it was conflict. It was war. And at some point, it was subdued, and it was subdued, as I understand it, in a way that included the loss of lives of hundreds of prisoners who refused to surrender and refused to turn in their weapons and refused to stop firing, refused to stop killing people.

And it seems to me that if you are one of the guards, you have every right in the world to try to stop the people in the prison from killing you and killing others and escaping and going out and killing still more people.

Now, the word "proportion" -- "proportionate" is interesting. And I don't know that it's appropriate. And I don't know that I could define it. But it might be said -- and I wouldn't say it -- (laughter) -- but it might be said by some that to quickly and aggressively repress a prison riot in one location might help dissuade people in other locations from engaging in prison riots and breaking out of prison and killing more people. I don't know that that's true. It might also persuade the people who are still in there with weapons, killing each other and killing other people, to stop doing it.

It's a -- your question's too tough for me. I don't know what "proportionate" would be.


Q: Mr. Secretary, you said earlier that we could be clear that United States forces would have the authority to take control of certain al Qaeda or Taliban leaders if they were in custody of opposition groups. By that, did you mean that the United States has negotiated an agreement with those groups to turn over certain people -- Osama bin Laden or others?

Rumsfeld: No. It really -- let me add one thought. I don't want to leave that hanging and have someone ask me about it tomorrow. I -- as I said in the beginning, I was not there; I don't know the facts. I know only what scraps of intelligence reports -- it is conceivable that after one knows all the facts, that one might be able to make a judgment and say that they might have agreed or not agreed. And I'm just not posited at the moment in a position where I can do that.

The facts on the ground, with respect to your question, are such that it is -- the word "negotiate" an agreement, in the situation that we're in, doesn't accurate reflect the situation. You've got a leader, and you've got a dozen or more of these leaders. You have a U.S. Special Forces team in there with them. Each is different. Each relationship is different. They occupy the ground physically. And some Special Forces captain is not likely to cozy up and start negotiating some sort of an agreement for that.

What happens is, as a practical matter, is that the combatant commander, Tommy Franks, tells the senior people, when he meets with them, and he tells the people that are embedded in their groups what he thinks ought to happen. And he's forceful.

You've seen him here. He knows what he thinks and he knows what we think, and he has certainly told them unambiguously that that is our first choice. And we think it will happen. But it isn't the kind of thing that we negotiate. It's the kind of thing that you discuss and you say, "Hey, look. We're here for a purpose. We're here to get those people, and that's why we came, and then we're leaving. And the sooner we're gone, the better for you and the better for us."

Q: We have not asked you frontally whether or not you want -- you, the U.S. government wants to take possession of Ahmed Abdel-Rahaman. Do you want to get the son of the blind sheik in your possession? Do you want to talk to him? Have you talked to him?

Rumsfeld: I can't answer any of those questions as to whether we've talked to him. It's simply not -- is not in -- I'm not connected to that at this moment. My -- and you'd have to -- they'd have to ask somebody in the parts of the government that are dealing with him.

Last question.

Q: Yes. On the Mazar-e Sharif situation. Amnesty International called for an inquiry into what happened there. Would you support that?

Rumsfeld: An inquiry into what happened in the prison?

Q: Right. Right.

Rumsfeld: Amazing. I didn't know that. I can't -- I haven't ever thought about the question as to whether the -- I mean, I can think of a dozen things there that people could inquire into. It is a very tough, untidy place. I just don't know enough about the facts to know whether I would -- I don't really know -- I could not sit down and come within 50 percent of describing what actually happened in that prison situation. All I know is what I've read in the newspapers and some intelligence things and a couple of firsthand reports that were by people who saw one slice, one piece of it, not the totality of it.

Q: But wouldn't an outside inquiry help establish those facts as to what happened there?

Rumsfeld: I just don't know. I mean, you simply can't have outside inquiries on every single thing that goes on in the world. It's -- who would provide force protection for the inquirers? I mean, this is a messy place. There's a war going on. I am -- I just haven't thought about the question and I'm not in a position to respond to it. Maybe some other time.

Thank you.

Q: Sir, what about the game tomorrow? Any thoughts?

Rumsfeld: The saying goes, "Beat Army." Or "Beat Navy." And one of them will be right. (laughter) I don't know which one. But Pete Pace here went to the Naval Academy. I should mention that.


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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).