DoD News Briefing Feb 19: Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers
NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense
DoD News Briefing Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld Wednesday, February 19, 2003 - 1:46 p.m. EST
(Also participating was Gen. Richard B. Myers, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.)
Rumsfeld: Good afternoon. The Canadian minister of Defense announced Canada's willingness, beginning in late summer, to commit a battle group and a brigade headquarters to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan for a period of one year. Canada has been a solid ally in the global war against terrorism, and we thank the Canadian people for their support in defending freedom around the globe.
As we continue in the diplomatic phase with Iraq, it's useful to recall the nature of the regime that we're dealing with. The best way of judging what one might do in the future is to look at what they've done in the past. For decades, Saddam Hussein has demonstrated that he does not hesitate to take life, even on a massive scale, when it serves his purposes. One of the ways Saddam Hussein has demonstrated this is through his use of civilians as human shields. It is a practice that reveals contempt for the norms of humanity, the laws of armed conflict, and, I am advised, Islamic law, practice and belief.
International law draws a clear distinction between civilians and combatants. The principle that civilians must be protected lies at the heart of international law of armed conflict. It is the distinction between combatants and innocent civilians that terrorism, and practices like the use of human shields, so directly assaults.
Saddam Hussein makes no such distinction. During Operation Desert Shield, he held hundreds of non-Iraqi civilians at government and military facilities throughout Iraq and described them as human shields. He deliberately constructs mosques near military facilities, uses schools, hospitals, orphanages and cultural treasures to shield military forces, thereby exposing helpless men, women and children to danger. These are not tactics of war, they are crimes of war. Deploying human shields is not a military strategy, it's murder, a violation of the laws of armed conflict, and a crime against humanity, and it will be treated as such. Those who follow his orders to use human shields will pay a severe price for their actions.
We hope to provide a more detailed briefing on human shields at a later date.
Myers: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. And good afternoon.
I'd just like to add some comments to the secretary's comments on human shields. Press reports, I think today, say that a hundred human-shield volunteers from London have arrived in Baghdad.
And I want to note, again, it is a violation of the law of armed conflict to use noncombatants as a means of shielding potential military targets -- even those people who may volunteer for this purpose. Iraqi actions to do so would not only violate this law but could be a -- could be considered a war crime in any conflict. Therefore, if death or serious injury to a noncombatant resulted from these efforts, the individuals responsible for deploying any innocent civilians as human shields could be guilty of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.
With that, I have no late-breaking operations news to report, so we'll take your questions.
Q: Mr. Secretary, Turkey would be a key ally in any invasion of Iraq that were ordered. Yet Turkey is pressing for more aid in return for use of its bases. The United States -- the White House made clear that the United States has told Turkey to take it or leave it on what you've offered them. Have you given them any deadline? And what do you do if Ankara says no? What do you do militarily? Would that make it much more difficult to invade Iraq?
Rumsfeld: Well, obviously the more assistance one gets, the easier it is. The less assistance one gives, the more difficult it is. But nonetheless, it's doable, and there are work-arounds.
I don't know that -- I think what you have to remember is that Turkey is a democracy, and it's a democracy in a region where there are relatively few democracies. And they are going through a democratic process, which is a healthy thing. And there's a lot of debate and discussion taking place. What they'll ultimately decide, of course, is a function of how the parliament decides to address it. And they've been a long-standing ally and friend and NATO ally as well to the United States. And they're cooperating at the present time with respect to Operation North Watch, and I suspect that in one way or another -- a variety of ways, probably -- they'll end up cooperating in the event that force has to be used in Iraq.
Q: But you have military equipment at sea now from the 4th Infantry Division headed for Turkey, and the Turkish leaders said today there's no vote in parliament planned this week. Do you have a deadline of when you must know from Turkey, so that you could make other plans for forces that might go there?
Rumsfeld: We don't discuss deployments.
Q: Will the use of human shields, if it occurs, affect the operation? Would it affect the tactics that your commanders use?
Rumsfeld: Those are judgments that they'll have to make at the time, and certainly the crime of war which would be committed by the use of human shields is something that would be dealt with post- conflict --
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Rumsfeld: -- and the people involved.
Q: Mr. Secretary, now there are published reports that you and perhaps the Joint Chiefs are considering developing a new class of nuclear weapon, perhaps smaller, perhaps bunker-buster types. Is that true? And if so, how do you intend to handle the issue of nuclear testing in the treaty?
Rumsfeld: I don't believe there is anything currently under way by way of developing new nuclear weapons. I think that anything that was in a classified document, which leaked, if I'm not mistaken, referred not to the development of specific weapons but the analysis that would go into determining whether or not something might or might not make sense. But there is not anything that anyone could describe as development.
Q: General Myers, given the fact you know the whole iceberg and we don't -- I don't think we've ever asked you this question -- do you think going to war in Iraq if diplomacy fails is worth doing? Are you going to write a book five years from now and say, "I was just being a good soldier; I always thought it was a bad idea"?
Myers: Well, first of all, I think if you look at our Constitution and you look at the role of the military, the decision on whether to go to war or not in any case is always a political decision. The military -- the military has an obligation, I think, if orders are immoral, illegal, unethical, to oppose those orders, of course. But short of that, you do what the political leadership says to do.
Now, my private opinion and my private advice and advice to the chiefs that we provided to the secretary and to the president will remain just that; it will remain private.
Q: But is it your personal opinion that it's more lift than drag to do it?
Myers: Well, if you look at some of the speeches I've given and you talk about the nexus of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and what it can mean to the American people, I think you will -- while not directly addressing it, I think you'll understand my concern.
Q: Mr. Secretary, there are rumors floating around now, as there have been on a few occasions in the past, that a senior -- one of Saddam's senior lieutenants has been put under house arrest. I think it's Qusay Hussein's father-in-law. And the suspicion was that he may have been planning some kind of coup. This raises again the question of how you would -- how the United States would view a coup that removed Saddam from power but perhaps one that was orchestrated by his senior henchmen.
Rumsfeld: Unfavorably. There is not much point in having Saddam Hussein remove himself and substitute something of a kind in his place. So it wouldn't have any effect.
Q: Wouldn't have any effect on war planning or (inaudible).
Rumsfeld: Not that I can think of. You know, one dictator who wants weapons of mass destruction and wants to ignore 17 U.N. resolutions for another who is a dictator who wants weapons of mass destruction and wants to continue violating some 17 U.N. resolutions is not a very happy trade.
Q: Mr. Secretary, how do you view the rising tide of anti-war sentiment in Europe? It is becoming massive and difficult to ignore, I would think. From the point of view of the administration, help to put that in perspective.
Rumsfeld: Well, it is a(n) indication of democracies. That's the way democracies do things. There are differences of views. People are allowed to express themselves in a variety of different ways. We can note that in dictatorships, that doesn't happen; you're not seeing massive demonstrations of any type in Baghdad or Iraq. And so, I suppose, what one can take away from it is that there are a great many people who support and who recognize the seriousness of the issue and are in support. And there are some people in the streets who are not. And that is as it's always been.
I think the thing I would come back to is something I've said on a number of occasions, and I feel very deeply. These are tough issues. These are not easy issues. They are complicated. It's relatively simple when there is an attack on Pearl Harbor or when Germany occupies two or three countries in World War II. It is not simple in this case because what we're dealing with is something that is a 21st century phenomenon. It is weapons of vastly greater power in the hands of people who have demonstrated their willingness to use them and have threatened their neighbors and us and others. So, the threat that exists is a very serious one. And I think that we ought not to be surprised that there are difference of views and that it's going to take a while for people to get comfortable with this new century and recognize the seriousness of the threats.
Q: There are some who say the comments that you have made from the podium and in interviews have been decidedly unhelpful to the campaign to try to bring more members into the coalition. Can you address the kind of comments that you have made about Germany and France, which may have been intended to be humorous but have caused offense over there, and your role as a spokesman for trying to bring these nations into the coalition?
Rumsfeld: Well, I think if one goes back and looks at the precise words that I've used, they're -- they are what they are. And the impression that is left often in news articles that Europe is opposing the United States, I think, is belied by the facts. The facts are that the vote in NATO was 16, including the United States, to three. And therefore the implication that there's some sort of a transatlantic problem, I think, is -- misses the mark. What's taking place is, there are differences of views, to be sure, within Europe and in the world and -- as well as within countries. And as I say, that is not surprising to me, given the difficulties of the issues.
Q: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to segue in John's question there. A lot of commentary this weekend brought back echoes of Vietnam in terms of the U.S. public not supporting the war in the late '60s. You were a young congressman, and you know the corrosive impact of that debate. The U.S. -- the public didn't believe the Johnson or the Nixon administration. Do you worry, from where you sit now, that without strong public support, we may be back in a situation a la the last years of the Vietnam War, where the public wasn't strongly behind you, didn't believe your reasons for going in?
Rumsfeld: You know, those are calculations that leaders have to make, and it's a calculation that the president makes. And I think that the differences between that period and this period are so notable that the comparison is not only not perfect, it is a real stretch.
Q: But there was an ambivalence about why we were in Vietnam in terms of, you know, the domino theory and stopping --
Rumsfeld: I understand.
Q: You know the arguments -- (inaudible) --
Rumsfeld: (Chuckles.) I sure do.
Q: -- as ambivalent as the arguments that are going against Iraq now. So it was just not as clear-cut, even back then, why we went to war.
Rumsfeld: Well, I would repeat what I said. I think any comparison to that period and that long, long, long conflict with enormous numbers of young people killed is not relevant. It just isn't on the mark. For one thing, what we're talking about here are the potential for weapons of mass destruction to be used against our country. That is a very different fact pattern. It is a different era. It's a different century, and the threats are notably different and vastly more lethal.
Q: Just to follow up on an earlier question, is war, in your view, inevitable at this point? And if not, could you tell us a couple of scenarios that to you seem to -- or would seem to be able to avert a war?
Rumsfeld: Sure. It's not inevitable. The -- although, as the president has said, time is running out. The ways it could end other than through the use of force are that the Iraqi regime could decide to leave the country and the new leadership would adhere to and agree with and practice the basic principles that are involved. Number one, it would be a single country. Number two, it would not have weapons of mass destruction, it would yield up everything it has, it would not threaten its neighbors, and it would provide the people of Iraq an opportunity to -- a voice in their government in a way that protected the rights of ethnic or religious minorities in the country. That's one way.
A second way would be that someone in the country decided that he should leave involuntarily. A third is that the Iraqi regime should suddenly, after 11, 12 years, decide it wants to cooperate with the United Nations and adhere to the resolutions.
Q: Mr. Secretary, of those things, knowing what you know of Saddam Hussein, what he's doing and not doing now and his past history and what's happening in Iraq, how realistic are any of those things?
Rumsfeld: Time will tell.
Q: Mr. Secretary, in Europe it seems it's not just a matter of divided opinions, but public survey after public-opinion survey in our strongest allies shows strong majorities opposing the U.S. posture with Iraq. Even in Britain, Tony Blair has acknowledged that the vast majority of people are against him, and he's in political trouble because of it. Why do you think there is so much opposition to our posture?
Rumsfeld: I thought I answered that. I really -- first of all, it is not our posture; there are a large number of nations that support the position of President Bush and the United States of America. It is not a -- the view of a single country. There are a large and growing number of countries that agree with the position that the president has taken. That's fact number one.
The implication that because a few countries are opposing or because some publics are opposing -- I would go back to what I said earlier: these are tough issues. This is a new period. We've not gone through this before. This is hard stuff. And it's not easy for anyone, including me and the people in this building, to think that through and make a calculation as to what the risks to our people are. And the president of the United States is the person who ultimately has that responsibility. And it's a big responsibility.
Q: There didn't seem to be as much opposition with regard to Afghanistan. I'm wondering what you think about the notion that the administration's handling of not only this issue, but its willingness recently to go its own way when it suited its purposes, on treaty after treaty, has hurt it in this case, when it now needs other nations. I'm wondering what you think about that.
Rumsfeld: The president went to the Congress, got an overwhelming vote. He went to the United Nations and got a unanimous vote of the Security Council that said, as we all know, that Iraq was in material breach of the preceding U.N. resolutions and that this was its, quote, "final opportunity," unquote, and if it failed in this final opportunity, that it would face "serious consequences," I believe is the direct quote from Resolution 1441.
A unanimous vote in the Security Council is not, quote, "going it alone." I keep reading these words: unilateral, go it alone. They get mouthed and written over and over again -- and some sort of breach between the United States and Europe. The fact of the matter is there are people within every country, and within Europe, that are on different views on this. And that is understandable because these are tough, tough issues.
Q: Mr. Secretary, as you're preparing for possible war with Iraq, you're also preparing to allow hundreds of journalists to accompany U.S. troops, not just from the United States, but also more than a hundred from other countries as well. To what extent is this policy a reaction to some of the bad publicity you got in the international press concerning the war in Afghanistan? And are you confident that an organization such as Al-Jazeera, which you've complained about their accuracy in the past, who has been offered slots to accompany some U.S. forces, won't broadcast information that could compromise the mission?
Rumsfeld: Well, let me start and then Dick can talk about the latter portion of the question.
First of all, it's not a reaction to anything.
Second, my impression of the press reaction to the handling of the press with respect to Afghanistan was that it was not negative, it was -- compared to previous circumstances, 1991 and other times. There's always going to be people in the press who prefer this or prefer that. In fact, I'm told that at the present time, with respect to the decision that's been made to embed press in, that there are people who disagree with that. In other words, if you do something, somebody's not going to agree with it. That's life.
Now -- so I wouldn't characterize the Afghan -- the reaction to the way the department dealt with the press as negative on a relative basis. There's always someone complaining about something, but I would say it was not net negative compared to prior situations.
Q: One point of clarification. As you know, I'm loathe to ever dispute you on anything, but -- (laughter) -- I'm not sure that everyone will agree. But the point of my question was not so much how the press felt about it, but the fact that there were negative stories in the international press about what was going on in Afghanistan that were harder for you to counter because there was not access on the ground.
Rumsfeld: Oh, I see your point. I see your point. Yeah.
Q: You know, I'm just wondering if the fact that there's more access planned for this operation might be in part to give the other side of the story?
Rumsfeld: First of all, the circumstances in Afghanistan relative to the circumstances in the event force is used in Iraq are so totally different. We had very small numbers of people on the ground. They were embedded in forces that we did not know intimately -- northern alliance forces for the most part, but also some in the south. And the combination of very small numbers of U.S. forces with large numbers of local Afghan forces that we did not know well created a situation where it was very difficult to embed -- impossible, in my view -- to embed press in that activity early. Once it became fairly regularized, they were, in fact, allowed in at their choice. No one was kept from going into Afghanistan on their own and reporting from anywhere they want. Full stop.
Go to Iraq. It's a different situation. There will be -- we've talked about it -- Dick Myers and the public affairs people and I talked and we made a conscious decision that in this situation, it would not be a danger to the press -- an undue danger -- it will be dangerous but not an undue danger, and they're volunteers. It will not be an undue burden on the troops to have them present. And in fact, therefore, we've always believed that we are advantaged as a free country by having the press able to report to the extent it's humanly possible what's actually taking place.
Now, go to the other part of your question, where you said we were unhappy with the press reporting in Afghanistan, particularly international press reporting. And the answer is, that's right, to the extent that the Taliban and the al Qaeda would lie and drag people out of a hospital over to a neighboring building and claim we hit the hospital or killed innocent civilians, when we didn't, and the press would carry it as though it were true, even though they lied about everything they were doing, it's worrisome. Because that goes through one news cycle and another news cycle and another news cycle and the people in the region begin to think, "My goodness, they're not treating Afghan people very nicely." And that was untrue.
We know that Saddam Hussein does all of these things that threaten the lives of innocent men, women and children. We know he lies. And, having the press there themselves to see it can -- now, are there going to be stories that are critical of the United States armed services and the Department of Defense? Sure. There are every day anyway. But at least there might be some people on the ground who might take the time to see what's actually happening and might report it accurately, whether from this country or other countries, and that, in my view, is to our benefit.
(To General Myers) Do you want to comment on the risk to the --
Myers: You bet.
And Jamie, as you said, there will be U.S. media and foreign media embedded with some of our forces. And of course, there will be rules set up to keep them from revealing operationally sensitive issues, and those rules will have to be complied with. And if they're betrayed, of course, then they will be disinvited to be with those forces. I think we've -- we have done that successfully in the past, and I'm confident that our commanders have the wherewithal to do that.
Q: And you're comfortable about Al-Jazeera taking part as one of those news organizations?
Myers: It's going to be foreign press and U.S. press; and you bet. That's what we do in democracies, so it may be -- may be a good lesson.
Q: Acknowledging that the president has made no decision with regard to war with Iraq, you're nevertheless cobbling together a coalition of the willing. Could you talk about the (inaudible) control arrangements you have with the various countries and groups? I'm thinking particularly of some of the Kurdish forces, what assurances you're seeking from them that they are not going to take advantage of what could be chaos to further their own agendas, political or military? And in that sense I'm particularly thinking Turkey and what assurances you're seeking from Turkey that they're not going to restart or continue what's been going on between they (sic) and some Kurdish forces. And how do you straighten out northern Iraq and keep it --
Rumsfeld: We've made very clear to everybody that we intend, in the event that force is used, that that remain a single country and we would intend to have forces in place to see that advantage was not taken of any temporary disorder that could conceivably occur in a conflict.
Q: The administration has expressed again and again that time is running out, that it's not a matter of months, but weeks. Is it because you feel that within a few weeks Saddam Hussein might be more dangerous, or is it linked to the war, which is better waged in -- not in summer?
Rumsfeld: I think you'd have to ask the president. He's the one who has used those words. And he may very well have reasons that are those or different ones.
Q: Can we come back to the issue of opposition, because I feel like I don't have a very good understanding of your calculations on opposition that you do see to military action, whether it's in the U.N., NATO, the allies, on the streets.
You talked about the fact that people need to get more comfortable with the new century and the new threats. But what's your real calculation about how you prioritize the opposition that you do see? Is it -- can you just give us some sense of your priorities? In other words, how important is it at this point to get Hans Blix, Mohamed ElBaradei on board? They certainly seem quite uncomfortable with the U.S. position at the moment. How do you -- what's the important part of the opposition to really address and try and deal with, from an administration point of view?
Rumsfeld: That really is a call for Secretary Powell and the president because they are the ones that are dealing with the U.N. piece of it, I'm not. It seems to me that there is supposedly going to be a third report by the two gentlemen you referred to, sometime next month. I don't have any idea what they're going to say. And --
Q: I guess the question that I don't -- well, what I don't understand at the moment is your personal thinking, are there relevant parts of opposition that you feel need to be addressed on a priority basis, or is it just everybody needs to get comfortable?
Rumsfeld: I did use the word "comfortable." I don't know that that's probably the right word, because what one has to get comfortable with is something that's uncomfortable; it's a very different security environment for the world.
You've characterized Mr. Blix and ElBaradei, I believe, as in opposition, and I don't think that is the case.
Q: (Off mike) -- they certainly didn't rush to embrace what the U.S. had presented at the United Nations.
Rumsfeld: They're out there doing their jobs. And the issue is, when you drop a plumb line through their interaction with Iraq, is Iraq cooperating or not? That is the critical, pivotal, central question in the whole thing. And these are men that I presume will look at the facts and make an honest assessment at some point, and they then will have to have their assessment assessed by the members of the Security Council, including the United States.
Q: The omnibus appropriation bill Congress sent the president last week had $6 billion for the department in '03. If you lay that against what you've told us about the monthly burn rate on the war on terrorism -- 2.1 to start the flow, blah, blah, blah -- we're halfway through the second quarter --
Rumsfeld: No blah, blah, blah. (Laughter.)
Q: I withdraw that. Forgive me.
Q: We're halfway through the second quarter, and you're borrowing from the fourth quarter. Give us a snapshot of what -- how much leeway the department has in getting some money and talk about what you think the factors are that ought to drive when you go up -- the administration goes up to Congress and says, "Here's what we're doing. We need a supplement."
Rumsfeld: Well, the 6.1 (billion) takes care of four months and a fraction. That's October, November, December and January. And probably the fraction is not even up to today. So the money that was just included, the 6.1 (billion), is already gone.
We will need, for the global war on terror, as best one can predict, the remainder of the year, which is the rest of this month through September. And you multiply that times 1.6 and you have that amount.
Then you have the 2.1, as you've said, that we didn't spend. Now that means that we have to go for another supplemental, and in my view, it's best to go for supplementals earlier, rather than later. When the White House will decide, the OMB and the president, is a calculation -- I'm talking only for the department -- they have to make a calculation that looks at -- across the entire government, and what their judgment will be on it remains to be seen.
And of course, what I just said excludes any additional buildup with respect to Iraq.
Q: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, talking about Korea, the South Korean government has announced that the United States has proposed to discuss deductions and/or redeployment of the United States troops in South Korea after the new president, Roh Moo Hyun, takes office. Can you confirm that?
Rumsfeld: I can state what the truth is, and it's different from that, in this sense. The president-elect of South Korea, Republic of Korea, announced during his campaign and after his campaign that he wanted to engage the United States in discussions to -- rebalance, I believe, was the word they used -- to rebalance the relationship. He sent over officials from his transition team, and we met with them. And even prior to that, from this podium, I acknowledged the fact that he had said that, and I said that's fine with us.
We would be happy to accept his invitation to have serious discussions about how we're arranged and how we might rebalance that relationship. I -- everyone who has talked about it from the United States has cast it the way I just did, and further, we have cast it in a way that it is important that it be done -- those discussions be done in a manner that doesn't in any way destabilize the situation or invite anyone to do something that they might otherwise avoid doing.
The only other thing that's come up in the discussion is this problem where we have a large number of forces in the area of Seoul, which is unfortunate because of the fact that that's a big, growing city, and having a large foreign military presence in a growing, thriving metropolis like that is not really the best way to do it. It would be like having them in Washington, D.C., or in Chicago or New York. Everyone bumps up against each other. And we have had discussions over a long period of time about the possibility of changing our footprint in a way that it would be preferable from our standpoint and preferable from their standpoint.
Q: Mr. Secretary, do you believe Saddam Hussein is hiding weapons or banned material in places where foreign journalists are staying in Baghdad? And do you believe the regime would use foreign journalists as human shields in the event of military action?
Rumsfeld: I don't know the answer to the first question. With respect to the second question, I think one looks at his behavior in the past.
Q: Mr. Secretary --
Q: Mr. Secretary, can I just --
Rumsfeld: Could I give a few other --
Q: One final on Turkey.
Q: I want to ask General Myers if he could confirm a report that the U.S. and British governments are tracking some vessels believed to be carrying weapons of mass destruction. I guess the implication is these things were not found by inspectors because they were put out to sea before the inspectors arrived.
Myers: We have no -- I mean, nothing to confirm that at all.
Q: And with your maritime and leadership interdiction programs, you don't see anything like that?
Myers: No, I've not -- that story seems -- I mean, it just can't be confirmed.
Rumsfeld: We'll take two more questions. Right here.
Q: Mr. Secretary, taking into consideration the impact of the media on the American public, is the Department of Defense watching or keeping up with the Iraqi media in order to see how they may be preparing or planning any sort of urban warfare?
Rumsfeld: Iraqi media is, of course, not free press; it's controlled by the Iraqi government. And we do keep track of it.
Q: Mr. Secretary, we're about less than two months now away from mid-April, when the Iraqi desert becomes very hot and it would be difficult for U.S. forces and other forces to operate in protective suits. If we have much further delay in the United Nations in discussions on possible resolutions, et cetera, how long can we go on this before we're forced to defer to sometime in the fall before any action would be possible?
Rumsfeld: You know, how long the president will go -- the thing to keep in mind about the United Nations process, it's not how long should you go to try to have the inspectors find and discover weapons of mass destruction in the country; that's not what they're there for. The question is how long does it make sense to wait to determine the extent to which the Iraqi government is cooperating? And the answer, according to both of those gentlemen thus far, is that their cooperation has been somewhere well short of what the resolution called for.
I think --
Q: Mr. Secretary, could I ask one more brief one on Turkey, if I could? I don't believe you answered, sir, on whether or not you've given the Turks a deadline. You need to know quickly -- and General Myers -- before you begin making decisions on these work-arounds that you spoke of?
Rumsfeld: No, what you do is you make your work-arounds beforehand and then you see what happens. And I don't think of it as giving deadlines to people.
Q: Do you need a decision rather quickly from them?
Rumsfeld: Well, it depends on what the president decides. And he's not announced that.
Thank you very much.