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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Briefing

Aired April 25, 2003 - 11:59   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Pentagon briefing is just getting underway. Let's go live to the Pentagon. The Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, speaking. He'll be followed by the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Richard Meyers.
... we're both apprehended by Free Iraqi Forces

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECY. OF DEFENSE: I guess it's still good morning. The number of officials of the former regime now in the hands of coalition forces continues to grow. This week Saddam Hussein's trade minister was captured by coalition forces on the Iraqi-Syrian border. His director of military intelligence was captured near Baghdad. His deputy chief of tribal affairs and a former senior member of his Revolutionary Command Council were both apprehended by free Iraqi forces and turned over to the coalition.

The commander of his air defense force was taken into custody west of Baghdad. The former head of the American desk of the Iraqi Intelligence Service was also captured after a shootout with coalition forces in Baghdad.

And yesterday, of course, the former deputy prime minister and confidant of Saddam Hussein, Tariq Aziz, was taken into custody.

We now have, I believe, 12 of the 55 most wanted officials in custody, as well as a number of other officials who were not on that original list of 55. Most are being apprehended with the help of ordinary Iraqis. I expect that, with the help of the Iraqi people, many more will be captured in the days ahead.

Meanwhile, the situation in Baghdad is improving daily. The power and other services are slowly being restored. The capital is beginning to move again with commerce. Our coalition in Iraq now includes some 65 or 66 nations. And a growing number are on the ground in Iraq helping to provide food, water, medicine, trucks, generators, field hospitals, mine clearing and other humanitarian assistance.

In Karbala, over 1 million Shi'a Muslims were able to complete their pilgrimage without interference from Saddam Hussein's regime for the first time since 1977.

RUMSFELD: That is an important accomplishment; a sign that free expression and religious liberty are returning to Iraq.

One of the most important aspects of a free society is, of course, free expression, including the expression of minority views. One of the ways that minority opinion can be expressed in free nations is through protest and demonstrations.

Here in the U.S., for example, the majority of Americans supported the war in Iraq, but some opposed it. And some took to the streets to make their opposition heard.

The same is true in other democracies. On Tuesday, for example, hundreds of people marched in Moscow to celebrate Lenin's birthday and called for a restoration of the Soviet Union.

So the fact that demonstrations are taking place is a sign that Iraqis are embracing that right of free speech, a right restored by coalition forces. But it should not be taken to indicate that a majority of Iraqis oppose the coalition objectives in Iraq. It may seem like that, watching television from time to time, but I believe that a majority of the Iraqis are pleased to be rid of Saddam Hussein's regime.

And far from wanting coalition forces gone, they have been asking coalition forces to help restore order, to assist with basic services: water, food, electricity and the like. They want the coalition to help to provide stability and security, as Iraqis form an interim authority and eventually choose a free Iraqi government. And then they will want us to leave, to be sure. And that's what we would want as well.

This much is certain: A vocal minority clamoring to transform Iraq in Iran's image will not be permitted to do so. We will not allow the Iraqi people's democratic transition to be hijacked by those who might wish to install another form of dictatorship.

RUMSFELD: Our policy in Iraq is simple: It is to stay as long as necessary to finish our work, and then to leave Iraq to the Iraqi people as soon as that work is done.

General Myers?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Though our focus has been on Iraq these past weeks, operations in Afghanistan continue. Today coalition forces operating near Shkin, Afghanistan, were fired on by approximately 20 enemy personnel. The resulting firefight cost the lives of two U.S. service men; additionally some U.S. and Afghan soldiers were wounded. We engaged the enemy from the ground and from the air and continue to look for them.

I want to extend our condolences to the families and friends of those killed and wounded.

In Iraq, today is D-Day plus 37.

As the secretary said, humanitarian operations continue to expand and life throughout a liberated Iraq is returning to some semblance of normalcy. However, coalition forces continue to encounter pockets of resistance from Iraqi paramilitary forces and from foreign fighters, but these threats are being dealt with as they come up one-by-one.

This morning, a 20- to 30-man Iraqi paramilitary force attacked a coalition patrol northwest of Mosul. Coalition forces killed several of the attackers and destroyed two of the so-called technical vehicles, the trucks with the machine guns on them. A two-man enemy paramilitary element was engaged in south Baghdad; one was killed, one was captured.

On April 18th, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit were led to this vehicle, that's on the slide now, clearly marked as an Iraqi Red Crescent ambulance at a hospital in Mosul by the hospital staff. When the Marines opened the ambulance doors, there were no medical supplies or stretchers. What they discovered in the interior was electronic equipment.

This ambulance was modified by the former Iraqi regime for use as a signals intelligence collection vehicle. The vehicle was capable of intercepting and direction finding different types of electronic radio signals.

Obviously, as we've (inaudible) that's a shot of the antenna up there in the upper part of that vehicle.

RUMSFELD: Just so there's no confusion, Red Crescent is the name of the Red Cross in that part of the world.

MYERS: And this should not be surprising, because we've been talking about them using hospitals and schools and this type of equipment for some time, but we -- I thought these pictures would leave the conclusion pretty well self-evident.

RUMSFELD: We also had instances of this in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and the Al Qaida were using Red Crescent buildings and facilities, as well as vehicles, to attempt to provide them cover so that they could go out and kill innocent men, women and children.

MYERS: At the last press briefing I was asked about cluster munitions, and we talked about them briefly there.

Coalition forces dropped nearly 1,500 cluster bombs of varying types during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Most were precision-guided. An initial review of all cluster munitions used and the targets they were used on indicate that only 26 of those approximately 1,500 hit targets within 1,500 feet of civilian neighborhoods. And there's been only one recorded case of collateral damage from cluster munitions noted so far.

We use cluster munitions against surface-to-surface missiles, radar sites or defense sites, surface-to-air missiles, regime mobile communications, aircraft, armor, artillery troops and other select military targets. Because the regime choose to put many of these military assets in populated areas, and then from those areas fired on our forces, in some cases we hit those targets knowing that there would be a chance of potential collateral damage. Coalition forces used cluster munitions in very specific cases against valid military targets and when they deemed it was a military necessity.

These are tough choices, and it's unfortunate that we had to make those choices about hitting targets in civilians areas. But as we've said before, as well, war is not a tidy affair; it's a very ugly affair. And this enemy had no second thoughts about putting its own people at risk. Indeed, multiple civilian casualties were clearly a high priority for the regime so as to put pressure on the coalition. Now they will not be able to do that any longer.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, on North Korea, the president and you and Secretary Powell have said repeatedly the United States wants to settle this face-off with North Korea peacefully. Having said that, the recent pointed statements by North Korea that it has nuclear weapons and might do whatever with them and is reprocessing plutonium, is that drawing closer, perhaps, military option? Is the military option, I guess, moving closer to possibility with this?

RUMSFELD: Well, I don't think I'd want to say that.

The president's on a diplomatic path. Clearly, the recent discussions have not moved the ball forward. But Secretary Powell and the president are working on the matter and the hope is that it can ultimately be resolved through diplomatic means.

QUESTION: Does the military option remain open, sir?

RUMSFELD: I'm not going to discuss the subject beyond what I've said. I'll leave it to the president and the secretary of state.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can you tell me what the department's relationship and the administration's relationship is with Ahmed Chalabi? How do you view his role in the new Iraq?

QUESTION: And does it bother you at all that he's a convicted felon in Jordan and that Jordan's King Abdullah views him as a charlatan?

RUMSFELD: You know, I suspect that every -- first of all, the Iraqi people are going to decide what the Iraqi government is going to look like.

There have been people inside Iraq who've resisted the regime and a lot of them were killed, a lot of them were in prison, a lot of them were tortured, a lot of their families were murdered and killed. It was a brutal regime.

There are a lot of people outside of Iraq -- Iraqis -- who have resisted the Iraqi regime over a period of some decades. They are now in reasonable numbers returning to Iraq, and there'll be a process that will sort through who will eventually move into positions of responsibility, first in an interim authority of some kind, and then later in a more permanent government.

I suspect that anyone who puts their head up will find that it's a lot like the United States and other countries where people can express themselves, and someone'll not like them, someone will say something about them that is unpleasant, and it'll get printed in the press and it'll get carried on television that, "We're for this person, not that person," "That person's a good person, that person's a bad person."

And that'll go on, and there'll be a natural sort that will take place, and that's a good thing. And the people left standing who garner the greatest amount of support will end up being the ones that ultimately will take responsibility as long as they adhere to the basic principles that we've put forward; namely, a country that's whole, free, at peace with its neighbors, doesn't have weapons of mass destruction and is respectful of the rights of all the people of that country.

QUESTION: But it seems in this case the United States is supporting Chalabi and his followers by offering logistical support. Also, you didn't answer the question that he a convicted felon in Jordan; that's not just people don't like him.

RUMSFELD: I'm not going to get into the background of any of these individuals. They all have their opportunity to make their case and to present their case and to try to persuade other people in that country that they are someone that merits their support. And I will say that Mr. Chalabi is a member of the leadership council of the Iraqi opposition. They have selected their leaders. He is one of, I believe, six.

Is that correct?

MYERS: I don't know the number, sir.

RUMSFELD: And all of those people are involved in this process.

The United States has, obviously, supplied some assistance to a variety of people, Shi'a and Sunnis, and people from inside the country and people from outside the country. Why did we do that? Well, we did it because we believe that the Iraqi people ought to have a role in freeing and liberating their country. And indeed a lot of Iraqi people did have a role in that, and it was a good thing.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, with regard to the growing list of high-profile former Iraqis, government officials that you have in custody -- I guess they are determined to be prisoners of war -- where they are being held, and, sort of, how you are handling them, and determining what their future is going to be remains an open question.

Have you done thinking on those things? What is likely to happen to them? What, if anything, are you getting from them at this point by way of guidance or insight into the things that you are most interested in?

RUMSFELD: We have acquired, scooped-up, have custody of, a large number of people -- Iraqi people, even some non-Iraqis; we have a number of Syrians and other nationals that were in there doing things they shouldn't have been doing. The number is somewhere between 7,000 and 7,500, I'm going to guess. They're in various locations. I think we are probably down to one or two enemy prisoners of war camps.

MYERS: That's probably right. We had some locations where we had collection points and then, kind of, probably consolidated -- maybe three -- at this point.

RUMSFELD: We still have some others in custody in other parts of the country. We're not inclined to tell you where, but we have them.

We're keeping the hard cases separate, for the most part. We're systematically going through the less hard cases and releasing people. I believe we've released over a thousand people already, probably, ordinary foot soldiers who were part of the element that surrendered, and when we had a chance to vet them and take a look, why we said, "Gee, let's send them home and get them out of here."

And as others have been brought in, we've been moving others out. So we've been, I think, almost every day moving out something in excess of a hundred, which is a good thing. We, obviously, don't want to hold any more people than we have to.

You can be certain that the people who we have reason to believe have information are being interrogated by interagency teams, and they are in fact providing information that's useful.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, last week General Myers mentioned that you were planning a trip to the Middle East. Have those plans been firmed up?

RUMSFELD: Did you act as my travel agent?

MYERS: I did, yes, sir. I was your travel agent for a day. I admit.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: He didn't book your tickets, but can you give us a sense of where your travel plans stand at this point, and what would the objective be?

RUMSFELD: I may very well take a trip. I'm not inclined to announce where or when. And the purpose would be closely tied to the places I might visit and the time I might visit them.

(LAUGHTER)

RUMSFELD: How did I do? it's that about roughly what you said?

(LAUGHTER)

MYERS: I didn't even say that much I don't think.

(LAUGHTER) QUESTION: The vocal minority that you mentioned in your opening statement, clamoring for an Iranian-style government, is it your impression that those are people who are acting -- you know, speaking from the heart? Or do you think that the government of Iran is fomenting this sort of sentiment?

RUMSFELD: There's no question but that the government of Iran has encouraged people to go into the country and they have people in the country attempting to influence the country. My impression is that the Shi'as in the country are Iraqis, and the Shi'a outside the country from Iran are Persians. And my guess is that the Iraqi people will prefer to be governed by Iraqis and not by Persians.

QUESTION: What is the extent of the Iranian activity? Is it money? Is it agents of influence? Can you describe what's going on?

RUMSFELD: They have organized elements that they send into the country to attempt to assert influence.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can you shed any light on the specifics of Tariq Aziz's surrender and perhaps the significance of that?

RUMSFELD: Well, I could, but I don't know why I would get into the ticktock of who did what to whom and how it worked. But he's in custody. And the significance is...

QUESTION: Hold on...

(LAUGHTER)

RUMSFELD: What's this hold on stuff?

(LAUGHTER)

I'd never say that to you.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: I was sensing a one-word answer coming and...

(LAUGHTER)

MYERS: Preemptive questioning.

RUMSFELD: There you go.

You know, he clearly is a very senior person, and was in that regime. And we intend to discuss with him whatever it is he's willing to discuss with us.

QUESTION: Just following up: There was also another get, Farouk Hijazi (ph), reportedly coming from Syria into Iraq; most recently Iraq's ambassador to Tunisia. Is this a sign that Syria is cooperating, kicking people out? Any details on that get?

RUMSFELD: It's hard to tell. There's no question but that with the neighbors you see a mixture of things. You see some things that are -- something that was going on that was adverse to the interests of the Iraqi people and certainly adverse to the interests of the coalition that in some cases have stopped. So you would say, "Gee, that's a good thing. That's a plus." And then, there are some things that are still continuing, which are minuses.

So it's a mixture of things that you see, and it's not a perfectly clear picture as to either the country of Syria or Iran.

QUESTION: Well, what are the minuses, sir?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you've said a number of times that U.S. forces would stay in Iraq only as long as necessary. General Franks was quoted in an interview today as saying that could be a year or two. Does that sound about right to you?

RUMSFELD: I can't guess. I mean the people kept saying, "Gee, how many casualties will there be?" And someone guessed 3,000. It was so far off that it's just unbelievable. They guessed how long it would last, and people were way off on that.

I can't tell you...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: I think so. I think it's a very difficult thing to guess, and I don't have to guess. It doesn't do any good to guess.

RUMSFELD: We're going to go in there, and we're going to do what we need to do, and we're going to get it done, and we're going to get it done well, and then we'll leave.

MYERS: I think what General Franks said, if I remember right, was, when asked the question, "Well, it could be a month or two or a year or two." What he was saying is, "We don't know." And I wouldn't focus on the year or two any more than I'd focused on the month or two. I think it's exactly as the secretary said.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, with these officials that have been taken into custody now, do you have any more sense than you did, say, a week ago on whether the old leadership of the regime is still intact, whether they went to ground together, whether there was any kind of plan, or is it like each man for himself now, is that what it appears like?

RUMSFELD: I think to suggest that the top 55 were all housed in the same location would clearly be not the case. I'm going to guess some got over some border and are finding haven someplace. I would guess that still others we've found and still others are in the country in various places, probably trying to be inconspicuous, and we'll eventually find them.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: Oh, I would doubt it, but I couldn't rule it out. It's just not knowable by us. QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, when it comes to the senior regime leaders that have been captured, such as Tariq Aziz, are they considered prisoners of war? Are they subject to the protections of the Geneva Convention? Will they be visited by the Red Cross? Will they be possibly moved to Guantanamo? What's going to happen to them?

RUMSFELD: Lot's of questions.

With respect to Guantanamo, the answer is no. We intend to not take people, regardless of what they are characterized as, from Iraq or from any other country to Guantanamo Bay at the moment. Could it change? Possibly. But my preference is not to, and I would guess I'd have a voice in it, and I would discourage doing that.

I think that it's hard to characterize all of them in the same way. I mean, some of them may very well be people who were military.

QUESTION: Well, say, take Tariq Aziz, for example.

RUMSFELD: Some of them are military and they would be considered enemy prisoners of war. We were in a war.

Some others might have been in civilian garb, like the Fedayeen Saddam, and the question is, what are they? And the lawyers will sort all that out.

What we do know is that there are people who in large measure have information that we need, and we need that information so that we can track down the weapons of mass destruction in that country; we need that information so that we can track down the terrorist links between Saddam Hussein's regime and various terrorist networks; and we need it to track down other people; we need it to find records so that we can go through this process of de-Baathification, if there's such a word, trying to eliminate the influence of the Baath Party in that country.

RUMSFELD: There's lot of very important projects we've got.

And the first order of business is, in my view, to stop holding the ones we don't need. And that's why we're working through 200 or 300 a day trying to sort them and get rid of them. Let them go back home and live their lives, if we don't need them.

Conversely, once we sort out the high-valued ones, and get interrogation teams working to gather that information. Clearly Tariq Aziz falls into the latter category.

QUESTION: Is he a POW subject to the protections of the Geneva Conventions?

RUMSFELD: These are lawyers. You're going to have to sort through that.

Was he in the military? Every time I was ever with him he always wore a camouflage uniform and a pistol on his hip. Does that make him military? I don't know. He was deputy prime minister. He was I believe the foreign minister.

The lawyers will figure that out. I don't have to worry about that stuff.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. considering possible criminal charges against any of these Iraqi leaders? And if not, at the conclusion of any conflict, wouldn't they be subject to release?

RUMSFELD: There are rules that apply to people depending on which basket they're in that it's true that when a war is over, there's a responsibility to release people who fit into certain categories, but not in others.

The lawyers are currently sorting through the question as to how they want to deal with this. Do they want to have some sort of a tribunal? Should the Iraqi people do it? Should some international organization do it, should the United States do it? I think probably the latter is not our first choice, but that's going to be decided at a higher level than this.

QUESTION: At this point, is the U.S. considering possible criminal charges of some kind against Iraqi leadership who are in custody, as opposed to any foot soldier?

RUMSFELD: I think I just answered that as well as I can. The lawyers are going to sort through that and decide. And they'll decide whether we ought to consider criminal charges and in what particular venue.

QUESTION: Are you concerned -- regarding Guantanamo Bay, do you care how it looks to the rest of the world that you're holding juveniles at Guantanamo Bay without legal representation? And what assurances can you give the families of those juveniles, who, of course, don't have access to them, that you are looking after their welfare?

RUMSFELD: Well, your question suggests that you know what the rest of the world thinks, and you characterized it. I'm not sure you do know that.

I don't know. I do know that we care what the rest of the world thinks. We live in a free system here, and we try to conduct ourselves according to our values, and generally accepted values in the world, which are quite different from those of the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein, and indeed quite different from a number of countries in that part of the world.

So we do care. And that's we're inviting the International Committee of the Red Cross to meet and interview and be with all of the people in Guantanamo Bay. They have reported on that.

RUMSFELD: I'm not going to characterize their reports. Someone would say, "Well, you didn't characterize it perfectly."

But you can go read it and see what they have to say. And I think you'll find that the care they're getting and the treatment they're getting reflects the fact that we believe that treating people properly is important, and that the rest of the world ought to know that. We have a long history in this country, and we are treating those people properly.

MYERS: Can I follow on?

RUMSFELD: You bet.

MYERS: I would say despite their age, these are very, very dangerous people. They are people that have been vetted mainly in Afghanistan and gone through a thorough process to determine what their involvement was. Some have killed, some have stated they're going to kill again. So they may be juveniles, but they're not on a Little League team anywhere. They're on a major league team, and it's a terrorist team. And they're in Guantanamo for very good reason; for our safety, for your safety.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can we go back to Afghanistan for a minute? General Myers said that there was 20 people that attacked the American patrol. Does that number surprise you? Does it concern you? Is that suggestive of the security situation in that region?

MYERS: Well, yes, the security situation is still dangerous in Iraq, and we've said that consistently. And there are groups. And I think as far as our forces concerned the more the better, because we can deal with them quicker that way.

It's not a concern from a military point of view, it's a concern overall security situation. We need to keep dealing with this, of curse.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, General Garner said yesterday in Iraq that the interim Iraqi civilian authority may be up and running as early as next week. This seemed to be a little faster than some people anticipated. How will that happen? Who will make up that...

RUMSFELD: It won't.

QUESTION: It won't?

RUMSFELD: I talked to Jay on the phone, on the -- Dick and I did this morning. As a matter of fact, General Garner had a good briefing of the president and the National Security Council this morning on a secure video. And I had asked him about that, and what he was talking about was the fact that there is a meeting next week, a second of the series of meetings that very likely will proceed as a buildup to the establishment of an Iraqi interim authority.

And I think in shorthand he was talking of a process as opposed to the way it came out in the paper as though there would be an authority set up next week. What he meant was, they're in the second meeting that is pointing toward the establishment of that and is part of the process of the IIA.

And he used the phrase IIA to encompass the process as opposed to the final event -- semi-final event of an interim authority. The final event being the real authority.

QUESTION: Do you all have any better sense when that interim authority may be set up?

RUMSFELD: I don't. I don't.

QUESTION: Are we talking weeks, months?

RUMSFELD: I just don't feel like guessing. It really has got to proceed at a pace that the Iraqi people are comfortable with.

RUMSFELD: The important thing to remember about it is, whatever is set up will be interim, and it will not be permanent, it will be temporary. It will serve for a period. And it will be as representative as is possible in a situation like we find in Iraq.

These are not people who've enjoyed democracy. They don't have political parties. They're not organized for this.

And what we're going to have to do is see that that interim authority has enough people representing enough elements in that country that when it is set up people look at it and say, "That's the group that's going to figure out a way to draft a constitution, that's the group that's going to figure out how you set this country on the path to the permanent authority."

Just as, if you go back to Afghanistan, the loya jirgah process produced the interim authority, the interim authority produced a process that will eventually lead to a more permanent government -- a permanent government.

But they've not gotten there in Afghanistan yet. That's still en route. So it'll be time. It takes time. And it's going well.

I don't know how many days you said it was, 37?

MYERS: Thirty-seven.

RUMSFELD: Thirty-seven days. We're all so impatient about everything being perfect, and life isn't perfect, life's somewhat untidy.

QUESTION: Sir, there is, if you can imagine, some cynicism about the plans for Iraq. The Geneva Convention, as we've talked about in here before, carries with it some requirements of the occupation power, but in order to be an occupation power you have to declare that the war is going to end. And once you become an occupation power you have responsibilities and you have some restrictions with contracts and things like that.

I've been hearing lately from some critics of the war that they're afraid that the Pentagon will never declare or General Franks will never declare a formal end to this; that when they're ready to leave they'll just take off and that will be the end, and therefore that occupation power rights and responsibilities and restrictions will never kick in. Can you tell us for sure that there's going to be a time when this war is declared over?

RUMSFELD: I mean, I would guess so. Can I tell you for sure? No. But I would guess there will be an end.

What we are seeing is we're seeing -- this isn't World War I or World War II that starts and then ends. Take Afghanistan. We've moved from major military activities to a point where at the present time the vast majority of the country is in a stabilization security mode, it's not in a major military activity mode, except along the Pakistan border.

How it will shake out in Iraq remains to be seen. I mean, we've said we're still having people killed. We'll get there.

QUESTION: So there's no attempt to avoid the invocation of those requirements of the Geneva Convention?

RUMSFELD: There's no attempt to avoid anything except getting more people killed and an attempt to try to get that country and those people in a process that'll produce a free Iraqi government for those people.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can I ask you about efforts to find weapons of mass destruction and terrorism? In recent days, there's been a flow of exploitation teams, military and intelligence. Can you give us an update on what kind of progress or lack of it they're making?

And last: Have you any updates on the efforts to resolve the case of Captain Speicher?

RUMSFELD: There is a continuing effort to resolve the case of Captain Speicher. And there's a team that's assigned to that. They're working the problem. They're talking to people. They're investigating sites where he may or may not have been. And we are always concerned and anxious to bring back and account for every American, indeed every coalition member. We feel the same way about the Kuwaiti prisoners of war, which we still don't have closure on from the '91 war.

QUESTION: How about the weapons and terrorists?

RUMSFELD: There are sites being exploited. Exploited's a funny word, but that's what they put in our memos. Examined, investigated, explored on a continuing basis. We get a report out of known sites. We've done this many. And then, out of opportunistic -- people will come up and say, "Why don't you look here and there?" we've done that many.

And still it's a long road. I mean, we're at a small fraction of the number of potential sites.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, in that -- going back to the case of the juveniles in Guantanamo, why isn't there a formal legal process for adjudicating those cases, as well as the cases of the other people who are detained there? General Myers said that these juveniles killed people, but there hasn't been a trial, there hasn't been a tribunal, there hasn't been a hearing.

RUMSFELD: I mean I want to answer.

The president announced a policy. It has been tested and looked at legally and we are proceeding on that basis; that the people gathered in Guantanamo we would prefer not to hold. We would like to have arrangements with other countries that they would take their nationals on a basis where we could get future access to them in the event additional intelligence comes up, and where we have reason to have confidence that they would not simply release people that are a danger to the lives of American men, women and children.

Now we're keeping them down there to keep them off the street. This is a worldwide network -- Al Qaida is -- and these folks in the Taliban were a part of that and were fighting in Afghanistan and killing people.

We have them in Guantanamo.

RUMSFELD: They're being examined and interrogated by an interagency process. The president has several ways he can proceed. He can put them into an Article III -- United States Article III, our Constitution, court. He can establish a military commission and try them that way. Or he can keep them for the duration of the war and keep them off the streets, so they don't keep other people.

Now, everything that is being done is being done legally and properly. And this constant refrain of, "the juveniles," as though there's 100 children in there; these are not children. Dick Myers responded to that. There are plenty of people who have been killed by people who were still in their teens.

QUESTION: They are being held indefinitely. There's no process for handling...

RUMSFELD: I just explained the process.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you said a few minutes that you're disinclined to bring Iraqis to Guantanamo. Can you tell us why is it that Guantanamo is a good place to have brought the Taliban and Al Qaida, but not to bring Iraqis?

RUMSFELD: The people we brought were people who were part of a worldwide -- for the most part, a worldwide terrorist organization or were participating with the Al Qaida. The people we've got in Iraq are, in large measure, Iraqi people who belong in Iraq. And to the extent they have to be held for some period of time, it's a lot more convenient to hold them in Iraqi prisons than it is to build prisons in Guantanamo and transport them down there.

So it just seems to me, first of all, it's respectful of the taxpayers' dollars. Why should we build a whole lot more prisons in Guantanamo and then pay to transport these folks down there? QUESTION: General Myers, can you clear up something that you said earlier in the week about the cluster bombs? It was an incident in which a young girl apparently (inaudible) some kind of munition.

MYERS: Yes.

QUESTION: Can you give more clarity on that?

MYERS: The information that I had at the time indicated in the first report that this little girl had actually intended to harm U.S. soldiers. In fact, I think as we went back, it was as was stated I think by somebody in the back of the room that she was trying to return -- and it wasn't a cluster bomb, but it was return some sort of munition, and it went off.

QUESTION: Was that the one incident that you referenced earlier when you talked about cluster bombs?

MYERS: No, it was not.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

MYERS: I don't know what it is, frankly. I know there's one that they're investigation, and it'll take them about 30 days to figure out the details of that.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can you give us details on the apprehension of Farouk Hijazi? And can you elaborate in any way on his significance, because of the reports that he apparently may have met at some point in the past with Osama bin Laden, the significance as far as establishing Iraqi ties to terrorist groups?

RUMSFELD: Do you remember which one he is?

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: The former intelligence official, sir.

RUMSFELD: We've got a variety of former intelligence officials.

QUESTION: The one just apprehended.

RUMSFELD: One had the American portfolio and one had been an intelligence officer and later and ambassador to another country.

QUESTION: The ambassador.

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: That one? Yes.

QUESTION: That one.

QUESTION: Allegedly involved in the alleged plot against 41.

RUMSFELD: And what was your question about him? QUESTION: Could you give us more details on his apprehension and elaborate on his significance...

RUMSFELD: I'd rather not. He is significant. We think he could be interesting. But I'd rather not get into the details.

MYERS: He should know a lot of history that would be...

RUMSFELD: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Can you talk about the number of U.S. ground forces in Iraq now? And do you expect that...

RUMSFELD: I can: 135,000 forces, eliminating the word "ground."

QUESTION: Well, as far as the ground forces, do you expect that number to stay roughly the same in the coming weeks...

RUMSFELD: It's less than 135,000.

QUESTION: ... rise or fall? And there are some who are coming back from the region, including Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe, who are saying you don't have enough ground forces there to keep the peace.

RUMSFELD: How does one do this?

(LAUGHTER)

(UNKNOWN): Carefully.

RUMSFELD: Carefully, he said. Yes. Graciously.

General Franks is the combatant commander in that area of responsibility. He has done an excellent job. He has told us what he believes is the appropriate force level in that country.

We have a total of U.S. forces of, plus or minus, 135,000 at this moment, which is probably as high as it's ever been. And there are some of those people who are not ground forces: they're pilots, they have air crews, and some are doing other things, administrative things. So the number of actual ground forces, to use your phrase, is, I would guess, something less -- maybe even less than 100,000. I just don't know the number. We don't divide them up that way.

Do you?

MYERS: No, sir. We also have coalition forces.

RUMSFELD: And we've got 23,000 coalition forces, plus or minus, at the present time, on top of that. And we have, fortunately, a lot of countries stepping forward with additional coalition forces.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: Well, we'll announce them as they move in the country. There have been...

QUESTION: Ground forces, you expect that number to go down in the coming weeks, stay about the same, rise?

RUMSFELD: Here we go again. Why can't reporters report on what's happening instead of what might happen if all of these variables happen to recur?

We can't know how serious the security problem might flare up at some point. We can't know precisely the pace at which General Gardner and his folks are going to be able to get local Iraqis to begin to assume some of those security activities. We can't tell you precisely how many additional countries are going to be sending in forces and what day they'll arrive.

Over time, do we want to see the number of U.S. forces decline? You bet.

We're perfectly willing to put in any number of U.S. forces that are necessary to provide the kind of security in that country so that they can get on their way to humanitarian assistance and reconstruction, and an interim authority, you bet we do, and we will. We'll put in what we need to.

And we happen to have the number that General Franks thinks we need. And that number will vary up or down depending on coalition forces coming in, depending on the security situation. And it's all going along pretty well, I'd say.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you asked the question...

RUMSFELD: I think we'd probably better call a halt to this.

QUESTION: But you asked the question though. Can I answer it...

(OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: What do you do with someone like that?

QUESTION: You said why do the reporter -- why don't they just...

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: Did I say that?

QUESTION: And the answer is...

RUMSFELD: It was off the record.

QUESTION: Because you have plans about what you're going to do in the future, and you're disinclined to share them with us.

RUMSFELD: No, I'm inclined to share -- I just shared them with you. I do have plans, and I just told you the plan. The plan is to increase the number of U.S. forces if they're necessary, and to decrease them if they're not necessary. To get as many other countries participating -- coalition forces in there as I possibly can, and to the extent I can, have fewer U.S. forces. And to the extent I can to not have more U.S. forces. That is the plan.

I know that leaves people somewhat unfulfilled.

(LAUGHTER)

But it happens to be truth. That's ground truth. That's how we do these things. That's what we do. That's our job.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

RUMSFELD: What did you say? Say it again. Hold it. Isn't that what you're saying?

BLITZER: The defense secretary as usual speaking candidly, openly and sometimes very controversially.

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