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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld Speaks to Miami Chamber of Commerce

Aired February 13, 2004 - 13:26   ET

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

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Live to Miami, where the defense secretary is speaking to the chamber of commerce in Miami, significantly about when if ever, prisoners at Guantanamo will be released.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECY. OF DEFENSE: Very simply, the reason for their detention is that they're dangerous. Were they not detained, they would return to fight and continue to kill innocent men, women and children.

Detention is not an arbitrary act of punishment. Indeed, it is a practice long established under the law of armed conflict for dealing with enemy combatants in a time of war, and it was practiced, I am told, in every war we have fought. It is a security necessity. And I might add, it is also just plain common sense.

Detaining enemy combatants also serves another purpose. It provide us with intelligence that can help us prevent future acts of terrorism. It can save lives, and, indeed, I am convinced it can speed victory.

For example, detainees currently being held at Guantanamo Bay have revealed al Qaeda leadership structures, operatives, funding mechanisms, communication methods, training and selection programs, travel patterns, support infrastructures and plans for attacking the United States and other friendly countries. They've provided information on al Qaeda front companies and on bank accounts, on surface-to-air missiles, improvised explosive devices, and tactics that are used by terrorist elements. And they have confirmed other reports regarding the roles and intentions of al Qaeda and other terrorists organization.

This information is being used by coalition intelligence officials and by our forces on the battlefield, and it's been important to our efforts in the war and in preventing further terrorist attacks. The United States has no desire to hold enemy combatants any longer than is absolutely necessary.

In most wars that this country has fought, enemy combatants are detained for the duration of the conflict, as is recognized under the right of the laws of war. It is occasionally suggested that this standard, the laws of war, can't apply in the case of the present war, because the duration may be indeterminate. It's true this conflict may not with anything as clear cut as a surrender ceremony on the USS Missouri, but there can hardly be any doubt that the war continues. The Taliban continue to wage war against a legitimate government in Afghanistan, and against our coalition forces there. By public declarations, as well as hostile acts, al Qaeda continues to wage war on Americans and on all civilized people with disturbing regularity. No one could possibly claim that the conflict had ended.

In a departure from the practice in most previous wars, the United States is working to release those enemy combatants that judge -- that can be judged to be no longer a threat or who no longer possess intelligence that could help us prevent future acts of terrorism. And we're trying to do so in as expeditious a manner as is possible.

For those who continue to be a threat, but are not guilty of war crimes, the U.S. government would prefer to transfer them to their native countries for detention or for prosecution. And we are negotiating agreements with a number of countries to facilitate such transfers.

Finally, for those detainees who pose a continued threat and who do need to be detained, the U.S. government is instituting a process for an annual review that would ensure that the detainee has an opportunity to provide information to a panel, and that the judgments about continued detention will be made on the basis of the most current information possible.

The circumstances in which individuals are apprehended on the battlefield can be ambiguous, as I'm sure people here can understand. This ambiguity is not only the result of the inevitable disorder of the battlefield, it is an ambiguity created by enemies who violate the laws of war by fighting in civilian clothes, by carrying multiple identification documentations, by having three, six, eight, in one case 13, different aliases.

So there's an important reason for insisting lawful combatant must wear uniforms. When they fail to do so, as they do in Afghanistan, or when as they do sneak into -- as terrorists, into the United States, or into Germany, or Turkey or Indonesia, they deliberately obliterate the distinction between civilian and combatants, and as a result, they endanger civilian lives.

Because of this ambiguity, even after enemy combatants are detained, it takes time to check stories, to resolve inconsistencies, or in some cases, even to get the detainee to provide any useful information to help resolve the circumstance.

As they continue to sort through detainees in a systematic manner, officials of the United States government will make determinations based upon the best information that they can establish. Some of these detainees will be tried before military commissions for serious crimes, as has been accepted practice in previous wars. Some will be transferred back to home countries, if those countries are will to take responsibility for them. Others, who may no longer pose a continuing threat to our security, will be released.

Detainees at Guantanamo Bay represent only a small fraction of those scooped up in the global war on terror. Of the roughly 10,000 people that were originally detained in Afghanistan, fewer than 10 percent were brought to Guantanamo Bay in the first place. The vast majority were processed in Afghanistan and released in Afghanistan. And of those sent to Guantanamo Bay, 87 have been transferred for release thus far, and a few have already been returned to their home country for continued detention or prosecution.

For instance, we just announced the transfer of a detainee to the government of Spain. Our government is working to obtain agreements with other countries that would permit the transfer of many more.

Once enemy combatants are transferred to Guantanamo, there is a process for gauging the threat that might be posed by each one. Individual cases are reviewed by an integrated team of interrogators, analysts and regional experts. Each is assessed, according to the threat posed to U.S. national security and the security of our friends and allies. The U.S. Southern Command makes a recommendation, which is forwarded to an interagency committee in Washington. There, a decision is made about whether an individual should be released, transferred or held.

To make that determination, the United States government plans to institute the process I mentioned. Specifically, it will provide for such detainees that a board will review each such case annually, each detainee will have an opportunity to present information on his behalf. The board will consider all available information, including that provided by foreign governments, and this process is discretionary and in no way impacts the authority of the United States to continue to detain enemy combatants under the laws of rule.

I recognize that in our society the idea of detaining people without lawyers seems unusual, detaining people without trials seems unusual. After all, our country stand for freedom, and it stand for the protection of rights. The natural inclination of most Americans, and indeed of people in many other countries, is to think in terms of criminal law and punishment, rather than the law of war, which has as its purpose first to keep the enemy off the battlefield, so that they can't kill more innocent people. Another important objective is the one I mentioned, is intelligence gathering, to save lives.

And only last is the issue of punishment an issue. We need to keep in mind that the people in U.S. custody are not there because they stole a car, or robbed a bank. That's not why they're there. They're not common criminals. They're enemy combatants and terrorists who are being detained for acts of war against our country, and that is why different rules have to apply.

I mean, think about it, we all immediately think of people being detained as criminals.

LIN: All right, we're listening to the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. He's talking to the Miami chamber of commerce, but specifically about what the United States' plan is for the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. And the bottom line is, he's saying that the United States will hold many of these people for years, if not indefinitely, until they feel they're no longer a threat to the United States. Many being repatriated to their original countries. And that, in fact, they represent a fraction of the people scooped up in the United States war on terror.

Basically, he is give the United States defense against human rights groups, saying that this is unlawful detention, because most of these folk don't even have lawyers to represent them, much less a court hearing to be heard.

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