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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Briefing

Aired March 9, 2004 - 13:32   ET

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

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Actually, we're going to go to the Pentagon briefing. Donald Rumsfeld stepping up to the podium. We'll get back to that piece by Jamie McIntyre in a few minutes.
DONALD H. RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Good afternoon.

Yesterday in Baghdad the 25 members of the Iraqi Governing Council signed the Transitional Administrative Law, or TAL, which will serve as the country's interim constitution until a permanent constitution is established some time in the future.

The law had been scheduled to be signed last Friday, as you probably noted, but was delayed as the council discussed last-minute issues that had been raised by some of the members.

Even the brief delay in the final signing is a sign of the remarkable progress that has taken place in Iraq.

As the governing council debated this weekend, the world had an opportunity to see Iraqis from a full range of ethnic and political and religious traditions settle their differences peacefully, debate, discuss and engage in a free exchange of views that are, as we all know, the hallmarks of democratic societies. These are things that we Americans after 227 years take for granted.

Delays in the enactment of a new law are -- can be an everyday occurrence in democracies. Indeed, even our Senate has a formal process, or a filibuster, by which one senator alone can stop passage of a bill by simply extending debate.

But for Iraqis who at this time last year lived under one of the world's most brutal dictatorships, the process of political debate and discussion is, in a sense, new, which is why this weekend's events are historic and important.

Iraq now has an interim constitution with a bill of rights that protects the rights of all Iraqi citizens. Iraqis are now guaranteed freedom of religion and worship, the right of free expression, the right to peacefully assemble, to organize political parties, to demonstrate, to vote, to a fair trial, equal treatment under the law, and discrimination based on gender, nationality, religion or origin is prohibited.

The protections of individual liberties in this new bill of rights is unprecedented in the history of Iraq. But just as important as the law itself is the process by which it was established -- a process that required debate but also compromise.

The leaders of Iraq's governing council have not only enacted a landmark law, they have shown the world that Iraqis are on the path and have a willingness to do the difficult work of democracies.

The violence in Iraq last week is another reminder that even as the Iraqis take hold of their country, the war against terrorists continues.

Dangerous adversaries remain in Iraq and elsewhere in the world, whose objective is to kill innocent men, women and children.

We are, and we remain, at war, so it's important that we as a country continue to invest in the defense capabilities that are needed to prevail in that effort. These investments are significant, to be sure, but they pale compared to the cost in lives and treasure of another attack like the one on September 11th.

RUMSFELD: This is the time to press forward with transformation of our nation's defenses. The men and women in uniform who are risking their lives in Iraq, in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the war on terror need our support and they need the tools to prevail in this war and to prevail and prepare for the next.

General Pete Pace.

GEN. PETER PACE, VICE CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thank you, sir.

If I may, I'd like to take notice of the fact that in the back of the room there are about a dozen or so officers who are currently students at the National War College who are studying under their media elective. It's significant for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is when I went through that school in 1986 that would have been unheard of, and for this to be happening now...

RUMSFELD: To study the media in which way?

(LAUGHTER)

PACE: Sir, on how to be cooperative and things that lead to embedded media like we've had -- I think is very, very healthy and I'm glad you're all here.

Second -- in Haiti, the multinational forces there are doing well. The U.S. contribution is just a little bit over 1,600 right now. The French, Canadians and Chileans are at about 700 and growing, and that is all proceeding at pace.

Third, I just came here from a meeting with about 1,000 of the leaders of the Veterans of the Foreign Wars who are here in Washington having their national conference. And it's just a good opportunity for us all to remember what wonderful, patriotic individuals are in that organization and so many others who gave us a legacy of freedom in this country, who continue in patriotic acts and take such great care of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines when they come home. So to them and to everyone like them around this country who makes us feel warm and welcome and at home when we do come home, thank you very much.

RUMSFELD: Charlie?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, just away from Iraq and Haiti briefly.

A new Air Force study shows reports of nearly 100 sexual assaults in the Pacific Command area over the last two years involving young Air Force personnel, and the Air Force has ordered a service-wide study of how that problem is addressed.

Last month you ordered a similar study following reports of sexual assaults in Kuwait and Iraq. Sir, are you convinced or are you worried that this is a growing problem in the military?

RUMSFELD: Without -- we have a study and an analysis taking place, and the report that I requested in February is due on April 30th, as I recall. And I, needless to say, am anxious to see what it has to say and will be informed by it.

One cannot read the kinds of reports you're referring to and not have a deep concern about the armed forces, because we do hold ourselves to a higher standard, but also by the society, if that type of thing is occurring. And what we need to do is to get the facts and to come to some judgments, and that is the process that we initiated when the -- we had the first clue of concerns of the type you're referring to.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, may I go back to the interim constitution for a moment? I have three questions I would like to ask you, but you'll probably only give me one so I'll try and condense it.

QUESTION: What was the model for this constitution? Was it the U.S. Constitution? And were U.S. constitutional scholars involved in helping the 25 put it together?

RUMSFELD: There were constitutional experts from a full range of coalition countries involved. The Iraqi Governing Council, in addition, had consultants and advisers, constitutional experts of various types. And I think to suggest that there was a model is probably not -- I wasn't close enough to it, to be perfectly honest, to be able to say that they began with a certain piece of paper -- I don't know that -- which your question suggests might have been the case.

I do know that Jerry Bremer worked hard with the governing council, assisting them, giving them information, suggestions and trying to not so much guide and direct the content as to work out solutions among the parties that had differing views and opinions, to see that the process continued moving forward.

The basics that -- if there was a model, I would say it was the model that President Bush set forth when he said that Iraq should be a single country, not broken up in pieces. It should be a country that's at peace with its neighbors. It should be a country that's respectful of its -- the lives and the circumstances of all of the various people in that country regardless of gender or religion or ethnic background.

QUESTION: But you said bill of rights there, and I mean, that's sort of indigenous on its own, almost a copy of our rights.

RUMSFELD: I don't think that that would be the proper phrase in Arabic. I'm sure -- many countries in that part of the world have had constitutions and an awful lot of the constitutions of the world, people have looked at the models, constitutions of other countries, including ours. But I think that phrase probably translates into something quite different in Arabic.

QUESTION: Question for General Pace.

QUESTION: Could you give us any details on the apparent additional shooting of a Haitian by the Marines last night?

And also, you mentioned the 1,600 -- is the deployment continuing or have you reached the end of that? And is the coalition of 700 people enough to carry out this interim force?

PACE: From the U.S. perspective, we've said that the U.S. deployment would be in the range of 1,500 to 2,000. It's at about 1,600 right now. And the commanders on the ground will make sure the secretary understands what they need and I'm sure he'll provide.

But right now, we're well within the range we thought we'd have on the ground, and the coalition countries that are there that I mentioned -- France, Chile and Canada -- do have about 700 total there. I'll leave it up to those countries to announce how many more people they're going to have come.

But we do know that there are other countries that are looking to increase -- those countries and others are looking to increase their contributions.

With regard to the actions of Marines on the ground -- well within the rules of engagement, which are very, very basically and simply, an individual Marine has -- an individual service member -- in this case, a Marine -- has the absolute right to defend himself and those around him and when someone threatens force, as was done last night, that they get dealt with as they were dealt with last night.

RUMSFELD: We're already working on the follow-on force that we're hopeful will come in within 90 days -- the U.N. force.

This is, of course, a U.N.-authorized multinational force that we're leading, and the U.N. resolution talks about 90 days when there would be a U.N. -- a follow-on multinational force, one would think sponsored by the United Nations. And what that size ought to be is something -- they're sending an assessment team down, I think, this month.

PACE: Yes, sir. That's right. Yes. U.N. team with a U.S. participation.

RUMSFELD: The U.N. is.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: For the time being, is the 2,300 sufficient?

RUMSFELD: If it's not, certainly the commander will let us know that.

QUESTION: The 1,600 all Marines, General?

PACE: Mostly Marines. There's 100 or so who are other service, but the vast majority are Marines. You've also got some Army Special Forces and Navy and Air Force -- and Coast Guard, excuse me, very important.

QUESTION: General Pace, could you say how...

RUMSFELD: Wait a second.

The Coast Guard are not counted, I don't think, in the 1,600.

PACE: Not in the 1,600, no. But they are participating and, as you know, are doing great work in the waters around Haiti and the port area.

QUESTION: In the Haiti incident, could you say how force was threatened, exactly what happened that made, you know, the Marines feel that they needed to shoot?

PACE: First reporting, so it could be that what I think I know and what I'll end up knowing may be different, but what I was told this morning when I came in was that there was a vehicle that was traveling at a high rate of speed and aimed itself at the Marines, and if they had not fired, they would have been hit by the vehicle.

QUESTION: General, just as a follow up on Haiti, CIA Director Tenet today in prepared testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee had a new conclusion about Haiti along the lines of humanitarian disaster and mass migration is still possible, order is not restored. He had some concerns about that.

From your vantage point, how concerned are you about a humanitarian disaster occurring and potential mass migrations?

PACE: Well, I think anything is possible, which is why General Tom Hill has a whole series of plans that he has developed over months to be able to respond to whatever the problem might be.

I am very comfortable that the force on the ground right now is a force that General Hill needs. I am very comfortable that the U.N. is going to do what it says it's going to do, which is to do the next assessment for the entire country, see what's needed and muster the international force that will follow the forces being led by us right now. So I think for where we are right now, we have the right size force.

RUMSFELD: But just to address the point, I mean, there's no indication of mass migration -- quite the contrary. It's down to zero for the last three days, as I recall, of anyone trying to leave the country.

Second, there's no indication of humanitarian disaster. There's ample food in the country from everything we're told. There may be some distribution problems, but neither of those are currently an issue.

QUESTION: Neither of those are what?

RUMSFELD: Currently an issue.

QUESTION: But you'd look ahead and plan for this...

RUMSFELD: Of course you do.

You plan for lots of things, but I wouldn't want to leave the impression that either one is considered likely at the present time. Clearly, it was a concern that -- we've had mass migrations and an awful lot of people got killed trying to escape that country and get to a better circumstance in their lives and that's a tragic thing. That's not happening.

The Coast Guard has done a very fine job of returning those that have come out, and at the present time there is no out migration at all.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the DCI also mentioned that he did not see any direct ties between former regime leaders and the transnational terrorist groups in Iraq. That seems to conflict somewhat with what some of the military leaders have been saying.

RUMSFELD: It's a hard thing to know. I'm without an opinion.

RUMSFELD: I've seen views on both sides, and I think that it will have to sort itself out.

And I think frequently -- you phrased the question a certain way. Sometimes the question is: Is there any connection? And I don't know many people who know enough and have enough confidence in their knowledge that they would assert: Absolutely not. Then some people want to know if it's growing or declining. And then it gets into, "Well what do you think?" as opposed to, "What do you know?" And I'm not in that business.

So I don't know what anyone should add. I mean, he's the director of defense intelligence -- I mean, of Central Intelligence, and he has the responsibility to opine on that for the United States government. And I think you'd probably better go with him, although that's not to suggest that there aren't going to be military and civilians in our country and in other countries who might not have a different view and, you know, a reasonable reason for believing something to the contrary.

QUESTION: The Department of Defense has transferred five British detainees from Guantanamo Bay back to the British government. And in return the British government has assured the U.S. that these detainees will not pose a threat to U.S. security or the allies of the United States. But they're going to go back now and be subject to British law. And according to all the British legal experts we talk to, there seems to be a consensus that it's highly likely they may be released.

Is that going to be a problem for you since you've held these people for two years, for the very reason: to make sure they didn't pose a threat?

RUMSFELD: It's certainly not a problem for me. It's a question for our country, and the government of the United States has addressed it. There apparently, as I recall, were nine U.K. detainees. I think five or four -- what did you say, five?

QUESTION: Well, five have been transferred.

RUMSFELD: Five are being today transferred, as you indicated. Four are considered to be in a different category and they're not being transferred.

RUMSFELD: What will happen? We'll find out, over time. We'll see what happens. We've transferred -- you never know for sure in life. But our government made a considered judgment that it was appropriate to transfer these individuals to the government of the United Kingdom on the basis that you've described.

QUESTION: If released, do you believe they would pose a threat?

RUMSFELD: The people who have analyzed these individuals and interrogated them and looked at it and processed them and considered this, have come to a conclusion that this was the appropriate thing to do on the part of the United States. And, therefore, we're doing it.

QUESTION: Why did it take two year to come to that conclusion?

RUMSFELD: It doesn't take two years. That's not a good way to phrase it. It sounds as though you sat down -- you scooped them up in Afghanistan, sat down and spent two years trying to figure out what to do with them. That's just not the case. The goal was to take these people off the battlefield and keep them away from killing other people. And that's been accomplished. That's a good thing for two years. That's not a bad thing.

Second, the goal was to interrogate them, find out what they know. Are there other terrorists running around that we could learn information about? Do they know where caches of weapons are? Do they know information about techniques or approaches?

So they get interrogated for a couple years. Then at some point, you say, we think we've got what we need out of this crowd, five people, and let's move them along. We don't want to keep everybody at Guantanamo.

We've moved -- I don't know how many, 105, I think, so far, counting these folks. And there'll be more. Of the 105, some have been transferred -- I don't know. These five and I guess 12 others were transferred into the custody of the governments that they carry passports for. And the others were just let go on their own recognizance.

We know already, I believe, at least -- let me put it this way, I've been told by senior people in this department, that of the people that have been released, we know of at least one who's gone back to being a terrorist. So life isn't perfect. You can make mistakes in evaluating these people. Let's hope that none of these do.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, last week, Senators Hagel and Reed again proposed a permanent increase of military end-strength of some 30,000 troops. Why not take them up on that?

And how do you respond -- what do you say to the senators and others who believe the U.S. military forces are now being stretched too thin?

RUMSFELD: Those are entirely different issues.

RUMSFELD: And people are making the mistake of combining them and suggesting that they're one thing, and they're not. The forces are being stressed. And we're concerned about it, and we've taken some 25 or 30 steps to find ways to reduce the stress on the force.

And I've mentioned probably 10 or 15 of them here. One of them is to rebalance the active component with the reserve component. Another is to do a much better job of alerting people so that they know in advance and can manage their employer relationships and their family relationships.

Another is the new national security personnel system where we believe we can reduce the number of military people serving in positions that don't require military people and on and on and on. We'd be happy to give you the whole list.

So that's one thing we're doing on stress on the force.

Second, full stop. The second thing we're doing to reduce stress on the force is that under the emergency authorities we have, we're allowed to increase to any level we want. And we've been doing that.

The services have been going up. Tens of thousands of additional people on active service, not Guard and Reserve, but active service. And we've been doing that for two years. And apparently some people didn't understand that.

And they kept thinking if the force is stressed, we ought to increase the number people on the force. And of course, we were already doing that for two years. And the force is less stressed because we have done that. Our concern is that you could end up, down the line, discovering slightly too late that the stress on the force adversely affects recruiting and retention, which is what the concern ought to be. And, in fact, we're finding thus far that that's not the case.

Is it possible that in a year from now it might be? Yes. And that's why we're taking all these steps to avoid that and to see if we can avoid it.

Next, there is a law, a statute that specifies that each service has to have a certain number of people on a certain date, September 30th, each year.

Now, that means that when there's no emergency, and you're not using your emergency authorities, each service ends up, to save money, and to manage money properly, they have a choice. If they need fewer than that number, and the Congress leaves that number, what they do is they drop down below that number all year long and then at the end, climb back up to the number.

RUMSFELD: I mean, that's just an exercise in managing a problem. The statutory limit is a problem. So they manage around it. Another service does the opposite. It needs more than the statutory limit, so it goes above it, and then at the very last day, drops down to that level. I mean this has been going on for decades, I think, ever since this was passed.

You say, "Why wouldn't you want an increase in end-strength?" -- end-strength being the statutory number. And the reason is: We don't need it. We've got emergency powers, and this is a spike in activity. We can use the emergency powers. We have been for two years. We're doing it very successfully. And things are fine without an increase.

If we had an increase in end-strength in the statute, which is being proposed, what would happen? What would happen would be we would have a requirement to have that many people at the end of the year -- on one day. And, therefore, everyone would have to manage around that number, and we'd have to pay for it. It is very expensive.

And what the Army proposed, instead -- General Schoomaker came down here and briefed on -- what he wants to do is to use this ability to go above his statutory number during this period so that he can reconstitute his force, the United States Army, in a way that it's going to be appropriate going forward with additional brigades, and then come back down to the statutory number, which he believes he can because of the 25, 30 things we've discussed -- ways of reducing stress.

And he'd much rather do that and have the funds in the procurement account that he knows he needs rather than having to be required by law to have people he does not believe he will need, but doesn't know of certain knowledge yet. That's how he's going to get from 33 to 43, or 48 brigades and increase the capability of Army. And he'll be happy to come back and brief on it again. But the idea of changing the statutory end-strength and thinking you've relieved stress on the armed forces it seems to me is not a full understanding of the situation. And it is complicated.

Do you want to comment on this?

PACE: Part of it's science, and part of it's art. And everything that the secretary just said is very much a part of both. But a lot of the science is the math. And the math is with 2.6 million active guard and reserve, we can maintain 200,000, 300,000 folks deployed for the foreseeable future.

PACE: The art part is how you do the balance and the mix that the secretary's talking about, but also understanding whether or not you're in a spike or in a new plateau. And for those things that we're in a new plateau, like civil affairs and the like, we are, in fact, changing the mix to handle that.

PHILLIPS: General Peter Pace, also Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, briefing reporters today at the Pentagon. A number of issues. Talking about Haiti, the multi-military force there, a U.N. team also set to come to Haiti, try to quell the looting and violence that's been taking place there.

Also, the Iraqi constitution, the interim constitution, of course, finally being signed after a lot of debate and compromise from all sides. Just now talking about stress in the armed force, programs going forward to help with that.

Also, the question about the U.S. Air Force, under scrutiny now as an internal review takes place after 92 alleged cases of rape were reported to military officials in the Pacific just in the last three years.

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