Defense Department Briefing, March 1, 2004


Monday March 1, 2004

United States Department of Defense
News Transcript
DoD News Briefing
Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
Monday, March 1, 2004 - 1:30 p.m. EST

(Participating were Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.)

Rumsfeld: Well, good afternoon.

At the request of Haiti's new president, President Bush has ordered the deployment of a contingent of U.S. Marines to the island as the leading element of a multinational interim force. U.S. forces are being deployed to secure key sites in the Haitian capital. Their mission is contribute to a more secure and stable environment during this initial phase, in order to help support the constitutional political process, to protect U.S. citizens, to facilitate the repatriation of any Haitians interdicted at sea, to help stand up the interim force and create conditions for the arrival of a U.N. multinational force.

The initial contingent of U.S. Marines arrived in the capital last night. Additional U.S. forces are deploying currently and will continue to do so over the next several days.

We're working with the new Haitian government, the United Nations and the Organization of American States to stand up the interim force, and we're in contact with a number of countries that have expressed a willingness to contribute forces or other types of support.

Last night the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution authorizing support for the transition in Haiti, and we're already working to establish a U.N. force that will take over from the interim force.

The U.S. will take on the initial leadership of the multinational interim force in Haiti. The leadership of the follow-on U.N. force will be determined in the period ahead. Indeed, the leadership of the interim force might very well pass even before the U.N. force arrives.

The situation in Haiti demonstrates the need for greater international capacity to conduct global peace operations. At the last defense ministerial meeting of the Americas in Chile, I discussed ways to improve the hemisphere's peacekeeping capabilities through better integration of individual nations' capabilities, so that we can improve the overall capability of the region to conduct peacekeeping and stability operations.

As we work to strengthen these capabilities in the Western Hemisphere, we're also looking at ways to improve the worldwide capability of free nations to conduct these operations. We're committed to working with friends and allies around the world, and through alliances such as NATO, to improve these capabilities.

Finally, while events in Haiti are on everyone's mind, a historic event took place in Baghdad today when the Iraqi Governing Council passed the transitional administrative law that will serve as the country's interim constitution until the completion of a permanent constitution. This interim constitution includes as its cornerstone a bill of rights that provides protection of individual rights that are unprecedented in the history of Iraq, and indeed the region. It guarantees freedom of religion and worship, the right to free expression, the right to peacefully assemble, to organize political parties, to vote, to a fair trial and to equal treatment under the law. Discrimination based on gender, nationality, religion or origin was prohibited.

The rights guaranteed by the interim constitution are precisely those the Iraqi people were denied for three decades by the regime of Saddam Hussein. The interim constitution thus puts into law the end of the Hussein era and the birth of a new nation, where the Iraqi government answers to the people instead of oppressing them.

This is a historic day for the people of Iraq. They have taken an important step forward on the path to building a free society, and free people everywhere join with them in celebrating this remarkable achievement. I want to express my congratulations to the members of the Iraqi Governing Council, who have worked long and hard to fashion this document.

General Myers? I might add that today is General Myers' 62nd birthday. I'd say he's still a very young man from my vantage point. (Scattered laughter.) Dick Myers.

Myers: Thank you for the birthday greeting, sir, and I think with that we'll just go straight to questions I think. (Laughter.)

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yes, sir?

Q: I wonder if you could tell us how many U.S. troops do you think, in a round figure, might be required -- might be sent to Haiti, and how long do you think they would stay? And also, President Aristide is claiming now that he was virtually kidnapped by the U.S. military and forced to leave Haiti. Was he spirited --

Rumsfeld: Wait a second. Let me start. I'm writing down this series of questions. You're going to go to the third one now, Charlie?

Q: All right, go.

Rumsfeld: This is --

Q: All right. How many troops and how long, and was President Aristide forced out of Haiti by the U.S. military?

Rumsfeld: Well, you've asked them differently the second time. Let me go to the first one.

There are in the few hundreds there now. The number is growing. It's going to increase above that. It will be -- the entire force over time will be what is necessary, but my guess is that the -- when all of the other countries that have volunteered forces plus the U.S. forces are there for this interim period -- relatively short period -- that the numbers will probably be less than 5,000 total of everybody, and ours will be down in a small fraction of that. I don't know what the number will be, but for the sake of argument say 1,500 or 2,000 or less, but time will tell. We'll have what's needed, and as additional forces come in, why, we'll be able to size it and determine what makes the most sense, and that will be subject to the recommendations of the commanders.

You said that Aristide was claiming he was abducted, or what was the wording?

Q: Virtually.

Rumsfeld: Virtually?

Q: He claimed he was virtually kidnapped and forced to leave --

Rumsfeld: I don't believe that's true that he is claiming that. I just don't know that that's the case. I'd be absolutely amazed if that were the case. There may be somebody saying that he's saying that, but I don't believe that --

Q: Did the U.S. military help him leave? Facilitate --

Rumsfeld: The Department of State and other countries worked with the Haitian government, and I think I'll leave it to the Department of State to characterize what took place. But I was involved in phone calls most of the night and most of the morning, and -- getting -- and was involved in the entire process, and the idea that someone was abducted is just totally inconsistent with everything I heard or saw or am aware of. So I think that -- I do not believe he is saying what you say -- are saying he is saying.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: And if somebody else is saying it, that's a quite different thing.

Q: Okay.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Rumsfeld: Yeah?

Q: Given the proximity of Haiti to the U.S. and the refugee problems that have existed in the past, is it in the U.S. interest to maintain -- to be the leader of the peacekeeping force, or is that something that you want a different country to take on? And who might that be?

Rumsfeld: Well, the reality is that when something needs to be done and -- the concern in this case was that the president had made a decision to resign. And the new president, under their constitution, requested assistance. And the question is, what kind of a gap do you want between the resignation and departure of one person and the capability of the new government? How long a gap is desirable, given the instabilities that existed there?

The judgment was made -- and properly, in my view -- that the gap should be very short. And when you look around as to who can fill a gap in a very short period of time, there are not a lot of candidates. We stepped up, and the president asked the United States to do that. The United States is doing that. We are the lead elements of the interim force, and we would be in the lead of that force until such as time as we -- the circumstances were such that we could pass it over to some other country. Obviously, we'd like to see some other country take that lead, and they will, eventually.

Q: What?

Rumsfeld: Well, it's a hemisphere problem. It's not just the United States' problem. We've got a lot of things we're doing. And once the situation's stabilized and -- it, I think, would be appropriate to pass the lead off.

Myers: As you know, there is a U.N. Security Council resolution that addresses this. And there are countries in the hemisphere that have shown a willingness to step forward, and they're being worked with by the Department of State and by the Department of Defense.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Q: Mr. Secretary, in reference to the earlier question about the departure of Aristide, what exactly was the U.S. military role in getting him out of the country?

Rumsfeld: The U.S. military role was to -- the Department of State managed that entire process.

Q: And the aircraft, for example. Was that a U.S. military aircraft?

Myers: It was a contract aircraft that State --

Q: Under contract to the State Department or --

Myers: Right, the State -- State worked on that. And we also provided security from -- and I don't know the exact details of this, but our FAST team was providing security for our ambassador, who was intimately involved in this operation. But it's a better question for the State Department. So we just made sure that the -- that they weren't subject to the violence in Port-au-Prince as they moved to the airport.

Q: But the FAST team did not actually go to the airport with him and escort, or to move him out?

Rumsfeld: Not to my knowledge.

Q: General Myers?

Q: Well, Mr. Secretary, just to be clear, President Aristide has told others -- and we expect to hear from -- this from himself sometime today -- but has told others that about 20 combat troops came to his residence and forced him to leave against his will, didn't allow him to make any phone calls. Now, set that aside for a moment and -- because I know that you have some question about whether he's actually saying this. But just so we know --

Rumsfeld: You just said he has told others, and of course you don't know that. Others are saying they were told by him and I think more -- (Inaudible.).

Q: Lots of others are saying, and they're all saying the same thing. And as I say--

Rumsfeld: Is that right?

Q: -- we expect to hear from Aristide himself sometime shortly.

Rumsfeld: Good.

Q: But just tell us, you know, without disputing that, just tell us what exactly did the U.S. military do? Did they go to his residence in combat gear and escort him? What can you tell us about what the role the U.S. military played?

Rumsfeld: Well, it will be interesting -- first, you say he has told lots of others.

Q: Well, he's told several members of Congress, including Charles Rangel; he's told Randall Robinson, the head of TransAfrica. He's told a number --

Rumsfeld: Yeah.

Q: -- Congresswoman Maxine Waters. He's had a series of conversations today.

Rumsfeld: Well, as I say, this process, to the extent that the United States was involved, was through the Department of State. And questions, I would think, should be directed there. If you're asking me -- from the phone calls I was on that night and from my meetings today, if I have any awareness of U.S. military being involved, of going in -- what did you say? -- combat gear to his house --

Q: Right.

Rumsfeld: -- and transporting him to an airplane. I have no knowledge of that. (To General Myers.) Do you?

Q: He was not forced -- he was not forced to leave?

Q: Well, Mr. Secretary, what is your --

Myers: No, I don't either. And I would say the only thing they could have done, and this is -- I guess on my part is to provide protection, because, you know, there were -- at times, there was some violence in Port-au-Prince, and so, just to make sure -- but there was no forcible --

Q: (Off mike.) -- Aristide is telling the truth --

Myers: No.

Q: -- how unhelpful might it be if he's going to be in some third country claiming that he was essentially deposed by the U.S. military?

Rumsfeld: Before the United States made a decision to send in some elite element of an interim multinational force we had, I believe in hand, a letter of resignation signed by the president.

Q: He wasn't coerced in any way to sign that?

Rumsfeld: Well, as I've said three times, certainly not to my knowledge. The Department of Defense was not involved in that process; the Department of State was and the embassy. And I've heard nothing that would lend any credence whatsoever to the kinds of questions you're asking.

Myers: I can agree with that. I spoke to him on the phones all that night. I mean, this is not -- doesn't jive with anything that we've heard.

Q: May I do a follow-up on that same question? Representative Waters is claiming on Pacifica stations on the West Coast that Aristide was led away in handcuffs by U.S. Marines, and claiming that the Marines were part of a coup to remove him.

Rumsfeld: (Laughs.)

Q: I wonder if either one of you gentlemen would comment on her comment or claim? Other than the smile.

Rumsfeld: Trying to pick the right words. If you're asking me did that happen, the answer is no.

Q: But any embellishment?

Rumsfeld: I think not today. (Scattered laughter.)

Q: General Myers, what's the security situation now in Port- au-Prince? Have there been any incidents of shooting at the Marines, or have they been asked to lay down their arms, their weapons?

Myers: I'm not aware of any incidents against the U.S. forces that are in there or the French forces or the Canadian forces. The situation was reported this morning as relatively calm overnight, and they were going to see how it progressed today. There is some good news in that the new -- I think they call him the director general of the police force is reported to be very good and has been appointed to work the police effort and get the police back on duty, but we know of no incidents.

Q: General Myers?

Q: Did he ask for the rebels to lay down their arms?

Myers: Yes, that was asked earlier I think by the Department of State --

Q: General Myers? General Myers?

Q: General Myers, can we talk about -- I know you don't want to talk specifically about rules of engagement of the Marines that are there. There were some scenes in '94 when U.S. troops were there, and behind them there was looting taking place, there was violence against citizens of Haiti. Are these Marines allowed to intervene in the protection of citizens of Haiti, stop looting? How far can they go and what can't they do?

Myers: Good point. We're not going to talk about the ROE, but they are going to be adequately armed not just with their personal protective gear and their offensive weapons, but with the rules that allow them to do the job they should be, which is --

Q: General Myers?

Q: Which includes protecting citizens of Haiti?

Myers: I'm not going to get into the specific details, but it's -- it's just -- it's unfair to them.

Q: General Myers?

Q: What signs are you getting at all that there may be a mass migration, via vessel, of refugees?

Myers: None.

Q: None?

Myers: None.

Q: What plans do you have --

Myers: In fact, there have been no migrants picked up trying to leave Haiti in the last two days, anyway.

Rumsfeld: And the ones that were picked up have been returned, peacefully, to Haiti.

Myers: Have all been repatriated.

Q: Do you have any plans in place, though, in case there is a mass migration, to either help people come to the U.S. or aid them, so they're not just bobbing in boats out there?

Rumsfeld: There are certainly Coast Guard plans to dissuade people from attempting to leave towards the United States. And those that demonstrate a willingness to do -- a desire to do so have been returned to Haiti, under U.S. laws and policies.

Q: General Myers --

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Q: (Inaudible.) -- for security. Can you --

Rumsfeld: Well, I shouldn't -- I'm sorry. I should say there are obviously instances, relatively few instances, one or two, where somebody has a legitimate reason for fleeing. But that is, again, not Department -- the Department of Defense issue --

Myers: Total number is, there's been over, I think -- over a thousand repatriated, and a few more today.

Rumsfeld: And there may have been one or two that have been looked at for legitimate purposes.

Q: That's not in the last three -- is that recently, in the last couple days or --

Myers: Which number?

Q: I mean the thousand repatriated --

Myers: Right. That's been in the last three or four days.

Q: General Myers -- (Inaudible.) -- maybe a week?

Myers: Well, yeah, it's probably -- yeah, there was a group in early February that went back early.

Rumsfeld: Yeah.

Myers: And then there have been -- then in the last three or four days there's been about 800.

Q: Mr. Secretary, the U.S. ambassador down there, James Foley, has said the U.S. made a mistake back in '94, staying only two years. Do you foresee a years-long commitment for at least some level of U.S. forces?

Rumsfeld: I have not seen the ambassador's statement, and I don't know what he may have said or what the context was. Certainly the number of people in -- that need to be involved in a peacekeeping operation in Haiti is relatively small. And as General Myers said, there is -- there are a large number of countries that have already volunteered people. And the U.N. has already passed a unanimous resolution indicating that it is going to sponsor a U.N. multinational peacekeeping force. I would think --

Q: Can I ask that --

Rumsfeld: -- I -- just a minute. I would think that any role for the U.S. would involve a relatively small number of U.S. forces. And for what period, I -- there's no way to predict at the present time.

Q: How long --

Q: You mean in the U.N. force stage?

Rumsfeld: I have no knowledge whether there would be any U.S. in the U.N. force. That's an issue that -- the U.N. just voted on the resolution last evening.

Q: Could I ask that question --

Rumsfeld: Just a minute, please.

Q: (Off mike.)

Rumsfeld: I'm still answering the last question.

Q: Okay. I'm ready when you are.

Rumsfeld: You sure are.

Myers: (Chuckles.)

Rumsfeld: The -- so are a lot of other people, I notice.

The U.S. participation in the interim force will be relatively small. It is an open question whether or not there would be U.N. -- U.S. participation in a U.N. force, and that's because that's just happened last evening. And what length of time might be involved I think is an open question and would be for the U.N.


Q: On the timetable, can you give us some indication as to how long you expect it to take before there's some kind of -- before there's some semblance of normal security in the streets, where there's not looting and that sort of thing?

Rumsfeld: No. Crime in that country has been high for some period. When would it get back to a normal level of crime?

Q: A normal Haitian level.

Rumsfeld: Yeah, a normal level for Haiti. I don't know, but it -- I've noticed on television people saying that the level of activity in the streets and looting has gone up since former President Aristide left. Our intelligence and our embassy are reporting just exactly the opposite of that. We have information that's exactly contrary to that; that it has calmed down and there are people in the streets cheering and demonstrating -- of course, you don't know who they are. They may be the people who opposed him as opposed to just citizens. So I think trying to take a few television pictures and to draw conclusions from them is probably not a good idea.

Q: To follow up on the Aristide question from earlier. Take a step back from the last few days. Members of Congress, supporters of Aristide are claiming that going back some period of months, perhaps even longer, that the U.S. in both overt ways and in their view even covert ways either inspired the rebellion against Aristide or perhaps even actively supported. What do you say to those claims?

Rumsfeld: I don't. The Department of State handles this matter, we don't. We are in charge of the Marines and we're participating in that regard. I have heard nothing in the government -- intergovernmental activities that would lend any credence to that. I just -- but I think it's probably best for -- I mean, Colin Powell has been involved in this intimately, the president has been involved in it. And they have been -- everything I've observed, they've handled themselves with a great deal of skill and in a totally appropriate manner.


Q: General, is the USS Saipan or any other naval assets going to be deployed to waters off Haiti to support this mission or to bring troops or --

Myers: That's to be determined at this point -- to be determined. We'll be discussing that with the secretary later today.

Q: Mr. Secretary, in your mind is Haiti one of a string of failed states? Somalia -- you know the list. And if so, what is the enduring U.S. responsibility there to prevent terrorism from taking hold as it has in other failed states, beyond this immediate crisis?

Rumsfeld: Mm-hmm. Well, I don't know that I'm the one who ought to define "failed states," but certainly Haiti has had difficulties over many, many, many years. And the circumstances there for the Haitian people are difficult, in terms of clean water, in terms of the crime levels and clearly in terms of opportunity. And I think it's in the interest of every country in the hemisphere and elsewhere to be interested in that. And I was very pleased to see the comments by the secretary-general of the United Nations that indicated that he recognizes the responsibility of the community of nations to work with the Haitian people and try to get them on a path of stability and improving circumstance.


Q: Sir, when you-all came into office, the Bush administration, there seemed to be a disinclination to involve the U.S. further in peacekeeping operations, maintaining the commitment in the Balkans, but using -- it seemed that you prefer to use the military in ways that it's best used for -- combat, stability establishment -- rather than sort of walking the beat and keeping the peace afterwards. Are you -- is this your philosophical approach to Haiti? Are you disinclined to be part of a long-standing peacekeeping force and preferring to offer more firepower and stability?

Rumsfeld: The reality is that the first week I was secretary of Defense this time, I had dinner with a group of people and talked about the fact that I believed the world needed more and better trained and more skillful peace enforcers and peacekeepers, and that the world needed to think through ways that we could do that, because it was apparent that frequently countries in various parts of the world, in many parts of the world -- in fact, in most parts of the world -- require the assistance of other nations and peacekeepers. So I think that that is a need that exists in the world.

What -- the pattern has been that it takes a long time for some -- for the community of nations to get together and produce them and put them in place and fund them and sustain them. And it's not something that's really done as well as the 21st century requires.

We have had a good many discussions. We've talked about this in Latin America with our friends there. We have talked about it on -- in the interagency -- and (Inaudible.).

And then the question is, who ought to do all of that? And there -- no one country can do everything. Clearly, it's important that it be done. And the question is, if we have to do more of the military or peace enforcing and a lot of countries specifically, explicitly -- in some cases by statute -- are allowed to only do peacekeeping as opposed to peace enforcing, then my view is that we ought to try to help train and we ought to help organize and assist countries that want to do that. And I think that's a good thing that the world has them willing and stepping forward as they are in this instance.

So I don't think that it's black or white. I don't think you would say we wouldn't ever do this or we should only do that. I think that what we have to do is recognize that the world needs that capability. And there are probably things that the United States can do to assist the world in developing, sustaining and funding that capability, and it doesn't mean that it has to be us in every instance.

Myers: Can I add something to that? Just to Haiti. I think from my perspective -- and I think it's wrong to think of Haiti as primarily a military problem. This is work that could be done by well-trained police forces and it certainly is a political-economic problem, but I wouldn't characterize it as a military problem.

Q: General Myers?

Q: Mr. Secretary, if this is indeed an interim peacekeeping force, does the U.S. have any assurances from either the rebels or government forces that they will refrain from any violence, any further violence? And without revealing specific rules of engagement, will the U.S. military get involved in preventing looting or Haitian- on-Haitian violence during this interim period? Or will that be left to local security forces?

Rumsfeld: General Myers has already answered the second question. With respect to the first question, I do not know precisely what the discussions have been between the U.S. Embassy and Ambassador Foley and the so-called opposition groups. I know there has been contact. And my impression is that the violence has gone down and one would think that those contacts might very well have had something to do with it.

With respect to U.S. forces, I mean obviously we would not want to leave the implication that they are risk-free. There are a lot of people with weapons, there are a lot of thugs, there are a lot of criminals. There are people who may very well shoot somebody and people can get killed, including our forces. I mean, you just don't go into a less than stable environment and think that it's going to be casualty-free. There's always that possibility.

Q: And just to be clear, did you say earlier that the U.S. participation could climb to somewhere between 1,500 to 2,000?

Rumsfeld: I would think less than 2,000, but it depends on how fast -- first of all, it depends on the facts on the ground. And second, it depends on how fast other countries that have volunteered forces can get those forces there in a trained and organized way, and a way that's equipped and supported.

(To the general.) Is that --

Myers: Exactly right. Yes, sir.

Q: Sir, building on --

Rumsfeld: Go ahead.

Myers: You're right.

Rumsfeld: Okay.

Myers: I think that's --

Q: Sir, building on that, is the U.S. going to provide logistical support to help these other nations get the troops to Haiti?

Rumsfeld: Who knows? It'll depend on which country it is and what they may need. But obviously we're the lead, and we want to see it work. And so the United States is not offering that, but if -- we'll make a judgment. If somebody has this capability, and we happen to have a hole there and need that filled, and the only way to do it is to assist in some way, it might be done.

On the other hand, thus far, I have not seen that as the case. My impression thus far is that there are a number of nations that -- a sufficient number of nations that we ought to be able to put this together rather rapidly.

Q: General Myers, on a different --

Rumsfeld: We're going to have to make this the last question.

Q: -- on a different topic, there continue to be reports about the intensified hunt for Osama bin Laden on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Can you tell us what specifically has changed in recent days and weeks?

Myers: I've got one answer that I can't give.

Rumsfeld: (Chuckles.)

Myers: I think the secretary covered that on his trip, pretty much. And you know, the focus on al Qaeda, the focus on UBL has been the same as it's been for a long time now, for many years, several years, and that is, if we can find him and Zawahiri and the other leadership, we're going to go after them. And that is intense today, as it was a month ago, as it was during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and it remains that way.

And I cannot explain the change in the rhetoric, but the facts are that we're very interested in the leadership of al Qaeda, and we will continue to go after them.

Q: Mr. Secretary, fearing this answer, there is a New Yorker --

Rumsfeld: (Laughs.) "Fearing this answer."

Q: -- there is a New Yorker article out that says that there has been a deal with President Musharraf in Pakistan to allow U.S. troops into Pakistan to hunt for bin Laden and the top deputies. Can you --

Rumsfeld: What's the deal? What's --

Q: There has been like a --

Q: According to Seymour Hersh's article, in return for the U.S. supporting Musharraf's decision to pardon the Pakistani scientist --

Q: A.Q. Khan.

Q: -- A.Q. Khan that -- in response, that he's going to allow U.S. forces --

Rumsfeld: When did he write this?

Q: Coming out Monday. Today.

Q: Apparently, today is Monday. Yeah -- (Inaudible.). (Laughter.) (Inaudible.) -- today.

Q: We can't confirm it.

Rumsfeld: Well, I just cannot imagine where something like that would come from. I just --

Q: No quid pro quo on --

Rumsfeld: No indeed. I just -- every piece of my knowledge about the relationship between the United States and Pakistan over the past three years, it just isn't that kind of a relationship.

Q: Are there U.S. troops in Pakistan, hunting for bin Laden?

Rumsfeld: The U.S. -- Department of Defense people? I doubt it. Not that I know of.

Q: Why are you on the port side of General Myers? Has there been a military coup here?

Rumsfeld: We wanted to see if anyone would notice.

Q: All right.

Q: Happy birthday!

Q: Happy birthday, General!

Q: Happy birthday!

Myers: Thank you.


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