20 January 2002
Transcript: Rumsfeld Says He Has No Evidence Bin Laden Not Alive
(Secretary of Defense interviewed on Meet the Press) (2970)
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says he has no evidence that
Osama bin Laden is not alive, but the terrorist leader's whereabouts,
whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere, are not known.
Speaking on NBC's Meet the Press January 20, Rumsfeld said "I don't
think there are a lot of places that would like to have him right
now," and added "I think we'll find him."
Rumsfeld said the principal goal of the U.S. and allied antiterror
campaign remains to prevent future terrorist attacks on the United
States and other countries, regardless of whether or not bin Laden is
found. "The reality," he said, "is that the [terrorist] networks still
exist around the world ... and we simply must deal with that."
Progress is being made, he said, as cooperative efforts around the
world lead to more arrests and increased information on terrorist
During the interview Rumsfeld also responded to questions about the
Afghanistan campaign, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines.
Following is a transcript of the Rumsfeld interview:
United States Department of Defense
Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
January 20, 2002
Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with NBC Meet the Press
Russert: But first, some tragic news. Two Marines are dead, five are
injured in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. With us, the secretary
of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Secretary, welcome.
Is there any evidence that this helicopter came under enemy fire?
Rumsfeld: There's not. It appears to be, at the moment, a mechanical
problem of the helicopter, and, as you say, there are two dead, two
critically wounded, and all of them now have been removed to a
Russert: And being treated. Are their chances of recovery -- are you
Rumsfeld: Oh, indeed I am. They're the two critical ones. Of course,
it's a difficult situation, and your heart just breaks every time
something like this happens.
Russert: Osama bin Laden -- President Musharraf of Pakistan suggested
the other day he may have died of a kidney ailment. Any evidence of
Rumsfeld: I have no evidence of that. You know, the reality is he
could be there, he could be alive, he could be in Afghanistan, he
could be somewhere else. We're looking for him. I think we'll find him
Russert: Where else could he be?
Rumsfeld: Well, there are a number of places that are speculated
about. He had spent time previously in Sudan, in Somalia. He has
connections in Kashmir and in Chechnya. He came from southern Saudi
Arabia, on the Yemen border there, so there are any number of
But I don't think there are a lot of places that would like to have
him right now.
Russert: Can we have closure, can the American people feel that the
war on terrorism has been successful, without capturing Osama bin
Rumsfeld: Oh, indeed, yes. I mean, our goal is to prevent terrorist
attacks on our country and our people and our friends and allies and
our forces overseas. Osama bin Laden and Omar are not currently
functioning effectively, leading their terrorist networks. They're
being driven. They're running, they're hiding, and we're after them.
The reality, though, is that the networks still exist around the
world, and we know that, and we simply must deal with that. And
fortunately, because of the wonderful cooperation we're getting around
the world, an awful lot of people are helping. People are being
arrested, people are being interrogated. Intelligence information's
Russert: The caves in Afghanistan. "The New York Times" reported this
the other day: "Many Pashtun tribal leaders in eastern Afghanistan
have balked at cooperating with American special operations forces in
the hunt for Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, weapons caches, and
intelligence that could provide future terrorist attacks, military
officials said. 'There are areas of the country where we have not been
able to garner much assistance, and this is one of them. It's always
helpful for someone local to show you the ins and outs.'"
Do we need more American troops on the ground to visit those caves?
Rumsfeld: The way it works is this: Your first choice is to work with
people who are from that area in Afghanistan, and we've done that very
successfully in any number -- in the vast majority of the country.
There are -- that's correct, the report. There are places where the
local people were quite pro-Taliban, pro-Q. They're not willing to
cooperate, so we've used Afghanistan troops from other parts of the
country, to some extent, along with U.S. forces.
In any instance where we don't have local Afghans or Afghans from
another part of the country, we're using U.S. forces and coalition
forces -- there are other nations that are participating with us --
and we're -- we will use whatever we need to use to get that job done.
Russert: More Americans?
Rumsfeld: You bet. We're doing it now.
Russert: Should we have put American troops on the border of
Afghanistan and Pakistan to prevent Osama bin Laden from crossing that
Rumsfeld: You know, if you had -- let's, for the sake of argument, say
instead of having what we have there in American troops, we had
100,000 or some large number, 200,000, and let's say you pushed
through one portion of the country. There are porous borders all
around that nation. The people would have gotten out anyway, to the
extent they're going to get out.
What we did do is we got the Pakistani army to agree to do the best
they could to seal that border. We have U.S. forces with the Pakistani
soldiers. We have U.S. forces along the Afghanistan border, inside
Afghanistan in key passes, and we have intelligence assets tracking
what's going on. I don't quite know how one could do more than that,
and I don't see the concept that additional U.S. forces would have
made any difference.
Russert: "The New Yorker" magazine revisited a subject that we talked
about in December, and they insist that in November, and this is the
article, "In interviews, American intelligence officials and
high-ranking military officers said that Pakistanis were indeed flown
to safety in a series of nighttime airlifts that were approved by the
Bush administration. The Americans also said that what was supposed to
be a limited evacuation apparently slipped out of control, and, in an
unintended consequence, an unknown number of Taliban and Al Qaeda
fighters managed to join in the exodus."
The point being in November, Pakistan was able to airlift people out
of Afghanistan. Did that happen?
Rumsfeld: I do not believe it happened. I can't prove a negative, but
our people have checked to the extent that it is possible to check. We
have had enormous numbers of aircraft and intelligence sensors in
various ways watching that area. No one that I know connected with the
United States in any way saw any such thing as a major air exodus out
of Afghanistan into Pakistan.
I have read these stories, I've heard these stories. I've never been
able to run them down. No one has ever been able to run them down and
prove them, and I doubt them. I think they're not true.
Russert: At the Republican National Committee meeting, Karl Rove, the
senior political adviser to President Bush, gave a speech where he
said the president would be able to point to the war on terrorism as a
way of rallying the troops, in effect, in the midterm elections this
November. The headline: "GOP touts war as campaign issue."
The Democrats are hopping mad, saying this is supposed to be a
bipartisan effort. Is it appropriate to inject the war on terrorism
into the political campaign?
Rumsfeld: It has been a bipartisan effort. While the Pentagon was
still burning, Carl Levin and John Warner came in and joined me in a
press briefing to the world on what had taken place. From the outset,
it has been a bipartisan effort, and it is today.
Russert: Should it be used as a political issue in the midterm
Rumsfeld: Oh, gosh, I'm not into the whole political side of this.
I've been busy with the war. I think that any president's record is
subject to discussion in a political campaign, and so are
congressional records, and that's what's going to be taking place. And
to the extent things are going well, it's probably an advantage. To
the extent things are not going well, it's probably a disadvantage,
but I don't think it is a political issue at all.
Russert: During the campaign, the Republicans -- Governor Bush, Dick
Cheney -- said that the Clinton military was hollow, it was not ready
to be deployed. In hindsight, the Clinton military, the military that
you inherited from the Clinton administration, has done a pretty good
job, hasn't it?
Rumsfeld: The United States military has always done a good job.
There's also no question but that it's a -- the greatest military
force on the face of the earth.
Russert: And was prepared to do a good job.
Rumsfeld: It is also true that when one -- during a president's term
of office, what he does with the military has very little effect
during that period of time. Each president inherits what was done in
preceding periods, and it is true, as President Bush has said, that we
did need to increase the pay for the men and women in the armed
forces, and I'm glad to say that the president and the Congress have
done that, and they've received an increase that's much more
competitive with the private sector.
The infrastructure had decayed and it is still decayed, and it will
take now probably six, eight, 10 years to get it back to the place
that it ought to be.
We do need to transform, and we're working on that, but these things
take time to do. It takes time to run down a great military, and it
takes time to build one back up.
Russert: Military tribunals -- very controversial when first proposed.
Have you given some second thoughts to that?
Rumsfeld: Well, I wouldn't put it that way. I've given a lot of
thought, but I wouldn't say second thoughts.
There's been a lot of discussion and debate and articles on this, and
I think it's been kind of useful. It's kind of informed the public
debate and consideration of it, and my impression is that the
overwhelming majority of the people now who look at this concept agree
that it's got a role.
We have the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which produces a just
decision, and we have the Criminal Code of the United States, which
produces a just decision, and throughout history, we've had military
commissions, and the president thought -- properly, in my view -- that
we may very well need commissions in this situation.
Now, he's not assigned anyone to be tried in a military commission
yet, but there are distinctive things about this conflict that suggest
that it may very well be a useful way of achieving -- in a different
way, achieving also a just decision, and I think it's a good thing.
We've been fashioning exactly what the rules and procedures might be,
and we're not quite ready to announce them. We will be well before
Russert: John Walker, the American Taliban, his parents said that they
have a lawyer for him, that they tried to communicate with him, the
lawyer tried to communicate with him, all unsuccessfully because the
United States government wouldn't allow it.
Rumsfeld: I don't want to get into a particular case, but the
situation is that it's my understanding he has not asked to have a
lawyer. He has been receiving excellent medical care. He's been
receiving good food, and he was wounded. He's being treated properly,
humanely, as are the other detainees, and he is going to be
transferred to the Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of --
Rumsfeld: Oh, very soon.
Russert: The next day or two?
Rumsfeld: I don't know. It depends on when airplanes can pick people
up and transport them to the proper place here in the United States,
but I would think in the immediate future, several days. And he'll
wind up, probably, in the northern district of Virginia and will be
part of the U.S. -- we have a just criminal system in the United
States, and people do get treated right, and I think any suggestion to
the contrary is basically coming from people who are not well
Russert: The Philippines -- 650 American troops on their way to the
Philippines, including some special op forces. What specifically is
Rumsfeld: The -- I think that the president of the Philippines and the
Ministry of Defense of the Philippines have put it exactly right. I
doubt that it will be 650. I suspect -- I'd be surprised if it was
over 600, but there are really two things going on or that will be
going on. One is we are working with the Philippines shoulder to
shoulder to provide training in a whole host of techniques and things
that are appropriate to chasing down terrorists.
You know there's two Americans that have been hostages there for some
Rumsfeld: -- and the Philippines do have a problem with a terrorist
network, and so we will have a number of people participating in that
process of joint training and, second, there will be an exercise
taking place for a finite period of time elsewhere in the Philippines
at some point, and I think that it's -- we look forward to it, and
we've had a good long military-to-military relationship with the
country. There's no mystery about it.
Russert: All training advisory, no joint combat operations?
Rumsfeld: The -- it's my understanding that the Philippine
constitution prohibits having combat forces of other nations --
Russert: Will we seek to rescue the missionaries?
Rumsfeld: Who's "we"?
Russert: The United States and the Philippines.
Rumsfeld: The Filipinos have four (thousand) or 5,000 troops on
Basilan Island, trying to rescue the missionaries.
Russert: Will the United States assist them in that effort?
Rumsfeld: We will be participating in training with them in various
ways, yes. We certainly are anxious to have those missionaries
released or recovered.
Russert: China. A Boeing 767 plane provided, sold to the Chinese
government for use by their president. It was discovered by the
Chinese to have wiretaps in it in the headboard of the bed, in the
lavatories. What do you know about that?
Rumsfeld: I have no knowledge of it.
Russert: Have you heard from the Chinese about it?
Rumsfeld: I have not.
Russert: Was it an attempt by the United States to eavesdrop?
Rumsfeld: I have no knowledge of that subject at all.
Russert: No one knows anything?
Rumsfeld: I didn't say no one knows anything.
Russert: Who does?
Rumsfeld: I have no idea. If I have no knowledge, how could I know who
Now, Tim, let's get serious --
Russert: I'm trolling. (Laughs.)
Rumsfeld: -- you asked me. You asked me and I answered. I have
literally no knowledge of that subject.
Russert: Will that be a problem for U.S.-Chinese relations?
Rumsfeld: I doubt it.
Rumsfeld: Oh, look, we've got two big countries, we have lots of
interests in common, and I suspect that life goes on.
Russert: Saudi Arabia now is saying that we may, in fact, have to
leave Saudi Arabia, leave Prince Sultan airbase --
Rumsfeld: Let me just correct that. I think more precisely it is that
a newspaper has reported that Saudi Arabia might say that. To my
knowledge, the Saudis have not said that. To my knowledge, no
newspaper has reported that the Saudis have said that.
There was one newspaper article that has been copy-catted by other
people suggesting that that's going to happen or that someone thinks
that might happen. But to my knowledge, it has not happened --
Russert: So we're --
Rumsfeld: -- and I would think I would know.
Russert: -- the U.S. military's in Saudi Arabia for a long time to
Rumsfeld: Look, we are always in countries at the pleasure of the host
country. That is the way it is anywhere in the world, it's the way it
is with forces that are here in the United States. We generally have
arrangements with them. This is a very long-standing relationship with
Saudi Arabia. How it will evolve in the future is, of course, up to
And -- and -- but I've not been told that, nor have other people in
the United States government been told that.
Russert: Before you go, I was at the White House Wednesday and
Thursday. I heard the president refer to you as a matinee idol. I
picked up --
Rumsfeld: He likes to joke.
Russert: -- I picked up "The National Review," and let me show you the
cover: "The Stud: Don Rumsfeld, America's New Pinup."
How is your wife dealing with this?
Rumsfeld: Joyce is amused by the whole thing.
Russert: She gets it. (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: She thinks it's all a passing phase and life will go on.
Russert: Sixty-nine years old, and you're America's stud?
Rumsfeld: Come on. Get on to something serious, Russert.
Russert: On to Enron. Thanks for the segue. (Laughter.)
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, thanks very much.
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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