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Washington File

13 June 2003

Rumsfeld Warns Belgium Over Human Rights Lawsuits

(Defense Secretary calls lawsuits against U.S. officials "absurd")
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned Belgium June 12 that the
United States would hold up money to build a new NATO headquarters
complex in Brussels and might restrict travel by senior U.S. military
and civilian officials to NATO meetings unless Belgium changes its law
permitting spurious claims of human rights violations to be brought
against U.S. officials.
"It's perfectly possible to meet elsewhere, but what will happen, I
just don't know. All I'm doing is stating the problem." Rumsfeld said
during a briefing at NATO headquarters. NATO defense ministers held
two days of meetings in Brussels to discuss the transformation of
NATO's military forces, command and control structures, and strategic
doctrine. The 54-year-old security alliance is planning to spend
approximately $351 million to build and open a new headquarters by the
end of the current decade.
Rumsfeld's response to Belgium's law covering universal human rights
crimes comes after lawsuits have been filed in Belgian courts charging
Vice President Dick Cheney, Army General Tommy Franks, Secretary of
State Colin Powell, former Army General Norman Schwarzkopf, former
President George Bush, and U.S. Marine Colonel Brian McCoy with human
rights crimes.
"By passing this law, Belgium has turned its legal system into a
platform for divisive politicized lawsuits against her NATO allies,"
Rumsfeld said. "The suits are absurd."
"The United States rejects the presumed authority of Belgian courts to
try General Franks, [Marine] Colonel McCoy, Vice President Cheney,
Secretary Powell and General Schwarzkopf, as well as former President
Rumsfeld charged that "if the civilian and military leaders of member
states can not come to Belgium without fear of harassment by Belgian
courts entertaining spurious charges by politicized prosecutors, then
it calls into question Belgium's attitude about its responsibilities
as a host nation for NATO and Allied forces."
Rumsfeld also discussed continued combat operations in Iraq, the
ongoing search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, a Spanish
decision to send its troops to the Polish sector of Iraq, and the
overall political health of the NATO alliance.
Following is the transcript of Rumsfeld's briefing:
(begin transcript)
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld at NATO Headquarters
Brussels, Belgium
June 12, 2003
United States Department of Defense
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
June 12, 2003
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld at NATO Headquarters
RUMSFELD: Good afternoon. We have had some very good meetings today. I
thanked our allies for their strong support in the Global War on
Terrorism, and especially in Operation Iraqi Freedom. We
enthusiastically welcomed the seven invitees who joined in the
meetings of the Defense Planning Committee and the North Atlantic
Council. Since the end of the Cold War, we have now invited a total of
10 new allies, many of them of course were former Warsaw Pact
adversaries. I think it says a good deal about how much Europe has
changed in the past decade. Certainly, it has changed a great deal
since I was here as U.S. Ambassador to NATO three decades ago. Who
could have imagined back then that Poland would not only be a NATO
ally, but would be receiving force generation support from NATO to
lead an element in Iraq?
The presence of these new seven members, I think, will change NATO for
the better. I mentioned to the incoming defense ministers that they
have certainly have not been invited -- their countries have not been
invited to NATO as junior partners. They have been invited to full
membership and to exercise leadership.
Since the Prague Summit, NATO has made some truly historic decisions,
if you think about it. NATO decided to undertake operations under
Article IV to defend Turkey against the threat posed by Iraq's
weapons. NATO decided to support German and Dutch forces leading ISAF
[International Security Assistance Force] in Afghanistan -- ISAF III
-- and to consider taking a NATO lead for ISAF IV. And last month NATO
decided to support Poland as it leads one of the three division
headquarters in Iraq for stability operations. These decisions, I
think, very clearly underscore NATO's recognition that in the 21st
century security environment we have to be able to conduct multiple
operations at a wide variety of locations across the globe.
In the Defense Planning Committee today, Admiral Ed Giambastiani gave
a briefing on some initial results from the lessons-learned activity
from Operation Iraqi Freedom. We had probably the most comprehensive
effort to achieve lessons learned. It involved something in excess of
a hundred people who began immediately with the beginning of the
conflict. These lessons underscore the importance of the two
initiatives, which NATO approved at this meeting. One is the new
Command Structure. Really, it's a historic change. And the second
being the NATO Response Force. These are each enormously important
activities. And not easy to achieve, I would say.
If one thinks back to the prior meeting, and then the one before that,
there was a great deal of skepticism expressed by a lot of people as
to what would happen to the NATO Response Force. Would it, in fact,
get the support of countries? And what would happen to the effort to
transform our command structure in a way that would fit the 21st
century? And yet the Command Structure restructuring has now been
agreed to. It is significant. And the progress in the NATO Response
Force, I think, is impressive. It suggests something about NATO's
health, I would submit.
Finally, I discussed the U.S. concern about the lawsuit that's
recently been filed in a Belgian court against General Tom Franks and
against Colonel Brian McCoy alleging that they were responsible for
war crimes in Iraq, as well as suits that have been filed here in
Belgium against former President Bush -- George Herbert Walker Bush as
opposed to George W. Bush -- General Norman Schwarzkopf, Vice
President Cheney and Secretary Powell.
The suits are absurd. Indeed, I would submit that there is no general
in history who has gone to greater lengths than General Franks and his
superb team to avoid civilian casualties. I am told that the suit
against General Franks was effectively invited by a Belgian law that
claims to gives Belgian courts powers to try the citizens of any
nation for war crimes. The United States rejects the presumed
authority of Belgian courts to try General Franks, Colonel McCoy, Vice
President Cheney, Secretary Powell and General Schwarzkopf, as well as
former President Bush.
I will leave it to the lawyers to debate the legalities. I am not a
lawyer. But the point is this. By passing this law, Belgium has turned
its legal system into a platform for divisive, politicized lawsuits
against her NATO allies. Now, it's obviously not for outsiders,
non-Belgians, to tell the Belgian government what laws it should pass.
And what it should not pass. With respect to Belgium's sovereignty, we
respect it. Even though Belgium appears not to respect the sovereignty
of other countries.
But Belgium needs to realize that there are consequences to its
actions. This law calls into serious question whether NATO can
continue to hold meetings in Belgium and whether senior U.S.
officials, military and civilian, will be able to continue to visit
international organizations in Belgium. I would submit that that could
be the case for other NATO allies, as well.
If the civilian and military leaders of member states can not come to
Belgium without fear of harassment by Belgian courts entertaining
spurious charges by politicized prosecutors, then it calls into
question Belgium's attitude about its responsibilities as a host
nation for NATO and allied forces. For our part, we will have to
consider whether we can allow senior uniformed and civilian officials
to come to Belgium, because of the charges flowing out of the
activities in Baghdad, which of course would involve other coalition
nations as well. Certainly until this matter is resolved we will have
to oppose any further spending for construction for a new NATO
headquarters here in Brussels until we know with certainty that
Belgium intends to be a hospitable place for NATO to conduct its
business, as it has been over so many years.
And with that, I'll be happy to respond to questions.
QUESTION: The House of Representatives asked you to make a study about
what you just talked about, the opportunity to stay in Belgium for the
headquarters of NATO. Is that the answer, or the beginning of that
process you are talking about?
RUMSFELD: No. I was not even aware of that until I just walked into
the room that the House had passed that request. What I've said is
simply the administration position.
Q: So is that a clear threat to the government of Belgium or the
Belgian Parliament that if they don't change the law NATO could leave
RUMSFELD: No. There is no threat at all. I just have stated a fact.
That it would be obviously not easy for U.S. officials, or potentially
coalition officials, civilian or military, to come to Belgium for
meetings. And therefore, my position and our position is that it does
not make much sense to build a new headquarters if you couldn't come
here for meetings. But there is no threat. Belgium can do -- will do
-- whatever it wishes to do.
Q: There's been rather intense fighting in Iraq over the last several
days as the U.S. has been trying to root out the remnants of Saddam
Hussein's regime. In fact, a helicopter was shot down today. My
question is, was the U.S. premature in announcing an end to major
combat operations before you accounted for Saddam Hussein and finished
the job of eliminating his regime? And what would you say to the U.S.
troops in Iraq -- particularly the members of the 3rd Infantry
Division -- who we're discovering are quite disappointed to not be
coming back the United States, but instead to be assigned new,
dangerous combat duties in Iraq?
RUMSFELD: Well, the answer to the first portion of your question is
no. It was perfectly appropriate to state the truth. And the truth was
that major combat operations had been completed, and at the same time
we said that there were still remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime
that would need to be dealt with. The announcement that was made was
completely accurate and certainly not premature at all.
What happened was most of the battles took place in the south. And
there was very little north of Baghdad. The forces there collapsed and
disappeared into the countryside. Obviously, there are still Fedayeen
Saddam forces, and Ba'ath Party elements and, I suspect, other
elements of the Special Republican Guard conceivably that are
operating in those areas in small groups. The task of the coalition
forces is to root out the remnants of these enforcers from the Saddam
Hussein regime, and that's what they're doing.
The comment you made about the 3rd Infantry Division is interesting.
It's beyond me how you could conceivably know what the center of
gravity of the people in that entire outfit think. But, they have done
a superb job. Some of them have been there since late last year. A
large number of the others have been there since early this year,
which is less than six months. We have had a force-flow program so
that the troops that have been there the longest will be rotated out
in an orderly way, as we always do. I was over there recently and my
impression is that the morale is quite high on the part of the 3rd
Infantry Division soldiers and it ought to be. They've done an
absolutely superb job.
Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, you have been a leader of the war against
Saddam Hussein which was launched because of his weapons of mass
destruction. At this moment, these weapons have not been found and you
are publicly guessing where they are. Don't you feel that you are
losing some credibility as a leader?
RUMSFELD: We have felt all along, when the U.N. inspectors were in
there -- that trying to find the weapons of mass destruction in Saddam
Hussein's program would be very difficult for the inspectors. The way
they could be found, while the inspectors were there, was by taking
individuals out of the country, protecting them, protecting their
families, providing them with a way they could have a life and not
have to fear for their lives. And that it would be only through the
information from people who were directly involved in the programs
that we would find the weapons. We never believed people would just go
out and be able to find a site, trip over it, discover it and say,
"Eureka, we found it."
The same thing is true on the ground. It's a country the size of
California. We have not found Saddam Hussein either and I don't think
anyone is wondering if he was really there. He was.
What we are doing currently is going about the business in an orderly
way, inspecting suspect sites, interrogating people that we've been
able to gain custody of and, as the interrogation project continues,
my guess is that what will take place is over a period of some time
we'll find individuals. Indeed, I can say already we are finding
individuals who have been involved in programs. And we'll find
documentation and we'll find old computers and things that will enable
us to go find the remnants of their programs.
Q: You said that NATO Headquarters can not function anymore, because
Belgian law, universal jurisdiction . . .
RUMSFELD: Oh, I didn't say that. I speak fairly precisely, I hope,
most of the time. I won't repeat what I said, but NATO headquarters is
functioning. It will just be difficult if people are not able to come
to meetings here.
Q: Does that mean that the headquarters has to move out of Brussels?
RUMSFELD: All I'm saying is we have a situation where former President
Bush, Secretary Powell, Vice President Cheney, General Schwarzkopf,
General Tom Franks and Colonel McCoy have all been charged already
with war crimes in this jurisdiction. And that creates a problem. It
creates a problem that's obvious. It doesn't take a genius to
understand that that is a problem. If anyone that comes here who is a
senior coalition military or civilian official is going to be
subjected to the harassment of spurious lawsuits and be forced to
spend large sums of money attempting to defend themselves against this
type of thing, then people are not going to want to come here.
And that's really a judgment for . . . Belgium is a sovereign nation.
They can decide what they want to do. It's perfectly possible to meet
elsewhere, but what will happen, I just don't know. All I'm doing is
stating the problem. And what the solution will be, I think, is really
more up to Belgium and up to NATO than up to the United States.
Q: Mr. Secretary, can you comment on the Spanish decision to send its
troops to the Polish sector of Iraq? And do you see any further role
of NATO in Iraqi stabilization?
RUMSFELD: I think that's possible and certainly a large number of NATO
countries are already assisting and a number of others have
volunteered to offer both, in some cases troops and in other cases
various types of reconstruction assistance. But that's a decision for
NATO to take.
With respect to the Spanish decision, we are very pleased that Spain
has decided to send a significant number of troops and to participate
in the sector that Poland is heading up. We think that's a good thing
for both countries and for that sector.
I think there are something like I think it's -- correct me if I'm
wrong -- the last time I looked there are about 6 or 8 countries that
have committed troops and there are something like 40 or 41 countries
that are currently discussing various levels of troop assistance in
Iraq. And the Central Command is working with them to try to patch
together the elements from the plus or minus 3 dozen countries into
organizations that will be successful and be able to do their work
effectively. We already have, obviously, a number of coalition forces
in the country. There's something like 12,000 or 13,000 there at the
present time. And that number will grow substantially as we go through
the coming two or three months, one would think. President Bush has
said very clearly, that we intend to have as many U.S. troops there as
is necessary to assure the kind of security that will enable the Iraqi
people to have an environment that enables them to begin to rebuild
their country and to get themselves on a path towards, first, one
would think, an interim authority of some type and then a
constitutional convention and an Iraqi constitution that fits Iraq.
And then an Iraqi government.
It takes some time, obviously. They don't have any recent experience
with representative government and civil society. They've been living
under a vicious dictatorship. As a sign of how vicious it is, we keep
finding additional mass graves with thousands of remains of human
beings that were killed and piled in these mass graves. It is sight to
I'll make this the last question.
Q: Lord Robertson has been telling us today that NATO has recovered
remarkably since the crisis over Iraq. Yet, here you are today telling
us that the U.S. may not even be able to send officials to NATO
headquarters because of a lawsuit against General Tommy Franks.
Doesn't that prove precisely that the crisis over Iraq is alive and
well and that NATO is still caught slap-bang in the middle of it?
RUMSFELD: Oh, I'm sure there are those that would be delighted if NATO
were "slap-bang" in a crisis, but Lord Robertson's correct. We're not
in a crisis. I've been around NATO for decades and I've never seen a
time when somebody didn't say, "NATO's history. NATO's about done.
NATO is in a crisis. Oh, my, the sky is falling."
This organization is healthy. We've had superb meetings. It's moving
forward to transform itself to fit the 21st century. The NATO response
force is a significant activity. The fact that these -- I guess it was
just 18 countries that worked through the command structure changes --
that they could do that and have significant reductions in the numbers
of headquarters and in the numbers of CAOC's (Combined Air Operation
Center) is not nothing. I'm trying to do it in the United States and
it's not easy. It's hard work. It's hard work with one country. But to
do it with 18 countries is a significant accomplishment.
The answer to your question is flat no. You are wrong. There is not a
major crisis. We will get through this. Not to worry.
Q: Superb meetings, but possibly somewhere else?
RUMSFELD: I didn't say that. Thank you.
(end transcript)
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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