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News Transcript

Presenter: C. Ryan Henry, Principal Deputy Undersecretary For Policy
Friday, July 16, 2004

Special Defense Department Briefing on the International Committee of The Red Cross's Report on Detainees

MR. HENRY: Good afternoon. My name is -- excuse me. Good morning. My name's Ryan Henry. I am the principal deputy under the undersecretary of Policy here in the Pentagon. And I'm happy to have an opportunity speak to you today about our dealings with the ICRC and some organizational changes that we're making here within the Pentagon.

As we're all aware, the issue of detainees and their handling has been an issue of enormous public interest, and the secretary and his leadership team is very concerned and is engaged in trying to move forward, understand exactly what happened and make the needed corrections.

We have a number of investigations going on now, and numerous people have talked about that. I guess it depends on specifically how you do the accounting for them, but by most accounts, between investigations and assessments and that, it comes to a hundred that are ongoing.

Now while I can't speak about -- in detail about those different investigations, I can tell you they're part of a determined process by the secretary to understand exactly what happened and what we need to do to change the situation and make sure that if mistakes were made, that they would not be repeated in the future.

From the very beginning, though, of this administration, it has been the Department of Defense's policy to treat all detainees humanely. Since September 11th, we've worked diligently to try to develop a comprehensive strategy, in context with the global war on terrorism, and that continues to be an ongoing effort.

I'm here today, though, to talk momentarily about some of the reorganization things that we have done and then also some process things that we're working toward in dealing with the International Red Cross.

Today the secretary signed a directive creating an Office of Detainee Affairs. That office will be in the -- under the undersecretary of Policy and will be reporting to the secretary via the undersecretary for Policy.

He's also created a situation where International Red Cross reports from the field will be brought forward. Normally, in the past -- and I'll talk about this momentarily -- but in the past, they've been left at the field level -- that those reports will be forwarded up, that the deputy assistant secretary for Detainee Affairs will convene a joint committee to review those reports and then advise the secretary as required for his guidance. This office will be a single point of focus for detainee affairs within the building. It will be responsible for developing strategy and policy recommendations. The deputy assistant secretary will chair, again, the joint committee, and that will have representatives from the undersecretary for intelligence, the Joint Staff, the Office of General Counsel, the Department of Army and others who might be involved in detainee affairs.

Now a key element here again will be the relationship with the International Red Cross. First of all, we in the Department of Defense appreciate the work that's done by the International Red Cross perhaps more than any other country or military organization. Not only do they help us understand how we can do a better job, but they do a very critical job in protecting our soldiers. So we want to have a system that can elevate their concerns to key policymakers as responsibly as possible.

Under this new organization, the deputy assistant secretary and the Office of Detainee Affairs, they will be the single focal point in communicating with the ICRC on behalf of the department; not to preclude the role that the State Department has with the ICRC, but for department relations they will be the key point of contact, and they will be the key coordinator within the building.

And speaking about how we deal with the ICRC, the relationship we have is one where the ICRC is one of confidentiality. It's the only nongovernmental organization that has diplomatic credentials. We honor their request for confidentiality. One of the purposes here is so that they can develop a rapport with the local commander who is in charge of the base, one of mutually trying to work together to improve conditions over a set of visits that occur over time. If that is unnecessarily micromanaged from a headquarters staff, then that will start to stifle the free flow of information and collegial environment that works between the ICRC. So we're trying to take and have safeguards in place to make sure that we won't do anything to interfere with that relationship. And we have been coordinating with the ICRC as we change our procedures to make sure that they are comfortable with the way that we're going to be handling these things.

We have also recently, as you may have heard, have made reports -- the information within some of the ICRC reports available to members of Congress. On Wednesday we took up to Chairman Hunter and the House Armed Services Committee the collection of reports that are currently in our possession that deal with Iraq. Two weeks previously, we had done that with Guantanamo. And then we did the same yesterday for the Senate Armed Services Committee and Chairman Warner. We had a fruitful exchange and provided them information and insight. They had an opportunity to read the reports. And again, this was something that we had coordinated with the International Red Cross.

This is part of an ongoing effort that the secretary has directed in keeping the congressional members informed and so they can effectively have their oversight function. Over the -- since we learned of the abuses at Abu Ghraib, the secretary has been up for four different hearings. The deputy secretary or undersecretaries have been up there for 12 different hearings. Twenty-six members of Congress have been here in the building to meet with the secretary to discuss these different issues. He's been up there different times briefing over 250 members of Congress in his Ops/Intel briefs. He's sent teams up 18 different times to brief different committees, and then there have been 28 different staff briefings. So it's part of a large, ongoing effort to keep them appraised (sic) of what we're doing.

So with that, I'll conclude my opening remarks and turn it over to you for questions. Yes?

Q Sir, the creation of this new office and the other changes, is that an admission by the secretary and by the department that to date the detainee operations have been handled poorly? And also, why bring forward ICRC reports? Are you saying that you felt like you've been kept in the dark on these?

MR. HENRY: Well, let me deal with the first one. I think it's part of an ongoing effort by a learning organization, which the Department of Defense tries to be and the way that the secretary attempts to run his organization, in his staff organization, the Office of the Secretary of Defense. And you're always looking for better ways to do things. Obviously, that we would like -- the role of the ICRC as we've moved in the global war on terrorism, that the way that we handle detainees is different than we've done in the past. It's significantly different than it was in Desert Storm, where there were a large number of EPWs, but this issue of detainees is a little bit more complex. And so it's an opportunity to focus more effort.

These functions, many of them, have been done and been addressed within his staff and within the Department of Defense, but they had been somewhat disparate and spread out over the organization, and so it's a means which to focus it in. So I wouldn't characterize it as looking backwards and worrying about the performance of the past. I think he's taking what he has learned so far and attempting to put together the best organization to meet the needs of the departments.

And your second question?

Q It was the issue of bringing forward the ICRC reports. I mean, do you feel like the leadership here in the Pentagon has been kept in the dark about the concerns of the ICRC with these previous reports?

MR. HENRY: I don't think being kept in the dark is a proper characterization. It's more a matter of how can we more effectively work with the ICRC. Again, they have a very beneficial role for us, both for our troops in the field and then those who we have responsibility for under detainee conditions. And it's a way to work with them better, to understand what their concerns are, and to be able to address them better without preempting the prerogatives of the combatant commanders or the individual operational commanders in the field.

Yes, ma'am?

Q Had you had this committee and gotten these ICRC reports at a top level, how do you think things would have been different? And could you also say if you've considered giving the ICRC a seat at that committee table?

MR. HENRY: Well, this is -- this would be for internal discussions, and it's within the Department of Defense. So we don't really think -- that's not under consideration to bring the ICRC in. But the joint committee will be communicating with them through the deputy assistant secretary.

Again -- I'm sorry; again, you know, your first question?

Q And have you -- had you last year been getting these ICRC reports, how would things have been different?

MR. HENRY: Well, 20/20 hindsight, you would have focused and gone directly to a specific problem. We didn't have 20/20 hindsight. So we think the process probably would have helped.

Again, this is a correction vector that we can say that will help the future functioning of the department. As we go back and look at it, most of the people that dealt with these reports had good intentions. They were conscientious. Those areas where it wasn't like that, then that's part of what we're trying to learn from the different investigations going on.

We do not -- we don't have the complete record yet. We don't have a complete understanding yet of what went on. So to make a judgment on how things would have been exactly different with that incomplete information would be difficult to make.

Yes, sir?

Q I just want to make sure I understand. The detainees, does that include all the categories: conventional POWs, U.S. citizens held as enemy combatants, and the enemy combatants like the ones at Guantanamo?

MR. HENRY: As far as dealing with the ICRC, it --

Q Or just in general, in terms of this Office of Detainee Affairs. Are they going to -- are they --

MR. HENRY: Detainees would deal with all foreigners that the DOD has custody over.

Q So the conventional POWs as well.

MR. HENRY: Conventional POWs as well, yes.

Q Could you just explain a little bit more about the hundred investigations, inquiries, reviews, et cetera, give me just some idea of what you're talking about?

MR. HENRY: That's -- those are the folks that are trying to determine what went wrong. They're feeding us information as those reports and assessments and investigations close out. I'm not intimately involved in that part. My --

Q Are you including everything, like a review of procedures at prisons to, you know, the --

MR. HENRY: Yes. That's a whole body of going out, looking at how we can do training differently, how we can resource differently, how the exact operations go. It's an across-the-board look from a number of different angles on what went wrong and how we can do a better job in the future.

Q How many people are going to be in this office?

MR. HENRY: That's to be determined. The secretary has just today made the decision to create the office. So the specific staffing and the personnel associated with it will be determined here in the next few days.

Q Well, who is heading it? Who is heading it?

MR. HENRY: Again, that's something that the secretary will have conversations with the White House on, on specifically the right person to head that up. But it is something that is very important to us. We want to move out as fast as we can after the creation of the office.


Q You characterize the office as sort of this -- part of an information chain, if ICRC has concerns, and that kind of thing. Will this office also do things like set policy for interrogation procedures or other aspects of handling detainees?

MR. HENRY: Across the board there will be specific aspects dealing with detainees that won't be the sole purview of the undersecretary for policy. And that's the purpose of the Joint Coordinating Committee that is put together to bring in all those different elements and to make sure that we have a coherent policy and a seamless policy across all aspects of detainee affairs. So there might be other elements in the area of interrogation or other areas where other offices may have the lead, but those will be coordinated through the Joint Coordinating Committee.

Yes, sir?

Q Senator Warner said yesterday after the meeting that there are new cases that have come to light, at least since the last time they were -- cases that they weren't aware of. Is that the case? What are these new cases? Cases of prisoner abuse.

MR. HENRY: I don't believe that Senator Warner spoke of that in context to the ICRC briefing. He may have been -- had other briefings that day that might have led him to that conclusion, but you have to check with Senator Warner on that, exactly what he's coming from.

Q I mean, do you know whether there have been cases of prisoner abuse that have come to light?

MR. HENRY: I think we're in a continual process of discovery as we do all the different assessments and investigations we're doing. New facts are coming in every day. I'm not privy to specifically what those facts are. But we are in a mode of information discovery right now on exactly what went on, in all aspects of the global war on terrorism in relationship to the detainee affairs. And I can't tell you specifically what might have come in or what might have gone to Senator Warner here in the last few days.


Q I think that human rights groups that have had a real problem with the whole detainee policy thing are going to look at this and say to us this is like the foxes in the hen house. You have people from the General Counsel's office and the Joint Staff's office sitting down and setting policies, and these are the same groups that are parsing what severe pain means as regard to torture and talking about, you know, how -- you know, the ones who decided to set up this jail in Guantanamo Bay specifically to be outside the reach of U.S. courts. Could you address that? I'm not sure that people who are already critical of you are going to see this organization as having much credibility in actually changing what has gone on. So could you -- I know it's not really a question, but we're going to hear that.

MR. HENRY: First of all, what we do in the Office of the Undersecretary for Policy, and what the Detainee Affairs Office will be doing will not be setting policy, we will be coming up with policy advice for the secretary, and as far as we're concerned, the policies that will be set will be set by the secretary. He needs to get inputs from all different channels that have expertise in this area, and to provide information. One of them will be coming through the joint committee. Other ones, though, hopefully, will be through our relationships with the ICRC, which is the principal organization, NGO, that we work with for detainee affairs. But their input will be heard.

Yes, ma'am?

STAFF: We have time for maybe one or two more is all.

Q In a speech yesterday, Seymour Hersh said that there are videotapes that are in possession of the OSD that show Iraqi boys being sodomized. Are there videotapes that are in possession of the Office of the Secretary of Defense that show Iraqi boys being sodomized?

MR. HENRY: I have no -- I have absolutely no knowledge of that, or have I heard anything regarding that.

STAFF: Perhaps one more? Or does that do it?

Q Are we going to get a copy of the memo itself -- or the directive?

MR. HENRY: I'll leave that up to the public affairs folks on how to handle that.

STAFF: (Off mike) -- will get it to you.

Q Okay.

STAFF: Go ahead.

Q I was just -- you know, just maybe if you could -- just to get a better sense of how this is going to work, say something -- I mean, and it's a little bit of a hypothetical. But if, you know, some kind of Abu Ghraib-type event comes up again, walk us through the process on how this new office would hopefully make that come out better.

MR. HENRY: Yeah, let me avoid hypotheticals and tell you the process that we have laid out. First of all, things are being streamlined in the field, both at Central Command and working with the other combatant commanders -- and I'll leave others to discuss what those specifics are -- so that key decision-makers can become more aware of issues that the ICRC might bring up.

As they receive those -- those are to be forwarded to the Office of Detainee Affairs in a very responsive fashion. And I believe that there will -- has been or will shortly be guidance out from the secretary on some time targets and exactly how he wants those reports handled. They will be received, the undersecretary for Policy will receive them on his behalf; the deputy assistant secretary for Detainee Affairs will review those, review the issues, work with the different elements inside DOD. And then, if there is something that would reach the level of what we saw in Abu Ghraib or something much less significant, if there is an abuse that falls outside the lines of our policy, one that can be verified, then those are to be brought to the secretary immediately.

STAFF: Very good. Thank you very much.

MR. HENRY: Thank you.

Q Thanks.

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