Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce
Remarks as delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Miami, FL, Friday, February 13, 2004.
Thank you very much.
My goodness, Peter. You’re going to make me sound like I can’t hold a job. Can you believe that? He said I went to Princeton. We have our fiftieth reunion this year! That is a long time ago. My goodness!
Well, Mr. Mayor; Members of the Chamber; Congressman, it’s good to see you.
Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for that very nice welcome.
I must say that flying in here and looking down at this amazing city is always a pleasure. It is a living example of the promise of this country of ours. People from many backgrounds and cultures have come together to live here and work here and to build a future that’s based on freedom and most importantly on opportunity.
You know if you think about it, during the long decades of the Cold War, our freedom made America truly the beacon of hope to millions of people–people who were struggling under totalitarian regimes. And it is that freedom–the freedom to live, and to work and to worship as we choose–that the enemies of today see as the primary obstacle to their ultimate purposes.
The global war on terror is truly a fight for freedom. While terrorists do not employ big armies, big navies or big air forces, they are, nonetheless, successors to the ideologies of the last century–just as you are the heirs of the great generations who preserved our freedom.
On September 11th, the enemies of freedom declared war on the United States. They took the lives of three thousand citizens–many Americans, but also people from some 80 other nations–including many countries throughout Central and South America.
What began as a bright morning, ended in a tragedy of stunning proportions. As President Bush described it, “… night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack.”
Some talk today about the cost of defending freedom, particularly during budget season, which indeed it is now in Washington, but the cost of that single day September 2001 was astounding.
The Wall Street Journal published an estimate last year, and the cost to our country, the Journal said included:
$7.8 billion in lost income for the families of the 3,000 victims–money that would have gone to pay for braces and summer camps, schools and colleges.
$21 billion to New York City for direct damage costs.
$4 billion for the victims fund.
$700 million to repair the Pentagon.
$6.4 billion in reduced and lost wages and salaries for workers in New York industries.
1.3 million net jobs nationwide were lost, and $150 billion in reduced Gross National Product.
Approximately $11 billion in lost business to the airline industry, and the bankruptcy of some airlines, even after a $15 billion federal bailout.
Some $38 billion in costs for new border security, protection against biological threats, and emergency preparedness.
Roughly $1.3 billion in costs to state governments for homeland security,
And more than $33 billion in spending by the private sector for new protective services.
Just to list a few of the costs of that one day.
Even assuming for some overlap, the 9/11 attacks alone cost the American people–hundreds of billions of dollars and that is not counting the price paid in lives and the suffering of the families of those lost. All of this was caused by four airplanes. Picture the damage terrorists could inflict with a chemical, biological, nuclear or a radiation weapon.
So the stakes are high and terrorism will not simply go away. It has to be defeated.
Today enemy combatants are being detained at the U.S. military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as you know well. They include not only rank and file soldiers who took up arms against the coalition in Afghanistan but they include senior al Qaida and Taliban operatives, including some who may have been linked to past and potential attacks against the United States, and other who continue to express commitment to kill Americans if released.
Very simply the reason for their detention is that they’re dangerous. Were they not detained, they would return to the fight and continue to kill innocent men, women and children. Detention is not an arbitrary act of punishment. Indeed, it is a practice long established under the law of armed conflict for dealing with enemy combatants in a time of war and it was practiced, I am told, in every war we have fought. It is a security necessity, and I might add it is just plain common sense.
Detaining enemy combatants also serves another purpose. It provides us with intelligence that can help us prevent future acts of terrorism. It can save lives and indeed I am convinced it can speed victory.
For example, detainees currently being held at Guantanamo Bay have revealed al Qaida leadership structure, operatives, funding mechanisms, communication methods, training and selection programs, travel patterns, support infrastructures and plans for attacking the United States and other friendly countries. They’ve provided information on al Qaida front companies and on bank accounts, on surface to air missiles, improvised explosive devices, and tactics that are used by terrorist elements. And they have confirmed other reports regarding the roles and intentions of al Qaida and other terrorist organizations.
This information is being used by coalition intelligence officials and by our forces on the battlefield and it’s been important to our efforts in the war and in preventing further terrorist attacks.
The United States has no desire to hold enemy combatants any longer than is absolutely necessary. In most wars that this country has fought, enemy combatants are detained for the duration of the conflict as is recognized under the right of the laws of war. It is occasionally suggested that this standard, the laws of war, can’t apply in the case of the present war because the duration may be indeterminate. It’s true that this conflict may not end with anything as clear-cut as a surrender ceremony on the USS Missouri, but there can hardly be any doubt that the war continues. The Taliban continue to wage war against the legitimate government in Afghanistan and against our coalition forces there, by public declarations as well as hostile acts. A1 Qaida continues to wage war on Americans and on all civilized people with disturbing regularity. No one could possibly claim that the conflict had ended.
In a departure from the practice in most previous wars, the United States is working to release those enemy combatants that can be judged to be no longer a threat or who no longer possess intelligence that could help us’ prevent future acts of terrorism and we’re trying to do so in as expeditious a manner as is possible.
For those that continue to be threat but are not guilty of war crimes, the U.S. government would prefer to transfer them to their native countries for detention or for prosecution and we are negotiating agreements with a number of countries to facilitate such transfers.
Finally, for those detainees who pose a continued threat and who do need to be detained the U.S. government is instituting a process for an annual review that would ensure that the detainee has an opportunity to provide information to a panel and that the judgments about continued detention will be made on the basis of the most current information possible.
The circumstances in which individuals are apprehended on the battlefield can be ambiguous as I’m sure people here can understand. This ambiguity is not only the result of the inevitable disorder of the battlefield, it is an ambiguity created by enemies who violate the laws of war by fighting in civilian clothes, by sharing multiple identification documentations, by having three, six, eight, in one case 13 different aliases. So there’s an important reason for insisting that lawful combatants must wear uniforms. When they fail to do so as they do in Afghanistan, or when as they do sneak as terrorists into the United States or into Germany or Turkey or Indonesia, they deliberately obliterate the distinction between civilians and combatants and as a result they endanger civilian lives.
Because of this ambiguity even after enemy combatants are detained it takes time to check stories, to resolve inconsistencies, or in some cases even to get the detainee to provide any useful information to help resolve the circumstance.
As they continue to sort through detainees in a systematic manner, officials of the United States government will make determinations based upon the best information that they can establish. Some of these detainees will be tried before military commissions for serious crimes as has been accepted practice in previous wars. Some will be transferred back to their home countries if those countries are willing to take responsibility for them. Others who may no longer pose a continuing threat to our security will be released.
Detainees at Guantanamo Bay represent only a small fraction of those scooped up in the global war on terror. Of the roughly 10,000 people that were originally detained in Afghanistan, fewer than ten percent were brought to Guantanamo Bay in the first place. The vast majority were processed in Afghanistan and released in Afghanistan. Of those sent to Guantanamo Bay, 87 have been transferred for release thus far and a few have already been returned to their home country for continued detention or prosecution.
For instance we just announced the transfer of a detainee to the government of Spain. Our government is working to obtain agreements with other countries that would permit the transfer of many more.
Once enemy combatants are transferred to Guantanamo there is a process for gauging the threat that might be posed by each one. Individual cases are reviewed by an integrated team of interrogators, analysts and regional experts. Each is assessed according to the threat posed to U.S. national security and the security of our friends and allies. The U.S. Southern Command makes a recommendation which is forwarded to an interagency committee in Washington. There a decision is made about whether an individual should be released, transferred, or held.
To make that determination the United States government plans to institute the process I mentioned. Specifically it will provide for such detainees that a board will review each such case annually. Each detainee will have an opportunity to present information on his behalf. The board will consider all available information including that provided by foreign governments. This process is discretionary and in no way impacts the authority of the United States to continue to detain enemy combatants under the laws of war.
I recognize that in our society the idea of detaining people without lawyers seems unusual. Detaining people without trials seems unusual. After all our country stands for freedom and it stands for the protection of rights. The natural inclination of most Americans, and indeed of people in many other countries, is to think in terms of criminal law and punishment rather than the law of war which has as its purpose first to keep the enemy off the battlefield so that they can’t kill more innocent people. Another important objective is one I mentioned, intelligence gathering to save lives. And only last, is the issue of punishment an issue.
We need to keep in mind that the people in U.S. custody are not there because they stole a car or robbed a bank. That’s not why they’re there. They are not common criminals. They’re enemy combatants and terrorists who are being detained for acts of war against our country and that is why different rules have to apply.
Think about it. We all immediately think of people being detained as criminals and that they’ve committed a crime and therefore you must punish them and you must try them, and we think of Article 3 of our Constitution. When in fact in a combat situation where these people are scooped up on the battlefield, what we think about is keeping them off the battlefield so they can’t go out and kill more people, immediately interrogating them so we can find out what they know that can prevent future acts of terror against our country and against our friends and allies, and only last is the issue of a crime and some sort of a process that would make a judgment about that crime.
Those who will be prosecuted by the United States likely will be tried by military commissions. Under the law of war such tribunals are a recognized way to try enemy combatants. They are not new. They have been used by many countries in the past including by the allies after both world wars.
U.S. military commissions will include many aspects that we do recognize and expect: presumption of innocence, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, a right to counsel, the right to present evidence or witnesses, the right to cross-examine, the right not to testify with no adverse inference drawn, the right to exculpatory evidence known to the prosecution, the right to appeal, a prohibition on double jeopardy and proceedings that are open to the maximum extent practical.
America is a nation at war. It is a war we did not ask for, but it’s a war that we must fight. It’s a war that we must win, and we will. Detaining enemy combatants is a part of that war. They are being treated in a manner that is consistent with the Geneva Convention, and importantly, they are being treated in a manner that is in accordance with the principles upon which our nation was founded and has flourished.
In closing let me say a word about those principles because they really are what animate our nation in this struggle.
Our country was founded on the fundamental believe in the dignity of every human life, that every man, woman, child is endowed with certain inalienable rights. This belief is what separates our nation of free people from terrorist networks and from terrorist regimes–those who seek not to spread not liberty and opportunity but terror and fear.
So we take those principles seriously as a people and we do our utmost to abide by them. That’s true of the people in this room, that’s true of the people who serve in the Southern Command. It’s true of the young men and women who grew up with your children in the neighborhoods who are currently in charge of Guantanamo Bay. They’re fine people doing a difficult and fine job.
Like many of you we hear periodic criticism in the media about the treatment of prisoners being held in Cuba. Accusations that they’re being mistreated and even tortured. They’re not. When I hear those stories, those reports, the thought that comes to my mind is not the detainees and not Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It is Fidel Castro and the prisoners he holds.
I think a vivid illustration of the difference between a free society and a totalitarian society is there for the world to see, and you need but look on either side of the long fence that surrounds the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo. On one side of the fence are the truly wonderful young men and women of the U.S. armed forces. They are responsible for the custody and care of dangerous terrorists who were captured on the battlefield, fighting with a terrorist network that killed a great many Americans here in the United States on September 11th, as well as the people from many nations of all races and religions that were in those targets. And despite what those terrorists did and what many would most certainly do if they were allowed back out on the street, they are being treated with the appropriate care and yes, compassion, that they did not show our people.
On the outside of that fence is an entire island of prisoners. A tropical gulag where 11 million people live under the tyranny of Fidel Castro’s regime. It should be a vivid reminder of what this war is about. It’s about freedom. It’s about the principle that as President Bush correctly put it, freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. Cuba is no exception.
I think to myself of the people repressed in Cuba by the Castro regime and as President Reagan might say, “Mr. Castro, let those people go.”
Today in Afghanistan and Iraq there are a total of some 50 million people who lived under vicious regimes and have now been liberated. And they are working to fashion free systems thanks to the determination, the dedication and the courage of the men and women in uniform who serve our country–active, guard, reserve, soldiers, sailors, marines, coast guardsmen. Every one a volunteer. Every single one of those people serving across this globe in the global war on terror are volunteers. They stepped forward to serve, and how fortunate we are as a people for their service in the defense of our freedom.
Thank you very much.
Moderator: Secretary Rumsfeld, thank you very much.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Secretary will now take questions from members of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce who are sitting in the general audience. Each person may ask just one question.
We ask that you raise your hand. Once you’re acknowledged, wait for the microphone, then please state your name and the name of your company that you are representing clearly.
Now, we all know that the Secretary speaks in very precise language, so I would encourage you to ask your questions in that light.
Chairman Allen Harper, I understand you have a question.
Q: First, thank you very much for being here. We really appreciate your comments and your vision about what’s going on.
You mentioned SOUTHCOM or Southern Command. I can’t tell you how much Greater Miami appreciates their presence here, both in the form of the security they provide but also the people that have come. We’d like your comments about the future of Southern Command. There’s been some talk it could be moved in the future. We really want you to know how much we cherish the Southern Command and would hope it would be able to stay here.
Rumsfeld: You’re right, they’re terrific people. [Laughter]
I normally don’t feel constrained but I do on this subject. The Congress, fortunately and to the benefit of our country has passed some legislation that enables us to take an orderly and transparent look at how we’re arranged in this country. We are simultaneously doing that as to how we’re arranged in the world. We to some extent outside the United States are in a position where we were when the Cold War ended to a certain extent, and what we’re doing is looking to fashion a footprint for the 21st Century that will make the most sense.
I’m told by the lawyers that I have to stay out of that subject. As you know, and I can tell you know from the big smile on your face–[Laughter]–and as Pierre Salinger once said, “I’m plucky but I’m not stupid.” [Laughter] So there.
Next question. Yes, sir.
I see right behind you Hodding Carter who used to ask me questions over and over and over–[Laughter] Yes, sir.
Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, it’s an honor to hear you speak in person. My name is Peter Melalanya. I’m with the law firm of Starlin, Light, Burnette, PA here in downtown Miami.
As you stated in your speech, prior to September 11th, the United States government designated terrorism as a crime and terrorists as criminals to be dealt with by U.S. law enforcement agencies and our intelligence community. As you also stated, September 11th was clearly an act of war and triggered the need to declare war on terrorist organizations and their supporters. Some in the Democratic including the presumptive nominee has signaled by their statements a desire to return to the pre 9/11 concept of terrorism as a crime. What will be the effect of that on the Department of Defense in the post 9/11 world?
Rumsfeld: Peter, I was a law school dropout. [Laughter] That’s true. [Laughter]
Did I say I’d answer questions? [Laughter] He said I’d answer questions. I said I would respond to questions. [Laughter]
First of all, I should offer a disclaimer. The President of the United States has asked Colin Powell and Don Rumsfeld and I guess that’s the two, to stay out of politics. So the way you began your question means that I can’t answer it. If I started responding to things that every politician said we’d end up having the Department of Defense enmeshed in the political campaign and that’s not where it belongs.
I will say this generically. We’re going to pretend that he asked it differently and he said say, Don, do you think the circumstance we’re in today is roughly like it was before and therefore we can behave today roughly like we did before? How’s that? About right?
The answer is I don’t think so. [Laughter] I think that this is a new century and the challenges we face in the new century are difficult challenges. We have an obligation to try to understand them and to recognize that the new challenges, the new 21st Century threats, call on us to adjust how we deal with them, how we face them, what we think about them.
The central fact of terrorism is this. It is that a terrorist can attack at any time at any place using any technique and it is absolutely impossible to defend that every time of the day or night in every place against every conceivable technique.
As was mentioned, I was Middle East Envoy for President Reagan a couple of decades ago, and I remember being in Beirut shortly after the 241 Marines were killed in the barracks there. They were killed by a truck coming in and going into the barracks and exploding it and killing a large fraction of the people there.
Needless to say the natural reaction is to put barricades around the barracks in the future. Of course when you do that the terrorists go to school on you and the next thing they do is they start lobbing rocket-propelled grenades over the barricades. So the next thing you have now is the on the corniche in Beirut, Lebanon a few months later, and you look at a building and there’s the embassy draped with a wire mesh. You had the barricades around it, but then it had a big wire mesh around it like a veil to repel the rocket-propelled grenades and bounce them back. So what did the terrorists do? They start hitting soft targets. Hit the people going to and from work.
The fact is the only way to deal with this problem we’re facing from a kinetic standpoint is to scout the terrorists, the terrorist networks, find them, and stop them. That is what must be done. That is not what the Department of Defense was organized, trained and equipped to do. We were organized, trained and equipped to deal with big armies, navies and air forces. We do that well. We’ve got terrific people who can do that very very well. So we had to adjust and move into a different approach where you go out and seek individuals.
Our folks had been back and forth down that road, past that farm, by that hole where Saddam Hussein was hiding for months. They’d been past that any number of times. No way in the world to know he was in there unless somebody comes and tells you. So it takes all elements of national power. It takes stopping their funding and working through that system. It takes sharing intelligence with law enforcement agencies all across the country, all across the world and trading information as well as defense and military capabilities. It is a tough job, it’s a different job, and it takes a different mindset and it’s going to take time.
The other thing we have to do, and it seems to me it’s just enormously important, is we have to recognize that the military piece of it is just a piece of it. We also have to understand that there are more terrorists being trained every day. They’re being trained in schools that teach terrorism, that train them to go out and kill innocent men, women and children. That is a challenge for free people because their target is free people.
What we are about is what they are against. It doesn’t represent a religion, it represents a small fraction of people, and it doesn’t take a lot of people to cause a lot of damage. Look how many people it took to deal with those four airplanes. Fifteen, 20, 30, 40, 50 people, period, and 3,000 people dead. The cost/benefit ratio is on their side.
So we have to change our way of thinking. We have to recognize that it’s a task that’s going to take time. We have to be patient. But we also have to remember that the defender has to be right all the time. The attacker only has to be lucky occasionally, and great damage can be caused.
I keep waiting to see if Hodding’s hand’s going to go up. Therefore we’ll go over here. [Laughter] I’ll come back, Hodding. I’ll come back.
Q: It’s an honor, Mr. Secretary, to hear you today. It’s also quite humorous. I’m enjoying it tremendously. I’m Tony Polumbo, CEO of Catholic Hospice.
I was wondering, kind of a bridge of your last answer. The alacrity that you seem to have brought to our armed forces across the board, is that kind of a by-product, if you will, or connected directly to 9/11? Or is that something that you were intending to bring to the table prior to the attacks of 9/11?
Rumsfeld: When I was to my amazement then and still amazement, the President asked me to back to government after being out for 25 years, he clearly had in mind that that department needed to be transformed, it needed to be oriented towards the 21st Century, and we began that process well before September 11th. When September 11th hit, a lot of people said you can’t do that. You can’t do both at once. You simply cannot transform and go through all the difficult times and the meetings and the energy that has to be expended and simultaneously fight the global war on terror. The truth is, you could not not transform and fight the global war on terror. We simply had to. Indeed, it provided an impetus.
I would also say, the truth be known, I am probably genetically impatient. [Laughter]
Hodding, the last question. Make it a pistol. Knock it out of the park. [Laughter] Don’t embarrass me now. Q: Mr. Secretary, you began responding or not responding to a Miami question so I’m going to ask you not the kind you used to get from me but another Miami question.
You spoke of America’s role as the welcoming shore, and events not far from our shore right now in another nation promise the possibility of massive, massive dislocations of people. I was wondering what you have planned to deal with and how you view events in Haiti today?
Rumsfeld: Needless to say the Secretary of State and the President are continuously addressing foreign policy issues, are addressing that issue. It is always a sad thing to see countries struggling, trying to find their way, trying to sort through difficulties. It is something that I am hopeful that the countries of the region and the international organizations in the region or hemisphere and the world will interest themselves in and that they will be able to navigate through what is obviously difficult times for them. It seems to ebb and flow and at the moment it is not deteriorating that I have seen in recent days.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. It’s nice to see you all. I wish you well.
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