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CNN Live Event/Special

Pentagon Briefing

Aired December 11, 2001 - 11:30   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Also in Washington at the Pentagon, here is Donald Rumsfeld, the briefing now getting underway there at the Pentagon.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: -- I think we had best delay the punch line. Good morning. As you know, earlier this morning, we held a memorial service outside the site of the crash, saluting those who died in the attacks on America just three months ago today.

There terrorists killed nearly 200 of our colleagues and friends here at the Pentagon on September 11 and thousands more in New York and Pennsylvania. And of course, those are not just numbers. They were our friends and sons and daughters and colleagues with names and faces and loved ones left behind.

One of those faces is here on the board, I believe. This is Samantha Lightborn Allen (ph). Mrs. Allen (ph) was working as an Army budget analyst on the southside of the Pentagon on September 11, when American Airlines Flight Number 77 was flown into the building.

She was a devoted public servant who had worked for the Army for many years; also the mother of a boy and a girl. She gave her life for her country. Her family and friends and colleagues miss her, and certainly, we will not forget her.

This war is far from over. I've been reading an awful lot of things and seeing on television a great rush to declare it a success and over. And I regret to say that it is not yet -- we have yet to achieve our very clear objectives. We know it will take time. It does not end with the fall of Kabul or Kunduz or even Kandahar or even with the capture of some of the individual Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan.

As the area under the Taliban and Al Qaeda grows smaller, there is no question but that the danger to coalition forces will be grower greater. Yes, there's no question but that some of the terrorists are on the run, and there also are pockets of terrorists and Taliban that are being attacked (ph) as we speak.

But we all know that a wounded animal can be dangerous, and so, too, the Taliban and Al Qaeda can hide in the mountains. They can hide in caves, and indeed, they can hide in cities. And I know they are. They know these places well.

RUMSFELD: They can escape across borders and regroup, and then plot to strike again as they have promised to do.

So as the campaign proceeds, we can expect that more of the enemy forces will be detained, and we want to bring more transparency as to how we handle detainees in this war. We want to fashion a system that is as open as possible so that the American people can have a good comfort level about the process itself.

Whether we hold these detainees in Afghanistan, as we may in some cases, put them abroad ship at sea, as we may in some cases, return to their countries of origin for punishment, as we may in some cases, or whether we bring some back to the United States, which we may well do, we will in every case attempt to do it in the right way. And we're working with knowledgeable people in and out of government to make sure that we handle detainees properly and in a manner that reflects our country's values, but also in a manner that reflects the seriousness of their situation and of our situation.

General Myers?

MYERS: Well, thank you, Mr. Secretary, and good morning, everybody.

I certainly agree with the secretary that it was a touching moment out there at the site this morning as we remember our friends and loved ones that were lost there, and not just the ones that were lost, but the ones that are still recuperating in hospitals that have been badly injured. For me, it's a reminder of why we've undertaken this global war on terrorism.

MYERS: We're now into the 66th day of the military portion of this war, and I think the coalition and anti-Taliban forces have been effective in reducing the threat of Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan.

Pockets of resistance remain in various parts of the country, but it appears that the last effective Al Qaeda stronghold -- to be determined -- but the last effective one right now is in the Tora Bora area.

Also while Kandahar has fallen from Taliban control and the city is calmer, as fighting has decreased in the recent days, it's important to note that armed Taliban elements are still there and occupy small portions of that city. So it's still an uncertain environment.

Our air operations yesterday were all in the engagement zones supporting opposition group efforts in the Tora Bora area. We also dropped leaflets in and around the Kandahar and Jalalabad regions and continued our Commando Solo broadcast missions, as well.

Anticipating attempts by Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders to flee Afghanistan, we continue to conduct interdiction efforts to halt their fleeing and try to seal off, as much as possible and as many as possible, potential avenues for their escape. The Marines of our Task Force 58 continue operations to block escape routes out of Kandahar and our maritime operations continue in the international waters in the North Arabian Sea.

We also continue to support international efforts to provide humanitarian relief to the Afghani people and to help stabilize the country. Two C-17s, yesterday, dropped more than 34,000 humanitarian daily rations north of Kunduz, bringing our total to date for rations delivered to more than 2,360,000. As you know, the Friendship Bridge between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan is open and, yesterday, released supplies across the bridge for the first time for distribution by non- government organizations, nongovernmental organizations.

And finally, there are, as everybody's well-aware, there have been many press reports of surrender talks in the Tora Bora area. We have no confirmation of this.

MYERS: And just to go on the record, our military mission remains to destroy the Al Qaeda and the Taliban networks. So operation from the air and the ground will continue until our mission is accomplished.

And with that, I think we're ready for questions.

RUMSFELD: Charlie, you were not here yesterday when the minister of state for defense of Japan and I had a press conference, and you left no instructions as to who I was to call on.


And I was at a loss and...

QUESTION: I was writing on the war...


QUESTION: ... how about today.

RUMSFELD: Yes, sir? You're up.

QUESTION: Thank you.

Mr. Secretary, you've made clear, as you do often, that the war is far from over. There are reports from Somalia that perhaps small numbers of U.S. liaison troops or perhaps agents from that other agency are in Somalia investigating the presence of terrorist training camps. Is that true? And might that be a precursor to another front in this war on terrorism?

RUMSFELD: Well, I've seen those reports. Needless to say, I have nothing to report about that, and I would just say that Somalia clearly is a country, along with six, eight others that have been on a list as nations that have been involved in terrorism over some period of time, but we've made no judgments and have nothing to announce with respect to Somalia today. QUESTION: So you're not confirming or denying the presence possible to a small number of U.S. troops? Or can you say whether or not they're out there?

RUMSFELD: As you know well, we do not deny or confirm things of that type. If we start doing it, then anything we don't deny becomes truth, and by process of elimination, we've confirmed something that we have no desire to confirm. So once we start down that road of saying, "No, that's not true. No, that's not true. No, that's not true," the first time I say anything else, why it's confirming that's something's happened. So one should not read anything at all into what I say.


QUESTION: Can you give us a sense, both of you, of what you think is happening at Tora Bora now if you feel that the Al Qaeda has been driven from what has been described as a primary cave and tunnel complex?

QUESTION: And American troops, apparently, have now walked this complex. So where does this particular battle stand with Al Qaeda apparently in retreat, on at least one front?

RUMSFELD: Sure. We have a good sense of where it stands. We know that the area is mountainous. In between the mountains are valleys. In most of the valleys and mountains, there are caves and tunnels. And they vary in their size and complexity, but they are numerous -- a lot of them.

The Afghan opposition forces on the ground are pressing in an area that is decreasing in size. They have moved forward. They have been counterattacked by Al Qaeda forces and held.

There are Pakistani forces on the Pakistan border that the president has assigned up there to attempt to close the border so that Al Qaeda and Taliban do not escape out of Afghanistan into Pakistan. That is a very difficult thing to do. It is a porous border. It's a long border. It's a very complicated area to try to seal. And there's just simply no way you can put a perfect cork in the bottle.

The attack is continuing, although it's night now, and I suspect it's eased off. It is clearly a major fight. The people that are in there are fanatical in many respects, and the forces opposing them are determined.

There are U.S. military people on the ground in the area, in various locations, assisting with supplies and assisting with air strikes and assisting with other things.

QUESTION: Are you interested in a negotiated settlement of some kind in these talks that are going on, or what is it that you are looking for as an outcome in this battle?

RUMSFELD: As you understand, we're not in control of every aspect of this, because the larger numbers of forces are the Afghan forces themselves.

Our interest remains exactly the same: It is to capture or kill all the Al Qaeda and prevent them from escaping into other countries or other locations in Afghanistan where they can continue their terrorist activities. It is to capture or kill the senior Taliban leadership. It is to disarm -- have the opposition forces disarm -- the remaining Taliban and then they will decide what will happen with the lower-level Taliban Afghan forces who live in that country and undoubtedly will stay. I'm sure some will be punished, and some will go back and hide in the mountains or the cities, and still others will become part of opposition forces, and at some point, they will no longer be called opposition forces as has been pointed out to me.

But that's our goal and to see that Afghanistan no longer is a country that harbors terrorist.

QUESTION: No conditions? If there's going to be a surrender, can't have any conditionality to it, it's just a clean...

RUMSFELD: You know, I'm trying to think of a condition. Let's say that there's a condition that's acceptable to us, I'm trying to think what it might be, a condition whereby civilians would be allowed to leave, or something like that. So it is not comfortable for me, since I'm not there, I'm not on the ground, we're not in control of the discussion, to be ruling things out arbitrarily that I can't quite imagine what they might be, but it's conceivable that there could be some perfectly rational thing.

If you're suggesting amnesty, if you're suggesting that we let senior people go, if you're suggesting that we let them stay armed or that they be left to go about their business, obviously not. That's just not acceptable.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about what the U.S. may or may not know about the whereabouts of senior Taliban leadership or senior Al Qaeda leadership today? If any of them have managed to escape? And since Pakistan seems the most likely route out of Afghanistan for many of these leaders, what kind of assurances or agreements do we have with the Pakistani government that they would do all they could to help bring in these leaders on the run?

RUMSFELD: Well, we take a look at the people -- first of all, the list changes as we learn more, and there are interrogations taking place. There's documentation being found and discovered and analyzed and translated, so that each day we learn more and know more. As more address books are found and phone books are found and computer hard drives are found as people have left areas, clearly our knowledge base is going up.

But we do have a set of names on a list that is being changed from time to time. In some instances, people have been killed and in still other instances they've been wounded, and still others, we have reason to believe they might have escaped to another country. In other cases, we don't know where they are. In some cases, we think we know where they are, and we're trying to find them, but we don't announce where we think they might be because it would be unhelpful to us.

QUESTION: But has the government --

HEMMER: President Bush departs the White House (ph), we'll continue to monitor the Pentagon here. He's en route to the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. He will deliver a speech later today dealing with the new threats of terrorism. We will hear those remarks a bit later this afternoon. But, just wanted to keep you up to date on what is happening there. Marine One, getting on board, now, the president.

Earlier today, he participated, at the White House, along with so many thousands and millions of people around the world, marking, to the minute, the three-month mark of the terrorist attacks in New York, the Pentagon, and in Western Pennsylvania. That's the view from the White House, back to the Pentagon, again, and Don Rumsfeld.


QUESTION: -- in the last 24 hours produced any kind of information or intelligence that has shed any new light on bin Laden or their means of operating up there?

RUMSFELD: We literally see hundreds of scraps of information every day. The volume has not changed dramatically except in so far as, as we've gotten physical access to buildings, we have been able to get more things.

RUMSFELD: And specifically in that region at this moment, I would not be able to say that the level of knowledge has changed dramatically in the last 24 hours.


QUESTION: General Myers, are U.S. attack helicopters being used in that strike at Tora Bora? And are U.S. forces, have they been in any of those cave complexes at Tora Bora or Malawa (ph) yet?

MYERS: As you know, we've used attack helicopters in the south with the marines that are deployed south of Kandahar. To the best of my knowledge, there have been none used in the cave area, but I could be wrong, but I don't think they have.

As the secretary said, there are literally thousands of caves, and I'm sure some of our forces have been in some of those caves. Whether they're the relevant ones or not, I can't say at this point.

QUESTION: If I could follow-up? There is a reported cease-fire by the Eastern Alliance there as they negotiate this alleged surrender. You say the air strikes are continuing, is there a cooperation or a coordination between the U.S. and the Eastern Alliance, as far as that goes?

MYERS: I don't think I'd characterize it as a cease-fire. There are some valid military reasons to stop fighting for a while before you resume, and that is probably what you're seeing. So I'd be very careful how you characterize it. Cease-fire has different connotations.

RUMSFELD: I would add that the CINC is not enamored of cease- fire...

MYERS: Not in his lexicon.


RUMSFELD: Yes. General Franks is unambiguous with respect to his attitude about cease-fires.


QUESTION: Sir, moving to the discussion a moment ago about detainees, you initiated the comment that you, quote, "want a system as open as possible." You're in a process, as you've told us several times of developing tribunal proposal. Is your operating premise that these would not be held in secret, that they would be open to public to watch in some -- one way or the other?

RUMSFELD: No. I don't have an operating premise that goes to that. And my guess is, it would be handled differently with respect to different individuals, just as we know that various procedures historically have been handled differently with different individuals.

RUMSFELD: What we do try to do is to take the early period to do -- engage in interrogation for the intelligence gathering purpose, as opposed to law enforcement purposes or anything like that, to find out everything we can so that we can protect the lives of Americans, both on the battlefield as well as here at home and our deployed forces. And that is the first step that takes place.

QUESTION: A follow up, if I could, and a semi-follow up.


QUESTION: See if I get away with this.

RUMSFELD: We'll have a vote on how well it fits into that category.


QUESTION: The question that has been raised about if the European nations, particularly Britain, would be the ones who ended up with custody of an Al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden or other, that there might be a problem with their returning them over to the United States. Is that something...

RUMSFELD: There won't be.

QUESTION: There will not be?

RUMSFELD: There will not be. Either a country will indicated that they will turn them over to us, quite apart from whether or not their laws may be different with respect to the death penalty, or they will be positioned in places where they're unlikely to come in contact with someone that we would like to have control over.



QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) talk about the possibility of taking the Taliban fighters on Navy ships or seeing them back to their countries of origin, you mentioned.

RUMSFELD: Well, Al Qaeda are, for the most part, the non-Afghan people. They would be the ones that would more likely go back to their countries of origin.

Taliban, in large number, are Afghans, and their country of origin is obviously Afghanistan.

QUESTION: What about the foreign Taliban? What will be done with them?

RUMSFELD: I think it's a definitional issue. Most of the foreigners are characterized and catalogued and grouped as Al Qaeda. The non-Afghan people in the Al Qaeda process tends to group them in clusters of organizations that they call Al Qaeda, not Taliban.

So, I guess maybe it's better not to use the words at all.

RUMSFELD: But the people who are not from Afghanistan, in some instances, conceivably could be sent back to their countries of origin if the countries would like them, and if the country has views that are not terribly different from ours about the fact that...

QUESTION: Do the Marines hope...


RUMSFELD: ... what they've been engaged in is not a good thing for the world.

QUESTION: Do the Marines hope to corral some of these down at Camp Rhino at all? Do you have a sense that they're going to actually apprehend any of the Al Qaeda or Taliban fighters?

RUMSFELD: There are several ways it can happen. One way is that they can be kept where they're captured or where they surrender for a period of interrogation. That could be anywhere. It could be with any one of the various opposition forces. It could be with U.S. forces -- in control of them, I guess is the proper word.

Then, they could be moved to some other location that is more appropriate for managing the control over an enemy individual or group of individuals, and that could be an opposition force headquarters. It could be at Camp Rhino, which is about the only place, besides maybe Bagram, where we have enough people that we could manage that ourselves without having it terribly interfere with their other responsibilities. QUESTION: If I could follow on that? How confident are you sending some of these fighters back to their home country of origin that the justice system there will satisfy what we expect?

RUMSFELD: We wouldn't send them back if we didn't have a high degree of confidence.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary?

QUESTION: Every country you're satisfied you're going to get that type -- level of...

RUMSFELD: No. We would only send them back to a country where we felt that the country had a similar attitude to ours about the undesirability of people running around engaging in mass murder.

QUESTION: Those countries are?

RUMSFELD: Well, time will tell, won't it?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the other day the United States took an extraordinary step of dropping a daisy-cutter somewhere up in Tora Bora. You folks apparently had a pretty good idea of where someone you thought was. Have you found intelligence to borne out your hunch?

RUMSFELD: Well, there are not a lot of those, so they don't use them frivolously. There's no question of when that was used.

RUMSFELD: I thought it was yesterday. Was it yesterday?


RUMSFELD: Day before?

MYERS: Sunday.

RUMSFELD: Very recently. That they felt they had good reason to use it in that location.


MYERS: I wanted to just add, Mr. Secretary, it was effective. I mean, we've been on the ground and it had the desired effect.

QUESTION: What exactly was the desired effect?

QUESTION: Can you describe to us, anecdotally, what the...

MYERS: The desired effect was to kill Al Qaeda.

QUESTION: What sort of results are you aware of? What did your people on the ground see?

MYERS: Dead Al Qaeda.

(CROSSTALK) MYERS: I can't quantify for you, but...


MYERS: I don't want to go into details. It had the desired effect, let me just say that.

RUMSFELD: It takes time to sort out people, whether they're prisoners or they're dead. You simply cannot believe what you hear necessarily.

It is perfectly possible that someone would want to be thought to be dead. In which case, you would be advised that this is somebody that it may not be. And we're a little slow to jump to conclusions or to leap at everything we're told. We try to look at people and talk to other people and try to understand precisely what the situation is. So it is not something that happens overnight. It takes time. MYERS: First reports are always difficult to sort out.


QUESTION: ... people killed are leaders? Do you know whether any of these people killed were Al Qaeda or Taliban leadership? You said you were going after...

RUMSFELD: You mean in that particular bomb?

MYERS: I think it's going to take time.

RUMSFELD: I don't know.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated today in London, firmly, that this war is not going to go beyond Afghanistan. May we hear your (inaudible) for the war?

RUMSFELD: I don't believe he said that.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, last week, India (inaudible) carried a report that Osama bin Laden said that he is responsible for the attacks in New York and in Washington at the Pentagon. And also he said, after his death, a Jihad will continue and U.S. bid money on him and the big military did not play in the big role and also they cannot catch him alive.

QUESTION: Now, do you believe today, sir, that he's still there? Because, according to many reports and many Pakistani (inaudible) that he has already fled the area or Afghanistan.

RUMSFELD: Just so we understand each other, everything you said was an unattributed report in some newspaper?

QUESTION: It came from London (inaudible), London Telegraph.

RUMSFELD: London Telegraph.

QUESTION: And also Wall Street. RUMSFELD: And the Wall Street Journal.

Well, there are so many reports about what he said or might have said or has on tape or recorded or told somebody, that to try to chase them around, I think really is not fruitful on our part.

There is no question but that a tape exists on which he is seen to say things -- not in English, I might add, therefore I'm not one to say precisely what it was he said. There are various people trying to translate that and understand precisely what was said. It is an amateur video, and whether or not it'll be released, or when, is a question for some others than me, but if it is, it will be released with some translations that would show what various experts in the language say he said, and then people can make their own judgments, one would think.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, any update on Taliban military leader Mullah Omar? Do you know where he is? And do you have any reason to believe that any of the actions, either by commission or omission, involving the Pashtun tribes led to him being able to get away?

RUMSFELD: I have no reason to believe that's the case. I also wouldn't rule it out. But it's based on the assumption that he's gotten away, and I don't even know that. So you've got a hypothetical buried in a hypothetical.

The fact of the matter is that, until you have somebody, you don't have them.

RUMSFELD: And we are looking very hard, and we are looking at lots of scraps of information, and we intend to pursue him until we find him.

QUESTION: Would it be fair to say you have a general idea of where he is or...

RUMSFELD: How can one know that until they have found him? One can't know that, and I would be misleading you if I pretended.

There are people who will answer that question differently. They will say, "Yeah, we know roughly in this area for this person and roughly in that area for that person." And if you push a little bit on it, you'll find that, in fact, they should be answering roughly like I do.



QUESTION: In a couple of hours, President Bush is revisiting his 1999 Citadel speech on military transformation.

RUMSFELD: Exactly.

QUESTION: I asked you this a couple of weeks ago and you didn't have a lot of time, but can you give us a sense of what's playing out over Afghanistan today by way of technology that's transformational, that's helping go after Al Qaeda as they hide in mountains, caves and in cities?

RUMSFELD: Well, as I answered it the last time you asked it, it remains a good question, and it remains a subject that we are both thinking a lot about and that we're talking about and that things are being considered with respect to the '03 budget about.

I'll give you a short answer, and then I'll yield to General Myers. But it seems to me that one of the things -- two things I would cite that we, reasonable people, when this is over and we look back, will comment on in one way or another.

One is the value of unmanned aerial vehicles, and second, I would say, is the connection, the linkages between UAVs -- combat aircraft and bombers -- and people on the ground and the value that is created by those linkages and the use of smart munitions creates a very powerful effect.

MYERS: I would agree with what the secretary just said, and just put a little finer point on the UAV piece. What it has really allowed for us over there is persistence over the battlefield. We've talked about this a little bit, but it's so unlike Vietnam, where you took snapshots of the battlefield and you may do it at 10:00 in the morning and then you take another snapshot at 2:00 in the afternoon, and at 4:00 and persistence really counts.

And it's not just as it applies to UAV, in my mind, it might also apply to other systems -- space systems -- where you're still in kind of reconnaissance mode, you might want to go. One of the decisions you might make in the future, as we look at the lessons learned, is that you need persistence with all of your intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets.

The other thing the secretary said was really on the interoperability and how we fuse our command and control communications and computers and the whole IFR piece together with decision-makers so we can get the loop of all that, where we see something and we want to act and we can bring effects to bear on whatever the target is in a more timely way, in a more coherent way. We're gluing a lot of things together. It's working reasonably well. We can do better in the future, and we always can. That will always...

QUESTION: A question of precision-guided weapons.


QUESTION: Are there any examples in the last couple of weeks, since it's gone operational, where it's helped track in real-time an Al Qaeda convoy or small groups of vehicles and destroyed them -- it helped destroy them?

MYERS: I think one of the most innovative ways they have used some of the assets, the Joint Stars -- people understand what Joint Stars -- it was designed in the Cold War, basically, for a very linear battlefield, front line -- bad guys on one side, good guys on the other. Here it is using to cue other systems. It has been used to cue Global Hawk, which cues other systems. So you go from, you know, wide area search -- you see something moving. You say it's a bus. Is it a school bus or is it an Al Qaeda bus? And you keep refining. And you don't know that from the Joint Stars alone, so you have to bring other assets to bear. And that whole cycle is being refined as you would imagine...


RUMSFELD: Can I add one more thing? It is a fascinating question and it's going to take an awful lot of thought.

RUMSFELD: But one of the things that I think is taking place is that we are beginning to understand better that, if you're not after an army or a navy or an air force, you're after something other than that, that bringing all elements of national capability and world capability to bear on something, the economic and the financial and the law enforcement and the intelligence gathering as well as overt activities, as well as covert activities, that that combination makes life difficult for those that it's applied to, and that pressure, ultimately, is felt.

And in tandem with that, of course, that's been transformational, is the patience of the Pentagon press corps...


... which has been increasingly admirable once we got out of the quagmire.


QUESTION: A question about precision guided weapons. There have been a few that have gone astray. There have been some press reports that have suggested that there may be a problem with some defective batteries that could've resulted in some of these accidents and that the defects may have been covered up during the production process. Is this something that you're aware of? Are you looking into this possibility? Do you dismiss it? Are you aware of it at all?

RUMSFELD: I've never heard that.

MYERS: That's the first I've heard of it as well. And of the -- well, we don't want to go into the incidents themselves, but it doesn't look like batteries.

QUESTION: Do you have any preliminary indication about what caused...

MYERS: General Franks does, and his components do, but that's their business, and we shouldn't comment on that.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you said several minutes ago that you had reason to believe some people had escaped. I wanted to ask you to clarify that, whether you were simply referring to Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan, or do you now have any reason to believe that any Taliban or Al Qaeda leadership of significance has already left Afghanistan? What were you referring to? RUMSFELD: I was referring to a scrap of intelligence that was floating through my head, and I can't quite grab it as to how many days or weeks ago it was, but that a relatively senior, mid-level Taliban or Al Qaeda was wounded and, in fact, was extracted and taken out of the country somehow or another to receive medical attention.

RUMSFELD: So that has happened. I'm 90 percent sure that that type of thing has happened. I'm sure it may have happened in instances that I'm not aware.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, just to make sure I understand, you mean taken out of the country by...

RUMSFELD: By them.

QUESTION: ... people sympathetic to them.

RUMSFELD: Exactly. Exactly.

QUESTION: Do you know what country they might have been taken to?

RUMSFELD: In this instance, I don't think I do, no.

QUESTION: Was that Zawahiri, Mr. Secretary?

RUMSFELD: Can't remember.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you agree with -- there was a report in India Globe, I asked you last week also, Wall Street Journal report, carried by India Globe also, that at least two helicopters by Pakistanis and some commanders...

RUMSFELD: I read that as well. I don't believe it. I have no basis to confirm that. In fact, every time we've checked on that report, we've not been able to validate it. That does not mean it didn't happen; it just means that we have no information that would confirm that.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the White House said this morning that...

RUMSFELD: White houses do not talk.


QUESTION: White House officials...


RUMSFELD: Well, I mean, buildings can't speak. QUESTION: White House officials say this morning that, in regard to the Osama bin Laden tape, that the Pentagon is at least in charge of the process, if not the decision to release the tape. Can you tell us what the Pentagon is doing in regard to that tape and whether you, in fact, are involved in the decision to release it?

RUMSFELD: The answer to the last portion is that I am involved. I don't know that I'm involved in the decision to release it.

But what one has to do in a case like this is to see if the authorities, the people who make these decisions, feel it should be released, and I'm told that they do.

And the second thing one has to do then is to make sure it's checked with the intelligence community so that, by doing so, something is not revealed that could cause someone to lose their life or to reveal some piece of information about intelligence capabilities.

The third thing that has to be done is to make sure that, in the event it is to be released, that translations are made of the spoken words in the tape by more than one person so that -- outside people, not inside people -- so that no one would even think of suggesting that it was anything other than as accurate as it could be.

RUMSFELD: And then it would be presented to people, one would think, and they would be allowed to make their own judgment.

Now, it may very well be that that could happen by the Pentagon, it may happen by some other agency of government, and it may very well be that, for some reason, it may not happen. I've seen it. Everyone, you know, can draw their own conclusions if and when it's released.

QUESTION: And what is your conclusion?

RUMSFELD: I'm so careful and so conservative that I have not gone through the process I've just described yet, and I've not had a chance to look at differing views as to what is actually spoken.

And the other problem is, it seems to me, it's not unimportant to try to connect the words with the body language and the presentation that's being made so that you can connect it. Now, that's hard to do if you don't understand the language. So I'm disinclined to leap to a judgment about it, although I am very proud that I was not the person being taped saying what he said.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, may I ask a question about humanitarian aid? You're seeing more and more pictures of the starving Afghans reaching for food. And while there have been successes like the opening of the bridge today, for instance -- the shipment going across the bridge was stopped, presumably perhaps of security concerns -- is the United States going to do anything more to provide any security or allow coalition forces to provide security?

RUMSFELD: Everyone is working on getting the humanitarian assistance -- food, medicine and clothing -- dispersed and distributed in that country. There are lots of people in great need. There is just no question about it. There are an awful lot of people in government and out of government, from our country and from some other countries, that are working on that problem.

QUESTION: And will there be more security provided?

RUMSFELD: The Bonn understanding was that there was to be a request for a security force in Kabul. The process is going forward, whereby the countries who have offered to participate with respect to the security force for Kabul are being talked to. A lead country is being selected. They will then work closely with the Central Command to determine the number of troops, the timing.

The goal was to reach -- to try to accomplish it by December 22, which was a date that came out of the Bonn discussions. Whether that will be possible or not is not known.

We are obviously leaning very far forward to try to be helpful to that process, and however, it will not solve the problem that you're talking about, which is essentially the fact that there is a lawlessness in the country. There are people who have needs, as people try to meet those needs, some people try to avoid having those needs met. And they try to take the food, or take the medicine, or take these things and sell them.

Now there is no national police force in the country, there is no national armed service in the country. There are factions. And in those areas, those factions are doing their best to control lawlessness and to try to see that the distribution of the food take place.

And all in all, I'd say they're doing a pretty good job. Does it mean that there aren't sizable pockets of people in great need that have not been reached through the distribution system? They exist, and they've got to be dealt with.

We're going to make a last question.

QUESTION: Real simple. Could you expand a moment on what types of prisoners you think the United States should be detaining? Are we talking about only people on the list of Al Qaeda leadership? Are we talking about foreign fighters? Could you expand on that?

RUMSFELD: Sure. Let me see if I can put them in some baskets for you. Anyone, Taliban or Al Qaeda, who has information, intelligence information that can add to our knowledge about the terrorist network in Afghanistan or in neighboring countries or anywhere on the face of the earth, we want. We want a chance to talk to them, to interrogate them, to find out what they know, to find out what the patterns and procedures and training approaches are of the various organizations and to learn every single thing we can.

RUMSFELD: That's one category. So that's very broad, very large numbers of people. We'd like to get our hands on them, control them for a period, go through that intelligence-gathering process. It's enormously important, and it has been helpful already.

Second, we have less interest in the lower-level Taliban people, because they're Afghans and the people of Afghanistan are going to have to deal with them in one way or another. With the senior-level Taliban people, we are quite interested. They are clearly closely connected to Al Qaeda and have expressed the same types of views, the same types of approaches. And they need to be punished. They need to be taken care of in one manner or another by somebody. They're mostly all Afghans, as the way I use the word Taliban. And that means that, to the extent they're people in a relatively small number of people at the top that we would like to have control over and not just for intelligence, but for disposition, there are lesser people that, one would think, at some point, the government of Afghanistan, as it gets its sea legs, might very well address.

With respect to Al Qaeda, from the top to the bottom, they're bad folks. They have been doing perfectly terrible things in Afghanistan and around the world. And it would be just a crime if they are let loose in any way to go to the neighboring countries or to other countries -- our country, or anywhere in the world -- to continue the terrorist acts that they've been engaged in. And so they ought to be stopped, and they ought to be imprisoned, and they ought not to be permitted to do that.

Last, the senior Al Qaeda leadership. Those are people that we obviously hope to get control over and have a very deep involvement as to what their ultimate disposition might be.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) how many people are in that last category, would you say?

RUMSFELD: I'm kind of not going to get into numbers. It's not hundreds.


It's not hundreds or thousands.

QUESTION: Could you clarify something you said earlier? You said, with regard to capturing of these prisoners, "They will turn them over to us or they will not be in position and places where they will come in contact with the people we would like to have."

Does that mean that the folks that are fighting alongside the United States, whoever they are over there, have formally agreed to hand them over to the U.S. or is this like the arrangement with the Afghans whereby everyone understands the personal force of General Franks and they're not likely to cross him?

RUMSFELD: Well, in my response, it was in the context of the question relating to the European Union's no death penalty position. And I was not referring to the Afghan forces on the ground.

QUESTION: Right, I'm clear on that.

RUMSFELD: OK. Now, so what did I mean? What I meant was that if a country has a sensitivity or a sensibility with respect to the death penalty, that's their privilege. We just don't want it to get in our way with respect to the people who fit in these senior level categories.

That means that either forces on the ground or with whom we're cooperating or who might be involved in the security force in Kabul would understand that idiosyncrasy on our part and they would agree either that they would not take control over people and turn them over to us or we would agree that they would not be put in proximity where they might have occasion to take control over such people.

QUESTION: (inaudible) condition of involvement?

RUMSFELD: I wouldn't put it quite that way.


QUESTION: How will you enforce it?

RUMSFELD: Well, that's the problem. It's not a matter of enforcing it, this is a matter of discussion and working things out with reasonable people and friends.


QUESTION: ... U.S. ally Great Britain given an assurance that if it comes into possession of bin Laden it will turn him over to the United States?

RUMSFELD: When I first heard that this issue was being raised, I checked, and the response we've received is not to worry. And I believe that they have made public statements to that effect, but I have not seen them in writing, so it's not for me to say whether they have or not, but I'm told they have.

RUMSFELD: And I'm told that, regardless of whether they have said so publicly, it will not be an issue.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Sir, there was -- a clarification, sir, something you said, if I could...

RUMSFELD: Well, I don't want to leave things confused.


QUESTION: Well, it could be me. But you talked a moment ago about your being slow to judge bin Laden and the contents of the tape. To judge what? His culpability, his...

RUMSFELD: Well, I was asked what my opinion was about it, and my response was, I would have to sit down with it. I would have to make sure I was looking at it in exactly the way it was presented. I would have to see the written transcripts, plural, because I have seen people in translation come up with three different answers for the same thing being said, and you need to look at that before I would rush to some conclusion about it. That's all.

Although I did add that I certainly would not want to be Osama bin Laden and have said what it appears he has said.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) about a conclusion about the evidence that, in fact, he was responsible for this? Is a part of you not reached the conclusion based on what...

RUMSFELD: I've said that -- regardless of whether I have reached a private conclusion, which I'm not going to get into, I would not want to say to the world something unless I had done the kind of due diligence that I think a person in my position is responsible for doing.

QUESTION: Could it be staged or a fake?

RUMSFELD: That is so remote, so unlikely from what I've seen. I think I would rule it out, but...

QUESTION: If I could ask your input on how this tape ought to be handled?

RUMSFELD: Do you need that?

QUESTION: Well, now I'm confused, and I have six more questions.


HEMMER: Lengthy briefing today at the Pentagon. Richard Myers, there, and also Donald Rumsfeld. A lot of talk at the end, there, about that videotape that may be released from the White House tomorrow, and there is also a lot of talk, too, about the building complexities regarding the potential and possibility of the capture of any al Qaeda or Taliban troops. What would happen to them, how would justice be administered, et cetera, and it's quite apparent, by listening to Donald Rumsfeld, that these factors are still being worked through and assessed at this time.

Now, the news from that briefing, off the top, there, regarding that cease-fire that we've been talking about this morning, we're hearing in Eastern Afghanistan a cease-fire is in effect right now, according to Eastern Alliance forces there, going through to 10:30 p.m. Eastern time tonight, telling al Qaeda to either surrender or die. The Pentagon saying, though, they have no information on that. At one time, they're saying Tommy Franks, the head of Central Command down in Tampa, does not have the word cease-fire in his lexicon. That word, according to Richard Myers.

With regard to intelligence and knowledge, it continues to grow and gather on the ground. Apparently, with each departing area of al Qaeda troops, more information left behind, things like papers, and books and phone numbers, certainly critical in the continuing search there. Mullah Mohammed Omar, still no sign, according to Don Rumsfeld, about his whereabouts at the moment.

With regard to Tora Bora, though, apparently, according to Richard Myers, he says it's the last effective area for al Qaeda. Donald Rumsfeld adding that it is clearly a major fight that goes on there in that part of Afghanistan, and clearly that is evident from the reporting we're getting on the ground there through Ben Wedeman and Brent Sadler earlier today.