Defense Department Regular Briefing, June 17
|Thursday June 17,
U.S. Department of Defense
Thursday, June 17, 2004 2:31 p.m. EDT
SEC. RUMSFELD: Good afternoon.
Media reports in the last few days have focused on what some have termed a surge in violence in Iraq, the attacks being waged by enemies of freedom who are threatened by the steady advances that are being made in that country. The extremists' efforts to intimidate the Iraqi people I believe will fail.
A new Iraqi government is being established with the endorsement of the United Nations and the international community. Iraqis are working to build a free and peaceful society, and the new leaders have thanked the American people for their support and for their sacrifices. A recent survey found that 63 percent of Iraqis believe that the interim government will improve life in their country.
Growing numbers of Iraqi security forces and coalition soldiers will continue to help provide security and train the new Iraqi army and police forces so security responsibilities can be passed to them as rapidly as is possible. Thousands of courageous Iraqis have stepped forward to defend their country, and thousands more are volunteering every day. The number of recruits standing in line to join the various elements of the Iraqi security forces is impressive. As we have seen, this is something that terrorists and assassins want desperately to prevent.
This much is certain: coalition forces cannot be defeated on the battlefield. The only way this effort could fail is if people were to be persuaded that the cause is lost or that it's not worth the pain, or if those who seem to measure progress in Iraq against a more perfect world convince others to throw in the towel. I'm confident that that will not happen.
On another note, I want to address recent suggestions that somehow the war in Iraq might derail our efforts to transform the armed forces to enable them to be better equipped to confront the new threats of the 21st century. I would say that just the opposite is true.
As with any large organization, change can be slow. Sometimes it takes a major event to cause people to realign their priorities. The global war on terror was such an event, and the requirements of its new challenges have allowed us, for example, to begin the urgent task of rebalancing the active and reserve components of our armed forces, moving skill sets that are now found almost exclusively in the Guard and Reserve into the active force so that we're not excessively reliant on the Guard and Reserve for those frequently needed skills.
Second, we're transforming the Army to make brigades more self- contained, more self-sustaining, and available to serve any division commander.
And third, we're adjusting our global posture from a somewhat static, Cold War era defense to one that will enable us to work closely with our friends and allies both within and across regions, and to develop more rapidly deployable capabilities rather than focusing on presence and mass.
These and other changes are needed, and in some cases they were long overdue. The global war on terror has compelled us to take action, and the men and women in uniform and our strong civilian workforce are, in my view, working effectively to achieve these needed changes.
GEN. PACE: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
There is certainly some good news for the forces that are working in Haiti in support of the new Haitian government. As you know, we've been there about three months now -- U.S. forces, French forces, Canadian and Chilean -- to restore stability over the last three months. At the end of April, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to support a resolution to support the Haitian government and the Haitian people, and to have it under U.N. mandate. Brazil has stepped forward as the lead nation. They have the lead elements of their command team there now. During the rest of this month of June the current forces that are there will be replaced by other coalition forces underneath Brazilian leadership. And the U.N. and the coalition countries that have volunteered will continue to provide stability so that the Haitian people can get about forming their own government and becoming more prosperous.
With that, we'll take your questions.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Charlie?
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask why last November you ordered the U.S. military to keep a suspected Ansar al-Islam prisoner in Iraq secret from the Red Cross. He's now been secret for more than seven months. And there are other such shadowy prisoners in Iraq who are being kept secret from the Red Cross.
SEC. RUMSFELD: With respect to the -- I want to separate the two. Iraq, my understanding is that the investigations on that subject are going forward.
With respect to the detainee you're talking about, I'm not an expert on this, but I was requested by the Director of Central Intelligence to take custody of an Iraqi national who was believed to be a high-ranking member of Ansar al-Islam. And we did so. We were asked to not immediately register the individual. And we did that. It would -- it was -- he was brought to the attention of the Department, the senior level of the Department I think late last month. And we're in the process of registering him with the ICRC at the present time.
Q: Well, why did you not register the individual, and has this man simply been lost in the system for -- why didn't you tell the Red Cross that you had him?
SEC. RUMSFELD: The decision was made that it would be appropriate not to for a period. And he wasn't lost in the system. They've known where he was, and that he was there in Iraq, for this period of time.
Q: How is that appropriate, sir, when you say that you -- all prisoners in Iraq are being treated humanely under rules set up --
SEC. RUMSFELD: He has been treated humanely. There's no implication of any problem. He was not at Abu Ghraib. He is not there now. He has never been there, to my knowledge. There's no question at all about whether or not he's received humane treatment.
Q: But then why wasn't the -- why wasn't the Red Cross told, and there are other such prisoners being detained without the knowledge of the Red Cross?
SEC. RUMSFELD: There are -- there are instances where that occurs. And a request was made to do that, and we did.
Q: I -- I mean -- excuse me, is there a reason for that, sir, why -- why they're not told? There are those who would say, I guess, that -- that you're not telling them because you might be mistreating such prisoners. That might be the suspicion.
SEC. RUMSFELD: That -- I understand that. That's not the case at all. And I think that will be clear.
Q: Well, the other thing is General Taguba has criticized this practice in his report, calling them ghost detainees.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I recall that. And as I say, that's being investigated. This -- this individual, this Ansar al-Islam individual I think should be looked at separately from that.
Q: Why is that? Is he a ghost detainee --
Q: Which --
Q: -- was he a ghost detainee?
SEC. RUMSFELD: We've had subject matter experts down here to brief you, and they've been briefing the Congress, and the Congress has been briefed on this extensively, I think, Dan, is that correct? And they've been down here and briefed the press as they're able to.
The -- you say why treat them differently. Because, as I understand it, the people who briefed you on the Taguba report have indicated that they are looking into that, that was part of his investigation, and that is ongoing. This is not one of those cases, is my point.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes.
Q: First of all, where have you been? We've missed you.
SEC. RUMSFELD: (Laughs.) God, where have I been?
Q: The Army chief of staff, General Schoomaker, the other day, in answer to a question, referred to the difference between pneumonia and cancer, and the implication was that terrorism is a cancer incurable and will be with us forever. Do you agree? And if not, have you taken him to the woodshed?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Pretty big guy to be going to the woodshed. No, I certainly agree with him that this is a long-term proposition. And we've said that repeatedly -- the president has; I have.
You say where have I been. I'm told by Larry that I've done something like eight press and media availabilities since I've been here, and seven major speeches with Q&As and three testimonies before Congress and six media interviews of various types. So I've been very much involved.
Q: We just want to see you up there, sir.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Do you?
Q: Mr. Secretary, I'm wondering, when you get a call or a contact from CIA Director Tenet, and he asks you to do something like this, I have two questions.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Mmm hmm.
Q: How does that go about? Does he say -- in other words, "We need you to do this," and then doesn't tell you necessarily why for, you know, as an agreement, and you trust him?
And then second, do you sort of them monitor the progress of an individual like this? In other words, how's he or she doing?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Okay, let me -- yeah. As I recall, it wasn't a phone call in this case, and Dan Dell'Orto is here. I think it was a letter, but I could be wrong. It was a phone call?
DANIEL DELL'ORTO (DoD deputy general counsel): If it was, it was certainly followed up by a letter shortly thereafter.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah. So it was a letter. We know from our knowledge that he has the authority to do this.
And second, I can't speak for every case, but I have some confidence that in most every case, it has been either in writing or very well understood orally that the -- that the specifics that were provided are accurate. And --
Q: (Inaudible) -- why the request is made.
SEC. RUMSFELD: And the nature of this individual and why it's important to do what they're doing.
Q: And then do you get then follow-up information on, say, the intelligence gleaned from this individual? I'm trying to ascertain how you get the intelligence on him and other key people.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I don't. I tend not to get the interrogation reports. There are, what, how many thousand detainees in various types and various places? And they're being interviewed, and the people who have the responsibility for doing the interrogating and for integrating that type of intelligence feed the intelligence to people who need it. In some cases -- if you arrest somebody, for example, in a IED manufacturing facility, the question is where did they put the last ones? And so it's more immediate information. If it's a high-ranking Ansar al-Islam individual like this, it's a different type, and then it goes more into the macro or strategic intelligence as to how we might address the entire network.
Q: But you're not --
GEN. PACE: It's also important to reaffirm, very important to reaffirm that regardless of how the U.S. military gets custody of an individual that we are expected to treat them humanely -- we will treat them humanely -- and that the orders that go out with regard to those kinds of things are humane treatment. So there's a question --
Q: But you're not on the blower saying, "Hey, what's new with the intelligence? Tell me when you hear something new from these folks."
SEC. RUMSFELD: That's true not only of anyone that we might be asked to hold for another government agency, but it's also true of those that we pull in, our forces pull in, whether it's in Afghanistan or in Iraq.
You know, let me say one thing to follow on Pete's comment. I've been kind of following the headlines and the bullets in the television -- the big, powerful hits on torture and this type of thing that we've seen. Needless to say, I can't read all the articles, and so I'm no expert on what every person says, and I know headline writers and people dramatize things.
But in thinking about it all, and I have to be a little careful -- we know that there's still more investigations going on, and we're going to learn more information, so no one can speak with finality or definitively or conclusively at this stage. But -- and second, I have to be a little careful about what I say because of the risk of command influence. But let me just say this: I have read this -- editorials, "torture" -- and one after another. Washington Post the other day -- I forget when it was -- just a great, bold "torture."
The implication -- think of the people who read that around the world. First of all, our forces read it. And the implication is that the United States government has, in one way or another, ordered, authorized, permitted, tolerated torture. Not true. And our forces read that, and they've got to wonder, do we? And as General Pace said, we don't. The President said people will be treated humanely, and that is what the orders are. That's what the requirements are.
Now, we know that people have done some things they shouldn't do. Anyone who looks at those photographs know that. But that's quite a different thing. And that is not the implication that's out there. The implication that's out there is the United States government is engaging in torture as a matter of policy, and that's not true. Think of the second group of people who see it. All those people in the region and in Iraq and in Afghanistan, that we need their cooperation, we need their help, the people in those countries, the people in the neighboring countries, and think how unhelpful that is for them to gain the inaccurate impression that that is what's taking place.
Third, think of the people who, for whatever -- whenever -- today, tomorrow, next year -- capture an American civilian or American military personnel and will use all those headlines about torture and the impact in the world that people think that's what's taking place, and use that as an excuse to torture our people. So this is a very serious business that this country's engaged in.
Now, we're in a war, and I can understand that someone who doesn't think they're in a war or aren't in a war, sitting in an air-conditioned room someplace can decide they want to be critical of this or critical of that, or misstate that or misrepresent something else, or be fast and loose with the facts. But there's an effect to that, and I think we have to be careful. I think people ought to be accountable for that, just as we're accountable.
If you -- when I get up in the morning, I do not say, "Gee, I wonder what some political critic or some editorial writer could say bad about something I'm deciding." When I get up in the morning and have to decide something and -- I have to think about -- people in our positions of responsibility have to think about protecting the American people, and that's what we do, and we have do it in a manner that's legal, that follows the President's admonition on humane treatment, that is consistent with our laws, consistent with our international treaty obligations -- and we do.
Q: (Off mike.)
SEC. RUMSFELD: That -- I can say this. Number one, we're not through with these investigations. But at the moment, I have high confidence that I have not seen anything that suggests that a senior civilian or military official of the United States of America has acted in a manner that's inconsistent with the President's request that everyone be treated humanely, that is -- could be characterized as ordering or authorizing or permitting torture or acts that are inconsistent with our international treaty obligations or our laws or our values as a country.
Now I have not -- I have not seen anything. I have not spent 24 hours a day into all this, but I've been briefed by most of the investigations. I've been briefed by the ones that have been completed. There are a lot of criminal investigations under way. There are various other investigations under way. And there's no question but the people doing -- correction, there's no question but that the photographs depict activities that are, in my view, inhumane and improper. No doubt about that. But that's quite a different thing from what I'm talking about.
Q: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to just get a clarification on --
SEC. RUMSFELD: I'll do my best.
Q: In the Taguba report, the suggestion is that the movement of prisoners to hide them from the Red Cross is improper. In fact, he says it's deceptive, contrary to Army doctrine and in violation of international law. And that, as you said, is being investigated to the extent that that happened.
SEC. RUMSFELD: We -- and to my knowledge, the --
Q: You seem to be drawing a distinction between that and the order that you sent out that allowed this other prisoner to be not registered immediately. Why is --
SEC. RUMSFELD: I'm not an expert on that. Dan Dell'Orto is. And what I can say is that I think it's broadly understood that people do not have be registered in 15 minutes when they come in. What the appropriate period of time is I don't know. It may very well be a lot less than seven months, but it may be a month or more.
Dan, do you want to -- is there --
MR. DELL'ORTO: And they should be registered promptly, sir. So --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Its phraseology is "promptly?"
MR. DELL'ORTO: Roughly that, yes.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Fair enough.
Q: So -- but was there an intention to hide this prisoner from the Red Cross?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Not on my part.
Q: What's the purpose of not registering a prisoner?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I can guess some purposes. Some could be improper, obviously, and that's the concern. You don't want to not register somebody for a reason that you're trying to prevent the ICRC from seeing something that they -- you wouldn't want them to know.
The only reason for a delay in it that I can think of would be that your interest is in not interrupting an interrogation process of some kind.
Q: But how did this -- (off mike) -- interrogation --
SEC. RUMSFELD: By having the ICRC gain access.
Q: The ICRC --
SEC. RUMSFELD: But I'm not an expert.
Dan, do you want to comment?
Q: What did George Tenet ask? Why did he want this done?
SEC. RUMSFELD: We've asked them.
Q: Well, can you say what he said to you?
Q: I mean, you --
Q: It says you received a letter from him, sir.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I did. I think I did in this case. And it's a classified letter.
Q: What was his reasoning? Why did he --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Ask him. It's a classified letter.
Q: Well, Mr. Secretary, how many --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Just a minute. Just a minute. Dan, I don't want say something that's not accurate here. Do you want to stand up and -- this is the deputy general counsel -- and be clear. You're a lawyer.
Q: Microphone. (Cross talk.)
Q: If you could just (go to ?) the microphone, sir, so we could all hear what you --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah.
DANIEL J. DELL'ORTO (principal deputy general counsel, the Department of Defense): The Red Cross serial number should have been registered soon, relatively soon. In terms of access, for purposes of imperative military necessity, the Red Cross could be denied access for some period of time to deal with the sorts of things the secretary has indicated. You need to interrogate. You need to find information on this person, and the mere availability of this person for that purpose, for the purpose of seeing the ICRC, might interrupt that or disturb your ability to get information you need to get, particularly there and on the ground, where we had a terrorist of a known terrorist organization, of high rank.
We believe that, again, we should have registered him much sooner than we did. It didn't have to be at the very instant we brought him into our custody. And that's something that we'll just have to examine as to whether there was a breakdown in the quickness with which we registered him.
And that's about, I think, the most we can say at this point.
Q: But registering him doesn't mean automatic access by the Red Cross.
MR. DELL'ORTO: True. True.
Q: You could say to the Red Cross, "We have Prisoner X. Here is the serial number."
MR. DELL'ORTO: True.
Q: "But you can't see him because we're interrogating him."
MR. DELL'ORTO: Yes.
GEN. PACE: But there are reasons -- if I could -- and I know nothing about the specific case, so I can say this in a generic sense, and that is, I can see a thing where -- on the battlefield where you would not want others to know that you have captured a particular individual. When you register that individual, that then becomes public knowledge that you now have Peter Pace in your custody. And there may be a reason for a period of time, a short period of time, where you would like to keep that hidden.
SEC. RUMSFELD: And as we get more information, we'll make it available. The Congress has been briefed extensively on this, as I understand it. No.
MR. DELL'ORTO: Not this particular case, as far as I know.
MR. DIRITA: Yes. No, we've done some notifications to the staff on the Hill, both us and the CIA, with respect to the details of this particular case. And as we get more, we will provide it.
SEC. RUMSFELD: As we get more, we'll provide more here that we can.
Q: Sir, did he ask you to do this or tell you to do this? You say you had no intention of keeping this man secret from the Red Cross, so why didn't then you --
SEC. RUMSFELD: We had no --
Q: -- tell Mr. Tenet, "All right, we'll take custody but we're not going to -- we're going to register him"?
SEC. RUMSFELD: As we get more information, we'll make it available to you.
Q: And the last thing. (Off mike.) How is this case different from what Taguba was talking about, the ghost detainees?
SEC. RUMSFELD: It is just different, that's all.
Q: But can you explain how and why?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I can't. But we'll be happy to have someone come down and brief you and explain it.
Q: In this case, this is not a violation of international law, as opposed to some of the cases that General Taguba was talking about?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I said I don't know. Are you making assertions for the benefit of everyone else?
Q: No. No. My question --
SEC. RUMSFELD: I don't know.
Q: Mr. Secretary, is this a one-of-a-kind case, or is this one of several or more?
SEC. RUMSFELD: We have on occasion received people from the agency -- I can think of an additional case right off the top of my head -- where they have, for whatever reason, captured somebody or arrested somebody or been given somebody and at some moment brought them to us and said would you please take custody of this person. I think there are some -- (to staff)-- that's correct, isn't it? Yeah.
Q: But how many have they asked you not to register?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I don't know. As I say, we'll be happy to tell you more when we get more.
Q: Did Director Tenet ask you to wait for a particular period of time --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Not that I recall.
Q: -- or was this an open-ended thing?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Not that I recall.
Q: Mr. Secretary, to take you back a little further, to late summer, when a lot of -- a number of officials were expressing concern that adequate intelligence was not being gotten from detainees in Iraq, do you recall discussing that with Steve Cambone? And did you ask that anything in particular be done about that at that point?
SEC. RUMSFELD: I don't recall that.
What I do recall is that when the war started, we began capturing large numbers of detainees, and I can remember vividly saying we don't want large numbers of prisoners of war; that an awful lot of those folks have to be low-level conscripts; and what one ought to do is to do a quick triage, look at them, take their weapons, and to the extent they look not to be a threat, send them back into their communities and be rid of them rather than retaining them. That is a subject I came back to frequently.
But I do not remember the conversation that you're talking about.
Q: The problem of not giving adequate intelligence so it could be acted upon quickly to deal with the insurgency as it was developing in late summer. That's what I'm asking about.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, there's -- I can remember in -- certainly I can remember military personnel -- (chuckles) -- so can Pete -- saying, "Okay, we need more information. We're getting people killed and wounded, and we need more information about where these terrorists are, and more information about where these IEDs are coming -- the improvised explosive devices are coming from, and help, intelligence community." And: "CIA, give us more information."
I can certainly -- that's a fairly typical thing in a conflict.
Q: But did you in particular ask somebody to do something about it to improve the situation?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Not that I recall. I mean, we, obviously, would talk to the intelligence community and say what can we do to gather better information. But I don't remember any specific conversation.
(To General Pace) Do you?
GEN. PACE: No, I do not, sir.
Q: Mr. Secretary, how closely has the Pentagon been monitoring the situation in Western Sudan's Darfur region, where even the U.N. is saying a genocide might be underway? The State Department recently described this as a top priority for the administration. Has the Pentagon been looking at possible, either humanitarian or military intervention?
SEC. RUMSFELD: We've not been asked to prepare an intervention, if that's your question.
GEN. PACE: General Jones, who is the European commander, obviously would be keeping -- has been keeping a very close watch on that and provides input as far as the situation is concerned. The actual workings with Sudan and the international community currently reside with the State Department.
Q: General Pace, do you have any indications that Abu Musaab al Zarqawi is in Fallujah or has been using that city as a sanctuary? And if so, does it make you think twice about how Fallujah has been handled so far?
GEN. PACE: We have had some information -- I don't recall whether I read it in the newspaper or saw it on television or got it in a telephone call, to be honest with you, but have certainly heard the possibility that Zarqawi is in and around the Fallujah area. Whether that is true, I do not know whether or not that is true.
But I still believe that the process which we have been following in Fallujah is the correct process. We certainly have overwhelming military power available to be brought to bear anytime we need to and want to in that city. What we have chosen to do, what the commanders on the ground have chosen to do, properly, in my mind, is to work with the city fathers, to work with the new Iraqi interim government to find a peaceful Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Go ahead with the follow-up, and then we'll make this the last question.
Q: All right. Mr. Secretary, has the picture of the connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda become clearer since the regime fell, and how so?
SEC. RUMSFELD: This is the question that everyone keeps asking. It -- do you think --
Q: (Off mike, laughter.)
SEC. RUMSFELD: It sounds -- you sound like a broken record to me, Brett.
The -- I think the way I would put it is that George Tenet -- first of all, I would say that the -- Iraq has been on the terrorist list for decades, as I recall. Second, they were giving -- Saddam Hussein was giving some $25,000 to families of people who would go out and become suicide bombers and kill people. Ansar al-Islam was active in the country. Abu Nabal (sic - Nidal) lived there in Baghdad. Zarqawi was there for long periods. People -- George Tenet testified on this subject before the Senate Intelligence Committee, as I recall, and then -- on a classified basis, and then made public an unclassified version of what his testimony was. And it was what it was. And for me to get into the middle of the debate about how to characterize it I think is not terribly useful.
The other thing I would say is that it appears -- I guess I don't know if I should say this or not, but I -- I suppose I can -- it appears that Zarqawi -- who is, everyone in the intelligence community seems to agree, is engaged as a significant leader of a network in Iraq and has in his past been identified by at least some intelligence as being a leader with respect to terrorist activities in other countries, not just Iraq -- may very well not have sworn allegiance to UBL. But he -- maybe, because he disagrees with him on something, maybe because he wants to be "The Man" himself, and maybe for a reason that's not known to me.
Now, therefore you probably -- someone could legitimately say he's not al Qaeda. On the other hand, as many people have testified to in open hearings, the linkages in the relationships and the similarities, in some cases of financing as well as methods of operation, are such that even though he may not have sworn allegiance, he clearly is someone that is doing work of a very similar nature. And therefore, I don't -- since I am not in the intelligence business, my instinct is to leave the direct answer to your question to what was said by Director Tenet before the Senate Intelligence Committee unless the agency is updating it since.
Q: Back to Fallujah. Fallujah, General Pace. Zarqawi aside, is there any evidence that any terrorist groups or organizations are using Fallujah as a base of operation to launch attacks in other parts of Iraq? Are the Iraqis involved in the Fallujah Brigade who were involved in the negotiations living up to their end of the bargain in trying to root out those forces from Fallujah? And do you think it may be necessary to use that U.S. force you were talking about a minute ago to go in and clean out those areas of Fallujah in which these elements apparently are still operating?
GEN. PACE: First of all, I do not know whether or not the individuals, the terrorists, the insurgents who are in Fallujah, whether or not they are conducting operations from there. They certainly are there in the city. We do know that. There are pockets of them in the city.
So the Fallujah Brigade, which was the solution of -- from the governing fathers of the city and the interim government, has been the current attempt by the Iraqi people themselves to regain control of their own city. Some of the things have gone very, very well. Since 3 May I think it is there has not been a cease-fire violation throughout that city. That's a significant success. On the other hand, we do not yet have accountability for the murder and torture and desecration of the bodies of the Americans who were burned in their vehicles in Fallujah. We do not yet have large turn in of crew-served weapons and the like. So there's still work to do, but there is progress being made.
As I said, we have more than sufficient -- we have overwhelming coalition-U.S. military power available. However, the best solution is an Iraqi solution, and I believe we're on the correct path with the Iraqi government to find a peaceful way to make this work.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Let me just say one last thing. Larry or Dan, is there anything we want to calibrate on this detainee subject that we talked about? We -- our policy here -- I mean, I'm -- we really want to be careful about this. We want to communicate accurately. And we have a team of people who are working hard on this. Our policy is clear, unambiguous and demonstrable. We are giving everything we find to the Congress. We are doing it is as promptly as we can. To the extent it's appropriate and possible to do it, we're giving it to the press and the American people. And we intend to keep on doing that.
One thing I should say before we close, about Iraq and Afghanistan. The American people had a chance to see the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, here in this country thanking the American people and the Congress and the President for liberating his country, some 25 million people. They are making progress in practically every aspect of what they're doing. It is an important and I think thrilling accomplishment that is being achieved in that country. Women are registering to vote, whereas previously they weren't allowed to sing or laugh or wear bright colored shoes or do practically anything in that country without being severely punished.
In Iraq we have -- something significant is in the process of being accomplished. We've -- and it's, again, truly impressive, although admittedly, we're a year and a half or so behind Afghanistan. And the violence is at a higher level and Iraqi people are being killed by the people who are determined to try to stop what's taking place. But the ability we now have to work with a single individual instead of a 25-person Governing Council is dramatic.
This individual -- the prime minister -- and his team -- the ministers, the president, the vice presidents, the deputy prime minister -- but particularly the prime minister, where the power resides -- has the ability to make a decision. He can do something. He's calling meetings of neighboring countries to talk about border security. He's calling up and making phone calls to friends in the region to ask for additional troops to come in. He is working with the ministries to see that they stand up and get about the task of taking over.
I'm not suggesting that it's going to be a pretty sight between here and when they complete this process of a large conclave with a constitutional convention eventually, and then elections based on the new constitution. It's going to be -- there are going to be bumps in the road. It will difficult, but it's always been difficult. But I am personally convinced that they are off to an excellent start and that they are increasingly going to gain support from the Iraqi people.
People talk about the security situation there and how do you deal with that, what do you do about it? The fact is that the solution to the security situation is not security only; these things have to move together. The Iraqi people have got to see that Iraqis are running that country and not some occupying power or some foreign coalition. They've got to see that Iraqis are making those decisions. And they in fact are.
Will they make decisions that we might not have made? You bet. Will they make decisions we may not even like in some instances? You bet. But is that what it has to be? Absolutely. It's their country. They're going to have to grab hold of it. They're going to be the ones who are going to have to provide security for it. They're going to have to find the template that will allow them to fashion a representative system that is respectful of all of the religious and ethnic minorities in that country. They're going to have to fashion relationships with their neighbors. And they will end up with an Iraqi solution, not a U.S. solution or a U.K. solution, but a solution that will be appropriate to them. And I think they're off -- getting off to a darn good start.
Thank you very much.
Q: Secretary, you still haven't mentioned the 9/11 report, the commission today.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I haven't heard their report or read their report. I understand they were on television today.
Q: It was kind of scathing in its criticism of --
SEC. RUMSFELD: Why am I not surprised you'd characterize it that way.
Q: See you tomorrow!
Q: Thank you.
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