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Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry H. Shelton
Asst. Sec. of Defense (Public Affairs) Victoria Clarke
Asst. Sec. of Defense (Force Management Policy) Charles S. Abell
Briefing Discussing Recognition for Those Injured or Killed on Sept. 11
Washington, D.C.
September 27, 2001
12:00 P.M. EDT

RUMSFELD: Good afternoon. I want to take the opportunity today to recognize the service and sacrifice of those who have been injured or killed in the September 11th attacks.

The president, of course, has made clear that the attacks were not just acts of terror. They were acts of war, military strikes against the United States of America. As such, those Department of Defense employees who were injured or killed were not just victims of terror. They were combat casualties, brave men and women who risked their lives to safeguard our freedom. And they paid for our liberty with their lives.

Because we want to recognize them and their sacrifices, we're announcing today that the members of the armed forces that were killed or injured in the September 11th attack on the Pentagon and on the World Trade Center towers will receive the Purple Heart. As you know, the Purple Heart is given to those killed or wounded in combat.

For most of our history, combat has been something that has been largely taken place on foreign soil. These strikes were the first on American soil since the Second World War, and the first attack on our capital by a foreign enemy since the War of 1812. These assaults have brought the battlefield home to us. As a result, a large number of DoD civilians gave their lives in combat. Their sacrifice also requires recognition. So today, we are also announcing the establishment of a new decoration for Department of Defense civilians: the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom. This medal is the civilian equivalent of the Purple Heart. It will be awarded to DoD civilian employees who are killed or wounded by hostile action while serving in support of the department. The standards for eligibility will be closely modeled on those of the Purple Heart. [ News release ] [ Graphic ]

The establishment of this decoration is a fitting honor and a tribute to the extraordinary dedication and service of the department's civilian workforce. It's also a recognition that the world has changed; that we can no longer count on future wars being waged safely in their regions of origin. I have every confidence that our armed forces and all the dedicated men and women of the Department of Defense are ready to meet the challenges ahead.

Mr. Charlie Abell is here to respond to questions on the medals, and will be available after I take the opportunity to introduce my friend, General Hugh Shelton. It has been my privilege to serve with him these past months and to have his very wise counsel on many, many occasions, but particularly as we prepare the campaign ahead. He has been instrumental in helping to develop our new defense strategy, the new force-sizing construct, and the Defense Planning Guidance, which will move us -- our forces into the 21st century.

We will have a formal ceremony for General Shelton, as I'm sure you're aware. [ Press advisory ] And I've already had the pleasure of hosting a dinner, farewell dinner, for him and the chiefs some days ago. But we did think it was appropriate to have him come down and say a few words to this gathering.

General, America is grateful for your dedication and your service. You will be missed by the department, and certainly by me.

SHELTON: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.

And ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased today to join the secretary for the announcement of the creation of the award of the Freedom Medal to our civilians who were killed and injured on September 11th, and to announce the award of the Purple Heart to the members of our military family.

I want to again extend my condolences to the families and friends who lost loved ones at the Pentagon, at the World Trade Center, and in Pennsylvania. While the names of the victims here -- those that were killed in the Pentagon -- may not be known to you, make no mistake, the work that they did was essential for our mission, and they leave a legacy of service for our nation. We are forever grateful. So it's fitting that we recognize their courage, their dedication to duty, and their ultimate sacrifice for their nation.

I also want to thank Secretary Rumsfeld for his very kind words this morning. It has been truly an honor and a privilege to be a member of his defense team. But all good things must come to an end, and it is time to say goodbye.

I'm going to leave the chairmanship on the 30th, so I'd like to take this last opportunity to commend each of you for the great job that you do in covering the Pentagon and in covering the Department of Defense. You share with us, the civilian and military leadership, the great responsibility of keeping the great citizens of our wonderful nation informed.

Finally, I want to say that there is no greater job or one that carries any greater responsibility than to represent the great young men and women that serve our nation in uniform. They are our best, and they are our brightest. I've seen it many times over the last four years. And during my tenure, our military has been involved in some 34 operations. Whatever we ask of them, they perform superbly.

Soon we are going to ask them to take on a tremendous responsibility as they embark on one of the most difficult missions that the military has ever been given. It will require every bit of their courage, their intellect, and their warrior spirit to hunt down and destroy the groups that are the enemies of the civilized world. And I leave this job confident that your armed forces, along with our partners, our friends, and our allies, are up to this challenge.

One of the reasons that I'm very confident of that is the fact that General Dick Myers is the right man for the chairmanship at this time. I think our armed forces are very fortunate to have Dick coming forward to lead them as we face the future.

Mr. Secretary, thank you again for having me here today. And let me once again thank this great group of professionals that are here in front of us today, many of whom I consider to be personal friends as well as great professional acquaintances, for the great job that you do in keeping our American public informed in a professional and in a responsible manner. Again, thank you, and we'll be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, could I ask -- NORAD has confirmed that mid-level generals in NORAD have been empowered to authorize the shoot- down of a civilian airliner in an extreme emergency, if it was approaching a possible U.S. target. Number one, could you tell us what kinds of safeguards have been put on that so that there wouldn't be a mistake? And number two, say the president wasn't available to issue such an order. Would the order then go down to the command authority, to the vice president, to you, to General Shelton before it got to these generals?

RUMSFELD: Since there has been some discussion about rules of engagement, I'll make a few comments about it, although the normal procedure is to not get into that subject in any detail. The first thing I would say is that there are rules of engagement -- a number of types of rules of engagement. It is not one set of rules of engagement, and they vary from circumstance to circumstance and from time to time and depending on the situation. If you think about it, almost always, rules of engagement in our history have been with a full appreciation of the fact that an individual service member's life might be at risk, that in fact they needed the ability of self- defense. So rules of engagement were fashioned, have been historically fashioned, when a uniformed service member is at risk, to allow a degree of leeway for them to protect themselves and to protect the people and the installations that they're there to protect.

The situation that occurred on the 11th was quite the opposite. The people in the armed services were not at risk. It was the people in the aircraft that were at risk. And as a result, one has to recognize that there is not the need to give a relatively long or large degree of flexibility to an individual to defend themselves because they weren't being put at risk. So we had -- it was a reverse situation, really.

And what happened was that General Shelton and I sat down and fashioned rules of engagement that we believed were appropriate, communicated with the CINCs that were involved, and provided them to the president with our recommendation, which he accepted.

Rules of engagement in these cases tend to do down the chain of command. And the chain of command is from the president to the secretary of Defense and then to a -- generally a CINC, a combatant commander somewhere in the world. There are times when the situation is sufficiently immediate that the authority is delegated below the CINC for periods of time, but always, in a case like this, always with the understanding that if time permits, it would be immediately brought up to the CINC, and then to me, and if time still permits, for me to go to the president.

I think that pretty well covers the subject.

QUESTION: Realizing that minutes, perhaps seconds could be at stake here, many lives could be at stake. For instance, a plane taking off from Dulles and diverted. Could you ensure the American public that stringent safeguards are being put on this to make sure there are no mistakes?

RUMSFELD: Absolutely, there certainly are -- every care in the world. Not only are rules of engagement provided along the lines that I said, but then guidance and instruction is given as to the kind of behavior that is expected, in this case of a pilot, for example. Prior to making any judgment, every effort is made to dissuade an airplane to go into any area that's prohibited, for example. And there are all kinds of ways that that's done. It's done through radio communications, it's done through hand signals, it's done through flying in front of an airplane. So there's all kinds of things that are done in advance, as well as checking various IFF procedures to see if there's an abnormal signal. There are a lot of safeguards in place.

The situation, as you point out, in some instances things can happen quite fast. I was called any number of times during the period when those rules of engagement were in place, and had a number of conversations with the president during that period, as well. And I think that's probably all I want to do with that.

(Cross talk.)

QUESTION: Excuse me. I think the American -- the flying public of America might want just a little more in the way of reassurance. As you've noted, everything has changed since September 11th. It's hard to imagine, for instance, a hijacking now taking place in which the passengers take it sitting down.

If there's a scenario -- and this is something that somebody has to think about as they get on a plane. If there's a scenario where a plane has been hijacked, the passengers are trying to overpower the hijackers and get control of the plane, what reassurance do they have that they're not going to be shot out of the sky while that's going on?

RUMSFELD: No planes were shot at, let alone shot down, during that period.

QUESTION: But I'm talking after these new rules of engagement that you put in place.

RUMSFELD: The rules of engagement are addressed on a continuing basis with a great deal of care and sensitivity to all of the points that you've raised, and others have raised. And I can assure you that they are under continuous review and given the carefullest consideration. And it seems to me that is the same kind of assurance that the American people get with respect to a lot of things that the Defense Department is involved in.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can I just follow on that tack for a moment? But before I do, I would like to respond to General Shelton's remarks, and say that I think many of us are proud to consider him a personal friend, and I hope you don't just fade away, General.

SHELTON: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Anyway, Mr. Secretary, under the rules of engagement, as they have been throughout my knowledge of the military, it goes down the chain of command, but it goes down all the way. And in the worst- case scenario, if a pilot flying an F-15 or an F-16 saw a plane -- commercial airliner -- heading for the White House, he has the authority to shoot it down if he can't raise anybody else and has no time, doesn't he?

RUMSFELD: I'm not going to get into the details of the rules of engagement beyond what I've provided, and I think I've given you a very good sense of the fact that they're appropriate to a situation where the military does not have to defend themselves. Therefore it does not have to be delegated down very far. It can be kept quite close to a very senior level.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz yesterday said, with regard to the campaign against terrorism, that -- he said everybody who's waiting for military action needs to rethink this thing. Are we to take from that -- and could you elaborate -- that in fact military action is not imminent?

RUMSFELD: I'm -- needless to say, I'm not going to describe the timetables that we're thinking about for any aspect of this effort.

QUESTION: Question for General Shelton. General, you said a moment ago that you were confident that America would succeed in its mission against these terrorists. Is current intelligence sufficient enough -- the intelligence being provided our armed forces -- for them to be able to locate and root out these terrorist cells, not only in Afghanistan, but around the world?

SHELTON: Jim, first of all, let me say that this is going to be, as the secretary mentioned -- this will be a multifaceted, multidimensional campaign. It will be -- the military is one part of an overall campaign against terrorism worldwide. The al Qaeda organization happens to be a priority right now simply because it's -- I think, clear knowledge that they were involved in both the World Trade Center as well as the Pentagon.

But intelligence will be key. There is no question about it. And I am confident in our intelligence community's ability to focus its efforts and to go against these terrorist organizations.

Again, this is something that has been ongoing. It's not something we're starting today. And there have been some great successes in that area over the last two to three years. It is being -- it is being increased at this time. But it is not just starting from a cold start. And so I am confident that we will have the wherewithal, both in the intelligence as well as in all the other dimensions of the campaign, to root out and eliminate the organizations that we focus on. And we're being helped in this case by our partners and by our allies and friends around the world. And so it's the civilized world against the terrorist world, and that includes friends that are in the Gulf region, friends that are in the Pacific and so forth. And so I think that we've got, without a doubt, the ability to go after these organizations and to achieve a victory.

QUESTION: So are you saying that it wasn't necessarily lack of intelligence but perhaps lack of will on that part of maybe some of our allies, even the United States, to go after these terrorists?

SHELTON: In terms of what, Jim.

QUESTION: You were saying that we're not -- we don't have a cold start. There's already intelligence out there. Well, why then wasn't it used previously? Are you saying that --

SHELTON: Oh, it has been. It has been. This has been ongoing campaign. There have been a lot of successes. And one of the things about a campaign of this nature is that there will be a tremendous amount that is done that will never be visible because of the type of a foe that you face. We have the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, a lot of elements of this government that have had successes and will continue to have increased successes with the increased assistance, I think, that we're finding. The whole world recognized the barbaric act that was carried out here, and it wasn't related to anything but an attack against the civilized world. I mean, if you look at the number of people that were killed in the World Trade Center from the various nations, it was against everyone. And so those nations have joined in the fight, and I think that will help us all in the ongoing campaign.

RUMSFELD: Could I say a word about the rules of engagement to further elaborate on your question, because I think it is an important question, and there's two aspects that I failed to mention. First, the rules of engagement ought to be thought of in this way, that Americans can have a high degree of certainty, it seems to me: the president, the secretary of Defense and the combatant commanders are never more than a minute or two away from a secure phone. And I was called numerous times during the period on and after September 11th, up through recent periods about concerns, questions about what various aircraft might be doing in various locations of the world and in this area. And it is a process that works. Very, very senior people are able to address a matter in real time and ask the right questions and make the right judgments. And it seems to me that that ought to be an assistance, with respect to assurance, that those calls still come in at all hours of day and night, as I can say.

QUESTION: Sir?

RUMSFELD: Yes?

QUESTION: The rules of engagement are one part of it, but the reason that the fighters that were scrambled on September 11th never got a shot off is because it took them about six minutes to get up in the air, and by then it was too late. Does the suggestion that the Air Force now has this authority mean that combat air patrols will continue, or will even increase, over major American cities?

RUMSFELD: We have made a number of adjustments in the combat air patrols. In some instances, we've provided combat air patrols for various particularized situations. We have tended to provide it in the Washington, D.C. area and the New York area, during this period, as I've announced previously. We do have aircraft on strip alert at any number of places around the country. And -- but we have, because of the stress on the force, and because of the nature of the threat evolved, we have altered that from time to time, and we will continue to do so.

The last thing I would say about the rules of engagement is that to the -- I'm sure you all appreciate this very well -- but to the extent one becomes exceedingly precise about what the rules of engagement are, it does provide assistance to those individuals who would attempt to use those rules of engagement to their advantage to bring damage and harm to the United States, which is why we have a standing rule here to not get into the details about exactly what they are and what the procedures are. And I think it's a good practice and a good policy.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, from time to time you've had fly-bys, close encounters here at home and with military forces deployed around the world with aircraft of uncertain intent flying into restricted areas -- around military people, threatening them, or perhaps potentially threatening them. Are there new rules of engagement in those instances as well, over military installations in this country?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think the events of the 11th obviously create a greater sensitivity about certain types of installations and activities. And as intelligence information is reviewed and judgments are made as to the validity of it or possible validity of the intelligence information, we then of course might shift our focus and be more attentive to or more concerned about different types of things.

So it is -- one size does not fit all in this case.

QUESTION: Does the military have a new mission or a new role to play in enforcement of restricted airspace over various parts of the United States that it didn't have before September 11? And can you elaborate on that at all?

RUMSFELD: Well, I mean, if you stop and think about it, the thought of anyone suggesting that the Department of Defense ought to have fighter aircraft in the air prepared to shoot at an American airliner is just beyond -- almost beyond belief. And so the answer to your question is, you bet. To the extent that we have aircraft up or on alert today, their assignment is a distinctively different one from the kinds of assignments that we have expected the Department of Defense to be engaged in, which have always tended to look out, not in. And it is a different situation.

QUESTION: Will there be CAP over NFL football and the World Series, perhaps?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I'm not going to get into that kind of thing.

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