Q: Mr. Secretary?
Rumsfeld: Yes, sir?
Q: I wonder if you could tell us how many U.S. troops do you think, in a round figure, might be required — might be sent to Haiti, and how long do you think they would stay? And also, President Aristide is claiming now that he was virtually kidnapped by the U.S. military and forced to leave Haiti. Was he spirited –
Rumsfeld: Wait a second. Let me start. I’m writing down this series of questions. You’re going to go to the third one now, Charlie?
Q: All right, go.
Rumsfeld: This is –
Q: All right. How many troops and how long, and was President Aristide forced out of Haiti by the U.S. military?
Rumsfeld: Well, you’ve asked them differently the second time. Let me go to the first one.
There are in the few hundreds there now. The number is growing. It’s going to increase above that. It will be — the entire force over time will be what is necessary, but my guess is that the — when all of the other countries that have volunteered forces plus the U.S. forces are there for this interim period — relatively short period — that the numbers will probably be less than 5,000 total of everybody, and ours will be down in a small fraction of that. I don’t know what the number will be, but for the sake of argument say 1,500 or 2,000 or less, but time will tell. We’ll have what’s needed, and as additional forces come in, why, we’ll be able to size it and determine what makes the most sense, and that will be subject to the recommendations of the commanders.
You said that Aristide was claiming he was abducted, or what was the wording?
Q: He claimed he was virtually kidnapped and forced to leave –
Rumsfeld: I don’t believe that’s true that he is claiming that. I just don’t know that that’s the case. I’d be absolutely amazed if that were the case. There may be somebody saying that he’s saying that, but I don’t believe that –
Q: Did the U.S. military help him leave? Facilitate –
Rumsfeld: The Department of State and other countries worked with the Haitian government, and I think I’ll leave it to the Department of State to characterize what took place. But I was involved in phone calls most of the night and most of the morning, and getting — and was involved in the entire process, and the idea that someone was abducted is just totally inconsistent with everything I heard or saw or am aware of. So I think that — I do not believe he is saying what you say — are saying he is saying.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Rumsfeld: And if somebody else is saying it, that’s a quite different thing.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: Given the proximity of Haiti to the U.S. and the refugee problems that have existed in the past, is it in the U.S. interest to maintain — to be the leader of the peacekeeping force, or is that something that you want a different country to take on? And who might that be?
Rumsfeld: Well, the reality is that when something needs to be done and — the concern in this case was that the president had made a decision to resign. And the new president, under their constitution, requested assistance. And the question is, what kind of a gap do you want between the resignation and departure of one person and the capability of the new government? How long a gap is desirable, given the instabilities that existed there?
The judgment was made — and properly, in my view — that the gap should be very short. And when you look around as to who can fill a gap in a very short period of time, there are not a lot of candidates. We stepped up, and the president asked the United States to do that. The United States is doing that. We are the lead elements of the interim force, and we would be in the lead of that force until such as time as we — the circumstances were such that we could pass it over to some other country. Obviously, we’d like to see some other country take that lead, and they will, eventually.
Rumsfeld: Well, it’s a hemisphere problem. It’s not just the United States’ problem. We’ve got a lot of things we’re doing. And once the situation’s stabilized and — it, I think, would be appropriate to pass the lead off.
Myers: As you know, there is a U.N. Security Council resolution that addresses this. And there are countries in the hemisphere that have shown a willingness to step forward, and they’re being worked with by the Department of State and by the Department of Defense.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: Mr. Secretary, in reference to the earlier question about the departure of Aristide, what exactly was the U.S. military role in getting him out of the country?
Rumsfeld: The U.S. military role was to — the Department of State managed that entire process.
Q: And the aircraft, for example. Was that a U.S. military aircraft?
Myers: It was a contract aircraft that State –
Q: Under contract to the State Department or –
Myers: Right, the State — State worked on that. And we also provided security from — and I don’t know the exact details of this, but our FAST team was providing security for our ambassador, who was intimately involved in this operation. But it’s a better question for the State Department. So we just made sure that the — that they weren’t subject to the violence in Port-au-Prince as they moved to the airport.
Q: But the FAST team did not actually go to the airport with him and escort, or to move him out?
Rumsfeld: Not to my knowledge.
Q: General Myers?
Q: Well, Mr. Secretary, just to be clear, President Aristide has told others — and we expect to hear from — this from himself sometime today — but has told others that about 20 combat troops came to his residence and forced him to leave against his will, didn’t allow him to make any phone calls. Now, set that aside for a moment and — because I know that you have some question about whether he’s actually saying this. But just so we know –
Rumsfeld: You just said he has told others, and of course you don’t know that. Others are saying they were told by him and I think more — (Inaudible.).
Q: Lots of others are saying, and they’re all saying the same thing. And as I say–
Rumsfeld: Is that right?
Q: — we expect to hear from Aristide himself sometime shortly.
Q: But just tell us, you know, without disputing that, just tell us what exactly did the U.S. military do? Did they go to his residence in combat gear and escort him? What can you tell us about what the role the U.S. military played?
Rumsfeld: Well, it will be interesting — first, you say he has told lots of others.
Q: Well, he’s told several members of Congress, including Charles Rangel; he’s told Randall Robinson, the head of TransAfrica. He’s told a number –
Q: — Congresswoman Maxine Waters. He’s had a series of conversations today.
Rumsfeld: Well, as I say, this process, to the extent that the United States was involved, was through the Department of State. And questions, I would think, should be directed there. If you’re asking me — from the phone calls I was on that night and from my meetings today, if I have any awareness of U.S. military being involved, of going in — what did you say? — combat gear to his house –
Rumsfeld: — and transporting him to an airplane. I have no knowledge of that. (To General Myers.) Do you?
Q: He was not forced — he was not forced to leave?
Q: Well, Mr. Secretary, what is your –
Myers: No, I don’t either. And I would say the only thing they could have done, and this is — I guess on my part is to provide protection, because, you know, there were — at times, there was some violence in Port-au-Prince, and so, just to make sure — but there was no forcible –
Q: (Off mike.) — Aristide is telling the truth –
Q: — how unhelpful might it be if he’s going to be in some third country claiming that he was essentially deposed by the U.S. military?
Rumsfeld: Before the United States made a decision to send in some elite element of an interim multinational force we had, I believe in hand, a letter of resignation signed by the president.
Q: He wasn’t coerced in any way to sign that?
Rumsfeld: Well, as I’ve said three times, certainly not to my knowledge. The Department of Defense was not involved in that process; the Department of State was and the embassy. And I’ve heard nothing that would lend any credence whatsoever to the kinds of questions you’re asking.
Myers: I can agree with that. I spoke to him on the phones all that night. I mean, this is not — doesn’t jive with anything that we’ve heard.
Q: May I do a follow-up on that same question? Representative Waters is claiming on Pacifica stations on the West Coast that Aristide was led away in handcuffs by U.S. Marines, and claiming that the Marines were part of a coup to remove him.
Q: I wonder if either one of you gentlemen would comment on her comment or claim? Other than the smile.
Rumsfeld: Trying to pick the right words. If you’re asking me did that happen, the answer is no.
Q: But any embellishment?
Rumsfeld: I think not today. (Scattered laughter.)