Testimony Prepared for Delivery to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States

U.S. Department of Defense Speeches, March 23, 2004 | Go to article overview

Testimony Prepared for Delivery to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States


Testimony Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Washington, DC, Tuesday, March 23, 2004.

I. Introduction

Chairman, Commissioners--Thank you for undertaking this important work.

The Commission requested that we comment on preparations during the period from January 20th through September 11, 2001, the events of September 11th, steps taken since September 11th, and any recommendations for the future.

I request that the text of my testimony be made a part of the record, along with several attachments.

Let me first express my condolences to the people of Spain. The bombings in Madrid have been called Europe's 9/11. For the Spanish people, March 11, 2004 will leave their nation changed. I have no doubt that, like September 11th, the fruits of those attacks will not, over the long run, be hatred, fear or self-doubt, as the terrorists intended.

I am persuaded the attacks there will backfire on the terrorists as they have elsewhere--for example, as the Istanbul bombings united Turks instead of dividing them; and as terrorist bombings in Riyadh spurred the Saudis to crack down on terrorist networks in their country.

Families that lost loved ones on 9/11--some of whom I am sure are listening today--must feel a special bond with families in other countries who lost fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters to terrorism. They understand the pain, and the heartbreak.

Nothing can shorten the suffering of the bereaved families whose loved ones perished, or fill the empty space in their hearts.

The attacks by terrorists around the world are deadly reminders that our nation--and, indeed, the world's free nations--are at war. It is a war in which we face dangerous enemies, that kill innocent men, women and children--enemies who are working to acquire weapons that would one day allow them to kill not hundreds, as on March 11th in Spain, but tens of thousands.

So this Commission has an important opportunity. Those in government are, of necessity, focused on dozens of issues. Commissions, however, can step back and focus on one thing, get it right, and provide insights that can be of great value.

You have been asked to connect the dots--after the fact--to examine events leading up to September 11th, and consider whether events of that day might have been prevented--and, what lessons, if any, might be taken from that experience to prevent future dangers. It isn't easy, even after the fact. And that's with the benefit of hindsight. You have the opportunity to hold hearings, conduct interviews, to pore over tens of thousands of pages of documents, to focus exclusively on that one topic.

I am told the Department of Defense alone has thus far:

* Had up to 150 DoD personnel work on the collection, review, and processing of information requested by the Commission;

* Made available approximately 4,000 documents, totaling more than 136,000 pages;

* Provided 48 briefings;

* and Participated in 162 interviews with the Commission.

Since May 2003, DoD has spent some 10,000 man-hours to assist the Commission.

Going through those documents and briefings, and conducting all those interviews and hearings, and trying to piece it all together and connect the dots, is difficult. Yet the challenge facing our country before September 11th and still today is vastly more difficult: our task was then and is today to connect the dots--not after the fact, but before the fact--to try to stop an attack before it happens. And that task must be done without the benefit of hindsight, hearings, briefings, interviews, or testimony.

Another attack against our people will be attempted. We do not know where, or when, or by what technique. It could be in weeks, months, or years--but it will happen.

That reality drives those of us in positions of responsibility in government to ask the tough question: when that attack is attempted, what will we wish we had done--today and everyday--before an attack--to prepare for, to mitigate, or if humanly possible, to prevent it? …

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