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"Terrorism is an act whereby innocent people are involved and killed."

Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Interview with Al Jezeera

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

(Interview with Al Jezeera)

Q: I’ll start in Arabic introducing you –

Secretary Rumsfeld, thank you very much for letting us, giving us this opportunity. Let me start first with the question that of course any journalist in Washington would ask you about, how is your assessment and evaluation of the military action so far?

Rumsfeld: I think of the actions as much broader than purely military. As you know, they’re diplomatic, they’re economic, as well as military, and they’re all important, because when one thinks of the thousands of people who were killed here in the United States and who have been killed in other countries by terrorists, it is a very broad-based program that will be sustained over a period of time as we find ways to see that the terrorists are not successful.

Q: And for the military activities that of course your department is in charge of?

Rumsfeld: Well, we feel that they’re progressing in an orderly way, in a measured way. We’ve been, as everyone in the world is aware, we thought through this very carefully, and we’ve taken our time, and we have been very careful in selecting targets. The goal, obviously, is to deal with the al Qaeda terrorist network that exists in Afghanistan and the Taliban that has been so important to harboring the al Qaeda network.

Q: Previously and before the military actions, you talked about Taliban, that there are good people in Taliban and bad people. Do you still have that view, or has it changed?

Rumsfeld: I think what I’ve said is the truth, and it is that this effort is not against the Afghanistan people, it’s not against any race or any religion. It is against terrorism and terrorists and the senior people that are harboring terrorists.

As we all know, there are any number of people in Afghanistan who don’t support the al Qaeda. There are any number that don’t support the Taliban. Indeed, there are people in Taliban that don’t like haven’t al Qaeda in the country. And our interest — if you think about the damage that’s been done to the Afghan people, the number that are starving, the number of people who have been dealt with so poorly by the Taliban leadership and by al Qaeda, it seems to us that the important thing is that we’re in favor of those people who would like to see the terrorists gone. And I think there’s a great many people in Afghanistan who feel that way.

Q: So you can still reach out to good people in the Taliban government, not just Afghanistan, and you are willing to cooperate with them.

Rumsfeld: And we are hopeful that those people, the Afghan people, the people who are against al Qaeda and the people who are against the leadership of Taliban will be successful in their efforts to stop the terrorism and stop the people who have done so much damage in the world

Q: So are you only targeting the bad people in Taliban?

Rumsfeld: The effort by the coalition countries that are involved, and there’s dozens of nations involved as you know, has been to go after the military targets, to go after the command and control capabilities of Taliban and al Qaeda, to deal with the terrorist training camps, and to be careful to avoid civilians and people who are not involved in the terrorism.

Q: However, some villages have been hit and presumably more than one specific village, and people questioning whether the U.S. really would like to reach some people in these villages, and also to hit them regardless of the civilian casualties.

Rumsfeld: Well, of course it’s just not true. We care a great deal about civilian casualties. We have to. Think of the thousands of innocent Americans that were killed by the terrorists.

What we have done is to exercise great care. But the reality is when there’s that much ammunition and ordnance and munitions flying around in a country, there will inevitably be some unintended casualties.

If you think about it, it’s true, the coalition aircraft are dropping some bombs on military targets. It is also true that there’s a great deal of anti-aircraft fire coming up from the ground by Taliban against those aircraft. That munition also kills people. It kills people on the ground when it comes back down.

In addition, there’s a war going on in Afghanistan, and has been for many, many years. So you have the various tribes and the opposition in the north, the Northern Alliance, all shooting at each other.

So it is very difficult to know in any instance exactly what may have caused an unintended casualty.

Q: So that could be from the Afghanis themselves who are
against Taliban?

Rumsfeld: Or it could be from the Taliban ground fire.

Now there is one instance where we believe that a round of munitions actually went amiss and did in fact kill possibly four people and injured several people, for which we regret a great deal.

Q: Is any other legality or consequences of compensation for those people if the Pentagon is admitting officially that that was a mistake?

Rumsfeld: The thing to keep in mind is that the United States has been the biggest donor of food for Afghanistan this year, well before the terrorist attack on September 11th. The United States gave over $137 million of food aid to Afghanistan. President Bush has recently announced a $320 million food aid program, which is quite apart from the program where military aircraft are dropping food all across the country and starving people are getting food. My recollection is just in the last period of days we have put out something like 265,000 rations of meals of food into Afghanistan from the Pentagon alone.

Q: Would you consider radio, like (inaudible) radio which is civilian radio that was hit and the Pentagon declared that in the briefing with reporters, a civilian or a military target?

Rumsfeld: Well, there’s no question but that the several radio stations and the television station in the country were controlled by Taliban. They certainly were not what anyone would characterize as free press or free media. They were propaganda vehicles for the Taliban leadership and for the people that are harboring the terrorists and for the al Qaeda.

Q: So Voice of America controlled by the U.S. government would be also a target for Taliban if they had the chance to do it?

Rumsfeld: Think about it this way. Voice of America is paid for by the United States government, but it has an independence that it says what it wishes to say and is not controlled by the Department of State.

Q: So it depends on the message itself and then built on the content, analysis of the message from the radio we could decide whether to hit it or not, right?

Rumsfeld: Well, I guess everyone has to make their own decisions. But our decision was that the radio station and the television station in fact were vehicles for the Taliban leadership and for al Qaeda to manage their affairs and that therefore they were certainly appropriate targets.

Q: We’re talking about military targets, and there is one of the controversial issues, I believe, which is the most important issue about the definition of terrorism. This is something standing even between or in the middle of cooperation between people and countries in the Arab world
and the U.S.

Would we consider, I mean any military target in a fight or a war between al Qaeda and the U.S. a legitimate one if the al Qaeda people would consider the Pentagon a military target? So would that considered a terrorist act or an act of war from their side?

Rumsfeld: Terrorism, of course, has a lot of definitions and people have different views as to what it means precisely. For myself, I think of the word as meaning an act whereby innocent people are involved and killed.

The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize people. It’s to alter their behavior. Therefore, I think of it as a situation where a group of people decide that they want to terrorize a person and the way, or a group of people, and the way –

Q: Or a country.

Rumsfeld: Or a country. And the way they do that is to attack innocent people and kill them. That, for me, is what terrorism is.

Q: Because some of the argument that we hear from the other side, regardless whether we agree or disagree with it, I personally disagree, that okay, the World Trade Center is a very clear civilian target and that should not be considered but a terrorist act, but the Pentagon is the same way as the headquarter of Taliban that is being hit.

What is your take on that?

Rumsfeld: I guess my take on it is that it’s an irrelevant question. The reason I say that is that the Pentagon and the United States were hurting no one with respect to the Taliban or al Qaeda. And these people decided that it was in their interest to go after a symbol of the United States of America. They began with the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as illustrative of what they were trying to achieve.

I think trying to put that into a legitimacy of a war or a non-war target is a stretch.

Q: In view of the cooperation that you’re getting from U.S. allies in the Arab and Moslem world, how is it so far with Pakistan?

Rumsfeld: Well I think that the number of countries in the Moslem world, Arab world and non-Arab Moslem world, has been overwhelming. It’s been truly wonderful to see the response and the concern about these acts of terrorism and the support and the unity and the cohesion that’s been achieved. They all have announced, in the way they wish to announce, their support and their involvement. It varies from country to country, to be sure. And we understand that. Every country has a somewhat different perspective. They have a different history. They live in a different neighborhood. That, from my standpoint, and from the standpoint of the United States is perfectly understandable, but it has been truly wonderful support.

Q: Has Saudi Arabia allowed you to use the command and control center in Prince Sultan base?

Rumsfeld: You know, what I’ve decided to do, I think it’s probably — my goal is to get the maximum amount of support from other countries and other people, even people within countries as we’re getting help from people in Afghanistan right now. And I think the way to get the maximum support is to have each country describe for itself the extent to which it is or is not involved in trying to deal with the problem of terrorism. And to the extent each country uses their own words and their own phrases to characterizes it, I think it’s probably more appropriate, rather than for me trying to characterize how 100, 150 countries have managed their affairs.

Q: But 100 percent satisfaction of, for example, if we start with Saudi Arabia, is there or not from your own perspective?

Rumsfeld: I am delighted to have the help from every country in the region that we’re getting help from, and that’s almost all of them. And we are fully sensitive to the fact that each country should do it in a way that they feel good about, that they feel comfortable with, and they feel fits their circumstance.

Q: You have more than, or around 20,000 U.S. soldiers now in Egypt for the Pakistan maneuvers. What are you going to do with them after they finish?

Rumsfeld: I haven’t ever gotten into the practice of describing the future with people. It seems to me that it’s best not to describe operations or intelligence matters so I just have a standard policy of not speculating about the future.

Q: The reason for my question is that they are being trained annually on desert territory and not mountain territory as in Afghanistan, and people talk about, or at least people in (unintelligible) your name is mentioned many times, would like to enlarge the war on terrorism to start immediately after Afghanistan with Iraq. Is that a fair assessment of the situation?

Rumsfeld: Well, it’s obviously — you can assess things any way you want and so can others. As I’ve said, I don’t discuss what the United States of America might or might not do in the future. We do know a few things about that. We know the president of the United States is the one who makes the decision, not the secretary of defense or others. We also know that the president has announced a determination to root out terrorists where they are.

The only way you can defend against terrorism is not by self-defense, because a terrorist can attack any place at any time. You simply must take the battle to them, and that’s what President Bush has announced he’s going to do, and that’s what he is in the process of doing.

Q: So in this case, Secretary Powell was right when he characterized what your deputy, Dr. Paul Wolfowitz said, that we are in the business of ending regimes, that Mr. Wolfowitz was speaking for himself?

Rumsfeld: First of all, Mr. Wolfowitz did not mean to say that he was in the business of ending regimes at all. He was ending terrorists and stopping terrorists from terrorizing the world, and it would be, it was a misquotation on his part that he corrected at a later time.

Secretary Powell and I and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz all support President Bush’s policies. We’re all very much in agreement.

Q: So the ending regimes or ending terrorist regimes should
not be on the agenda? I mean only mainly on al Qaeda, or do
we look for something else past the Afghanistan walls?

Rumsfeld: Maybe I misinterpreted your question. The
statement that Dr. Wolfowitz was quoted on, it was something
to the effect that he then corrected.

The president’s position, which is my position and Secretary
Powell’s, and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz’s position, is that
the United States is going to, throughout the world, seek
out terrorists and stop them from terrorizing people. And
persuade countries that are harboring terrorists and
fostering and financing and facilitating their terrorist
activities, and stop them from doing that.

Q: It is a perception in the Arab world among politicians
that they look as if there are two camps in this
administration. The doves and the hawks. You are supposed to
be the chief of the hawks, or at least perceived as so, and
Secretary Powell as the symbol of the doves in the

How far is that characterization in their mind if you are

Rumsfeld: Of course it’s not a useful way to think of it at
all. I work with Colin Powell every day. We have views that
are very similar on most things. We differ from time to
time, but then I differ from time to time with my wife on
various issues, so that doesn’t mean much.

Q: It’s a compliment.

Rumsfeld: He’s a very good friend, and we find ourselves in
agreement almost all the time.

I don’t know, there’s something about the press that they
like to get up in the morning and create conflict between
people. It’s apparently a lot easier for people in the media
to write about personalities than it is about concepts and
strategies and direction.

If you personalize a thing into good guys and bad guys, it’s
an easier story, I suppose, for a journalist, but it’s not
terribly useful.

I’ve been kind of amused by it all from time to time, and my
wife and children know I’m basically a nice person.

Q: They are sure about that.

But as one of the individuals, as I would say in this
administration, perceived to be, what is the concept that
you are coming from? What is the background? How do you look
at it? Because –

Rumsfeld: Of terrorism?

Q: No, about where to go in the war on terrorism. Because
some people think that you are carrying back to this
administration the mentality and the strategy of the Cold
War that you did serve under during President Reagan or
after that.

Rumsfeld: Actually I served back into the Nixon administration –

Q: Sorry.

Rumsfeld: — and the Ford administration, as well as the
Reagan administration. Yes.

Q: Twenty-five years ago.

Rumsfeld: It’s a very different time, and I’m a very
different person and the world’s a very different place.

It seems to me that the past approach of armies and navies
and air forces competing with each other and the need to
have a super power in the United States deter a super power
that was expansionist in the Soviet Union is a time that’s
gone. It was another century.

There are a lot of people who still seem to have their head
stuck in the Cold War. I don’t. Since I’ve been here we’ve
been addressing not Cold War problems, but the problems of
the 21st century, which is why we’ve been working to
transform the Department of Defense here, to be able to deal
with the new kinds of threats and capabilities that exist.

You ask how do I approach it. I approach it with a great
deal of concern that there are very, very powerful weapons
out there, and because of proliferation of these
technologies they clearly are falling into the hands of some
people who are trying to terrorize the world.

You think of the anthrax mailing to — imagine a human being
getting up in the morning and deciding that what they’d like
to do that day is to put anthrax in an envelope and mail it
to an innocent person. Now that takes a certain mentality. I
think the world would be better off without people who think
that way.

Q: And this mentality, does this come from a certain culture?

Rumsfeld: Not that I know of. I think we’ve probably had
terrorists over the history of mankind in all sizes and
shapes and stripes.

Q: Some people are worried because of what is going on since
September 11th. First, 40 or 50 [sic] people with very
primitive weapons, knives and boxcutters, managed to do all
of that happened to the U.S. and to their homeland. And
also, they were interested inputting all that military power
to deal with Taliban as if it’s something similar to the
U.S. And people wonder what is going to happen if we have to
face China or any military power if we are doing all of that
just for Taliban or government or Taliban, or few people
that manage to hijack four airplanes at the same time.

Rumsfeld: I guess if you’re an American and you look at what
happened at the World Trade Center and here at the Pentagon
and you think of the thousands of people who are dead and
the many, many thousands of people who have lost a parent,
it’s not that easy to be dismissive and say just because of

What happens is that the terrorists are able to use America
against America. They’re able to use our freedom and our
free society as a way to damage this free society.

We’re an open country. We’re a democratic country. Our
borders with Canada are for all practical purposes, open.
Our borders with Mexico are, for all practical purposes, are
open. We are quite open to people coming and going in our
nation. We don’t spend all of our time carrying pistols or
rifles to defend ourselves. We expect the best of our fellow
man. And when a group of people decide that we’re wrong and
we should not expect the best of our fellow man, then we
have to consider what we do about that.

It seems to me one thing one could do is say well, as you
suggested in your question, that’s not that much. Why not
just accept that and don’t do anything?

The problem with that is that the weapons today are very,
very powerful. And it is perfectly possible that those kinds
of weapons could be used and it would be not just hundreds
or thousands of people, but hundreds of thousands of people.
We have an obligation in the government to provide for the
common defense under the Constitution, and we intend to do
that. The only way to do that is to let the world know that
we’re not going to allow our free way of society to be taken
from us, to be stolen from us. We’re not going to allow a
thousand or thousands of innocent Americans to be killed and
not do anything about it. We intend to find the people that
did that and the kinds of people who believe that’s
something they want to do, and stop them from doing that.

Q: President Bush mentioned that the Pentagon and the
Defense Department is adjusting, everybody is adjusting
after September 11th. I know that the way the command of the
five regions for the Pentagon is really being rethinked or
reconsidered. How about military, U.S. military presence in
the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia and others, that at least
presumably created the hostility from al Qaeda people and
others. Do you think it is worth it to be there?

Rumsfeld: I think that’s a reach to say presumably that
caused that. I mean I don’t know what causes some person to
inflate their own opinion of themselves that they begin to
think that they are all powerful and can go out and kill
thousands of their other fellow human beings. That’s not a
part of any religion. That’s not a part of any culture.
That’s a behavior pattern that’s strange, that’s weird,
that’s wrong.

Q: But U.S. military presence would continue to be there
regardless of any price, any cost.

Rumsfeld: The U.S. military presence is where it is
depending on how countries would like to have it. We’re
nowhere that we’re not wanted. We seek no one else’s land.
We occupy no other country’s territory. We try to conquer no
other people. Where we are is where people who live there
have decided they would like to have us for their

If you think about it, the United States went in and saved
Kuwait from a foreign invader, a Moslem nation. The United
States helped Moslems in Kosovo and Bosnia. The United
States provided, and the coalitions, provided assistance in
Somalia, another Moslem nation. Now we’ve been the biggest
food provider for Afghanistan well before this latest
terrorist act.

The United States has a record of helping people. It is not
a country that covets anyone else’s land or their people.

Q: That’s appreciated, but people also look at the U.S.
supporting occupation of Palestinian land. Sometimes I mean
condoning target killing against Palestinians or so some
people condemn this. I don’t know what your opinion is.

Rumsfeld: The United States has worked tirelessly to try to
bring peace in the Middle East. It is anxious to have there
be peace in the Middle East. President Bush and Secretary
Powell have worked very hard on it. And we’ve not agreed
with the behavior of countries and the Palestinian
organization in that part of the world on a number of
occasions. But we don’t agree with a lot of people. Some of
our allies in Europe from time to time.

But to suggest that the Middle East conflict or U.S.
presence of a ship or an airplane in some country in the
Middle East is cause for al Qaeda and for terrorists to come
over the United States and kill thousands and thousands of
people is a tortured thought. It is not good thinking.

If that were so, there would be people being killed all
across the globe, and there must not be.

Q: Finally, any conclusionary remarks that you –

Rumsfeld: I don’t have any concluding remarks.

Q: — conclude the interview.

Rumsfeld: Okay.

Q: If there is something that you wanted to emphasize that I
didn’t have in the questions.

Rumsfeld: I did say one thing that probably was not right.
When I said I was sweet and loveable. (Laughter)

Q: Is that for me — (Laughter)

We will interview Mrs. Rumsfeld to get her version.

Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, any concluding remarks that you might
have that we neglected to ask about?

Rumsfeld: Well I would only say in conclusion that I think
it’s important for people in the region as well as
throughout the world to understand that the United States is
dealing only with the problem of terrorism. And this effort
on our part is a matter of self-defense. It is not against
any religion. It’s not against any race. It’s not against
any country. That’s why we’re so aggressively trying to be
helpful to the Afghan people by providing food and trying to
help them rid their country of foreign invaders who are
fostering terrorism in that country and bringing great
damage and harm to the Afghan people.

Q: Thank you very much, Secretary Rumsfeld. I appreciate it.
Thank you very much.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.