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Defense Department Regular News Briefing - 5/04/01


DOD BRIEFING - May 4, 2001



May 4, 2001
Copyright © 2001 FM2 Communications, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Quigley: Yeah?

Q: Yes, on Vieques . Last week you mentioned from the podium that there was a robust security plan in place to provide security during the training exercises for the USS Enterprise.

However, Navy officials and reporters on the ground stated that the Puerto Ricans did not -- seemed, at least, not to cooperate. Is it the feeling of the department that the Puerto Rican police did their share --

Quigley: I'm not familiar with the details of the operations of the Puerto Rican police during the training exercises.

Q: They have not reported back to the department?

Quigley: They may have reported to the Navy Department. I don't know --I have not heard any detailed after-action as to who exactly did what.

Q: Another follow-up question. Over the last four days, over 100 people, not from Vieques , necessarily, tried to immediately end the training at Vieques , either going on the range, attacking federal officials, destroying federal property both in Vieques and in the main island of Puerto Rico . Will you end the training in response to some illegal pressure tactics?

Quigley: Well, if you have people who peacefully demonstrate, I mean, that's one of the things that America's military protects an America citizen's right to do. But if you have individuals that then break the law and put themselves at risk, put our security forces at risk; put the training, which is so very important to our men and women in uniform, in jeopardy and actually would do harm to security forces, that's much more troublesome. And I think breaking the law is never the way to go.

So I make a big distinction between those breaking the law and those peacefully protesting. That is indeed one of the freedoms that we all treasure.

Q: Follow-up on Vieques . Yesterday, 10 congressional Democrats, who have always maintained the position that the Navy should end training in Vieques immediately, once again renewed their call to the president, and also to the secretary, to end the training. Do you believe that this represents the majority view of the members of Congress?

Quigley: I have no idea. I do know that we think the way ahead is to comply with the agreement that was put in place a little over a year ago. We thought it was a good compromise then, we think it's a good compromise now, and to us, that is the best way to proceed from here.

Q: The president has repeatedly said that he will follow the Vieques agreement, even though -- in spite of the actions of the Puerto Rican government. And the White House press secretary stated basically the same. Is there any indication that the president is changing his mind or position in light of the calls?

Quigley: Not that I have heard, although I would recommend you ask him.

Q: Well, they usually refer all calls -- Vieques calls to DoD. That's why I'm --

Quigley: Well, a Vieques call is one thing; asking what the president may or may not do is another.

Q: Last week, Judge Kessler recommended that the Puerto Rican government and Navy officials reach an agreement on the dispute over training in Vieques .

Would the Navy or the department consider ending all training on Vieques ? Is that an option to those discussions?

Quigley: Again, we think that the agreement is the right way to go. And we think training on Vieques is important. It's very important to the battle group. The battle group that trained down there for four days recently left at a higher level of readiness than when it got there. I think we -- we owe that to the men and women that we deploy around the world in America's interest.

You know, there are a lot of training ranges in different parts of the United States, 33, I believe, different areas around the country, many of which are much closer than the nine-mile separation between the live-impact area on Vieques and the town. You have the ranges at a variety of parts of the country -- three miles, five miles, six miles.

And this is something that the citizens in a democracy need to be able to conduct the realistic training for the men and women in uniform that the citizens, their government, send forward to do the nation's bidding. Many of the times, that involves going into hostile parts of the world. Arabian Gulf is an example. There are others. Kosovo. The Balkans over the years. And many times when we train forces, they use that training, and within weeks of its final completion. That's the whole point.

There is a burden to be shared by American citizens to support the realistic training that their military needs to do its job. And Vieques is one of those very important training areas. There are 32 others that I think there are around the country, and again, many of which are closer than the nine-mile separation between the live-impact area and Vieques .

Q: And during her recommendations last week, Judge Kessler also said or urged that it would be prudent or wise to halt all Navy training until the health studies in Vieques were conducted. And there seemed to be a dispute in terms of the promise or commitment that the secretary, Secretary Rumsfeld and former Secretary Danzig had made to the government of Puerto Rico to condition the resumption of training. Is that true, or is that on the table?

Quigley: Well, I would certainly agree that we are anxious to get more data on the medical studies that have been performed by the Ponce Medical School. So I would ask that all the data available be turned over to Health and Human Services so they can do the comprehensive review. Nothing we have seen so far shows a correlation between the type of training that is done in Vieques and the medical condition that was evident on this one sample from workers in a factory, I believe, being exposed to elevated levels of noise for eight, 10 hours a day, day after day after day. Very different conditions.

And in the absence of any correlation between the training noise and that study, there's just been no evidence that we've seen so far that would suggest that there was any need to curtail the training for that reason.

Q: But will the training be curtailed until this preliminary report comes out on this vibro-acoustic disease?

Quigley: Same answer to the question. I mean, there has been no evidence shown so far that there is any correlation. Johns Hopkins University has done a quick look; they find no correlation. Health and Human Services is doing a much more considered -- they're still struggling getting the information they need from the Ponce Medical School to do the through assessment. Thaat will probably be a period of months before that is done. But the quick look just shows that there's nothing there that correlates to the actual noise levels of training.

You know, the Navy knows a lot about noise. We've studied this for decades.

And our concern is for the people on our ships and our aircraft that actually fire the guns and fire the weapons systems that are much, much closer than the people that we're talking about here on the training range in Vieques .

So this is an issue that we know a lot about, and there's a lot of literature in the analysis that has existed for decades on this topic. And we look forward to being a part of the review of any further documentation and analysis that might come out of the Ponce Medical School. We understand the concern of the citizens of Vieques , but our best assessment at this point is that there is no impact on their health from this training.

Thank you.

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