DoD News Briefing

Thursday, July 3, 1997 - 1:30 p.m. (EDT)
Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)


Q: I understand you're ready to discuss the rules of engagement that were in effect for JTF Six when that teenager was shot on the border. I was wondering if you could discuss that or if you're going to make that available to the press in general, or...

A: We will make the rules of engagement available to you. You can get them from Colonel Bridges' shop, the Directorate of Defense Information, after the briefing.

Let me just say this briefly about the rules of engagement. Remember, we are operating along the Southwest border in support of law enforcement agents. And we do not operate as law enforcement agents. In other words, we do not detain people, we do not make arrests, we do not perform law enforcement tasks.

Q: The rules allow you to detain someone, though?

A: The rules allow us to detain a person who poses an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm, and to release them to civilian law enforcement agents at the soonest opportunity. The rules also very clearly allow the soldiers involved in support of the counter-drug operations to use force in self defense -- to use deadly force in self defense.

Q: Unless... That's the only other defensive measure available to them? Number two says, "Do not use force if other defensive measures could be effective."

A: Right. They say use only the amount of force necessary and proportional to the threat.

One of the things that will be determined in the course of the investigations of this unfortunate incident along the border in May was exactly what the circumstances were. The Marines have said they were under fire and they believed that they were about to be fired on again when they responded.

Q: Has there been... I want to know what the investigation process is. Obviously, there is one being conducted by the Texas Rangers. Is there a parallel investigation being conducted either by the Marines or the Defense Department? Have any determinations been made?

A: There has been a preliminary investigation done by Joint Task Force Six. Additionally, the Marines are conducting an investigation and the investigation by Task Force Six is being reviewed at a higher level. So...

Q: Are their findings in?

A: Well, the preliminary findings of Joint Task Force Six were that the Marines acted appropriately given the circumstances they were facing, which is their account that they'd been fired upon twice and believed that they were about to be fired upon a third time.

Q: There was a 20-minute lap between the time they were fired upon and the time they fired back. Wasn't that enough time to do something else other than...

A: As I said, they believed they were about to be fired upon again. All of these facts are being investigated, but the Marines have told the investigators quite clearly what transpired, the degree of threat they felt they were under, and why they acted the way they did. They did not act without contact with their superiors. They were in constant radio contact with their superiors. They were reporting all the way along what was going on.

There is extensive training given on the rules of engagement before soldiers are assigned to the border. They're very aware of what the rules are. As I said, they were in contact with their headquarters during this incident, so they were able to report on what the circumstances were and receive advice and information back, and they did.

Q: One final question, because I don't want to dominate the briefing. Is there any kind of commitment, is there any kind of concern that the rules of engagement as they have been written are inadequate? And is there any study being made of the rules of engagement in order to change them? Or are there still U.S. soldiers operating on the frontier elsewhere under these same rules of engagement? Something went wrong. Either the soldiers didn't follow the rules of engagement or the rules of engagement aren't proper because there's a dead guy up there who...

A: I think that's a completely premature conclusion and I hope you won't make that conclusion about something went wrong. It was a tragedy. We wish this tragedy had not occurred. But we do not know now. I don't think you know or I know exactly what the circumstances were and we don't know... Therefore we cannot, you and I, cannot comment on what the Marines felt they were dealing with at the time they acted the way they did.

The Marines' account is fairly explicit, that they had been fired upon. The rules of engagement are very explicit, that they are allowed to respond in self defense with deadly force, if necessary. The Marines had reason to believe that they were acting in accordance with the rules of engagement. Our standard rules of engagement allow the use of deadly force in self defense. So I do think it's premature to make any conclusions about something going wrong here, but let me answer your question more broadly.

Any time there's an incident like this, it's an occasion for us to review procedures, and those procedures are now under review for JTF Six. If an airplane, if you have an airplane malfunction you review what might have caused that malfunction. We are reviewing, now, this incident. But I think it's premature for anybody now to jump to a conclusion about whether something went wrong or not.

Q: And no stand-down orders for anybody other than in that area?

A: The JTF Six people are continuing to support law enforcement operations along the border.

Q: You referenced the JTF Six investigation. Can that investigation be made available since it's been completed?

A: First of all, all I've seen is a draft and I'm not sure there is a final copy. At the appropriate time, I'm sure all these investigations will be made public, but I'm not sure it's appropriate right now.

Q: You said they were in contact with their superiors during the incident.

A: Yes.

Q: Did their superiors advise them or give them the okay to return fire?

A: I have not read the radio conversations, but they felt they were operating in accordance with the advice they were getting.

Q: Is there any reason why they wouldn't identify themselves in the 20 minutes between the time that he first shot at them and they returned fire as being Marines? Since they do have the authority to take someone into custody, why would they...

A: All of these issues are currently under investigation, but let me just state my understanding of the situation. They were between 125 and 200 meters away from the assailant at any given time, maybe more than 200 meters away. There was a wind of approximately 30 to 35 knots blowing. Very difficult to have a conversation over that distance with winds of that force. So I think identification may have been difficult, but this is exactly the type of thing that's being looked into.

All these issues are complex and, as I said, this is being very, very carefully investigated at a number of levels -- domestic law enforcement as well as by the military.