Latest on Haiti from Deputy National Security Adviser

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In an interview with Major Garrett, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough discussed the latest U.S. efforts to provide aid relief to earthquake victims in Haiti.

Major: There are reports that some of the Haitian refugees might be sent to Camp Justice at Guantanamo Bay. How seriously is the administration considering that? Is that a live option?

McDonough: You know, Major what we're focused on at the moment is saving lives. As the President said, his number one priority today is the American citizens there, our Embassy personnel, military personnel, people like Peace Corps volunteers, religious volunteers down there on humanitarian missions. We're trying to comfort them and to save them on life saving efforts. That's what we're focused on today. There'll be further considerations as we go, but that's what we're focused on today.

Major: Are those reports wrong?

McDonough: I'm not familiar with the reports you're talking about. I am familiar though with what we're doing and what we've been doing since last night. And that is, we've been working this very hard, identifying where our people are, making sure that they're safe, getting them in touch with their loved ones, and getting them home.

Major: At the State Department Cheryl Mills today, most of the 172 Embassy personnel had been accounted for. Do we now have an accounting for all 172?

McDonough: You know the President spoke with Amb Merten about an hour ago. He had a good conversation. Amb Merten was still working through his team at the time. So I'm not in a position to confirm anything more than what Cheryl said. But i do know this is our priority that's why the President called him. He wanted to make sure Amb. Merten and his family are well, but also make sure that all of his personnel were well. He had the same conversation with Secretary Gates and others to make sure all of our people are accounted for down there and that's exactly what we're doing.

Major: Any reaction from the President based on what he's seen or heard. Or let me get to this before we get to that, one of the things we're doing is monitoring Facebook and Twitter. We're seeing a lot of things on Facebook that we can't get out of our own news organizations because we're still trying to get there. Are you at the White House or throughout the bureaucracy doing the same thing? Monitoring those kind of sites for information, eyes and ears, and do you have any evaluation if the President has seen any of these particularly gripping images and has any personal reaction?

McDonough: We've been in close touch with the President since last night when the reports first broke, so he has seen those images. He is very concerned about it. He is very concerned and stated as much, not only to us, but to Amb. Merten and to others. In fact that was his first question when he called, he said I want to make sure you and your people are ok. So those are very powerful images, something you and I both feel very strongly about. The Archbishop of Port-au-Prince even, has according to some reports, encountered a lot of trouble, he and many others associated with the Archdiocese. So we're very focused on this. Its a big priority for us and it starts with making sure our people are taken care of.

Major: UN personnel maybe several dozen maybe hundreds could all be dead.

McDonough: The President spoke with UN Secretary General Ban about a half hour ago. I don't have a full readout of that conversation yet, but I know that the Secretary General has been very focused since this morning frankly, we've been in touch with him and Amb. Rice because he is really focused on what has happened to his folks. The issue here for us is a humanitarian one, but not just that Major, the fact is the main security force in Haiti over last decade has been a UN force. We want to make sure that force is healthy. We've just gotten their commander back on the ground, he was in Florida at Southern Command over the course of the weekend. The coast guard has gotten him back. He's gotten in touch with his people and he'll make sure that force is stood back up.

Major: Any update on the usability of the air terminal or ports?

McDonough: We're looking very hard at the ports with some, as you and others have reported through the course of the day, we're using all our assets including air craft and others to check on the ports, we've got personnel on the ground whose sole purpose is to secure the airport and secure the field there and stand up so air traffic control. So we feel we're getting our hands around that. And that's really the big challenge today so that we can get everything else rolling.

Major: Because you can't ge people our and you can't get things in without up and operational.

McDonough: That's the problem. I mean we didn't have a country with a great infrastructure to begin with. And an earthquake of this magnitude and with aftershocks going really continuing throughout the night had a dramatic impact on the infrastructure. So we're making sure that everything is ready to go.

Major: Soon it will soon be 24 hours into that 72critical window. Specifically, what kinds of things are being done on the rescue front?

McDonough: A number of different things. We've been able to move around some assets from elsewhere in the region to get the most critically wounded US personnel, to get them out into US hospitals to get them taken care of.

Major: Four so far, I believe.

McDonough: That's correct. We're also moving, evacuating as you and others have reported, non essential personnel, do we're getting that done. But the big issue here is going to be making sure we can get in with trained teams and search and rescue. As you know, we've got trained professionals, some from here in Fairfax, some from LA, and we've got two florida teams that are mustering up and getting ready to get in there soon as the infrastructure will allow them to do it.

Major: The peacekeepers will act as police force?

McDonough: So far we haven't heard much in terms of increased insecurity. But obviously we want to make sure we're seeing this whole package. That's why its so important we got the UN commander back in there so that he can take control of his forces. And that's why we want to make sure that when our folks are in there that they have appropriate security as well.

Major: Too early to consider any high profile visits? Probably best to stay out for right now?

McDonough: I think at the moment the issue is really not the visitors, but the people who are there. And we want to make sure that they're taken care of and want to make sure they're safe and accounted for.