For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 11, 2004
Press Gaggle with Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Fort Smith, Arkansas
11:57 A.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning. The President had his usual briefings before we departed. Upon arrival, the Freedom Corps greeter will be Alyse Eady, 16 year old who tutors at the Jeffrey Boys and Girls Club in Fort Smith. She tutors six to nine year olds in reading and math.
And then the President will go to -- the President will go to Butterfield Junior High School. It's seventh through ninth grades. And Butterfield has achieved annual yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act. The President will make remarks on the No Child Left Behind Act. We've got a fact sheet for you. We'll give it to you momentarily, so you have that fact sheet. Then we return back to the White House following that event.
And I'll go straight to questions.
Q Anything back at the White House tonight?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's got some briefings when he gets back, policy briefings.
Q Syria is what I'm asking about, Syria sanctions. When do you expect those to happen?
MR. McCLELLAN: Very soon. We will keep you posted on any announcement regarding the Syria Accountability Act. But I expect --
Q Do you think that might happen before we get back to the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: We'll get it to you --
Q That would be nice.
MR. McCLELLAN: We'll get it to you soon.
Q Any decision on the release of the prisoner photos, the new photos?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you should get information from the Pentagon, in terms of what arrangements they are working on with members of Congress to see those images. Again, the Pentagon has been looking at the issues I mentioned yesterday. We've remained in close contact with the Pentagon. They have to take into account issues related to the ongoing criminal investigations and issues related to privacy concerns.
Q So the President is not going to be involved in that decision?
MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, we are in close contact with the Pentagon on these issues. The President appreciates the considerations that the military has to take into account. No one wants to do anything that would compromise ongoing criminal investigations. It's important that we hold people responsible to account.
Q But is there also a need to put these things out, instead of having them dribble out between now and the election?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that, one, you're seeing some ongoing testimony before members of Congress. Congress has an important oversight role to play. It's important that Congress be kept informed of these issues. And they're having some public testimony continuing on these matters. But the President has made it very clear that in terms of the process moving forward, he wants it to be an open and transparent process, so that the world knows that when allegations like this come to our -- come to light, that America acts swiftly to bring people to justice who are responsible for these shameful acts and move swiftly to take steps to prevent something like this from happening again.
Q Some of the lawyers for Ms. England have said that they feel that the President has hurt their case by saying that these soldiers will be held accountable, et cetera, some of the comments that he's made, and that he was out of order in making those comments. What do you think about that?
MR. McCLELLAN: We can't comment on any individual cases. I think the President has made his views known, that those who are responsible should be held accountable for these shameful acts. But I can't get into commenting on any specific cases.
Q Scott, the ICRC says that they briefed Condi Rice, among others, in February, about some of the specific abuses we're now seeing come to light. Is that accurate, by what you guys have seen?
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I think that what you're referring to is some articles that were addressed today by Sean, where they said that they had briefed here in January. The briefing she had in January was related to detainees at Guantanamo Bay. That's what that was related to.
Q They said that in February there was a briefing about specific things they had found in Iraq: hooded soldiers, people left is cells for days, naked. Rice didn't get that kind of briefing from the ICRC?
MR. McCLELLAN: She met with some individuals in January, and again, as Sean pointed out in some of the reports today, that briefing was focused on Guantanamo Bay.
Q So Rice and other top administration officials --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know anything about a February meeting. I'll be glad to look into it.
Q Has the President been monitoring General Taguba's appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee today? And following up, has he looked at the report, which is pretty much everywhere?
MR. McCLELLAN: The Taguba report -- as I mentioned last week, he was briefed on the Taguba report -- I believe it was last week -- by his National Security Advisor. In terms of the testimony that's going on now, he has been briefed on some of the testimony that's going on, as we speak, and he has watched some of it on television. We had it on in the conference room, some of the staff was watching it, and he caught some of it in there.
Q What was his reaction? Did he have a reaction so far that --
MR. McCLELLAN: The testimony is ongoing right now. I'll be glad to answer your questions once they've completed their testimony. I think for now, let's let the testimony continue.
Q Does the President consider it helpful that these publicized, televised hearings about what was going on at Abu Ghraib is underway?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely. It's important to having an open and transparent process moving forward. There are several investigations going on. General Taguba's investigation was undertaken at the direction of General Sanchez, if you will recall. And that's part of the -- part of the series of investigations that are ongoing at this point. And so the President believes it's important to keep Congress informed about these investigations. And Congress -- I think the military recognizes the important role the Congress has to play in these efforts, as well.
Q Did you catch any of his reaction today as he glanced at the testimony?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's been briefed on some of it. And, again, the testimony's ongoing, so I think it's premature to get into reactions at this point.
Q Is there any difference between the Vice President's reaction to the photos we've seen --
MR. McCLELLAN: I would point out that he appreciates those military officials going before Congress and sharing information with members of Congress about what -- what they know.
Q Is there any difference you know of between the Vice President's reaction to this -- to these photos in the Iraqi abuse case, and the President's? All we've heard from the Vice President is that people should get off Don Rumsfeld's back.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think the President and the Vice President have expressed similar views strongly supporting Secretary Rumsfeld, who has served very ably during times -- during times of war.
Q My question's about the President's deep revulsion to the photos and the abuses. We haven't heard anything from --
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, you can talk to the Vice President's office, but I am sure he --
Q They were not returning calls --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- I am sure he shares the President's sentiments and the sentiments -- these are sentiments that the American people share, as well.
Q Was the Vice President talking about --
MR. McCLELLAN: Because they do not represent our United States military and the more than 200,000 people who have served very honorably in Iraq.
Q Do you think the Vice President will do the Rush Limbaugh show again, given his almost embrace of these photos?
MR. McCLELLAN: You can ask the -- ask those questions to the Vice President's office. They have a -- they have a press office.
Q They're not -- they're not returning calls about this matter. Is there a reason for that, that you know of?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you can talk -- they talked to reporters over the weekend about some of the Vice President's views.
Q About Rumsfeld, but not about this specific incident and any revulsion to it, or --
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard anything about that, but you're welcome to call them.
Q On the No Child Left Behind Act, the Democrats are inevitably going to say that you're not fully funding it. What do you say to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, the President is going to be talking about that some in his remarks today. One of the things he'll be highlighting in the fact sheet is -- it's in the fact sheet, as well -- is that with passage of the fiscal year 2005 budget proposal, we would -- it would represent a 49 percent increase for elementary and secondary education since fiscal year 2001.
Not only are we providing historic levels of funding, but, more importantly, we're insisting on results for that funding. We're giving -- we're giving local school districts unprecedented flexibility to implement these reforms. These are historic reforms that say every child can learn and succeed. And so it's important that we not only provide funding, which we are, at historic levels, but that we insist on accountability and results for that funding.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
Ask your question.
Q Any read on the Vice President's checkup this morning at George Washington?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's my understanding he -- it was a very good report that he received from his -- from the routine checkup he participated in earlier this morning.
Q Any untoward episodes recorded?
MR. McCLELLAN: You can talk to the Vice President's office about more specifics. My understanding is he received a very good report from this routine check up.
END 12:07 P.M. EDT