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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 15, 2004

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

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2:25 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I want to update you on the President dropping by the United States-Afghan Women's Council meeting. President Bush and Afghan President Karzai met today with the United States-Afghan Women's Council to reaffirm their commitment to Afghan women and their empowerment. The Council was launched by the two heads of state during President Karzai's first official visit to Washington, in January 2002. It was created to help the women of Afghanistan gain the skills and education they need to play a lasting and prominent role in the Afghan economy, civil society and government.

As part of its ongoing initiatives, the Council is announcing a new health advisory committee, to build on its earlier major initiatives, such as the $5 million Rural Education and Community Health Care initiative, or RECH, which just graduated its first class of 25 trained midwives.

In his meeting today, the President reiterated America's ongoing commitment to Afghanistan and the political and civil transformation underway there. He made special mention of the women of Afghanistan and their growing role in their nation. Both he and President Karzai looked ahead to the September Afghan elections as a watershed event in the region, as well.

And tomorrow the President looks forward to going to MacDill Air Force Base, home of the United States Central Command. This is an opportunity for the President to personally thank our troops for their service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The speech will be carried live via satellite to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it will be carried on Armed Forces Radio and TV.

I expect the President will discuss the progress we are making on his five-point plan for success in Iraq. And I expect he will also talk about the way forward in Iraq as we move toward transferring sovereignty and as we move forward on the electoral process that has been put in place.

And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions. John, seeing the only hand up. One question today.

Q From strictly a legal perspective, does the White House see any reason under the Geneva Convention why it would be compelled to immediately turn Saddam Hussein over to the Iraqi interim government?

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, John, the -- well, first of all, we have made it very clear that we believe Saddam Hussein should face justice by the Iraqi people for the atrocities he committed during his decades in power. And we have made it clear that we intend to turn him over at the appropriate time so he can be tried by an Iraqi tribunal. And we're continuing to have discussions with the interim government about that matter.

I think, also, on the broader issue of detainees, you need to look back at Resolution 1546 that was just unanimously passed by the Security Council at the United Nations. In it, it provides authority for the multinational force to continue to detain individuals in Iraq after June 30th, and to detain new individuals where it is necessary for security purposes. And certainly, the detention policy is one of the fundamental security issues on which the multinational force and the interim government in Iraq will coordinate closely in the weeks and months ahead to reach agreement on those issues.

Q That's why I asked strictly from a legal standpoint. So 1546 supercedes any obligations that the U.S. might have under the Geneva Convention?

MR. McCLELLAN: All these issues were worked out --

Q The Convention --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- with the interim government.

Q The Convention is kind of unclear. It states that detainees who have criminal proceedings pending against them can be continued to be detained, but since there have been no charges that have been filed, it gets into a kind of a gray area, which is --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you look back to the June 5th letter from Secretary Powell to the Security Council, which was part of the annex to the United Nations Security Council Resolution, it specifically states that among the tasks the multinational force stands ready to perform is, "internment where this is necessary for imperative reasons of security." And the letter from Prime Minister Allawi to the Council, on the same day, in term, states that, "We seek a new resolution on the multinational force mandate to contribute to maintaining security in Iraq, including through task and arrangements set out in the letter from Secretary of State Colin Powell to the President of the United Nations Security Council." So these are issues that we'll coordinate and work closely with the interim government on as we move forward.

Q So, really, then, it's not a legal issue at all, it's more appearances than anything in terms of --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we've worked out arrangements like this in other places, as well. And there will be ongoing security threats after the transfer of sovereignty. And that is why there will be a multinational force there under -- at least sanctioned by the United Nations to help provide for the security going forward, and work to equip and train the Iraqi security forces so that they can ultimately assume full responsibility for their future. And that's what's most important. We are going to increase the number of troops in Iraq, but they're going to be Iraqi security forces.

Q But in the meantime,the multinational force has the authority to detain Iraqi citizens, if necessary, for security. Does the multinational force make that determination, or will the Iraqi government --

MR. McCLELLAN: We do that in close coordination with the interim government, Terry. Just like we worked with the relationship between the multinational force and the interim government on military operations, we'll do the same in this area, as well. You have to recognize that there are different types of prisoners. I mean, we have been in Iraq as an occupying power. And you've got criminal prisoners who we have already begun releasing some, and we'll be turning those over to the interim government. And then there are detainees that pose an ongoing security threat -- certainly a security threat to coalition forces and to the Iraqi people. And those are issues we'll discuss with the interim government as we go forward.

Q And I just want to know how much authority the interim government would have, because it would seem to me one of the hallmarks of being a sovereign government is that you don't let foreign forces arrest your people willy-nilly.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why it was discussed as we move forward on the Security Council resolution, and discussed in the context of the relationship between the multinational force and the interim government. And so that's why these issues are worked out in this way.

Q And Scott, can you just clarify, regarding Saddam Hussein, who has the final authority in determining whether or not the security is adequate to turn him over to the Iraqi government?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're going to work in cooperation and close coordination with the interim government. That's what we have been doing and that's what we will continue to do. Obviously, sovereignty isn't going to -- going to be transferred until June 30th. And then you will have a sovereign government in place. But Iraqis are already assuming responsibility in a number of different areas. In fact, I think the Coalition Provisional Authority briefed on that earlier today and talked about some of the progress toward transferring sovereignty to the Iraqi people.

Q Right, but who has the final authority? You're working in close cooperation --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I would describe it as we're working in close cooperation with the interim government. I wouldn't look at it the way you are. I would look at it as -- that we worked out these arrangements, certainly, in the Security Council resolution, we talked through these issues with the interim government, and we reached an agreement on the appropriate time to turn Saddam Hussein over so that he can be tried by the Iraqi people for those atrocities that he committed.

Q So after June 30th, it would be the Iraqi government, as well as the U.N. that would have equal say? Or how does -- how does the multinational force --

MR. McCLELLAN: A multinational force will work with the interim government to address these issues.

Q They would have equal --

MR. McCLELLAN: Not just on Saddam Hussein, but other detainees that pose ongoing security threats, as well.

Q -- equal weight in making that determination about security --

MR. McCLELLAN: I would describe it as we're working in close cooperation and coordination with the interim government. I think that's the way you should look at it.

Mark, go ahead.

Q It's been a while since we've asked, what can you tell us about Saddam Hussein and where he's being held and under what conditions and by who?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you need to address those questions to the Pentagon or to the military. So they can update you on that. I don't have a recent update in terms of what the latest information is there. The military, I'm sure, will be glad to provide you with that information.

Helen, go ahead. You've been holding your hand up.

Q In view of the national shame that's been heaped on us because of the prisoner abuse, why can't we find out what memos the President has read on the question of torture, what new orders he's given since -- in the aftermath of this horror? What has he done, exactly, himself, to clear our name?

MR. McCLELLAN: Are you talking about Iraq and what occurred at Abu Ghraib?

Q I'm talking about all the prisons where abuse could have occurred.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, there are several investigations that are underway by the military to look at the prison system and to go back and look at these issues.

In terms of the abuses that occurred at Abu Ghraib, they are appalling and they were wrong. We do not tolerate those despicable acts. Those types of abuses run counter to our values and our policies. Those who are responsible must be punished for their abuses at Abu Ghraib. And beyond that, there are a number of ongoing investigations to look into the abuses there and to also take a broader look at the prison system to see whether there are systemic problems that need to be addressed, as well. We want to do everything we can to make sure something like this does not happen again, because it does not represent the vast majority, the 99.9 percent of our men and women in the military who are serving honorably and admirably as they carry out their duties.

Q But has the President seen any of the memos, has he issued any orders, has he called Rumsfeld and the top generals in, and said, who did this, who ordered this?

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, our policies are very clear, and the President has stated those policies to people and made it very clear. Our policy is to adhere to our laws and our treaty obligations. Now, we --

Q But that hasn't happened

MR. McCLELLAN: -- we are at war on terrorism. And the President recognizes that his most important responsibility is to protect the American people. And we are going to seek to gather intelligence from al Qaeda terrorists who are in our custody, but the President has made it clear that he expects that to be done in a way that is consistent with our laws. He directed our military to treat those detainees humanely and consistent with the Geneva Conventions.

Q How did he do that? Is there a paper on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: He directed that and made that very clear quite some time ago, that that was what he expected our military to do when it comes to those detainees that they are holding at Guantanamo Bay.

Now, in Iraq, he made it very clear that the Geneva Conventions apply. We made that clear very early on --

Q That's where the horror has occurred.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- in terms of this conflict, that the Geneva Conventions do apply there. And we expect people to adhere to those conventions.

Q Has he talked to the generals at all?

MR. McCLELLAN: And that's -- and that's why our military is taking action to get to the bottom of this, hold people responsible and take steps to prevent it from ever happening again.

Q Scott, along that line, when you say you want to make sure that nothing like this prison scandal happens again, what will the new Iraqi government statute contain for the Iraqi prisoners and POWs currently in American --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, what will the new Iraqi government --

Q Government statute contain as it relates to the POWs and the Iraqi prisoners currently in American military custody, as it relates to the ICRC going in to visit them?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I expect we will continue to grant access to detainees who are in our custody. In terms of detainees that would be in the custody of the new government, that will be a sovereign government and you need to direct those questions to that government.

Q It's in your benefit at this point now to have the International Red Cross come in and take a look and make sure these atrocities --

MR. McCLELLAN: It's not "now," April, we always work very closely with the International Red Cross, and it's important that they do have access to detainees so that they can carry out their important role.

Q But the ICRC does have a concern about this new Iraqi government statute that may or may not give them the freedoms that they've had thus far.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said, in terms of the detainees that would be in our custody, I fully expect that we would continue to grant the International Committee for the Red Cross access to those detainees. In terms of the new government that will be in place, it's going to be a sovereign government and those questions need to be directed to that government.

Q Will you push -- will this White House push for the same kinds of access, or even more that was given to the ICRC when -- when the U.S. military --

MR. McCLELLAN: I said I fully expect that we will continue to grant access to the Red Cross for our detainees.

Q Will this White House push for the new Iraqi government to give the ICRC --

MR. McCLELLAN: And those are questions you need to address to the new government that will be in place in Iraq. I think they fully recognize the importance of that, as well, but I don't speak for that new government. It will be a sovereign government, they will have the authority to make those decisions on their own.

Q I have two questions, if I may. President Karzai of Afghanistan says he and his people are adamantly opposed to drugs in his country, and that he and the U.S. plan to get rid of them. But how? How are you going to eliminate the multi-billion dollar drug business in Afghanistan, and are some of those profits going to terrorists?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you heard from President Karzai in the Rose Garden. He recognizes that it is a problem that they must continue to work to address and they are working to address it. British forces that have been there have been working with the Afghan government on these issues, as well. And we're there to help Afghanistan address those issues. It is a serious problem that we must continue to work together to address.

Q Second question. Is the President planning to do anything on his next birthday to top his father's parachute jump? (Laughter.) Maybe he'll fly a new F-22 and go supersonic?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, nothing that I know of. I know he had a good conversation with former President Bush, his father, following his successful jump the other day. And the President wished him well and congratulated him on that jump. In terms of what the President may do on his 80th birthday, well, we'll keep you posted on that. (Laughter.)

Q With regard to the multinational force in Iraq, Japanese government has declared a commitment of the Japanese self-defense force in Iraq, to a multinational force after June 30th. Prime Minister Koizumi explained even if the self-defense force joined the multi-national force, it would not come under the command of the multinational force, of so-called unified command, but would continue to remain under Japanese command. He also said that U.S. government already understands the Japanese position, including the case of the withdraw of self-defense force in the condition of -- in the condition that it would become a combat zone there. Is that true?

MR. McCLELLAN: I missed the last part of that. Could you -- that very last part?

Q In the case of withdrawal of self-defense force, in the condition of it will become the combat zone there.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the first part -- first of all, let me point out that Prime Minister Koizumi and Japan have been a great friend to the Iraqi people and they have provided strong support to help the Iraqi people realize a brighter future.

In terms of forces, obviously, they will -- the individual country forces will be under their own chain of command, and there will be a multi-national force there. The Iraqi forces will be under an Iraqi chain of command. And that's all going to be coordinated and we'll work together on those efforts.

But the last part about the combat zone, I didn't -- I'm sorry, I didn't understand that last part of your question.

Q My question is, Japanese government says that the self-defense force will not come under the command of the multi-national force, but would under the command of the --

MR. McCLELLAN: I expect, like Polish forces and British forces and Italian forces, they're under, obviously, their own chains of command within the country. But the multi-national force overall is overseen by the American command.

Q Two questions. In addition to what the President said this morning about Ron Reagan, Jr.'s statements on religion, was the President surprised or offended by them? And then, also, on the "under God" clause, does the White House plan to take any --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I mean, you heard the President's remarks on that very question. I don't think he saw his remarks the other night, and I think the President addressed the question earlier. What was the second part of your question?

Q On the "under God" clause, does the White House now plan to take any action?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we are pleased that the 9th Circuit Court ruling will not be enforced. And in terms of any future action, you can expect that this administration will continue to defend "under God" in the "Pledge of Allegiance."

Q Does anyone here have a reaction to what Ron Reagan said? I mean --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you heard from the President earlier today. And, you know, again, I'll leave it at that.

Q Scott, Prime Minister Allawi said that the United States is going to hand over Hussein to the Iraqis before the June 30 transfer of sovereignty. President Bush said today that it would come at the appropriate time and he cited the security need. Does the President -- in saying that, is that an explicit rejection of Allawi's expectations? And I've got a second question.

MR. McCLELLAN: What it is, and I said it, actually, earlier this morning to some reporters, too, is that we're going to have those discussions -- we're having those discussions with the interim government. We will continue to do so. And we intend to turn him over at the appropriate time. And that's what the President said in the Rose Garden, as well. And that's where it stands. So those are discussions we'll have. Those --

Q Not before June 30.

MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't speculate one way or the other on things at this point. I would just say that those discussions are underway and we will continue to discuss those matters with the interim government, and we will turn him over at the appropriate time so that he can face Iraqi justice.

Q On China, Congress received a report from the U.S.-China Security Review Commission today outlining the scope of the U.S. trade deficit. Senator John Kerry took this opportunity to issue a statement, saying that President Bush has failed to hold China accountable to its trade agreements not to manipulate its currency. Is that a fair characterization?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I think this all goes back to some of the broader statements that he's made, and pessimism does not create jobs or grow our economy. Our economy is strong and growing stronger because of the policies that this President has advocated and worked to pass. There is more that we need to do, as well. And one of those areas where we can do more is continue to expand trade because trade helps create jobs here at home. Trade helps open markets for American producers and products. And the President is the strongest proponent of expanding trade.

And in terms of China, we have made some progress with China on a number of different areas. And we continue to have discussions with the Chinese government on additional steps that they can take. And I think you need to go back and look at the steps that they have already worked to implement. And we'll continue to have those discussions.

Q Is the President satisfied at this point with the progress that's been made on the currency?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, those are issues that we continue to discuss with the Chinese government. That's one issue that we have made our views very clear on and we will continue to make our views known to the Chinese government, as well. There are some areas where they can do more. And that's where -- we continue to have those discussions.

Let me go to the back here.

Q Scott, the subcommittee of the House and the International Relations Committee will have a hearing, I guess, tomorrow on relations with Egypt. And definitely, some --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, relations?

Q With Egypt.

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, okay.

Q And definitely, some members do have unflattering views of the relationship between U.S. and Egypt, especially after declining the invitation to go to the G8. From the White House view, from the President's view, did -- do the relations with Egypt have been affected negatively because of declining? And how --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think the President views our relations with Egypt in very positive terms. We have a good relationship with Egypt, and certainly, the President has a good relationship with President Mubarak. He just met with him weeks ago at his ranch in Crawford. And they had a good discussion there. And they talked about some of the issues that came up at the G8, as well, and that came up at Sea Island. They talked about some of the efforts underway by the international community to support calls for reform from within the region. We want to be there to do everything we can to support those calls for reform. And that's why some of the progress that was made last week at Sea Island was outlined in some of the paper that was put out by those nations.

And the President had a good meeting with those countries that were there. We recognize that not everyone could be there for whatever scheduling commitments that they had. But we appreciate those that did show up.

Q So you perceive no negative impact, short-term, at least, in relations with Egypt, especially --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think we have good relations with Egypt, and we'll continue to have good relations with Egypt.

Go ahead.

Q Until a decision is made regarding Saddam, would he be still interrogated by the Americans? And how about the 55-most -wanted?

MR. McCLELLAN: How about the what?

Q The 55-most-wanted Iraqi officials. Are there -- still they would be with the Americans --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, we've made great progress in terms of that list of 55. Well over 40-some of those leaders have been captured, or otherwise dealt with. And in terms of all those issues, again, let me just reiterate, those are issues that we're discussing with the interim government, and we will work with them to -- so that we can come to an agreement on when those individuals will be turned over.

Go ahead, Jeff. You had one.

Q Thanks. Why hasn't the administration made more of the U.N. inspectors' report that says Saddam Hussein was dismantling his missile and WMD sites before and during the war? And doesn't that, combined with the now proven al Qaeda link between Iraq -- between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist organization -- unequivocally make the case for going to war in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think in terms of Iraq and ties to terrorism, Secretary Powell outlined the former regime's support for and ties to terrorists when he went before the United Nations. Director Tenet has testified in open session before Congress about what we know about those ties. You heard the President talk about some of those ties earlier today in the Rose Garden when he was asked a question. So I think those ties are well known, and we have talked about them previously.

Certainly, when you look at someone like al Zarqawi, he was an individual who was in Iraq prior to the decision to go to war, and he is someone who remains in Iraq. And he is a senior al Qaeda associate.

Q Is that why you went to war?

MR. McCLELLAN: And -- Helen, I think we spelled out our reasons why we went to war.

Q I think you did.

MR. McCLELLAN: And certainly ties between the regime --

Q There were weapons of mass destruction.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- ties between the regime and terrorism was a very serious concern.

Q And getting back --

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.

Q Getting back to that, Scott --

MR. McCLELLAN: In terms -- in terms that you're talking about his WMD activities, and capabilities, and intentions, those are all issues that Iraq Survey Group continues to look into. And Charles Duelfer is heading that group so that we can find out the truth and learn more about what had happened -- what happened to those programs and weapons.

Q But the report establishes that there were WMD missiles and sites in Iraq before and during the war.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think if you look at what has already been reported by the Iraq Survey Group it clearly shows that the regime was in serious violation of Security Council 1441, which called for serious consequences. We know that he continued to have the intention and the capability when it comes to weapons of mass destruction. And certainly, this was intelligence shared by Congress, and shared by the international community -- not just the administration. But those are all issues that we continue to look at so that we can find out more about the truth. We know that he had a history of using weapons of mass destruction on his own people. He used chemical weapons.

Q Scott --

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Suzanne. Oh, I'm sorry, Finlay. Let me go to Finlay, and I'll come back to you. I try to get to everybody one time before I go to the second round.

Q On trade -- how much political capital is the administration prepared to spend in terms of getting American farmers, and particularly sugar producers and cotton producers, to forego their export subsidies in order to give producers in Africa and other poor parts of the world access to --

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, that's something that our trade representative, Ambassador Zoellick, has talked about. We are trying to work to get the Doha Round going again and address those issues to where it is a level playing field, and we reduce those subsidies. But we have to address it in the context of other nations, as well. And that's something that we are committed to doing. We've made that very clear.

Q Did the administration get any kind of signal from the Europeans that they're willing to forego or cut their export subsidies?

MR. McCLELLAN: There are some good signs that we can get started on that Doha Round again, and that's where some of those discussions have occurred. And so we remain committed to working through that process to address those issues because we want to make sure that we have free trade with a level playing field.

Q Scott?

MR. McCLELLAN: Suzanne and then John.

Q Has the President been asked to submit to questioning in the CIA link investigation?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. And I will do my best to keep you informed at the appropriate time.

Q That was a no?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes -- no, yes, yes. (Laughter.) All right, thank you.

END 2:52 P.M. EDT