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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 10, 2004

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

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1:06 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. The President looks forward to here shortly going to visit the USO care package stuffing facility in Fort Belvoir , Virginia . The President and Mrs. Bush will participate with other volunteers in assembling care packages for Operation USO care packages. It's an opportunity to highlight the many ways Americans can show their support for our troops, our men and women in uniform who are serving abroad.

Let me give you a little bit of details about this before you go, but for a $25 donation, Americans can sponsor a care package for a service member who is either en route to an overseas assignment or already deployed. The packages are assembled on military bases by volunteers. Each operation package contains, at a minimum, a 100-minute international calling card, a disposable camera, toiletries, sun screen, playing cards, and a message of support from a care package sponsor. And more than 480,000 care packages have been assembled and distributed, as of December of 2004. And Fort Belvoir has donated space and assistance to Operation USO Care Package since August of 2004.

And the President looks forward to going there and thanking all those volunteers for to their service to their country, and highlighting the real strength of America, which is found in the heart and soul of every American.

And with that, I'll be glad to go to your questions.

Helen.

Q I asked you the other day and didn't get an answer and I'll ask you again, do we follow the Geneva Conventions at Guantanamo ?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President has already answered that question. We've answered that question on numerous occasions, Helen. The President's most solemn obligation is to protect the American people, and in terms of -- in terms of Guantanamo , it's related to the war on terrorism that we're fighting. We're fighting a different kind of war and we face an enemy like we have never faced before. The President designated individuals again Guantanamo as unlawful enemy combatants who do not share -- they are people who do not share our values, who do not respect the rule of law, and who have no regard for innocent --

Q You haven't even charged them.

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, I'm going to move on to other people if you're not going to let me answer the questions.

Q Go ahead.

MR. McCLELLAN: I would like to answer your question and I'm trying to do that. We can disagree on the war on terrorism, but I want to make my points, too.

But these are people who have no regard for innocent civilian life, and the military -- and in terms of the military and the detainees who are at Guantanamo Bay , the President expects them to be treated humanely and consistent with the Geneva Conventions. That's what he has said to the Pentagon, and that's what he expects to happen. We are a nation of values and laws, and we adhere to our values and laws.

Q Why are there so many reports, then, of abuses at Guantanamo ?

MR. McCLELLAN: You should direct your questions to the Department of Defense if there are any allegations of abuse. They take them very seriously.

Q You're not aware of any?

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, Helen, we can disagree on this, but --

Q It isn't a question of -- I'm asking you a very valid question.

MR. McCLELLAN: And you're not letting me respond to it, Helen. I would like to respond to it, but you're not letting me.

Q You said that we don't really have to obey the law in this case, in terms of not giving these people a fair trial and charging them --

MR. McCLELLAN: These are people that are -- that do not adhere to the Geneva Conventions. These are enemy combatants who were picked up on the battlefield trying to do harm to Americans, or plotting to carry out attacks against the American people.

Q How do you know that without charging them?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, go ahead. Helen you've got to let me have a chance to respond. Thank you.

Q I want to ask about the White House Economic Conference next week. What does the President really get out of this? I mean, he pretty much knows what he wants to do in a second term economically, right? He's talked about Social Security. He's talked about the tax code, about trying to make the tax cuts permanent. So what is this supposed to accomplish next week?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President's number -- one of his top priorities is making sure that we are doing everything we can to keep our economy growing stronger and creating jobs. Because of the policies this President has implemented, our economy is growing stronger. And we are seeing strong job creation. Over the last 15 months, we've seen some 2.4 billion new jobs created. But there is more to do. We're in very much a changing economy, where people don't have the same -- don't have the same kind of jobs that they used to. The President has talked about this at length during the campaign, where he wants to help people plan for careers.

But in a changing economy, you need to make sure that workers have the skills they need and the education they need to fill the high growth, high paying jobs that are being created. There are a lot of high paying, high growth jobs being created in the health care sector and the technology sector, and people do not have the skills and -- there are people that do not have the training and skills to fill those jobs. And so we need to continue to build upon all that we have done when it comes to strengthening our economy.

The President has outlined six very clear proposals for strengthening our economy even more. And he wants to talk about those. And he wants to talk about how we keep our economy growing. And this is an opportunity for him to sit down with people from across the business sector and other people to talk about ways that we can continue to strengthen our economy. It's a top priority for the President.

Q Could I ask you what his first economic goal is in terms of legislation of this Congress. Some have said it's the tort reform. It's the cap on damages for pain and suffering, $250,000. Is that the first thing he wants to get through Congress, followed by other things?

MR. McCLELLAN: We're talking with congressional leaders about how we proceed in the second term. And how we move forward on the priorities that the President outlined. The priorities that the President outlined for continuing to keep our economy growing are very clear. He talked about the need for a comprehensive energy plan. He talked about the need for reducing lawsuit abuse. It is a serious matter, and that's one of the things he will be talking about next week at this economic conference and participating in a panel relating to the rising costs associated with lawsuit abuse. He's talked about the importance of continuing to expand trade opportunities. He's talked about the importance of supporting community colleges and a number of other issues.

But we intend to move forward on all those priorities, working very closely with members of Congress to implement them.

Go ahead, Steve.

Q Are you preparing a new supplemental funding request for Iraq ? And there's some reports that it could be as much as $100 billion. Is that accurate?

MR. McCLELLAN: We are continuing to talk with the Department of Defense about how we move forward on a supplemental for next year, that we'll make sure our troops have all the resources and equipment they need to continue to do their job. That's the President's top commitment to our troops, making sure that they have the best equipment so that they can complete their mission.

And this builds upon the $87 billion supplemental that we passed last year for Afghanistan and Iraq . The President also set up a $25 billion emergency reserve contingency fund so that there would be no disruption in terms of supplies and equipment that our troops need during the time frame from that supplemental to the time we pass a new supplemental. But we are continuing to talk with the Department of Defense and members of Congress, and we expect to move forward on one at some point early next year.

In terms of the exact cost, that will be determined by what the needs are and the circumstances are on the ground. But the President will make sure that our troops are getting everything they need, and that supplemental is a big part of making sure that happens.

Q Can I follow on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Bill.

Q If Bernard Kerik is confirmed the head of Homeland Security, he would be in charge of a department which does substantial business with Taser and other firms in which he's had a direct or indirect interests. Is this an ethical conflict of interest?

MR. McCLELLAN: We've looked into all these issues, and obviously, he'll be talking about some of these matters during his confirmation hearing. But the President appointed Commissioner Kerik because he knows he is someone who is firmly committed to helping us win the war on terrorism and make sure that we are doing everything we can to protect the homeland.

We have full confidence in his integrity and we are confident that he will take the appropriate steps necessary to make sure that there are no conflicts there.

Q But even if he is not any longer connected with any of these companies, there is still the perception that he can influence the way the department does business with them, no?

MR. McCLELLAN: We believe he will take all the appropriate steps to make sure that there are no conflicts.

Go ahead, Connie.

Q Thank you. Similar, on the Iraqi situation, there's a report from at least one manufacturer claiming the Army has not given them a go-ahead to build any more armored plating. Is that true, and is there a slow down on that because of budgetary constraints?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, on the first part of your question, it was the reports relating to these contracts?

Q Yes, there was one manufacturer, at least, who was quoted as saying they could manufacture more metal plating for the Humvees and the others, but they haven't been given any instructions by the military.

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, let me reiterate, the President is committed to making sure our troops have the best equipment and all the resources they need to do their job. And that's what he expects to happen.

If there -- if our troops need additional resources or equipment, then we will work to make sure that they have that equipment and those resources. And that's why the President worked with Congress to pass the $87 billion supplemental for Afghanistan and Iraq , to make sure that our troops had the armor and had the equipment and had the resources they needed to do their job. That's why he worked to establish that $25 billion emergency contingency fund, so that there is no disruption in the troops getting the equipment. And we're continuing to work through that, as I mentioned to Steve.

In terms of some of these reports, that's just come to our attention. We've talked to the Department of Defense about it. They're looking into it, and I expect they'll be able to tell you more about it once they've had an opportunity to look into it.

Q So, theoretically, orders could be given right away to accelerate the manufacture, if that's the problem?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the Department of Defense is looking into it. And when they've had a chance to look into it, I'm sure they can tell you more.

But let me point out that I've been with the President on many occasions when he visits with our troops, and he visits with the families of our troops. One of the first questions the President asks is: Are you getting everything you need? Do you have all the support and do you have everything that you need? And if they have concerns, then the President works to make sure that those concerns are addressed. That's what he's committed to doing.

I have been with him when he has visited with the families and talked to them about -- and thanked them for the sacrifices that they have made. I've been with him when he's visited

with --

Q What do they say?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- when he's visited with the soldier at the lowest level of the military, or visited with the sergeant, or visited with the general higher up the chain of command. And I've seen the President talk to them about their concerns and listen to their concerns. And if they have some, then he makes sure that those concerns are addressed.

And in fact, earlier this week, he just went to Camp Pendleton and visited with families and visited with our troops, thanking them for their service and sacrifice. That's the kind of President that he is.

Q Scott, following up the Kerik nomination , Democrats, when it was announced that he was the President's choice, received the news quite warmly -- notably, Senators Schumer and Clinton, as you know. Now with these questions, though, kind of out there about his financial dealings, is there any worry on the part of the White House that his confirmation may be in jeopardy?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. In fact, I think all you need to do is look to the people of New York to see the kind of support that Commissioner Kerik has, because he is someone who has a proven record of working to transform large institutions to make sure that they are doing an even better job than they were before he took that position. He's been the head of a corrections facility. He's been the commissioner of the New York Police Department. He was someone who was one of the first ones on the scene at Ground Zero. And he was there helping to coordinate the response and recovery efforts.

He is someone who is very capable, and someone who has the strong support of those who know him best, on both sides of the aisle. He has the strong support of Democrats and Republicans alike. Mayor Giuliani certainly is a strong supporter of his. Senator Schumer and Senator Clinton have made very strong statements of support for Commissioner Kerik. He is someone that will do a great job at the Department of Homeland Security, and we hope that the Senate will move forward quickly on his nomination next year when the hearings begin.

Go ahead, Wendell.

Q Scott, a couple of questions. The first, does the President, like Ambassador Danforth, still have confidence in Kofi Annan and remain believe he should remain the Secretary General of the United Nations?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. I think, one, we've addressed this issue before. And I think that Ambassador Danforth addressed it just yesterday. Secretary General Annan is someone we have worked very closely with on a number of important priorities, like the global AIDS initiative, and like our efforts in Sudan and other areas where we've worked to make the world safer and better. He is someone we will continue to work closely with.

Now, this has all come up recently in the whole oil-for-food program investigation that is ongoing. And I think it's very important for us to continue to emphasize that we expect a full investigation and a transparent investigation. It's important that all the facts be known about this investigation. And we are continuing to urge that that investigation proceed in a way that is fully transparent so that everybody knows exactly what happened with the oil-for-food program. And that's what we continue to emphasize.

At the same time, separate and apart from that, we continue to work with the Secretary General to address some of the priorities that we all share across the globe.

Q And the other question, does the President agree with Secretary Powell that the reluctance of some NATO members to participate in training Iraqi troops is hurting the credibility and cohesion of NATO?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think Secretary Powell stated it very well. When NATO has a mission, it's important for everybody to be supportive of that mission. And there are a number of countries that are participating in the training mission in Iraq . NATO just announced earlier this week that they were increasing the number of people participating in that training mission for the Iraqi people. But in any mission related to NATO, we think it's important for all countries that are members of NATO to be supportive of those efforts.

Q But NATO is an organization that works by consensus: All agree or NATO does not follow. So how is it that you can say that, when obviously there is such reluctance on the part of a number of NATO members to be involved --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I think the international community is --

Q -- in training troops in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- is strongly behind the efforts of the Iraqi people to realize a free and peaceful future and to move forward on holding elections. The international community is in strong support of the Iraqi people assuming full responsibility for their nation, and there are different ways that the international community can help the Iraqi people. We've seen that, whether it's through debt reduction or reconstruction efforts or troops. There are many ways that the international community can help.

Obviously, each country has to make their own decision. But when it comes to NATO, which you're referring to, we do believe it's important for everybody to be supportive of the missions that NATO sets.

Q Secretary Rumsfeld is in India, right after Mr. Putin's visit. I wonder if he's carrying any special message from the President. And also, I understand that U.S. has offered weapons to India also, as well as Pakistan. So how President feels about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any update for you on either of those countries, beyond what we have said recently.

In terms of the Secretary Rumsfeld's trip, I think it's best to talk to the Department of Defense about what he will be talking about.

Q Scott, tomorrow the President will undergo his physical . How will information be disseminated about that? Will it be here? Will it be a piece of paper? Can you --

MR. McCLELLAN: It will go out, like it always does, to everybody. There will be a medical summary that will be provided to everybody from his physical. The President is someone who remains in great physical shape. Anyone that doubts that can just try to go on a mountain bike ride with him and see. But this will be his annual physical tomorrow at Bethesda.

It will also be an opportunity for the President to visit with some of our wounded soldiers who are at Bethesda, our sailors and others who are there. The President looks forward to visiting with them, thanking them for their service and sacrifice, and visiting with their families as well.

Q Two questions, if I may. Afghanistan President Karzai says the drug problem in his country is a cancer more serious than terrorism or the Soviet Union of Afghanistan. Is the President committed to helping Karzai get rid of the opium trade?

MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely. In fact, we have -- there was just a briefing recently about that very subject, about how we've been supportive of those efforts to crackdown on opium in Afghanistan and crack down on the trade there. The British are playing an important role in helping with those efforts. And President Karzai is someone who is committed to moving that country forward and addressing issues like drugs. So, absolutely.

Q One more?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.

Q There is a report that nearly 6,000 people in the U.S. wind up in emergency rooms over the holidays because of decorating injuries. What specifically are you and the President doing to hang the holly and the mistletoe safely? (Laughter.) And have orders been issued that there is to be no dipping into the punch bowl while decorating? (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: I would just say that we have great appreciation for all the staff and the volunteers who help put up the Christmas decorations and the holiday decorations that adorn the White House, and we appreciate all that they have done in that.

Q Follow-up, Scott. (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Happy holidays. Go ahead, Les.

Q The Washington Times has twice reported the Center for Military Readiness charged that the U.S. Army is currently violating the Defense Department's ban on women in land combat. In the first of two, the President, as Commander-in-Chief, is aware that most women can't carry male wounded, they can't pass the male strength tests at our service academies, that female POWs have been gang-raped, and that thousands of impregnated women had to be brought home from Desert Storm, isn't he? Isn't he aware of this?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, let me tell you that the President is grateful for the sacrifice and the service of all our men and our women who serve in uniform. They're doing an outstanding job, and he greatly appreciates it. And that's what I would say in response to that question.

Q A follow-up. Considering the reports from the Air Force Academy, more than 100 rapes as a result of rooming females in the same dormitories as males. Why does the President think it's all right to send women into combat zones where they are so outnumbered by healthy and normal young men with raging hormones?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, first of all, on the Air Force Academy issue, this is something that the Pentagon has taken very seriously, and they looked into, and they are making it clear that if women have been abused or assaulted in any way, they need to come forward and they will be there to help. That was a very serious matter. It was fully investigated. The Pentagon briefed on it earlier this week. And we expect it to be addressed. And they are working --

Q Wouldn't it be better to put them, the women, in a separate dorm? Wouldn't it be better?

MR. McCLELLAN: They are -- they are working to address it.

Q They're going to do that? Okay.

MR. McCLELLAN: And in terms of all of our men and all of our women who serve in uniform, the President could not be more appreciative or more grateful for their service.

Jay, go ahead.

Q Turning back to the economic summit next week, are there any more details you can give us about what topics are going to be discussed? And are any of these sessions going to be open to the press, including the ones that the President is expecting to attend?

MR. McCLELLAN: I expect it would be similar to some of the summits and other economic meetings that we've had. We will be putting out more information, hopefully later this afternoon. We're still finalizing some of those details. There will be several panel sessions looking at different areas. Like I said earlier, the President will be participating in one relating to the high cost of lawsuit abuse. There are some others that he'll be participating in, as well. And he'll be making remarks at the end of the economic conference to talk about the importance of continuing to take steps to keep our economy growing stronger.

Go ahead.

Q Can I ask about the economic conference, as well? It's a conference, not a summit, like we have in the summer of 2002. What's the difference?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're going to see the difference when we put out all the details. I know you all are wanting to get ahead of next Wednesday, but we're going to be putting out details later. There will be several panel sessions with people participating on that to talk about how we can continue to move the economy forward and keep it growing stronger. And the President will be participating in some of those -- a couple of those panels, I believe. The Vice President will be there. The President's economic team will be there, and talking about all these issues.

Q Why not call it a summit, though?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, Mark, we'll put out all the details later today, but we have different names for different meetings that the President participates in, or different events, and this is called the Conference on the Economy, so the President's Conference on the Economy.

Q Can I ask one other thing about it. Is there any chance that there's going to be anybody speaking at these conferences who, for example, doesn't think private Social Security accounts are a good idea or doesn't think making the tax cuts permanent is a good idea?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're going to see the list of people that are participating in this, and I think it will resemble -- or that there will be a wide range of people from the business community participating in this.

I think the President's policies, in terms of how he believes we need to move forward to keep the economy growing are very clear. He talked about them at length during the campaign. And I think that generally speaking, there are going to be people there who are supportive of ways we can continue to move forward on these policies together to keep the economy growing stronger. The President is someone who has a strong record of working to implement pro-growth, pro-jobs economic policies, and we want to use this economic conference as an opportunity to talk about how we can continue to build upon those efforts, and continue to address the needs that our economy faces in a changing economy and the needs of workers in that changing economy.

Q Scott, at the gaggle this morning you said the United States , as a matter of policy, does not support this or that candidate in Ukraine 's elections . Congressman Paul has said the overwhelming amount of taxpayer money that went into the Ukraine elections, via NGOs, et cetera, went to help the opposition candidate. Are you absolutely confident that NGOs that receive taxpayer money, U.S. taxpayer money, abide by the same position, that they don't support this or that candidate?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there is accountability in place that we make sure that that money is being used for the purposes for which it's assigned or designated.

Q I'd like to follow up on Wendell's last question. The United Nations -- there's a report out of London , the United Nations has ordered its staff not to help in the training of the Iraqi prosecutors that are to conduct the war crimes trial of Saddam Hussein. Also, some of our European allies have also declined to assist in training these jurists. How can you say that there is international support for Iraq when these things are taking place by, once again, the United Nations?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think first of all, it's in everybody's interest that a free and peaceful Iraq emerge, and the Iraqi people want that to happen. They are moving forward to hold elections at the end of next month. We're there to support them in those efforts. And the United Nations is playing a role to support the independent Iraqi Election Commission as it moves forward on holding the elections.

Q But it's important for the Iraqi people to close the chapter on Saddam Hussein, that he will be tried for his crimes, and that he will not return to power. How can that be accomplished without the support of the United Nations?

MR. McCLELLAN: He will be tried for the oppression and brutality of his regime. He is someone who is no longer carrying out the atrocities on the American [sic] people. He is now in jail. There is a legal process that has been put in place, and the Iraqis will move forward on that legal process.

Go ahead, Bob.

Q Scott, could you say where the prospects of a new generation of nuclear power plants fits in with the President's vision of economic and energy security for the country?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, the President talked about it in his comprehensive energy plan that he outlined back in 2001, about the importance of diversifying our sources of supply so that we can become less dependent upon foreign sources of energy. And nuclear energy is something that was discussed at length in that energy report. Energy security is important to our economic security and our national security. It's a high priority for the President. The President will continue to talk about ways we can reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy to make America more energy self-sufficient. And nuclear energy is something he is certainly committed to looking at. He has talked about it in the past on a number of occasions, as well.

Q Scott, going back to NATO , the refusal of some members to participate in the training, do you see that as symbolic or symptomatic of a deeper fissure within NATO than maybe we thought there had been before, given that this is not the first time that this sort of thing has happened?

MR. McCLELLAN: I would leave it where Secretary Powell described it. I think he described it well. He was attending those meetings, and he addressed the matter. I don't think --

Q Do you believe we need a --

MR. McCLELLAN: I was reiterating what he said. But he talked about how some of the differences of the past are behind us now, and we're all focused on helping the Iraqi people build a free and peaceful future, like I said earlier today.

Thank you.

END 1:32 P.M. EST