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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 13, 2005

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

Play Video  Video (Real)

1:28 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. The President was pleased to go over to the Pentagon and receive an update on our tsunami relief efforts by the military, as well as to participate in a briefing on the global -- in the -- on the global war on terrorism.

The President had an update from Admiral Fargo, who is the Commander of the United States Pacific Command, as well as Marine Corps Lieutenant General Blackman, who is overseeing the military's relief efforts in the Indian Ocean region. And you heard the President talk about this earlier, but our military immediately went into action after the tsunamis hit the region, to make sure we were getting immediate aid to those who were suffering and doing all we could to save lives.

The United States, as the President said earlier today, is grateful for our men and women in uniform who are getting help to those in need and showing the true compassion of America. And the President also heard about the strong coordination that is going on between our military, the USAID, international relief organizations and the governments of the affected countries. And following that, he received his -- he participated in the briefing on the global war on terrorism. And you heard directly from the President on both those issues.

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

Q Did he get an update on the search for Osama bin Laden?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into the discussion of the meeting. It was a classified briefing, and I'll leave it there, where the President left it earlier.

Q Have you gotten a clarification yet from Indonesia on their statement that foreign troops should leave?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the military is probably the best place to direct those questions. I think they may be providing an update later today, as well. But our focus right now is on continuing to work very closely with the Indonesian government and others in the -- and other affected countries to continue providing relief to those who need it in the region, as well as to help with recovery efforts, as well as rehabilitation efforts that are underway to get basic services up and going again. And we stay in close contact with those governments. I think there's good cooperation going on.

I would -- keep in mind that our military is -- the support that they are providing is really focused on the immediate relief efforts, and some of the initial rehabilitation efforts going on, as well. So they deployed assets and logistical support to the region immediately in the aftermath. Within days they had relief flowing to the region.

And we'll continue to discuss these issues with the respective governments about the aid that's going on. But we want to continue working closely with the Indonesian government to get help to those who need it, particularly in the hardest hit areas of Indonesia, the Aceh province, for instance. But our military, again, is primarily there for the immediate relief efforts and some of the initial rehabilitation efforts. There will be a time when they can -- when they will no longer need to have so many assets in the region. And so I think they can update you on that.

Q In the war on terror, did anything come up with that in the context of the inauguration, anything about any threat or anything --

MR. McCLELLAN: That wasn't the purpose of the meeting.

Q So Scott, is there nothing you can tell us over and above what the President said, which really wasn't a whole lot, except there needs to be --

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll continue to talk about what we're working to do to win the -- what we're working to achieve. And we'll continue talking about our -- the progress we're making to win the war on terrorism. We have talked about that often. And that requires a coordinated effort with other countries, as well as within our government, to not only stay on the offensive from a military standpoint and bring those to justice who seek to do us harm, but also to help advance freedom and democracy in the broader Middle East. But --

Q Can you just, sort of, give us an update, because we haven't heard from you much before? What are you looking to achieve --

MR. McCLELLAN: But in terms of -- in terms of this discussion, no, it was a classified discussion. So there's not much else I can get into at this point.

Q What are you looking to achieve in the near term, here, besides the spread of freedom and democracy, in terms of strategy in the war on terror?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I just talked to you about what our strategy is. Our strategy is to go after and bring to justice those who seek to do us harm. Taking the fight to the enemy is at the top of our strategy to win the war on terrorism. Right along there with it is working to advance and support freedom in parts of the world that have not known freedom. And that's what we'll continue to do. We're achieving significant results in terms of dismantling the al Qaeda network. We've made great progress there. We're seeing historic -- an historic and hopeful moment in the broader Middle East with elections taking place in Afghanistan, with elections coming up in Iraq, and with an election of a new Palestinian President in the Middle East.

Q Right, but other than Iraq, where is the enemy now? Where are you concentrating your efforts?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's a multi-front effort, John. There are a number of ways we're going after the enemy, from cracking down on terrorist financing to working with other nations to share intelligence and act on that intelligence. We're also working from a military standpoint to go after those who seek to do us harm, whether it's in Afghanistan or Iraq or elsewhere.

Q But -- it's all kind of ephemeral now. I mean, you could point to Afghanistan before and say, here's where the terrorists are; you could point to Indonesia and say, here's where Jemma Islamiya is. But, as I say, it's kind of ephemeral. We don't really -- where is the enemy these days?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, I'll give you an update. The enemy is the ideology of hatred and oppression that people espouse. That's what we're up against. We're working to defeat an ideology of hatred and oppression. And you do that by going after the terrorists, who have no regard for rule of law, no regard for innocent civilians, and all they seek to do is spread chaos and fear and intimidation.

You also do it by working to provide hope and freedom to those who have only seen tyranny and oppression. And that's what we're going to continue working to do in a global effort. There are many nations involved around the world in the global war on terrorism, and we have many partners, and we're going to continue to build upon those relationships. We've worked to build those relationships over the last few years. We've provided you a significant amount of information in terms of how we're working to win the war on terrorism.

One other effort that is very important to this, because the nexus between weapons of mass destruction and terrorists is the most dangerous threat of our times -- that's why the President initiated the proliferation security initiative, with a number of countries who are working to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. That was a significant initiative. We've also been able to dismantle the networks like the A.Q. Khan network, and that was an important achievement in the global war on terrorism and making the world a safer and better place.

So there are a number of things that we've already provided to you all on the war on terrorism, and I'll be happy to get you more information on all that.

Q Scott?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Terry.

Q Scott, why did the White House block or muscle Congress out of adding legal protections for foreign prisoners in U.S. custody, protections against extreme interrogation measures?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I disagree with your characterization, first of all. I think that there were people on both sides of the aisle and in both the Senate and House that supported the view that we took, and it was a view that we stated publicly. And, of course, we are going to state privately what we state publicly.

We did not view the provision as necessary because there are already laws on the book to address these issues. There is a provision included in the Defense Authorization Act to address some of these issues. There are -- there is the Convention Against Torture. There is the -- there are criminal statutes against torture in the United States. And our policy is to comply with our laws and our treaty obligations. That's the policy of the United States.

Q If we could get down to brass tacks here, the purpose of this proposed law was to make sure that CIA interrogators have to abide by the same standards as Defense Department interrogators. And the White House didn't want that. Is that because you want CIA interrogators to be able to get rougher and tougher?

MR. McCLELLAN: We want everybody throughout the government to comply with the policy of the United States, which is to follow our laws and our treaty obligations. The President has made it very clear that we don't condone torture, and nor -- and he would never authorize the use of torture. He's made that very clear.

I just pointed to the Convention Against Torture. It addresses the treatment of detainees and the use of torture. I pointed to our criminal statutes. We have criminal statutes on the book that address these issues. There is also language in the Defense Authorization Act that addressed these issues, as well. And so we didn't view it as necessary.

Q I'm trying to get -- he doesn't condone torture. The question is, what does the President condone? And in your letter to Congress in October, the one you're referencing here, you said --

MR. McCLELLAN: That we released to you all publicly in October.

Q I recall that. Yes, indeed, it was publicly released. And I confess, I missed this line, so I'd ask you to explain it now. "The administration also opposes section 1014 of S2845 which provides legal protections to foreign prisoners to which they are not now entitled." What legal protections does the President believe foreign prisoners in U.S. country -- in U.S. custody shouldn't have?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President has made very clear what our policy is, and he expects the policy to be followed. The policy is to comply with our laws and with our treaty obligations. The criminal statutes of the United States specifically talk about -- you bring up an issue about people outside the United States -- the criminal statute of the United States specifically says that -- or imposes criminal penalties on "whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture." So there are already laws on the book that address this issue.

That's why I said that their provision -- or the provision in this legislation is something that we viewed as not necessary because it's already addressed in international treaties, in our laws, and in the Defense Authorization Act.

Q What legal protections shouldn't those prisoners have in the President's view?

MR. McCLELLAN: I just made very clear what our view is when it comes to the treatment of detainees.

Q What didn't he want --

MR. McCLELLAN: There are laws and treaty obligations that we expect them to abide by. And if you follow up the very next sentence in that letter, it says that Section 1095, which is actually Section 1091 -- that should have said Section 1091 --

Q That's why I couldn't find it.

MR. McCLELLAN: There you go, the legal mind -- of the proposed National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2005 already addresses this issue. Now, let me tell you about Section 1091, while we're talking about this issue. Section 1091 says that it is the policy -- this is Part B -- "It is the policy of the United States to ensure that all personnel of the United States government understand their obligations in both wartime and peacetime to comply with the legal prohibitions against torture, cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of detainees in the custody of the United States."

Helen, go ahead.

Q The question of prisons seemed to emphasize that the Pentagon -- that we have the will to stay in Iraq and continue, wherever we are, and so forth. Does he have any feeling that this will is waning?

MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely not. And I think if you look at the Iraqi people, you're seeing just the opposite. I saw an article today in one of the papers talking about some of the election workers in Iraq -- these are Iraqi citizens who believe very strongly in democracy, and they recognize the fact that the terrorists and Saddam loyalists who want to turn back to the past want to try to derail what they're [sic] helping the Iraqi people to realize, which is a better future. In survey after survey, the Iraqi people say, we want to choose our leaders, we want a democratic and peaceful future for the Iraqi people.

Q Whose survey?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll be glad to point you to some of those. I didn't bring them with me, but I'll be glad to point you to some of those. They've been --

Q It sounded like he was a little wary --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, those surveys have been publicized publicly, so they're available for people to see. And I think the President, in his remarks earlier today, was talking about the importance of winning the global war on terrorism and how high the stakes are. The stakes are high in the global war on terrorism. Like I said, this is a battle of --

Q There's no concern that there's a waning of interest in pursuing this?

MR. McCLELLAN: This is a battle of ideologies; the ideology of freedom and hope and opportunity versus the ideology of hatred and oppression and tyranny. And we will win this war on terrorism through the leadership that the President is taking.

Q Could I just get a clarification on the foreign prisoners issue?

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.

Q What the language said was that the legislation the administration opposed was -- would have provided legal protections to which they are not now entitled. What was it in the proposed legislation that went beyond existing law?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I just told you what -- the fact that the laws already cover the issues and we didn't view the provision as necessary.

Q Right, they were clearly proposing something --

MR. McCLELLAN: And we are in -- we're talking about the global war on terrorism. We are in a different kind of war. We are seeing that we face new, dangerous threats, and there are people who do not abide by the rule of law or follow the rule of law. They are people who have no regard for the rule of law; they have no regard for innocent civilians, as I talked about, and they are not parties to any of the international treaties. And we're talking about unlawful enemy combatants who seek to do harm to the civilized world and the people of the civilized world, because they espouse an ideology of hatred and oppression.

Q Was Congress trying to treat them like they were uniformed people who were entitled to congregate with other prisoners, and entitled to commissary privileges? What is it?

MR. McCLELLAN: That may well be. I can't read the mind of people who proposed this provision. But I can tell you that we already have laws on the books to cover the treatment of detainees and to cover --

Q Yes, but the point is, the letter from Condi was saying, look, we're opposed to this because you are going beyond existing law in some way that we think is inappropriate. And what I'm asking you is, what were they doing that goes beyond all of the laws you've talked about that say, you cannot torture people? What was Congress trying to add to this that goes beyond those laws?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I think that you can talk to specific members about what they were trying to do. What we're trying to do is make sure that the policies of the United States are followed, and the policies of the United States are the same as the laws that are on the books.

Q Scott, your guy wrote the letter. Why can't you just tell us what it is that Josh Bolton saw in the legislation that went beyond where you --

MR. McCLELLAN: Suzanne. I'll come back to you if I can, John. Suzanne.

Q The point you're making simply is that it's redundant? That's the only argument you're making --

MR. McCLELLAN: It's not necessary because of the reason I stated. You have the Convention Against Torture; you have the criminal statutes on the books in the United States; and you have the provision in the Defense Authorization Act to address these issues. Now, we have an obligation to do everything we can to protect the American people and we do so in a way that is consistent with our laws and our treaty obligations. That's the policy of the President of the United States. And he's made very clear what his view is when it comes to torture. We do not condone the use of torture, period; and he would never authorize torture. And he's made that very clear publicly.

Q On Indonesia, Boucher said earlier today that our Ambassador talked to the Vice President of Indonesia and he said that there was no limit, in terms of the time, that the U.S. military would be on the ground, it was simply a three-month period they thought the reconstruction effort would take. Is that the administration's understanding?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you can check with the military in terms of the latest update there. But, like I said, we were seeking further clarification. I've not received that update from the embassy, but the State Department is a good place to get that. We were over at the Pentagon earlier so I haven't had a chance to receive an update on that.

Q And do you believe that the window of opportunity for goodwill between the United States and Indonesia is closing?

MR. McCLELLAN: The opportunity?

Q The opportunity --

MR. McCLELLAN: No.

Q The window of opportunity to express goodwill, to improve relations between the United States and Indonesia; do you believe because of the Indonesian government's stand, that that, in fact, is diminishing --

MR. McCLELLAN: We have, I think, good relations with the government of Indonesia. And we are going to continue to do everything we can to help all the people in the affected region in all the countries as they rebuild their communities and rebuild their lives and reconstruct their regions. We will be there to help them for the long haul in whatever way we can.

Now, there are many governments in the region that are -- that take a number of steps on their own. And so we look to them to see what exact assistance they need, and we coordinate very closely with them on these efforts. We're coordinating very closely with Indonesia. You just referenced a conversation with the embassy and the government of Indonesia. And we'll continue to do that. We hope that we can continue working together in a very coordinated way to provide the people of the region the help that they need. And we'll continue to show the compassion of America as we do.

Q And when the government asks the United States military to leave, then that would be the point in which --

MR. McCLELLAN: See, I don't know that I'd look at it that way, because we work very closely and cooperatively on these efforts, and we'll continue to consult with them. Obviously, our military has a specific role they're working to fulfill. They can update you on the status of their efforts, as well as the timing of how long they think that they will be in the region for -- specifically for these relief efforts.

Go ahead, April.

Q Scott, back on the war on terrorism, thought was to remove Saddam, and the fighting in Iraq would cease. What is the thought about Osama bin Laden as it relates to that kind of situation? Is there a concern that if you remove him, if you capture him, or if he's killed, the fighting would be worse or will -- the terrorism here could be worse?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we are going to continue to pursue all those who are responsible for attacks on the United States of America and all those who seek to do us harm. We will bring -- we are committed to bringing him to justice. And we will continue to pursue him. But the war on terrorism is a broad and comprehensive effort. It is about defeating an ideology, as I talked about at the beginning. And we will continue to pursue those who seek to spread this ideology of hatred and oppression through the use of violence and other means.

Q Scott, the word is "ideology." We are fighting ideology. That's great, all well and good. But a man, a human being, put forth the worst terrorist attack on American soil. We're not talking ideology. We're talking someone's mind, who said, do this.

If you capture Osama bin Laden, or kill him, is there a fear that terrorism will be rampant in the United States like it's happening in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, staying on the offensive and going after those who seek to do us harm, or who have done us harm, is part of winning the war on terrorism. Another part of winning the war on terrorism -- as I said, this is a comprehensive approach -- is to work to advance freedom and support all those across the world who yearn to be free but live under tyranny and oppression. And that's what we will continue to do in many different ways.

Go ahead, Sarah.

Q Thank you. Scott, would the President consider sending former President Carter to Iraq to monitor the coming elections there?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know of any such thing that's under consideration at this point. I think that there are international observers that will be there in Iraq. I haven't heard any such discussion.

Go ahead, Mark.

Q Looking ahead to the trip to Florida tomorrow, tell us what aspect of the President's agenda he wants to pick out and highlight during the visit?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, tomorrow, the President -- and the last couple of days, the President has been focusing on education, because education is fundamental to our long-term, sustained economic growth and job creation. And it builds upon the efforts we've already taken to get our economy growing stronger. But we live in a changing economy, and there are many high-growth, high-paying jobs that are available but not being filled because our workers don't have the education or skills that they need to fill those jobs.

And so tomorrow, the President will be focusing on making sure we have an educated work force for the 21st century. He wants to make sure that our students have the education they need to succeed in the world and to fill these jobs. He also wants to make sure that workers are being retrained in order to fill these jobs that are available. So to talk about his support, strong support, for our community colleges, and he'll talk about some of these other initiatives when it comes to job training and making sure workers have the skills they need to fill these high-paying, high-growth jobs.

Q Since we're not going to see you tomorrow, can I ask to look a little bit --

MR. McCLELLAN: You're not going on the trip?

Q No. Well, we're not going to see you on camera tomorrow. The inaugural --

MR. McCLELLAN: Is that a promise? (Laughter.)

Q Well, last time we went to Florida for an education event -- (laughter.) This coming weekend and as he moves into next week, is the President doing anything to prepare for the Inaugural Address? Are there any events this weekend? Any things that he's planning to do with family or friends? I guess I'm just looking for something that describe how he uses --

MR. McCLELLAN: There will certainly be plenty of family and friends coming into town. I'll try to update you as we get closer. The President is continuing to work on his remarks for the inaugural. I know he's participating in some speech preparation today for the first time. And he looks forward to taking the oath of office for a second term. He is grateful to the American people. He believes that this is a very hopeful period of time that we live in. We face many significant challenges. But he is enthusiastic about the opportunity to continue leading this country and working to advance freedom, not only abroad, but at home. And that's what he will continue doing in the second term.

Q You said this is the first --

MR. McCLELLAN: And I would also point out that this -- that the inaugural is a way to not only celebrate freedom, but it's also a time to honor and pay tribute to our men and women in uniform who are serving and sacrificing in defense of freedom. And so the President looks forward to next week's activities, and I'll try to keep you posted as we get closer to it.

Q The speech preparations. Is there a theme to the speech that you can tell us about yet, or is that --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think -- and the President has had -- participated in a few interviews. I think you've seen some of those. But I think that the speech will focus on the importance of freedom and the importance of advancing freedom. I don't want to -- a week out, I don't want to go too much further than that. That's what the President has already said.

Q How much -- how far along are they on the State of the Union?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's continuing to work on it. I don't have any update for you beyond that at this point.

Okay, thank you.

END 1:51 P.M. EST