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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 15, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I don't have anything to begin with today. I will be glad to go to Terry Hunt. You had your hand upfirst. I was being fair. Okay, he defers.
Q Scott, last night the President excoriated the Democrats as obstructionists; today he painted the inaction in Congress on the energy bill as a disservice to the American people. There seems to be more than a little bit of frustration that has permeated his rhetoric as of late.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the American people expect better from their elected leaders. And what you're seeing too often is that the Democratic leadership is standing in the way of moving forward on issue after issue, as the President said last night. The President is committed to getting things done, and he's committed to working across partisan lines to do so. But in order to get things done you have to have leaders that are committed to working with you. And I think too often now we're seeing that Democratic leaders are more interested in obstructing progress and blocking action.
Q So is he getting frustrated at the way that his second term agenda is stalled in Congress?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't think the President looks at it that way. I think the President believes very strongly that we should focus on the big priorities of the American people, and that we should work together to get things done.
In the first term, there was a lot of talk that we couldn't get things done on the big priorities, and we did. We got a lot done when it came to getting our economy growing by passing tax cuts. They were needed, and we got them passed. People said we wouldn't get them passed. People said we couldn't get Medicare modernization passed; we did. Now we're about to -- or we're in the process of moving forward on getting seniors their prescription drug coverage and better choices when it comes to their health care. People said that we couldn't move forward on trade promotion authority. People said that we weren't going to get things on other important priorities, as well, in the first term, but we did. And we've made some progress in this session of Congress.
But too often lately, you're seeing Democratic leaders holding up the stop sign and saying "no" to everything that we're working to achieve on behalf of the American people. And that's unfortunate. The American people really expect better. They want their elected leaders to talk about what they're for, and put forward ideas for solving problems, instead of standing in the way of solving those problems.
Q Is the President concerned that he's taking the heat in terms of poll numbers and public perception because of what's happening up in Congress?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is leading the way when it comes to acting on our nation's biggest priorities. And the American people -- that's what the American people expect us to do here in Washington, D.C. And I think the American people reject those who simply say no and stand in the way of getting things done.
The Republican Party, under the President's leadership, is the one who -- or the one that is putting forward ideas and putting forward plans for solving problems. That's why we're working with Congress to pass a comprehensive piece of energy legislation. That's why we're working with Congress to move forward on strengthening and saving Social Security for future generations. That's why we're working with Congress to move forward on a free trade agreement for the Central American nations and the Dominican Republic. That's why we're working with Congress to move forward on a appropriations bill that keep us on track to cut the deficit in half over the next five years.
These are important priorities for the American people. And we've made some progress on these issues and it's time for Democratic leaders to stop blocking those efforts. And that's the point the President is making.
Q His direct confrontational approach that we heard last night, is that something that you'll hear mostly at fundraisers, or is that going to be part of his standard speech from now on?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it depends on the actions by the Democrats. The Democrats need to come to the table with ideas and show more of a willingness to work together to get things done, instead of simply saying "no" to progress on important priorities for the American people. That's not the way you gain the trust of the American people, as the President pointed out last night. The American people want us to get things done. The President is going to continue doing what he has done, which is elevate the discourse, put forward a positive and optimistic agenda for our future, and reach out to others who want to get things done.
We appreciate the leadership in Congress, the Republican leadership, because they're trying to push forward on important priorities. We're moving forward on energy legislation. The Congress is holding hearings on Social Security reform. The Senate committee -- the Senate Finance Committee, last night, had an informal vote on the Central American Free Trade Agreement and passed it with majority support. So there are a number of issues that we need to continue to move forward on and get done.
Q Well, does he think it's productive and that it will make the Democrats more cooperative by calling them the "party of 'no'" and "obstructionists"?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is going to continue to focus on getting things done and focus on the priorities that he has outlined for the American people.
Q I'm talking about the tactics --
MR. McCLELLAN: I know. And that's -- I'm telling you what he's going to do. The President is going to continue pushing to get things done and continue to focus on the big priorities. The big priorities are continuing to move forward on winning the war on terrorism and spreading freedom, to defeat the ideology of hatred and oppression, and continuing to move forward on economic security here at home, and to extend -- or to promote lasting prosperity.
We have made significant progress when it comes to getting our economy growing. Our economy has seen sustained economic growth. We're in a sustained period of expansion when it comes to creating jobs and economic opportunity. We need to continue to act to build upon that.
That's why the President was highlighting the energy legislation today. The President put forward a comprehensive energy plan four years ago, and Congress has yet to enact that. We are hopeful that we can get that done this year before the President -- before Congress recesses this August.
So the President is going to continue focusing on the people's priorities and focusing on getting things done. And it's time for Democratic leaders to stop trying to block efforts to move forward on the American people's priorities.
Q Well, we're talking about changing the tone and trying to improve relations. Do you think that the kind of statements that you're making and that he made last night are helpful in that regard?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has always worked to elevate the discourse, Terry. One of the things that he was disappointed in the first term about was that we weren't able to do more to change the tone here in Washington, D.C. It's a bitter and partisan environment that exists here in this town. The President is committed to changing that. And that's why he has always focused on the big issues facing the American people, and moving forward to solve the problems facing this country. We have made great progress over the course of his first four-and-a-half years in office, but he intends to continue leading and acting on those big priorities.
Q But does he believe that adding to the name-calling helps to change the tone?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep going. I'll come back to you, John. You've already had your question. I'll come back to you.
Q How do you square the fact that the President says we need to end --
MR. McCLELLAN: But, John -- wait a second. What are you referring to? The President simply --
Q You can come back to me later.
MR. McCLELLAN: But it's incorrect what you said. The President -- the President is calling it like it is. And the American people expect better.
Q The President says he wants to see an end to the partisan bickering, at the same time he is singling out Democrats, not congressional leaders overall, and using definitely stepped-up language in front of a GOP $2,500-a-plate dinner last night. How do you reconcile those two things?
MR. McCLELLAN: Democratic leaders are the ones who are too often standing in the way of progress. And the President is going to call it like it is. He is focused on a positive and optimistic vision for the American people. That's what he's put forward. Democratic leaders too often right now are simply saying "no" and offering no ideas, no solutions. The American people want better.
Q The Attorney General said in Brussels that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay would eventually be closed. Is that the feeling here, that it would eventually be closed?
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen exactly what he said on those comments, but I would think that it's probably along the lines of what we have previously said. First of all, I think we have to step back from this and keep in mind that we are in a different kind of war when it comes to the war on terrorism. These are individuals who we have picked up on the battlefield in the war on terrorism and these are dangerous individuals who seek to do harm to the American people. They are being detained for a reason. They're enemy combatants for a reason.
And the President is going to always look at ways of how best to protect the American people and keep America safe. And that means looking at how we deal with these detainees. There are no plans at this time for shutting down Guantanamo Bay. No one has come forward with a better alternative for where we keep these enemy combatants. These are dangerous individuals. Some of these individuals who we have previously released have actually returned to the battlefield and we've captured them again or otherwise dealt with them on that battlefield in the war on terrorism.
I think the point the Attorney General was probably making -- I haven't seen his remarks -- was that no one wants to hold these detainees longer than is necessary, but we are a nation at war and these are dangerous individuals. We're always looking at the disposition of these detainees and how we deal with them. And that's a point that Secretary Rumsfeld was emphasizing yesterday. There is a legal process that has been put in place for dealing with these detainees. A number of these detainees have been returned to the country of origin when we have assurances that those countries will look after them. But these enemy combatants are providing us valuable intelligence in the war on terrorism and helping us to disrupt plots and prevent attacks. Secretary Rumsfeld talked about that at length yesterday.
Q A couple questions. What are the criteria here, then? Is it the plan of the President that at least some of these detainees would be held through the duration of the war on terrorism? And how would that be defined?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we don't want to release any individuals that are going to come back and later seek to do harm to the American people. That's why we look at these issues very carefully. And Secretary Rumsfeld walked people through that yesterday at his briefing. But there is a process that has been put in place, a legal process, for addressing these detainees, and Secretary Rumsfeld walked through that, as well, yesterday.
Q Right, but the President has said this is a long, long struggle. Adding two and two here, it's conceivable, and, in fact, likely, that some of these people will be held by the United States somewhere for decades.
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, Secretary -- actually, Secretary Rumsfeld said many of these we would like to see returned to their country of origin and have them look after those individuals. And we have worked with other countries and returned some to their country of origin. In terms of others, they're being dealt with through a legal process that has been set up. And we're always looking at the disposition of these detainees, as I said.
Q I'm just trying to get a fix here on how long Guantanamo Bay, or whatever comes after Guantanamo Bay, would --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think you can speculate -- I don't think you can speculate about that. We remain a nation at war. And we are going to go after --
Q Can you define for me the end of the war?
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, the President has talked about this. There are those who espouse an ideology of hatred and oppression. What we are working to do is defeat the ideology of hatred and oppression by spreading freedom and by taking the fight to the enemy. That's why we're staying on the offensive and going after those who seek to do us harm. We're fighting them abroad so we don't have to fight them here at home. So there's a comprehensive strategy that we have for winning the war on terrorism, which I think is what you are getting at. But it is a war that continues.
Q Right, so just as a matter of policy now, the United States is, then, claiming the power and the right in its national self-interest, at least until the ideology of hatred is defeated and freedom and democracy are spread --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think eventually, you would hope --
Q -- to nab people around the world and hold them indefinitely.
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, I think eventually, you would hope that Guantanamo Bay would not be necessary, because you've either returned people to their countries of origin, or you've otherwise moved forward on the legal process and dealt with their situation. But you're asking a very hypothetical question at this point.
Q I'm trying to get the parameters of the policy --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think you can speculate about that at this point. We are going to stay on the offensive, after the enemy, and bring them to justice before they can do us harm. And we are going to work to promote freedom and democracy around the world, particularly in the Middle East, which is a dangerous region, so that we defeat that ideology that leads to people hijacking airplanes and flying them into buildings and killing innocent civilians. I think the American people understand why it is important that we are detaining these enemy combatants.
The President's highest priority is protecting the American people, and he's going to do what it takes to stop attacks from happening in the first place, or do all we can to stop attacks from happening in the first place. This is about keeping America safe. And those detainees are dangerous individuals; they're there for a reason. Some have -- all of them have gone through a review process. Some of them were determined through that review process that they no longer posed a threat or had any information to provide us and they were released. And others, we've worked with countries around the world to return them to their country of origin when we have assurances that they're going to look after them.
Q The autopsy results on Terry Schiavo were made public today. They seem to show pretty conclusively that she had suffered from irreversible brain damage and had no hope of recovery. Do those results change in any way the President's view of this case and need for federal intervention?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, Dick, it doesn't. Our thoughts and prayers remain with her family and friends. The President was deeply saddened by this case.
Q Scott, on Philip Cooney, you said earlier today that the White House has been -- that he had been looking at other options for some time. With his move to Exxon, are there concerns now about at least an appearance of impropriety? Today you had Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid comment on this, saying that "the revolving door between the White House and big oil swung open again." Are you concerned that perhaps this is becoming, or could become a distraction from the President's agenda?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's unfortunate that some are trying to divert attention away from what is a strong record of addressing the long-term challenge we face from climate change. This administration has moved forward on initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This administration has moved forward to reduce greenhouse gas intensity by 18 percent, come 2012. And we're on track to meet that commitment. This administration has worked with partners around the world to move forward in partnership on initiatives that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The President launched the methane-to-markets initiative. This is an initiative that will significantly reduce a greenhouse gas emission, and also provide cleaner burning electricity to people. Those are significant efforts.
We have invested billions of dollars in research when it comes to better understanding the science of climate change. We are investing in new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So that's just simply someone trying to divert attention away from what is a strong record, when it comes to addressing climate change.
Q But are you concerned at all that maybe this might gain some momentum, and perhaps become a larger distraction than it is right now?
MR. McCLELLAN: That what may gain some momentum? And what impropriety were you referring to?
Q Well, Cooney's move to Exxon -- I'm asking if there is any concern about an appearance, at the very least, by some --
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, in terms of this individual, we wish him well. We appreciate his service.
Q Scott, the President said again this morning that one of the few things the administration can do in the short-term about high energy cost is to make sure consumers are being treated fairly. What has the administration done so far to follow through on that? And is the President confident that there's no price gouging going on in the retail energy market?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's something that we have agencies always looking at. There are ways for people to report concerns about price gouging. That's something that we're always looking at. There are issues, as the President talked about in his remarks, that we can do now to address high energy prices.
Now, in terms of gas prices, they have been coming down somewhat. The price of oil is still too high. That's why the President is urging Congress to get him a comprehensive energy plan by the time they recess in August. And we appreciate that Congress is moving forward. The House has already passed energy legislation. The Senate is taking it up and it's on the floor of the Senate now. And we urge the Senate to move forward quickly and get this passed, and then for the House and Senate to work out their differences as quickly as they can, because four years is long enough to wait on passing the President's plan for reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy, and helping to address the root causes of high energy prices. High energy prices affect families, they affect small businesses, and the President is concerned about it. And that's all the more reason why we need to move forward on the energy legislation.
Q Scott, both the House and Senate energy bills are more than what the President has proposed to spend. If it comes in somewhere in the neighborhood of a $16 billion 10-year price tag that the Senate has, is that veto bait for the President?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're going to continue working with Congress. The President has expressed his views. We've put out statements on administration policy. The President outlined a very comprehensive plan when it comes to reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy. He talked about that again today. And we'll continue working with Congress. I think it's too early in the process to get into those kind of issues.
Q Scott, looking at the immigration problem, would the President consider endorsing a statute of limitations for illegal immigrants now in this country? Does he like the McCain-Kennedy bill for dealing with illegal immigration?
MR. McCLELLAN: I actually spoke about this recently. The President put forward a reform proposal when it comes to our immigration system. And he's talked about that. We are also working very closely with Congress on moving forward to continue strengthening our border security. That's a high priority for this administration. And so we're moving forward on both. We're working with Congress on both these areas. And the President has talked about how his reform proposal will also help when it comes to border security. We've taken a number of steps to improve our border security, and by beefing up the number of border patrol agents to making use of technology along the border to prevent people from coming into this country in the first place.
And that's a -- both these issues are a high priority for the President, and we're going to continue working with Congress. The President last week met with some members of Congress and they talked about the importance of efforts to strengthen our borders and to move forward on immigration reform.
Q Scott, does the administration have any reaction to the rescue of the Australian American hostage in Iraq? Do you have any details about how this came about?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't have any details. I'd probably refer you to the Australian authorities, or the Australian government to talk more about it. But we appreciate -- or we're pleased that he was rescued. And I think you might also want to talk to the Iraqi government about that, to get more details from them. I don't have more details to update you from at this podium.
Q Scott, this morning the task force, congressional task force on reforming the United Nations, along with United States released their -- report. And this report actually is talking about that nations have international responsibility to protect people within their borders, and also the United States has responsibility to protect the human rights and spread the freedom and democracy around the globe. And sort of this report is talking about that they need a new human rights commission and also new United Nations under a new chief. My question is, is President is ready to replace Kofi Annan with my friend, President Bill Clinton, as the United Nations Secretary General. (Laughter.)
Q Your friend? (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: Goyal, in terms of United Nations reform, United Nations reform is a high priority for the President. The President has long talked about the importance of making sure we have effective multilateral organizations so that we can have effective multilateral action. We believe it's important that there be comprehensive reform at the United Nations. And that's what we've been discussing with other members of the United Nations around the world, and the importance of moving forward on reform.
It's also important that the Congress, that the United States Senate, move forward on our ambassador to the United Nations and allow there to be an up or down vote so that the Senate can get him confirmed and he can get in place and work on our efforts to promote comprehensive reform at the United Nations. There are a number of people around the world, and the Secretary General himself, who support reforms at the United Nations. And there's good discussion going on about that, and we're going to continue moving forward on efforts to make the United Nations stronger and more effective.
Q Just to follow, does President have faith and trust in Mr. Kofi Annan? And also, if President met any of the five, or spoke with any of the five permanent members about the reform of the United Nations?
MR. McCLELLAN: I've actually read out calls and discussions that he's had with leaders around the world. He spoke with Secretary General Annan about U.N. reform just last week. They had a good phone conversation. The Secretary General called to update him on his trip to Africa; they also had the opportunity to talk about the importance of reform at the United Nations. And we want to make sure that we build as broad as consensus as possible when it comes to United Nations reform. And that's what we're working to do.
And in terms of Secretary General Annan, he is someone we have worked well with in the past and are continuing to work well with to make the United Nations a more effective organization.
Go ahead, Les.
Q Scott, two-part. The Washington Times this morning in their editorial "Shaking Down Wachovia," noted that lawyer Robert Brock contends that the government should pay each descendent of a slave $500,000, or an estimated total of $13 trillion. And my first question is: What is the President's position on this and the rest of the slavery reparations --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has addressed it in remarks repeatedly, and that's his view when it comes to our own nation's past. It is a dark and terrible past. The President often points out our own history when we were in the process of building a truly free nation and a truly democratic nation. There were great injustices that occurred in our own history. And the President has acknowledged those injustices and our own past, and he often talks about that, Les. I think you've heard -- I think you've heard his comments on it.
Q New Orleans Police Chief Edwin Compass has retained the security chief of Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam, Dennis Muhammad, to give the New Orleans police sensitivity training. And my question: Does the President think Farrakhan is a good example of being sensitive?
MR. McCLELLAN: First I've heard of it and we haven't discussed it.
Go ahead, Bill.
Q I have a couple questions. What is the administration's policy with regard to the payment of U.N. dues being tied to the execution and adoption of reforms at the U.N.? Henry Hyde's bill, which is about to go to the floor of the House, would require withholding of $250 million a year in U.S. dues if the U.N. does not adopt reforms. Is that something that the White House supports, or opposes?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I'd like to wait -- we're going to be putting out a statement of administration policy soon on the appropriations bill, which is what you're referring to -- and let's let that appropriations -- or that statement of administration policy come out, and then we'll talk about it more. But that's a proposal that was by a member of Congress, not by the administration. But let's let that statement come out and you'll be able to ask any follow-up questions you have after that has come out.
Q My second question is, The Guardian Newspaper in England has reported FOIA documents released to Greenpeace show that the White House views Exxon Corp. as one of the leading opponents of the Kyoto protocol, leading opponents of binding controls on greenhouse emissions. You now have Philip Cooney going to Exxon, after a period in which he served as Chief of Staff on the Environmental Council here at the White House, in which he edited scientific documents coming out of the administration that appeared to water down conclusions about global warming. Is there any connection here between a guy who worked in the White House editing out conclusions about global warming going to work for a corporation that opposed it?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's a pretty absurd question that you just raised, and I think in terms of the reports last week, we went through that and addressed that directly.
Q What does it say about that?
MR. McCLELLAN: The report that was highlighted -- one of the reports that was highlighted in some of these news stories was our 10-year plan for climate science research. That was a report that was widely praised by the scientific community. And you talk about -- you talk about one individual. We have an interagency review process that involves some 15 agencies throughout the federal government and a number of White House offices, as well, including the Office of Science and Technology Policy that is headed by a highly regarded scientist, the President's chief science advisor, Dr. John Marburger. And I think I would encourage you to look at the facts and look at the record, because they contradict some of the characterizations you're referring to.
Q The October 2000 draft, edited, from originally reading, "Many scientific observations indicate that the Earth is undergoing a period of relatively rapid change," to "Many scientific observations point to the conclusion that the Earth may be undergoing" -- how is that not watering down a conclusion?
MR. McCLELLAN: You ought to look at the final reports, the 2003 report that was put out on our 10-year plan for climate science research. Again, the National Academies of Science and the scientific community widely praised it. You ought to go back and look at some of what was discussed throughout that interagency process. The interagency process is much more than any one person, and the President is the one who drives policy and makes the decisions. And look at our record and look at our facts, because it's a strong record when it comes to addressing climate change.
And in terms of some of what you're referring to, one of the things that he suggested was something that was in the 2001 report by the National Academies of Science. That report talked about how there is considerable uncertainty when it comes to the science of climate change. That report also pointed out -- and I would point out to you that that report back in 2001 was something that the President asked for. He wanted the National Academies of Science to take a look at the challenges we face when it comes to climate change. And in that report, I mean, they pointed out that surface temperatures are rising and that a large reason for that is human activity. But they also pointed out that there is considerable uncertainty.
Q Scott, let me ask about the Medicare events tomorrow and Friday. I gather these are to highlight the prescription benefit and the forms that are going out to seniors, in terms of the subsidy that's part of it. And I guess I'm also -- would like to know if one of the motivations here is that the President doesn't think he's getting enough credit for this prescription benefit.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, this is about educating seniors across the country about the historic reforms that were passed to provide them with more choices and better benefits, including prescription drug coverage. The President is going to Minnesota tomorrow to kind of -
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, sorry, Friday, yes, I'm sorry. But he's traveling -- he's going to be here tomorrow, and then traveling on Friday. And this is really part of an effort to officially kind of kick off our nationwide outreach campaign to educate seniors about the new prescription drug benefit that they are going to be eligible for, come 2006.
On Friday, he's going to travel to Minnesota, and he'll talk with seniors about the choices that they'll have under the modernization act that passed. And over the course of the next 11 months, from now until May 15th, we are going to be working to make sure every senior knows and signs up for this new benefit.
If you'll recall -- we were talking in this room about bipartisanship and the tone in Washington, D.C. -- he President and Congress were able to work in a bipartisan way to deliver this benefit. It was passed back in 2003 and it will become available beginning in January 2006. So they're going to start signing up for this, this November. And we have a nationwide outreach campaign, the President is going to be talking about that. We've made a lot of progress.
There is a discount card that was provided to seniors in the interim so that they would start realizing significant savings on their prescription drug costs. We've also moved forward on a number of preventive care efforts under Medicare. We want seniors to have the same kind of choices and benefits that members of Congress have right now, and they're going to get it. And they are starting to get some of it; they're going to be getting more of it very soon.
Q Did I hear you say at the outset that the President is happy with the credit he's getting, political credit he's --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q At the outset you said, no --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, you asked me if this was because -- this is because we are implementing the legislation that was passed by Congress and advocated by the President. And this is part of a nationwide outreach campaign, and the President is taking this opportunity to kind of officially kick it off. Seniors are going to see not only more affordable health care, but better health care. And that's what the President is going to be highlighting tomorrow and the next day.
Q So he's happy with the political credit he got on it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think, Mark, the -- and the President is not someone who gets caught up in who gets the credit. He's focused on solving problems and making sure that we're taking steps to improve the quality of life for Americans, like our seniors. And that's why this legislation was so important, because seniors didn't have prescription drug coverage. They had waited for far too long. There are a lot of people that deserve credit for getting this legislation passed, and I think the President will talk about that. What we're focused on is moving forward on implementing these important changes for our seniors.
Q Scott, the U.S.-EU summit is not that far off. What do you hope to get out of it? Do you think the Airbus-Boeing dispute and the discussion about genetically modified food will come up?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, it's still a few days off. Maybe we can talk about it more over the next -- in the coming days. But the President looks forward to hosting the EU-U.S. summit here in Washington on Monday. This is really an opportunity to continue to talk about how we can move forward on the transatlantic agenda and continue to move forward on tackling the common challenges that we face. I think it's a little bit too early to kind of get too far into the agenda at this point, though.
Q Scott, more official British documents are seeming to indicate that the Bush administration was trying to justify an invasion of Iraq as early as March, 2002. And tomorrow, Representative John Conyers, as you know, is holding some Democratic hearings to get testimony about this. Is the President concerned that as more documents come out seeming to indicate a decision very early on to invade Iraq and possible manipulating --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you've asked these questions, the President has been asked these questions, and I think it's been addressed.
Q Thank you, Scott. Last Monday, when President Bush met North Korean defector Kang Chol-hwan, Mr. Kang said that for North Koreans, human life issues are more -- less -- I mean -- I'm sorry -- desperate than nuclear issues, to which President Bush has response that it break his heart to leave pregnant woman and children is starving in North Korea. What plan does the United States have to improve that --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President is concerned about the human rights situation in North Korea. He was pleased to have the opportunity to sit down and visit with Mr. Kang. The President read his book, The Aquariums of Pyongyang, Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag. It's much like -- the President had read Natan Sharansky's book, as well, and wanted to visit with him and meet personally with him. They had a good discussion. They had about a 40-minute meeting in the Oval Office. He has a compelling story. And the President was interested in having the opportunity to meet with him.
Q Scott, a couple questions, again going back to the Schiavo case. Just to clarify, has the President been briefed, or will he be briefed on what this autopsy found?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he's aware of the briefing that took place a short time ago.
Q So the staff has told him about that? Does the autopsy findings affect in any way the administration's view on this issue and the federal government's role in these kinds of cases?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think Dick was asking that question earlier and I indicated, no, it doesn't change the position that the President took. The President took the position he did for a reason. The President believes we should stand on the side of defending and protecting life. That's why he stood with all those who supported efforts to defend her life. This is a sad case. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with her family and friends.
Q So if and when another case like this comes up, he would take the same --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you're asking a hypothetical at this point. But the President --
Q That's not hypothetical; there's cases like this all the time.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me respond. The President is always going to stand on the side of protecting and defending life, and that's what he did in this case.
Q Scott, on Guantanamo Bay, understanding that you're saying -- well, but the Geneva Convention does not apply to the prisoners there, looking at part three, section one, article 17, it talks about prisoners of war, but there's also, in the third paragraph, the first five words, "each party to a conflict." So I'm trying to figure out -- to understand where you are. "Conflict" with people, meaning not soldiers or soldiers, that's still something -- that still covers those people that you have in Guantanamo Bay, correct? Even if you try to say it's not war.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know how many times we've walked through how we came to the decision we did and why the President made the determination he did. Secretary Rumsfeld went back through it yesterday. You can go back and look at the information we put out back in 2002 that addressed this. These are individuals that do not represent a nation, they do not wear a uniform. There are reasons why we came to the conclusion they are not a party to the Geneva Convention. And the President made the determination that they were enemy combatants.
That doesn't change the way we treat detainees. Our military upholds high standards and the values and laws that we hold dear. And the detainees at Guantanamo Bay are being treated humanely and they are being treated in a way that is consistent with the Geneva conventions, as we have pointed out. They are being provided meals, clothing, medical care; they are being treated very humanely. That's the way the United States military operates. If there are individuals that act contrary to the military's standards and our own laws and values, then they are held accountable, and they have been held accountable.
Q Okay, but the line has been obscured between the Geneva Convention and your law. But you're saying they've been treated humanely. The Geneva Convention, even in this article, article 17, it talks about each party to a conflict, okay. And then going down a couple paragraphs, it says, no physical or mental torture. Is dropping water on the head, keeping them up all night, making them stand, is that consistent with your laws? It is consistent with the Geneva Convention, saying no physical or mental torture, but --
MR. McCLELLAN: I talked about this the other day, about all interrogation techniques that have been approved are lawful and consistent with our obligations. That was pointed out in a briefing a year ago here at the White House, a briefing with the White House counsel, with the Department of Defense counsel and his deputy, and the deputy head of Army intelligence. And they walked everybody through this.
Now, I think one of the individuals you may be referencing is a gentleman named Mr. Kahtani. Mr. Kahtani was someone that we believe intended to be one of the hijackers on September 11th. Those attacks killed 3,000 innocent civilians. This is a very dangerous individual who has provided us with valuable intelligence. And so I would encourage you to go back and look at the briefing that took place a year ago, and that walked you all through all these very issues, because these questions have been addressed.
And in terms of individuals who have taken actions that are contrary to our military standards and to our own values and laws, let's talk about that for a second, because I want to point that out. We've had some 525,000 people serving in Iraq, Afghanistan or at Guantanamo Bay, men and women in uniform who are committed to not only upholding our values and laws, but helping to advance freedom around the world and give people rights that they have not had previously.
And so I think you have to look at the overall context here. And I take strong exception to any characterizations that try to diminish what our military is doing, and the standards and values that they adhere to, because the 99 percent plus of our men and women in uniform who are serving and sacrificing in defense of freedom are also making sure that those laws and those values and those standards are upheld.
Q But Scott, you --
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
Q No, no, no, Scott --
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
Q You have given -- he did not say thank you. (Laughter.) Scott, but you have -- you have --
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, April -- April, he did say thank you. I will see you. Thank you.
END 1:52 P.M. EDT
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