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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 11, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:38 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. This morning I told you about the federal response in helping deal with the severe winter storms impacting the Midwest, and I wanted to provide you an update on the federal response. First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with the families who've lost loved ones because of the storm. This morning, the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff briefed the President about the storms, and provided him an update on our efforts to assist state and local authorities with the response. The President will continue to receive updates as appropriate.
Late yesterday, the President declared an emergency in the state of Oklahoma, due to the severe winter storms. Support from the federal government is being provided in Oklahoma. Additional supplies have been pre-positioned in Kansas City to help areas expected to be impacted by the storm. Experts in restoring power from the Army Corps of Engineers have also been deployed. And the White House will continue to monitor this.
The President also wants to encourage citizens in these local -- in these areas to listen to their local leaders, and that includes taking the advice about only driving if it's absolutely necessary.
Last announcement is that later today the President will meet with leaders of some of the U.S. broadcasting services, including Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe, and the Middle East broadcasting networks. They will discuss the U.S. government's efforts to provide an alternative voice against violent extremism, and for the principles of democracy and liberty. James Glassman, Chairman of the BBG, which is the Broadcasting Board of Governors, will participate in this meeting.
And today the President will also announce his intention to nominate Mr. Glassman to serve as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy. In this new role, Mr. Glassman will help effectively explain our policies and America's fundamental values to people around the world. The President looks forward to working with him as we continue to communicate this important message of hope and freedom. This is the position that replaces Karen Hughes.
MS. PERINO: When? This afternoon.
Q Did the questioning of al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah conform with the interrogation program approved by President Bush?
MS. PERINO: I can't comment on any specifics. So you might want to rephrase your question. It's not -- what you're asking me is not something that I can confirm or respond to in that way.
Q I'm asking if it was within the guidelines -- the interrogation techniques, was that within the guidelines of these programs approved by the President?
MS. PERINO: I will say that all interrogations -- all interrogations have been done within the legal framework that was set out after September 11th, and they are measures that have been tough and limited. They are safe, and they have been very effective in helping prevent terrorist attacks on this country. All of the -- the entire program has been legal.
Q Are you saying that whatever was done in this case was not torture?
MS. PERINO: I am saying that the United States does not torture. The President has been --
Q No, I'm asking you if what was done in this case was not torture, in your opinion.
MS. PERINO: I'm saying the United States does not torture. And the reason I'm answering it that way, Bill, is because I just said to Terry, I cannot comment on any specific case. I don't comment on any specific technique. General Hayden, the Director of the CIA, is in front of -- having briefings today and tomorrow up on Capitol Hill; those are in closed session, and that's the appropriate place for these things to be discussed.
But I can say that any interrogations have been legal, and that they have been fully briefed to the United States Congress.
Q But when you have a former CIA officer, John Kiriakou, now saying that waterboarding was used -- since you're saying the interrogations were legal; he's saying on the record now, waterboarding was used in at least one case. You're saying waterboarding is legal?
MS. PERINO: Ed, I'm saying I'm not commenting on any specific technique. I'm not commenting on that gentleman's characteristics of any possible technique. I've given you a very general statement about interrogations being legal, limited and --
Q You just said it was legal.
MS. PERINO: I'm sorry?
Q You said it was within the legal framework.
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q Everything that was done.
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q So waterboarding is legal.
MS. PERINO: I'm not commenting on any specific techniques. And you can ask me all sorts of different ways, and we can go back and forth, but I'm not going to do it, Ed.
Q Okay. The New York Times today also reports that -- and I know you can't comment on specifics of the investigation about the CIA tapes so as not to jeopardize the investigation, but The New York Times quotes one former CIA official, or intelligence official putting out the notion that the White House was almost not pushing hard enough to say to the CIA, don't destroy the tapes. Can you at least on the record push back on that? Is the White House comfortable with that notion out there that you were not really forcefully telling the CIA, don't destroy the tapes?
MS. PERINO: As I said earlier, and as I said yesterday, I cannot comment on it. We are cooperating with the Justice Department and the CIA in order to help them in their efforts to gather facts on this. We've been asked not to comment on it by our Counsel's Office, and so I'm not going to.
Q But just generally speaking, I mean, does the President believe it is good practice for the intelligence agencies to be destroying things like tapes of interrogations?
MS. PERINO: If I were to answer that question the way that you want me to, it would be extrapolated and applied to the specific case at hand. And so, as reasonable as I understand your question to be, I'm in the position where I cannot answer it.
Q What does the President think of the Israelis building 300 new homes on the West Bank in a fait accompli apparently before two states even get started?
MS. PERINO: Secretary Rice has been in contact with her counterpart in Israel to seek some information about the statements in that regard. Obviously we're just starting the negotiations after the Annapolis conference, and everyone needs to respect that anything that is said or not defined well could jeopardize that process. And so Secretary Rice has been in touch with them, and I would have to refer you over to her for comments. I believe she may have spoken to this yesterday at her event with Andrea Mitchell.
Q Dana, can I come back to the waterboarding question? I understand the rationale for not wanting to discuss specific techniques -- it's to not tip off America's enemies, to help them train as to how to evade what questioning they get. After a retired team member is on nationwide television explaining exactly what was done, is there an al Qaeda operative anywhere who doesn't know that this might be in the arsenal?
MS. PERINO: Obviously, al Qaeda listens closely to everything that we do and say, and that's something that we should be -- that we should keep in mind. What the President said is that he's going to do what it takes to protect this country in a legal way. The intelligence community has worked very hard in order to do that. Remember that the -- and this is classified for a reason. We don't talk about specific techniques. We don't think it's prudent. We don't think it's a good idea to do so.
But it is discussed in the appropriate arena, which is on the Hill. And General Hayden, again, is up there today, answering questions probably about all the questions that you're asking me, which are questions that he can answer in a closed setting. And I think it's reasonable, and that people should be able to agree that it's reasonable, that such matters of sensitivity should remain classified and not spoken about publicly.
Q But, in fact, it has been spoken about in public. So what, at this point --
MS. PERINO: Oftentimes I'm asked about things that are in the newspaper. Just because someone comes out and talks about it doesn't mean that I'm obligated to confirm it or to talk about it. That's not necessarily the way that it works.
Q It's true that things are classified for a reason, but the reason they are classified is very often to spare the government embarrassment, and it is therefore just as reasonable to ask that that not be the case.
MS. PERINO: I'm not able to comment on it. I've given you all that I can.
Q You just have picked a man to sell public diplomacy. All over the world, there is an understanding that we do torture. They've seen the photographs, they've heard everything. You ought to be bound and determined to clear that up.
MS. PERINO: I actually disagree, Helen. I think that people, what they have seen, is a United States that is helping people develop their democracies. We have spread hope and liberty. We expand trade.
Q (Inaudible) women fell on (inaudible) as trying to do that (inaudible) --
MS. PERINO: We do everything that we can, that we can, to help other people. And I will tell you that it is al Qaeda and violent extremists who actually have delivered a very different message, and people see that. And that is one of the reasons you've seen a turnaround in Iraq.
Q Why (inaudible) the fourth person to handle that job?
MS. PERINO: Go ahead, Bret.
Q As the President was speaking about Iran in his remarks with the Italian President today, President Ahmadinejad was having a news conference in which he called the intelligence report, the NIE, a step forward, saying a few more steps and the relationship between the U.S. and Iran will be entirely different. Your comment on that?
MS. PERINO: I just think that's fanciful thinking on his -- on Ahmadinejad's behalf. I'd refer you to Secretary Gates' comment on Saturday night, in which, if they are now saying that our intelligence report is correct, this might mark the first time in history that Iran has said that's true. And if that is the case, then do they also agree that they are enriching uranium for a possible nuclear weapon in the future? Are they also testing these ballistic missiles, which would be a delivery system for a future nuclear weapon?
It's a very opaque society in Iran. The President asked for more information from our intelligence community. He got more information, and it confirmed what he thought to be true, which is that Iran was a threat, is a threat, and will certainly continue to be a threat if we don't stop them from obtaining the capability to have a nuclear weapon.
Q One more comment from the Iranian President in this news conference. He said, from the very beginning, Iran was continually liked; they have the best of relations with all countries, with the exception of the Zionist regime, Israel, which we think is inhuman.
MS. PERINO: Again, his remarks are outrageous. If you look -- I think if you look to a country like Lebanon, that they would say that the meddling in Lebanon by Iran is absolutely one that foments instability and chaos. We have a situation in Iraq where weapons from Iran have been found in Iraq, and killing our soldiers.
But the ball is in Iran's court. They are going to have to make a decision whether or not they're going to come clean on the program, they're going to disclose it. They have a path for negotiation. We've provided them a way to not be so isolated in the world, and it's going to be up to them to decide what they're going to do.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q In Colorado Springs, after Matthew Murray shot four members of the New Life Church, killing two of them, former policewoman Jeanne Assam stood up to this heavily armed murderer and shot him down. And my question: What are the President's thoughts about this heroic lady?
MS. PERINO: Well, obviously she's being hailed as a hero, and appropriately so. And we're sad for all the families that are going through the loss of their loved ones, and it's obviously very jarring to a community and especially to the churches.
Q The Washington Times reports that during a conference call with reporters, Democrat National Chairman declared that during a recent debate, Republicans used outrageous phrases like "illegal aliens." And my question: Does the President agree with Chairman Dean that it is outrageous to describe lawbreakers as illegal aliens?
MS. PERINO: I think it's -- I actually think that it's a legally defined term. But the President has set out a path on immigration, and I'm not going to comment any further on Howard Dean's comments.
I'm going to go in the back. Go ahead.
Q Two bombings today in Algeria. Is the President concerned about the spread of terrorism in North Africa? And what's the United States doing to help Algerians in coping with this (inaudible)?
MS. PERINO: I'm not positive in terms of all the support we're providing, but I know that -- certainly our State Department is in contact with the U.N. The President did talk about the bombing in Algeria with the President of Italy in his meeting just now, and he's very concerned.
And he reminded the President of Italy, President Napolitano, that it's imperative that we share intelligence, because if these violent extremists can strike in Algeria, they can strike in other places, too. And that's why we have to continue to communicate with one another, share intelligence -- and we have a good relationship with Italy and other states around the world to help prevent such terrible tragedies -- and we are obviously praying for the victims' families of the tragedy today.
Go ahead, Victoria.
Q Have you had a chance yet to speak with the President about Scooter Libby since he dropped his appeal?
MS. PERINO: Well, you might have missed the gaggle, but I'll refer you to those comments I made in the gaggle.
Q Okay. And yesterday you said that you weren't allowed to characterize the President's reaction to the CIA tape destruction story. Who stopped you from characterizing the President's reaction?
MS. PERINO: As I said before, the Counsel's Office has requested that we not make any further comment beyond what I've already said; so that's where it came from.
Q Dana, today there's even greater than usual attention being paid by Wall Street to the Federal Reserve and its decision to cut rates. With that it mind, I know that the President confers with the Chairman of the Federal Reserve from time to time. Did they talk this morning?
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of, but as you know, I don't comment on any movements that the Fed makes.
Q Thank you. Can you confirm at this point that the President will visit Israel next month? And will he observe the old tradition of going to the Arab countries first and then Israel last?
MS. PERINO: We have not announced the countries yet. I hope to be able to do that very soon.
Q I don't think anyone would dispute that all illegal actions are unethical, but not all unethical actions are illegal. Does that apply to your interrogation technique (inaudible)? (Inaudible), I also mean humane as well.
MS. PERINO: What I've said before stands.
I'm going to go to Ann. Go ahead.
Q Has the President asked again recently of the Department of Justice whether all interrogation techniques currently being used are legal? And with the arrival of a new Attorney General, will he again seek assurances from the Department of Justice that all interrogation techniques are legal?
MS. PERINO: Well, I would refer you to Justice Department in terms of what the Attorney -- the new Attorney General is seeking. But in 2004 the Office of Legal Counsel issued a memo, and I would refer you to Steve Bradbury's comment when we dealt with this I think three months ago.
Q The President feels no need to follow up on that?
MS. PERINO: No.
Q Has the President teased you about the Cuban Missile Crisis at all?
MS. PERINO: No. It was a humorous show and I was exaggerating. Tell your host of your late-night show that.
Q Thank you. (Laughter.)
END 12:54 P.M. EST