The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
December 20, 2005

Interview of the Vice President by CNN
212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital
Muzaffarabad, Pakistan

3:40 P.M. (Local)

Q Sir, thank you very much. Appreciate it. The first question is about what you've been getting here -- here in Pakistan. Obviously, it's not the reason you did it, but the hope, it seems, is that a byproduct of this would be to polish the image of the U.S. abroad?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, you don't think about polishing the image of the U.S. abroad when an earthquake hits, as devastating as this one; it killed 72,000 people. What we did -- the President ordered immediately we do it -- we get out within 48 hours. We had people on the ground here in Pakistan, some of them came straight from the battlefield in Afghanistan to participate.

It's a measure of the enormous capabilities of the U.S. military that it could fall in on a crisis like this, and they've saved thousands of lives. It's one of the things we do better than anybody else. It does have a very positive impact. No question about it. But that's not why you do it. What we've seen -- there's, actually a poll out that the view of the Pakistani people in the United States now has been enormously improved by this operation because they've seen what we do.

Q Why do you think the image was so bad? I was talking to a few people around here who said when they talked to the locals, the things that they say, "Iraq -- we think Americans are bad because of Iraq." Yet their image is changing because of this MASH unit, but this doesn't happen everywhere. How much of this is -- part of it for you that is that U.S. policy that seems to be what is driving some of the bad image --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, the policy in Iraq is a good one. And if you wanted a judgment on the policy in Iraq, you need to go ask the Iraqi people who are -- just turned out -- to vote in a free election, who are free of the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. And I think what you'll see over time is more and more of that awareness will seep in throughout the Muslim world.

What the United States did in Iraq is absolutely right, and Iraq should be able to appreciate it; what we leave behind is a functioning, viable democracy, replacing the dictatorship that plagued 27 million people. So I think that's a temporary phenomenon. What you see here is when they work with us and they relate directly to the United States they see not only the professional competence in our people, but the humanitarian concerns. There are some amazing people in this hospital. There's a young man who grew up in the United States, a Pakistani American -- learned the language at home. Speaks the language. He's here now as a nurse helping his people recover. Those kinds of stories, I think, allow the United States to be perceived in a proper and active light, which is very positive.

Q I want to ask you about the debate raging back in Washington, and that is, of course, over the President's executive order saying that the NSA can surveil in the United States for communications abroad. FISA -- the FISA law does allow for warrants within minutes. And if not, if minutes are too long, you can get it after the fact. So why is this necessary, given the fact a law is in place, it seems, to do exactly what you want to do --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Dana, the President addressed that in his press conference last night. We made the decision that when we have somebody inside the United States who's in touch not just overseas, but is in touch with a terrorist, or a terrorist suspect, or an al Qaeda affiliate, that, in fact, that's proper -- The President authorized the NSA the due cause to look into that transaction.

If we had been able to do that before 9/11, we might have been able to pick up on the two hijackers that were in San Diego, in touch overseas with al Qaeda individuals, organizations -- so the activity we've undertaken is absolutely consistent with the Constitution. And it's reviewed very carefully by the President. Every 45 days, we have to personally sign off on it. It has to be approved by the Justice Department, by the Attorney General. And we've briefed the Congress on it 11 times. So it is a good, solid sound policy. It is, I'm convinced, the reason we have not been attacked in the last four years. That's significant --

Q You talked about the fact that you brief Congress voluntarily, that you do have a review process. But let's just say in 10 years or two years, a President is elected who doesn't want to do those things, but you've given him this kind of power, what happens then?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we have to begin with an unusual --

Q Does it concern you that maybe it's somebody that you might -- you wouldn't even entirely trust with that kind of power?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, the fact is the law is the law. The Constitution is there. It's been adhered to -- this case. And when you go to war, and you're attacked in your homeland and you lose 2,000 people in a couple of hours in the morning, and you're faced with the possibility that same organization might try to attack the United States with deadlier weapon threats, nuclear weapon threats if they get their hands on them -- you go after the terrorists. After 9/11, the 9/11 Committee criticized everybody in the government for -- now we're connecting the dots -- it seems to me you can't have it both ways. The fact of the matter is, it's a good, solid -- and it's saved thousands of lives. The fact of the matter is we're doing it in accordance with the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and it ought to be supported. This is not about violating civil liberties because we're not. This is about defending the country against further terrorist attack. That is what we're sworn to do.

Q I want to ask you another human matter is, the whole idea of I guess, what some call "torture light," the McCain amendment which I guess the President said he will now sign into law. When that becomes law, what effect will that have on your capability, the United States' capability to get information from detainees?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we'll comply the law. The President reached an accord with John McCain. There was a compromise worked out. It's going to be part of the defense authorization bill the President will sign into law.

Q He'll sign it, but what kind of effect will it -- do you believe that it will hurt your ability to get information?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Dana, you're asking me to get into intelligence matters, and besides intelligence matters --

Q Right, without asking you the specifics -- because I understand you can't do that -- just in general do you think it will hurt the United States' ability to do what you say you were doing in Afghanistan?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I've said all I'm going to say.

Q Okay -- it's a broader issue about this and the NSA, some people are saying, well, perhaps, what the White House is doing, maybe even you yourself, sir, really want to broaden the powers of the executive branch, broaden the powers of the presidency. Is that the case? And do you think that it's important during a time of war as to have the broadest power possible at the executive branch?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think there's -- there's a Constitution from which we proceed, Article II, that specifically indicates -- spells out the President is Commander-in-Chief. And he is sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, defend it against all enemies foreign and domestic. When we were hit on 9/11, he was granted the authority by the Congress to use all means necessary to take on the terrorists. And that's what we've done. Now, we do it in a way that is careful to make certain we don't violate some provisions of the Constitution and infringe upon people's constitutional liberty. That's part of the -- but you also have to recognize that what we were doing before 9/11, was inadequate. It didn't work. We got hit at the World Trade Center in '93. We got hit at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and we lost two embassies in East Africa. And we lost -- the USS Cole was struck. Of course, 9/11 finally, they hit us in the homeland, so it was the policies that were in place in that period before that, that didn't deal adequately with the problem, didn't take on the foe, didn't defeat the al Qaeda organization. We've put in place since 9/11 an aggressive posture that says we're going to go after the terrorists wherever we find them. We're going to use all means that are available to us consistent with the laws and the Constitution to take on the terrorists. That's what this is all about. That's what we've done.

Q As we discussed, we're here in Pakistan, where in the Kashmir region some say perhaps Osama bin Laden could be around here. I guess, most think probably he's on the other side of the country. There's one of -- the areas that's bordering Afghanistan. It has been about a year since we've heard publicly from Osama bin Laden. What's your sense of his whereabouts at this point?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: If I knew where he was I couldn't talk about it.

Q Couldn't talk about specifics, but you have a better sense at all at this point?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I can't discuss it.

Q More generally, the President has been talking about Osama bin Laden more frequently --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: He's the President. I'm the Vice President.

Q I understand. (Laughter.) I understand. But he's been talking about him in the whole thing of Iraq, and the fact that it's connected to -- he's connected to terrorism in Iraq. Do you think that Osama bin Laden still has control over al Qaeda? Do you think he still has the kind of control that he had on 9/11?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the organization has been degraded in some respects at the center, that is to say we've captured and killed a lot of people that were closer in to the leadership. And I don't think it's as effective as it once was.

On the other hand, it's more decentralized now. And there are a lot of wannabees out there. You have people who want to emulate Osama bin Laden. There's some suggestion that some of the other attacks that have occurred since then weren't necessarily ordered by him, but were people who claim loyalty to him, that were seeking to achieve an objective similar to his. But it's a loose, amorphous kind of relationship. So I think the organization has, in fact, changed some. If we haven't heard from him in a year, we have done a lot of damage to his organization. They're capturing and killing the operatives of his al Qaeda organization.

Q I want to switch quickly to Iraq. The President has been -- has put -- the President set a little bit of new tone, seeming to be maybe more humble, more contrite about some miscalculations, some setbacks when it comes to Iraq. I wonder if you, looking back, in some of the things that you thought at the time and you said at the time that the United States would be greeted as liberators, for example. Do you think, looking, back that might have raised expectations for the American people about what to expect in Iraq, that maybe weren't met?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I don't think so. I think on Iraq we got the big issues right, that the fact was Saddam Hussein had started two wars. He was an evil dictator. He'd slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people. He'd used weapons of mass destruction, which he'd produced himself. He had a robust nuclear program back in 1990-91. And he had provided a safe harbor for terrorists. Abu Nidal operated out of Baghdad for years, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas -- all had relationships with Saddam Hussein. And he was making $25,000 payments to the families of suicide bombers. He qualified as a state sponsor of terror, somebody who had obviously had aspirations of continuing his evil ways. I think the decision he made was the right decision. I think when all is said and done with respect to the history the vast majority of the Iraqi people are grateful for what we did. Far better to have their democracy that is now in place rather than Saddam Hussein ruling and that the world is a far safer place because of it. Those are the big items, the big issues. You can go down and argue about various aspects, tactics and so forth, but I think on the big issues, we got it right.

Q And understanding that you believe that in terms of the context of the arguments made for the American people, given the lengthy battle that we've seen so far, do you think maybe it could have been explained in a different way to the American people so that they had more patience at this point?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, you explain it the best way you can based on the knowledge and the information you have at the time. The question of whether or not we have the stomach for the fight, so to speak, is the issue. It's an important one. And partly what the terrorists are betting on is that we don't.

They're betting that they can create enough havoc, and enough violence, and slaughter enough people, and as long as they can get television coverage on in the United States, that will somehow undermine -- the determination of the American people to stick with it. And it has worked in the past. Unfortunately, we saw, for example, after we were attacked in Beirut in 1983 and lost 241 Marines, we withdrew from Beirut. And in 1993, it was Mogadishu. We lost 19 soldiers and withdrew from Somalia. So the terrorists are betting that the same thing will happen again, if you hit the U.S. hard enough, you inflict enough casualties on innocents that somehow we'll shut down our -- and leave. The problem is that was before 9/11. This is after 9/11. We don't have a choice any more to sit back and say, simply, well, what happens in that part of the world doesn't matter to us. On 9/11 they packed a wallop. The fact of the matter is, what we're doing in Iraq, what we're doing in Afghanistan taking down old regimes, terrible regimes that sponsor terror and replacing them with democracies, establishing governments that will be friendly to the United States, but also will do an effective job of governing the people, that guarantee that neither one of those places ever again becomes a safe haven for terror, or a platform from which they can launch attacks against friendly governments. That's what's huge here. And what we have to do is continue to remind the American people what's at stake. This is not a voluntary kind of war. It's not an optional war. This is a war that was imposed upon us on 9/11, and we have to go wherever we have to go, wherever we find a terrorist, wherever think a threat exists, wherever we see a threat. The American people -- if they sit down and think about it -- will understand it. I don't believe for a minute that the vast majority of Americans are prepared to accept defeat, to retreat in the face of terror, to turn over Iran (sic) or Afghanistan to the likes of Osama bin Laden.

Q I know we're almost out of time. Just one quick question, please, sir, one quick question and I promise I'll let you go very quick. Scooter Libby -- I meant to ask you about this. And I understand completely you don't want to talk about this --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, I'm not going to answer the question. We don't discuss the case, period.

Q Just some process.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Not even on process.

Q All right, thank you, sir, appreciate it.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good to see you.

END 3:56 P.M. (Local)

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