White House Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
Policy on prisoner interrogations
Treaty of the Sea
12:36 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. The President looks forward to welcoming Prime Minister Medgyessy here to the White House. Hungary is a strong ally and good friend of America, and Hungary has been a strong supporter of the Iraqi people as they work to build a free, democratic and peaceful future. And I expect that they will discuss the ongoing global war on terrorism; I expect they will discuss the upcoming summit between the United States and the European Union; and I expect that they will also discuss the upcoming NATO summit in Turkey later this week.
And I understand that Prime Minister Medgyessy is expected to go to the stakeout following the meeting, and there will be pool coverage at the end of that meeting, as well.
Following that, the President looks forward to celebrating, along with Mrs. Bush, Black Music Month, in the East Room. The month of June is a time to recognize the many contributions of black music to the culture of our nation and the world. And so they look forward to that event later today in the East Room.
And with that, I will go straight to your questions. Go ahead, Helen.
Q Does the President approve of withholding the memos on torture, or does he think that the American people have a right to know what is done in their name?
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, Helen, let me mention a couple of things.
Q I know there are six investigations going on, but he still has a role, and he's aware of all of this.
MR. McCLELLAN: There actually is going to be a briefing later today -- I'm not ready to announce the specifics on it right now, but we will be announcing it shortly -- to talk about some of those issues. The President recognizes that his most important responsibility to the American people is their safety and security. And we are a nation that is at war, but we are also a nation of laws. And the President expects our government to comply with our laws and our treaty obligations. And he has made it very clear that --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- we are a nation that hold these values very dear to our hearts. And we have gone to great lengths to make sure that as we wage the global war on terrorism, the detainees are treated humanely and consistent with our values and consistent with our laws and consistent with our treaty obligations. That's what the President expects, and that's -- the policies he has put in place reflect that commitment.
Q Has he issued any executive order that would bring that -- because we know there have been real violations of human rights.
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, there's going to be a briefing later this afternoon, and we'll get you the information on that here --
Q Like what? What is it, secret?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- we'll get you the information on that here shortly, to talk about some of these very policies that we put in place.
Q Has the President ever personally approved of any interrogation technique in any individual case?
MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of interrogation techniques related to what the military may carry out in Guantanamo Bay or Iraq, those are determinations that are made by the military, and we expect that those techniques fit within the policies that this President has instituted.
Q So there's never been a single instance when this President was aware of a particular interrogation being undertaken using methods?
MR. McCLELLAN: As I said, we're going to be briefing later on on this very subject. You'll be able to ask some of those questions. But those determinations are made by our military.
Q Is the briefing on the record, on camera?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we'll get you the details here shortly.
Q And at what time would we expect that briefing?
MR. McCLELLAN: It won't be before mid-afternoon, at the earliest. I don't expect it would be before 3:00 p.m. But again, we'll be announcing that shortly.
Q What prompted it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, David.
Q Well, yes, Helen's point, I mean, why now? Why all of a sudden are you releasing memos from the Pentagon and from the White House about what the President ordered or did not order with regard to interrogation techniques?
MR. McCLELLAN: Because we believe it's important for the American people to have an accurate picture of the policies that we put in place, and an accurate picture of the techniques that were approved by the Pentagon. And it's important to set the record straight. There's obviously been a lot of discussion going on on these very issues, and I think it's important for the American people to understand the lengths that this administration went to, to make sure that the policies that were put in place and the techniques that were determined to be used by the Pentagon were consistent with our laws and consistent with the policies of this administration.
Q But, Scott, the President has been clear that his order went down that any interrogation technique should conform to U.S. law and to treaty obligations. But we also know that at various levels within the administration there was the exploration of other techniques that may, kind of, go up to that line, particularly with the goal of getting intelligence to prevent another terror attack.
I'm wondering, because the President has been asked this question and has dodged it, whether or not he believes that torture works ever as an interrogation technique, and are there techniques that fall just short of torture that are beyond what, say, the Geneva Convention recognizes that he believes could be useful?
MR. McCLELLAN: David, as we wage this war on terrorism, it's important that we gather intelligence. And we will work to do that to prevent an attack from happening in the first place. But the President expects that as we do that, that it is consistent with our laws and consistent with our treaty obligations.
He does not condone torture and he has never authorized the use of torture. The President has made that very clear in the past and he continues to hold that view, because we are a nation of certain laws and certain values. And torture is not consistent with our values and with our laws. And --
Q So his position is a moral position? Or does he, in addition to that, believe that torture is not effective, just doesn't work?
MR. McCLELLAN: He has spoken out against torture. The United States is a leader when it comes to --
Q Does he think it works?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- confronting torture and speaking out against torture. And he does not condone it. Nor does he authorize torture. Let me be very clear on that.
Q You're not being clear about my question -- does he think it works?
MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of where, he spoke out on it last year, he spoke out on it in other circumstances prior to that when he was asked about this very issue.
Q -- had he seen any of the memos --
Q I'm asking a specific question: Does he think it's effective, ever?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're getting into hypothetical situations. He does not condone torture. Let me repeat --
Q I don't think anybody that heard that question thought it was hypothetical.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- he would never authorize the use of torture.
Q Would never? Has never, or would never?
MR. McCLELLAN: He has never, and he has no intention of ever authorizing the use of torture.
Q So none of the memos ever came to him, that have been revealed now?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Dana.
Q Was that made clear in any kind of directive, any kind of written way, what you said? Was it made clear by the President to those who are involved on the ground that he does not -- not only does not condone it, but it is absolutely not a part of U.S. policy?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, our policies have been made very clear.
Q And is that something that we're going to see later today?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're going to have a briefing later today on these very matters.
Go ahead, Jim.
Q Could you describe all of the memos that we've all seen that talked about what the legal limits may or may not be and how various --
MR. McCLELLAN: These are going to be good questions for the briefing later today. But I think you have to look at what the President -- the policy that the President put in place. And the President's policy that he put in place was very clear. And the people who will be briefing on this matter will be discussing that policy.
And that's why -- I mean, you have to keep in context, when we're talking about this that what happened at Abu Ghraib was appalling and it was wrong, and we do not condone that kind of activity. And there's been a lot of attention focused on that. There are a lot of investigations going on, and we want to make sure that the American people have a clear understanding of the policies that the President approved and authorized, as well as understand the review process and the great lengths that the Pentagon went to, to make sure that the techniques they put in place were consistent with our policies.
Q How would you describe the memos that were written by the Office of Legal Counsel? How would you describe what that process was?
MR. McCLELLAN: You're going to have that discussion later today, Jim. I would let the briefers talk about that.
Q Since we're going to be briefed later today on the prison situation, I'd like to just turn to another subject right now. Last month, when I asked about the treaty -- the Law of the Sea, you were kind enough to have your office get back to me and indicate the President's positive reaction to the treaty, although questions about the security provisions of it. Given the fact that the late President Reagan and his administration were very opposed to it and helped put it off when it came up previously, why is this President different in his approach to the treaty? And also, will the administration watch the hearings Chairman Hyde is about to have on it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, the administration always follows issues before Congress, and this would be one of them. So we have, certainly, people that follow these issues. In terms of what my staff got back to you on in terms of the Treaty of the Sea. I mean, that's what our position is. I don't really have anything more to add to it right now. But I'll be glad to get you some more information.
Go ahead, April.
Q Scott, back on the prior subject. On Guantanamo Bay, is it consistent with laws and treaty obligations not to let people know why these people are being held there?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and these are going to be good questions to direct to the briefers later today. But in terms of Guantanamo Bay, I would remind you that there are a number of individuals that are being detained at Guantanamo Bay who have been involved in plotting to carry out attacks on the United States, or who are otherwise interested in harming American citizens. And I think you have to --
Q Why haven't they been charged?
Q Why hasn't it been specified --
MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on, let me finish. These are dangerous terrorists that are being held at Guantanamo Bay. We have obtained significant intelligence from detainees at Guantanamo Bay. We have also said that if, based on interviews there, that we are holding someone that shouldn't be held, then we will make sure that that person is promptly released. And there have been individuals who have been released or otherwise transferred to their country of origin.
Q But once again, you made the point even more so clear, that if they're so dangerous and a threat, why not detail and let us know why they're being held there, and let them know that, as well?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again -- and I think the Pentagon can talk to you about specific individuals at Guantanamo Bay, if you want to direct those questions to them. They would, I'm sure, be glad to talk to you about those specific issues.
Q Are you going to be handing out any memos today, or is this going to be strictly a briefing on the subject?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Are you going to be handing out any paper?
MR. McCLELLAN: Stay tuned. We'll get you all that information. You'll hear more from us shortly on that very matter.
Q It would be great to have the paper in advance of the briefing.
MR. McCLELLAN: I understand that, but if you're talking about paper, sometimes it might be a large volume of paper, and it takes time to --
Q Will this briefing be --
Q It will be more informed give-and-take.
MR. McCLELLAN: Pull all that information together, but I understand --
Q If we get it in advance, then we just --
MR. McCLELLAN: I understand exactly what you're saying --
Q That's why you're not going to get it.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and I always try to work in that direction.
Q Why is it a secret who is briefing?
Q Is this going to be here at the White House? Is this going to be here at the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I expect it will be.
Q How actively is the United States helping the United Kingdom and South Korea with their various hostage situations? Are you involved at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that that's a matter that I'll leave to the South Korean government to address. They've been addressing it, and I think I will leave it to them, because of the sensitivity of that issue.
Q What about the U.K., with their eight sailors?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you've heard from the United Kingdom. They've talked about some of their diplomatic discussions that they have going on right now with Iran, and some of where that stands right now. But that's a matter between the United Kingdom and Iran, that they are working to address through diplomatic channels.
Q The wires just reported that the South Korean captive has been beheaded.
Q Oh, no.
MR. McCLELLAN: Jim, obviously, that would be horrible news to hear. I have not seen that report. This briefing started before any report came out. But that would be horrible news. But we are continuing the war on terrorism. And there simply is no justification for those kinds of atrocities that the terrorists carry out. We've seen some of the barbaric nature of the terrorists recently, when it comes to an American citizen that was killed in Saudi Arabia. And it is a reminder of the true nature of the terrorists. But, again, that's news that I'm just hearing right now, and I don't want to go further on that until I find out more about it myself.
Q I'd like to follow up on that. Isn't this clearly another case of where perhaps our coverage is devoted too much toward the rights and privileges of those being held at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib, instead of the real atrocities being committed -- I brought up last week about the atrocities video from Saddam. Yet there is still no coverage on that. Would you direct our attention elsewhere?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as a matter of fact, as you're aware, sovereignty is going to be transferred here soon to the interim government that has been put in place in Iraq. We are moving forward on transferring sovereignty. Iraqis are assuming more and more responsibility as we move to that date of transfer. And one of the areas where they will be assuming responsibility is when it comes to some of the detainees you mentioned, who are responsible for the atrocities that were carried out against the Iraqi people. That starts with Saddam Hussein and others in his brutal regime who were involved in these atrocities. The Iraqis have set up a special tribunal, and we will be transferring those prisoners to the interim government at the appropriate time, so that they can face justice by the Iraqi people for the atrocities that they committed.
And those are issues we're working with the interim government on right now. And I would expect that as they face justice, that it will be a stark reminder to people of the oppressive, brutal regime that we removed from power. The world is better off, because Saddam Hussein's regime has been removed from power. And when we realize a free, democratic and peaceful Iraq, that will be a significant blow to the terrorists and the global war on terrorism. It will make America more secure
Q -- thousands we've killed?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and so, you bring up a very good point, Geoff.
Q Can I follow on the South Korea. If that's true, is the U.S. willing to --
MR. McCLELLAN: Connie, I've just heard about this report from this podium as the briefing was going on. Obviously, I would like to find out more information before commenting further.
Q But if it is true, would the U.S., in effect, let the South Korean government off the hook and not require that they send the extra 3,000 troops?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the South Korean government has already spoken to that issue. And I think everybody recognizes the -- how the terrorists will continue to become more desperate the more -- each step of the way as we make progress toward a free and democratic and peaceful Iraq. And there is simply no justification for the kind of barbaric acts that they carry out against innocent civilians. They will not prevail. They will be defeated. And I think that the coalition stands firm in our resolve to see a free and peaceful Iraq.
Q When the President goes to Europe at the end of the week, is he still trying to get more NATO troops into Iraq from France, Germany, or other countries that did not support Iraq war?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you heard recently from the President on that very issue during the G8 Summit. Obviously, you already have some 15 countries that are members of NATO with troops in Iraq helping to address the security threats there. The President said he didn't expect that -- he didn't expect more troops from NATO, but that we would be talking about this very issue at the NATO summit and there might be ways that they can be involved in helping with training of the Iraqi security forces.
The forces that we want to increase in Iraq are Iraqi security forces. The Iraqi people are assuming more and more responsibility for their future, and that includes in the security area, as well. They recognize that there are enemies of freedom and peace and enemies of their future that continue to try to derail the transition to democracy in Iraq. But democracy is taking root and there's no turning back. So we look forward to talking about some of these issues at the NATO summit in Turkey.
Q But does that mean that the President does not want more NATO troops now in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think he said no one was expecting more NATO troops, that we're looking at ways that -- other ways that NATO can be involved. But he certainly also pointed out that you already have 15 or so countries that are members of NATO that have troops in Iraq right now.
Q Scott, I want to go back to my question on the Guantanamo Bay detainees. Because they're dangerous, is this the reason why the United States is allowed to kind of skirt treaties and laws, to keep them without letting them know why --
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the policy of this administration is to adhere to our laws and our treaty obligations. And when it comes to Guantanamo Bay, the President made it very clear early on to our military that those detainees should be treated humanely and consistent with Geneva Conventions, even though -- because al Qaeda is not a party to the Geneva Conventions, the Geneva Convention didn't apply, because that's consistent with the values that we believe in here in America.
Q So it's for sure that these people are al Qaeda, no questions asked --
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, some of these -- you're going to have some lawyers here that will be briefing on some of these issues later today. And we'll get you more information on that when we're ready --
Q Who's briefing?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- to announce it. We're pulling all that information together and we'll be ready to announce it soon.
Q Can I ask you one more thing on that front? Is there -- is it fair for us to assume that there is some distinction made between the way al Qaeda prisoners, terrorists, captured terrorists are treated, and the way everyone else is treated? Is there a distinction made there?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you're getting into the policies that were put in place, as I pointed out, when it comes to Guantanamo Bay, the President directed the military to treat those detainees humanely and consistent with the Geneva Conventions. And our briefers will be talking more about that. When it comes to Iraq, we made it clear from early on that Geneva does apply because Iraq was a party to the Geneva Conventions. And so that's -- that's the way it's been from the beginning in Iraq.
Q In the case of known al Qaeda terrorists, say, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad or Binalshibh, the people we know are, in fact, terrorists, and know were involved in 9/11, and believe may have information about future terrorist attacks -- is there a different standard?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, Jim, there are terrorists who still want to carry out attacks against the American people. Our actions, as we wage this global war on terrorism, are governed by laws. The terrorists do not respect any laws. They are an enemy that hides among civilian populations, and an enemy that seeks to inflict large-scale civilian casualties by surprise attack. We have an obligation, obviously, to aggressively and lawfully interrogate captured detainees to obtain information that may help us prevent attacks from happening in the first place. We will work to gather that intelligence so that we can protect the American people, but we will do so in a way that is consistent with our laws. That's what the President expects. He expects nothing less. And he has made that very clear.
Q There's a difference between mistreatment and abuse and torture. Does the President believe that what happened in Abu Ghraib was -- falls into the mistreatment and abuse category, or full-blown torture category?
MR. McCLELLAN: He believes -- the images that he has seen he believes are despicable, he believes they are wrong, and he believes they do not -- they are not consistent with our values and our laws. And there are ongoing investigations to get to the bottom of that matter. It's important that we let those investigations proceed and that we take a comprehensive look at the prison system to make sure that there are no systemic problems. That's what the President believes. But the investigations will look at all those issues. And he expects people to be brought to justice, and he expects steps to be taken to make sure that we prevent something like this from ever happening again.
Q Does the President recognize there's a difference between torture and abuse and mistreatment?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I mean, if you're talking about the definition of a torture and the definition of our laws, there are laws against torture. There are also laws that govern other conduct, as well. And whether or not it's torture, what happened at Abu Ghraib, it is wrong, and it is appalling. And it is not representative of the vast majority of our men and women who are serving in the military and serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places. It does not represent -- we have to remember that we have a large number of troops who are serving and sacrificing as we wage the war on terrorism. Their families are also making sacrifices, and we are forever grateful for their service and sacrifice. And as they serve, the vast majority -- the 99.9 percent of those men and women who are serving in uniform represent the United States honorably and admirably in their conduct.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 12:58 P.M. EDT