Sunday, September 17, 2006

Bush Wants 'Clarity' on Interrogations

From The new York Sun, September 15, 2006, BY TERENCE HUNT - Associated Press ...

WASHINGTON (AP) - Facing a Republican revolt in the Senate, President Bush urged Congress on Friday to join in backing legislation to spell out strategies for interrogating and trying terror suspects, saying "the enemy wants to attack us again." "Time is running out," Mr. Bush said in a Rose Garden news conference. "Congress needs to act wisely and promptly."

Mr. Bush denied American might lose the moral high ground in the war on terror in the eyes of world opinion, as Secretary Powell suggested. "It's unacceptable to think there's any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective," said Mr. Bush, growing animated as he spoke.

On Iraq, Mr. Bush said he regretted American troop levels are rising instead of falling. He blamed it on the recent surge in sectarian violence. "We all want the troops to come home as quickly as possible," he said. But he said Gen. George Casey, the top American commander in Iraq, needed reinforcements "to help the Iraqis achieve their objective."

"And that's the way I will continue to conduct the war. I'll listen to the generals," Mr. Bush said. "Maybe it's not the politically expedient thing to do. But you can't make decisions based on politics about how to win a war."

....Mr. Bush's news conference came a day after four Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee broke with the administration and joined Democrats in approving a bill assuring that foreign terrorism suspects would be accorded Geneva Convention protections. Mr. Bush claims that measure would compromise the war on terrorism. He is urging the Senate to pass a bill more like a House-passed one that would allow his administration to continue holding and trying terror suspects before military tribunals and to give interrogators more leeway.

Mr. Bush said he would work with Congress but stood firm on his demands. "Unfortunately the recent Supreme Court decision put the future of this program in question. ... We need this legislation to save it." The high court earlier this year struck down Mr. Bush's current arrangement for holding detainees held at the American Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Mr. Bush said that it was vital to clarify the law to protect intelligence professionals who are called on to question detainees to obtain vital information. He called it an important debate that "defines whether or not we can protect ourselves. Congress has got a decision to make."

Democrats were quick to respond. "When conservative military men like John McCain, John Warner, Lindsey Graham and Colin Powell stand up to the president, it shows how wrong and isolated the White House is," said Senator Schumer. Senator Warner is chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Senators McCain and Graham are members. Mr. McCain is a former Navy pilot who spent more than five years in enemy captivity during the Vietnam War. Mr. Graham is a former Air Force Reserve judge. Mr. Powell is a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said he supports the McCain approach because it would be less likely to be challenged by the Supreme Court as unlawful and violating American obligations under the Geneva Convention.
He said he voted in committee for the House-administration position to "move the process along," but said he will attempt to amend it when the House votes next week. "I don't want to give any terrorist a free pass or get-out-of-jail-free card," Mr. Skelton said.

Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who supports the president's plan, said he hoped Congress could reach agreement "in a way where the interrogation of terrorist detainees can continue." Meanwhile, foreign ministers of the European Union on Friday called on America to respect international law in its handling of terror suspects after Mr. Bush acknowledged America had run secret prisons abroad. "We reiterate that in combatting terrorism, human rights and human standards have to be maintained," said Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, speaking on behalf of the 25 EU ministers.

The dissident group led by Mr. McCain _ and backed by Mr. Powell, Mr. Bush's first-term secretary of state _ said Mr. Bush's approach would jeopardize the safety of U.S. troops.
Mr. Powell said Mr. Bush's proposal would redefine the Geneva Conventions and encourage the world to "doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism" and "put our own troops at risk."

But, Mr. Bush told reporters, "We must...provide our military and intelligence professionals with the tools they need to protect our country from another attack. And the reason they need those tools is because the enemy wants to attack us again."

It was Mr. Bush's first news conference since Aug. 21, when he said the Iraq war was "straining the psyche of our country" but that leaving now would be a disaster. Mr. Bush has made the struggle against terrorism and the war in Iraq the top issues in the November elections, hoping to persuade voters that Republicans are better than Democrats at protecting the country. Mr. Bush's voice rose and he chopped the air with his right hand several times as he spoke on Iraq. He denied anew that the surge in sectarian violence meant a civil war.

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