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President Bush Pushes Torture Rules and Tribunals Plan

September 15, 2006 at 6:10 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: The president’s pitch for new detainee rules. He
wants them to be tougher than several key Senate Republicans are willing to
support. He spoke about the legislation he wants during a one-hour news
conference this morning in the White House Rose Garden.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: We need the
legislation because the Supreme Court recently ruled that military commissions
must be explicitly authorized by Congress, so we’re working with Congress.

The Supreme Court said, “You must work with
Congress.” We are working with Congress to get a good piece of legislation
out.

The bill I have proposed will ensure that suspected
terrorists will receive full and fair trials without revealing to them our
nation’s sensitive intelligence secrets. As soon as Congress acts on this bill,
the men our intelligence agencies believed helped orchestrate the 9/11 attacks
can face justice.

REPORTER: What do you say to the argument that your proposal
is basically seeking support for torture, coerced evidence, and secret
hearings?

GEORGE W. BUSH: This debate is occurring because of the
Supreme Court’s ruling that said that we must conduct ourselves under the
Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. And that Common Article 3 says that,
you know, there will be no outrages upon human dignity.

It’s like — it’s very vague. What does that mean,
“outrages upon human dignity”? That’s a statement that is wide open
to interpretation. And what I’m proposing is that there be clarity in the law
so that our professionals will have no doubt that that which they’re doing is
legal. You know, it’s a — and so the piece of legislation I sent up there
provides our professionals that which is needed to go forward.

The first question that we’ve got to ask is: Do we need the
program? I believe we do need the program. And I detailed in a speech in the
East Room what the program has yielded, in other words, the kind of information
we get when we interrogate people within the law.

You see, sometimes you can pick up information on the
battlefield. Sometimes you can pick it up, you know, through letters, but
sometimes you actually have to question the people who know the strategy and
plans of the enemy.

And in this case, we questioned people like Khalid Sheikh
Mohammed, who we believe ordered the attacks on 9/11, or Ramzi Binalshibh or
Abu Zubaydah, cold-blooded killers who were part of planning the attack that
killed 3,000 people. And we need to be able to question them, because it helps
yield information, information necessary for us to be able to do our job.

Now, the court said that you’ve got to live under Article 3
of the Geneva Convention, and the standards are so vague that our professionals
won’t be able to carry forward the program, because they don’t want to be tried
as war criminals. They don’t want to break the law.

These are decent, honorable citizens who are on the front line
of protecting the American people, and they expect our government to give them
clarity about what is right and what is wrong in the law. And that’s what we
have asked to do.

Now, this idea that somehow, you know, we’ve got to live
under international treaties, you know — and that’s fine. We do. But
oftentimes the United States
government passes law to clarify obligations under international treaty. And
what I’m concerned about is, if we don’t do that, that it’s very conceivable
our professionals could be held to account based upon court decisions in other
countries. And I don’t believe Americans want that.

And the bottom line is simple: If Congress passes a law that
does not clarify the rules, if they do not do that, the program’s not going
forward. Now, perhaps some in Congress don’t think the program is important. That’s
fine; I don’t know if they do or don’t.

I think it’s vital, and I have the obligation to make sure
that our professionals, who I would ask to go conduct interrogations to find
out what might be happening or who might be coming to this country — I’ve got
to give them the tools they need, and that is clear law.