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President Bush Pushes Torture Rules and Tribunals Plan

President Bush held a press conference Friday, which included a pitch for new detainee rules much tougher than several key Senate Republicans are willing to support.

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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.

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