Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:42 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. I do not have anything to start with, so we can go to questions.
Q: Just generally, does the administration -- does the President believe that head-slapping and simulated drowning are necessary tactics to use against suspected terrorists to keep America safe?
MS. PERINO: Let me take a step back. In the days after 9/11, when we were getting a steady stream of intelligence about potential new attacks, the President faced a lot of challenges. And he asked his national security team to make sure that we designed and made sure that within the laws we had all the tools that we needed in order to keep this country safe and to prevent another attack.
In this new war, which is an unprecedented war, facing an enemy unlike we've ever faced before, sometimes -- oftentimes the best information that you get is from the terrorists themselves. They know where the other terrorists are hiding and what the other terrorists are planning. And to win the war on terror we must be able to detain them, interrogate them, question them, and when appropriate, prosecute them -- in America -- when we capture them here in America and on battlefields around the world. The policy of the United States is not to torture. The President has not authorized it, he will not authorize it.
But he had done everything within the corners of the law to make sure that we prevent another attack on this country, which is what we have done in this administration. I am not going to comment on any specific alleged techniques. It is not appropriate for me to do so. And to do so would provide the enemy with more information for how to train against these techniques. And so I am going to decline to comment on those, but I will reiterate to you once again that we do not torture. We want to make sure that we keep this country safe.
And I think another thing that everyone should keep in mind is that here in this country, it's quite a testament that even though we have a sworn enemy of the United States that has declared war on us and has acted upon that and killed thousands of our own citizens here just seven -- six years ago, we are still having a debate to talk about how we should make sure that we treat people, and that we don't torture them. That is quite a testament to this country. And the President is very proud to lead it.
Q: Some of the members of Congress are already upset that they weren't aware of these second memos that are classified, and have asked for the administration to release them. What's the administration's position on why a briefing was released about what they are about?
MS. PERINO: Well -- I would have to refer you to Department of Justice and also the Central Intelligence Agency. As I understand it, appropriate members of Congress have been briefed. Releasing classified information is not prudent, it is not a smart thing to do. So I -- let me refer you to them to talk about the procedures that they went through to talk to members of Congress.
Q: Dana, in September of last year the President told the country about what had been a classified program of CIA prisons in other countries around the world. At that time, he said all the terrorists who were held -- or alleged terrorists -- who were held in those sites were no longer there. Today, do those prisons still exist and are there alleged terrorists being held?
MS. PERINO: The President said that a small number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war had been held and questioned outside the United States, in a separate program that was run by the CIA. The President also at the time said that we were not going to -- while we had talked about the people that had been held -- people, I should say terrorists that were held, they were then transferred to Guantanamo Bay -- that we were not going to tell you every time that that happened.
I think there was an instance last spring when someone was transferred to Guantanamo Bay, and there was a public release of that information, but he said, and General Hayden has said, that we are not going to do a press release every time we have somebody. And one of the reasons for that is that you want to have these individuals isolated, and you don't want to send signals that might trigger an attack or send a signal to -- back to the other operatives that want to attack America.
Q: Without referring then to specific individuals who may be held in these sites in countries outside the United States operated by the CIA, are they still actively operational?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on that. If the CIA decides to comment, I'll let them. What I can tell is that any procedures that they use are tough, safe, necessary, and lawful.
Q: Is it reasonable to assume if those prisons were closed, that the President would have deemed that something to tell the country, and in the absence of that, we should assume they are still working?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment whether or not -- and I -- the President said that while he -- on September 6, 2006, when he disclosed that information in a speech in the East Room, that we would not get in the habit of doing press releases every time we had a prisoner. It's not smart. It's not a good way to do national security.
Q: It's been more than a year now. And, as you know, countries who -- especially in Europe -- had raised concerns with the President about those locations of prisons outside the U.S. So it has been a diplomatic issue as well. So it's been more than a year. So hardly --
MS. PERINO: What I can tell you is that this program has prevented attacks on this country and in countries of our allies. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Advisor Steven Hadley work very closely with their counterparts overseas to make sure we're sharing information. Again, they were safe, necessary and lawful -- these techniques -- and they've helped save American lives and those of our allies. But I'm not going to comment as to whether or not there are individuals that are being held in prisons at the moment.
Q: In a conference call in July, a senior administration official said that they would no longer -- or wouldn't use extreme temperatures of heat and cold. Is that true?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I don't -- I wasn't on -- I don't recall.
Q: I guess the point is that if the senior administration official told us on a conference call that these methods wouldn't be used, why won't you say whether or not head-slapping, waterboarding, would be used?
MS. PERINO: I don't believe that I -- I'm not in a position to be able to do that. I am not going to comment on specific techniques. And if there's -- I don't know who that individual was, and maybe you can follow up with them and get more.
Q: But your point is that you're giving away things to the enemy, but it was okay for someone to do it, but not okay for you to do it? Or are you just --
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I don't know. I don't know who was on the conference call. I don't -- what I -- I know what I know, which is that techniques that we use are classified, and classified for a reason. To the extent that there was one ruled out, then so be it. But I'm not going to comment on others.
Q: And you won't say whether waterboarding is being ruled out, or head-slapping has been ruled out?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on those.
Q: What is your definition of "torture?"
MS. PERINO: Well, that's clearly spelled out in the -- in the Detainee Treatment Act, and interpreted under the December 2004 opinion that governs, and has governed -- and if you look at the footnote from that opinion, governs all subsequent opinions that have been made by the Justice Department.
Q: And has -- have any attacks been averted since President Bush revealed the existence of his program, because terrorism suspects have been held in the program?
MS. PERINO: I don't know, Toby. It's not -- I can tell you that General Hayden and Fran Townsend, the President's National -- Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor, have said that this program continues to save lives. When we can, we declassify information so that we can provide it to you. But right now I don't have any to provide.
Q: Dana, you talk about being within the corners of the law. But are you satisfied that there's enough clarity, in sort of the definition --
MS. PERINO: Very. I'm very satisfied that this country is following the laws, and that American personnel, no matter where they are in the world, are held to that standard.
Q: My question is approaching it from a different way, though. I mean, are you satisfied that the U.S.'s position on what torture is is clear enough to other countries so that if an American were --
MS. PERINO: I am. We follow our laws and our -- we meet our international obligations, absolutely.
Q: But in terms of another country, then, you feel that there is enough clarity in the definition that the administration has put forward that they wouldn't be able to look at something and say, well --
MS. PERINO: I'm not saying that reasonable people couldn't disagree on complex questions. That's possible.
Q: But doesn't it open the door, doesn't the sort of --
MS. PERINO: No, I think that this country meets its -- meets the laws of our nation and meets its international obligations. We share information. We have helped prevent attacks in countries that we consider to be our allies. And we have prevented attacks here.
Now, if there were an attack on this country, all of the questions in here would be very different. You would be asking me, how did you allow this to happen? And what I am telling you is that within the law, we are making sure that we are doing everything we can to prevent it from happening again.
Q: But what's to stop another country from then taking their own definition and interpretation based on the administration's --
MS. PERINO: As I understand it, under the Geneva Conventions, every country was supposed to interpret it for themselves, and now we have.
Q: You don't think there's any ambiguity there in the definition of torture for other countries to abuse Americans if they are captured?
MS. PERINO: No, I think that the countries that we deal with that are our allies, that are a party to the Geneva Conventions, follow that, and they follow their laws. And obviously, if any American was tortured anywhere, we would have big problems with that.
Q: You just said something, Dana --
MS. PERINO: I'm going to go to Mark. Go ahead.
Q: Is it your view that disclosure of this memo and the level of detail --
MS. PERINO: Is disturbing?
Q: Has it -- well, yes, harmed American security --
MS. PERINO: I think any time anything that is classified that is -- you know, it's secret for a reason. It's not secret just because we want it to be a secret. It's secret because it is classified, and classified for the reasons to protect the country from terrorists who are determined to attack us. And we live in a society where we have a free press, and if classified information gets out into a free press and that organization decides to publish it, that's their decision to make.
Q: You've said that you don't want these methods to be disclosed because that would tip off potential terrorists. Don't you think that they know about this kind of stuff already and have been training against head-slapping and waterboarding?
MS. PERINO: I think that it's classified for a reason, because our professionals, who know what they're doing when it comes to interrogation techniques and fighting the global war on terror, have it classified for a reason. And I trust them.
Q: I just wonder to what extent has information about this program or these memos been shared with the Attorney General nominee, Mukasey? And do you --
MS. PERINO: I would have to check. I would assume -- I would have to check. I don't know.
Q: And is the President concerned at all that the Mukasey hearings will become, in essence, a forum for a discussion of these --
MS. PERINO: Well, if at his hearings the members of the Senate want to have a conversation about whether or not this country follows its laws when it comes to interrogation techniques, we could have that discussion. Obviously Judge Mukasey is there to have a confirmation hearing and to see if, on the merits, he should be the Attorney General of the United States. We think he should be. And the senators are free to ask him whatever questions they want.
Q: His views about this program will be probably a central issue of those hearings. Is the White House prepared to --
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to speculate on that. And I think that across the country people will be -- are grateful to the federal government and the men and women that we have across the intelligence community and in law enforcement, that are working to apply the laws of the United States -- which is not to torture -- and to make sure that we prevent attacks on this country. And if they want to have a conversation with that, with Judge Mukasey, I think that'd be fine.
Q: When you say, I'm not disputing there can be legal disagreements between reasonable people, do you mean disagreements on whether specific interrogation techniques amount to torture?
MS. PERINO: I wasn't thinking of that in particular, but that could be true as well.
Q: And when you say that if we had just had an attack, the questions would be very different, what then would you say to someone like Senator McCain, who feels that harsh interrogation techniques are not more effective in generating valuable information?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think -- I think what we'd say to Senator McCain is that we appreciated the work he did on the Detainee Treatment Act, and the President was proud to sign it into law, that we don't torture, and that we appreciate his attention to this effort and to this issue, and that we follow the law as he would want us to.
Q: But if there can be reasonable disagreements on what amounts to torture, then what you are actually saying is, we don't believe what we do is torture.
MS. PERINO: Look, under the United States' interpretation and -- we -- in that December 2004 opinion that is publicly available at the Justice Department for everyone to see, we believe that we are following our laws and that we are meeting our international obligations in order to prevent attacks on Americans and our allies. And we're meeting that.
Q: Dana, to what extent has the President been personally involved in deciding what is tough, safe, and legal?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I think those decisions are made at the -- at a level where they have lawyer -- individuals like Steven Bradbury, who's discussed in the article, at the Office of Legal Counsel. But I am not aware of presidential involvement.
Q: So he doesn't necessarily sign off on these then?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't think so. But I --
Q: The Attorney General does though, right?
MS. PERINO: I would guess. Can I refer you to the Justice Department, because I just don't know what their chain of command is.
Q: Dana, a couple. First, would you like Syria to attend, or to send a representative to the Middle East conference in the United States?
MS. PERINO: Well, one of the things that we're looking at is -- for that Middle East conference that's going to take place at the end of November -- Syria is a part of the Arab League follow-up committee, and as a member of -- that committee is going to be invited. They are a member of that, and I think the State Department has said that they would be there for that meeting, that committee would be.
Q: And in the comments in the responses on North Korea, on the Koreas summit, you all emphasized the six-party process -- there's an agreement that's coming out of this, there's a process. Do you show that the Korea summit has in any way sidetracked, undermined, changed that process? Are you worried that now your --
MS. PERINO: I've not heard that. I've not heard that that has derailed any effort or cast a pall on them. Obviously, Ambassador Chris Hill was just here the other day. The President signed -- told him that he could instruct the other capitals in Beijing that the President had signed off on the agreement, and you have the President's public statement from yesterday. And we're going to hold the North Koreans to account for dismantlement of Yongbyon, and then leading to the dismantlement by the end of the year. That's the action-for-action priority that the President has laid out. And we'll hold their feet to the fire on it.
Q: Senator Clinton said that she had changed her view on torture and the possibilities after talking with the generals. Are those not the same generals that you've been talking to or that the White House has been talking to?
MS. PERINO: I have to say, I just have no idea who Senator Clinton spoke to. I don't know.
Q: Representative Conyers has requested copies of the legal opinions that Justice issued, the secret legal opinions. Should he get those?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'll let him have that conversation with the Justice Department.
Q: Does the White House believe that he should, even if it's -- I mean, do you have an opinion on that, whether they should be released, even if they're secret?
MS. PERINO: As I said, appropriate members of Congress were provided the information. I understand that there is a desire by some of the individuals who are on the Judiciary Committees in both the House and the Senate. And that has been a conversation that's been going on over time. That is not -- I don't believe that's a new request.
Q: About these particular opinions?
MS. PERINO: I don't think it's a new request.
Q: And will the Justice Department solely make that decision about whether these are released, or will the White House have some input into what they do?
MS. PERINO: Well, I -- obviously that we work closely with our agencies, and we'll take a look at it. I know that that -- as I said, Keith, I don't think that that's a new request. And we've been -- Fred Fielding has been working with both the House and the Senate Judiciary Committees.
Q: Back on Elaine's question about clarity, you said something that if there's a problem with understanding, it's left up to the countries to try to decipher --
MS. PERINO: As I understand it, I believe that the Geneva Conventions, that every country could interpret for themselves what those -- what that language meant. I'm recalling that from the debate that we had in this country from a year and a half ago.
Q: Paraphrasing what the Geneva Conventions said, it said that --
MS. PERINO: Not paraphrasing.
Q: No, I'm --
MS. PERINO: You're going to paraphrase?
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q: Paraphrasing what it said, it basically says that if there is some kind of a problem with clarity it is supposed to be taken to an international crimes court. So --
MS. PERINO: Which we are not going to do.
Q: Why not?
MS. PERINO: I don't think it's necessary, April. We have clarified in the Detainee Treatment Act and in this December 2004 opinion that the United States does not torture. And outside of some individuals suggesting that we do, I think that our allies are comfortable -- especially because of the protection that we're affording them, as well.
Q: Well, Dana, for many years now this administration -- this issue has come up over and over and over again, it's gone to the Hill, it's gone to courts, it's gone everywhere. And it seems to me that there is a problem with clarity. Maybe the people who put the Geneva Conventions together would be the ones to be able to help you out.
MS. PERINO: I don't think we're seeking their help. I don't think they're offering it. I think that we, here in the United States, are a proud country that is working within our laws to make sure that we are going about protecting the country from al Qaeda and other terrorists that want to attack us.
Q: If an American citizen, whether they be a member of the intelligence community or the armed forces, were taken essentially hostage by one of our enemies and they were subjected to waterboarding or head-slapping or loud music, or subjected to extreme temperatures, would the U.S. government consider that to be torture?
MS. PERINO: Look, you're asking me a hypothetical situation about somebody possibly being taken into custody. I'm just not going to go there.
Q: Don't you think it's important that the U.S. government draw a line in the sand and say -- to our enemies, essentially -- hey, if you do these things, we consider that torture?
MS. PERINO: I think our enemies would understand what our response would be to any type of attack on an American citizen.
Q: And that attack being waterboarding, head-slapping --
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to go there.
Q: Thank you, Dana. Two questions. What is the President's opinion of Congressman Obey's proposal for a surtax to pay for Iraqi military operation?
MS. PERINO: We made it clear the other day that the President won't support a war tax, we don't think it's necessary. And we think that that is just a standard reaction by the Democrats when they want to raise taxes.
Q: In California there's a proposed measure to apportion electoral votes by congressional district, which could give the Republican nominee some 20 of the state's 55 electoral votes. My question: The President supports this proposal for minority rights, doesn't he?
MS. PERINO: I haven't asked him about it. Let me go up here to Helen.
Q: Well, could you ask him? I mean --
MS. PERINO: No, I'm not -- I'll see. If I see him I'll ask him.
Helen. Let's go to Helen.
Q: I have a question on Lebanon. Lebanon has asked Israel for maps to where they planted the cluster bombs in Southern Lebanon, so kids -- some of the cluster bombs are in shapes of toys or candy bars. And also, the task force on Lebanon has made the same request. Do we back up that request?
MS. PERINO: I have to say that I have not heard about that. Can I check on it?
Q: Did it come up at all?
MS. PERINO: It may have. Gordon Johndroe was in there, so let me see if I can get some more information for you. It could have -- and Helen, it could have come up before, and let me just check. I'll find out.
Q: Dana, is the President at all concerned that despite his repeated assurances that the U.S. does not engage in torture, that there are persistent concerns and questions raised? Does this suggest he is just not credible when he says the United States --
MS. PERINO: Absolutely not. And I actually think that the people around the country understand that there are things that are secret and classified for a reason, and it's for their protection. And I know that they place trust in this federal government to make sure that a 9/11 doesn't happen again.
Q: Is there a sense that because we are talking about suspected terrorists that perhaps the American public would have a different view of how they should be treated, as opposed to accepting these enhanced measures that this administration --
MS. PERINO: Different from who?
Q: From other kinds of detainees that might be found around the world.
MS. PERINO: Well, the bottom line is that we do not use torture. And so I think -- I don't think there's a reason to have a distinction.
Q: The President does use the phrase "enhanced techniques." Can you add further definition to what that --
MS. PERINO: I can't beyond what is publicly available. But I would just remind you that the most important source of information we have on where the terrorists are hiding and what they are planning is the terrorists themselves, and that's why you have to interrogate them.
Q: Dana, do you know if the President has talked to Senator Domenici since Domenici made the --
MS. PERINO: Yes, I believe that Senator Domenici spoke to the President day before yesterday -- the day before he made the announcement. And obviously the President has fondness for Senator Domenici. He is a wonderful American who has served the state of New Mexico and his country for many years, and he wishes him the best.
Q: What do you think the effect of his departure and the other Republicans who are leaving is going to be on --
MS. PERINO: Well, we'll see. We have good candidate recruitment, and we'll have to see how it goes.
MS. PERINO: Goyal.
Q: Two quick questions. One, please. Thousands of protesters, mostly monks, in Burma have disappeared, and they're -- nobody can see them anywhere. The President believes in God and he's a religious person, and I hope he will protect and not to be killed.
MS. PERINO: Do you have a question?
Q: How can he protect that no more monks are being killed or we can --
MS. PERINO: Well, Goyal, let me answer it this way. The President and Mrs. Bush are very concerned about the people in Burma, what they've gone through under this brutal regime. And they have placed a demand on them that -- on the regime -- that they release all political prisoners, including those monks that you mentioned.
Q: And second. October 2nd, the United Nations was marked as the non-violence Mahatma Gandhi day around on the globe, and Sonia Gandhi of India was there, and many world leaders. What does President Bush think now, this non-violence day at the United Nations, a great person who believed in non-violence throughout his life?
MS. PERINO: The President supports non-violence and non-violence protests, and appreciates the people who support that, as well.
Q: Dana, the President has said he's willing to consider an extension -- extended time, perhaps, for the CHIP program. But if he's opposed to a tobacco tax for the existing funding, how would he fund -- what would he support to fund an extended program?
MS. PERINO: That's not quite accurate. First of all, first and foremost, the President wants to expand S-CHIP by 20 percent in the next five years, with an additional $5 billion. So the President doesn't need to raise taxes in order to expand it and to get it beyond five years.
Q: But Senator Lott proposed a 33 percent increase and an 18-month extension. So there is a difference --
MS. PERINO: Well, what we said is that the President -- and the President said it yesterday, he wants to try to reach common ground and find an agreement with the Democrats and with other members of -- other members of the Republican Party besides Senator Lott. There's going to be people that come forward with ideas.
One of the things the President wants to do is make sure that the children who are eligible for Medicaid and S-CHIP, who aren't currently enrolled, are served first, that they go to the front of the line. And that he's willing to talk about -- if people that that $5 billion is not going to be able to serve that population, he's willing to talk about, well, then what number would be? But that's the population he wants to serve first.
Q: Finally, the tobacco tax rationale. I don't quite understand why the administration would oppose a tax that would discourage poor people or even -- either to cut back, or to cut smoking altogether, if that's -- that would be the result --
MS. PERINO: But the government --
Q: -- of the funding for the program --
MS. PERINO: The Bush administration and the government is actively trying to get people to quit smoking. But we also don't think --
Q: But this is an opportunity to do that.
MS. PERINO: Let me finish. We also don't think that raising taxes on a product is smart fiscal policy, especially when in the years 2011 and -- through 2014, this program would take, under their proposal that the President vetoed yesterday, a 65 percent cut. So then what taxes are they going to raise after that? And that's the President's position, is that taxes do not need to be raised to expand this program and to take care of the poorest children first.
Q: But what's more important though, fiscal policy or encouraging -- taking a step that would encourage poor people to either cut back or quit smoking altogether?
MS. PERINO: The President is actively working to get people to quit smoking. But I would also say to you, what's more important and what's more compassionate is making sure that those 750,000 children who aren't currently covered under programs they're eligible for go to the front of the line before we give money to middle-class families to pay for a government-sponsored health care.
Q: Thank you, Dana.
MS. PERINO: Thank you.
END 1:08 P.M. EDT
Dana Perino, Press Briefing by Dana Perino Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/276718