Office of the Press Secretary
May 5, 2004
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
President’s meeting with Singapore Prime Minister
1:38 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I’ll just give you a quick readout on the President’s meeting with Prime Minister Goh earlier today. The President had a good discussion with Prime Minister Goh of Singapore in which they talked about a variety of issues. They discussed the war on terrorism and the importance of reaching out to the Muslim world to help in the war against terror. They also discussed the Middle East peace process, Prime Minister Sharon’s recent proposal, and the President’s vision for a two-state solution. The two leaders also discussed regional issues, including issues related to trade and our economic ties, North Korea, and China.
CLIP ONE _________________
And with that, I will be glad to take your questions. Terry.
Q Have you been able to find out –
MR. McCLELLAN: Last one in gets the first question.
Q I’ll remember that. (Laughter.)
Q Have you been able to find out when the President first learned of allegations of prisoner abuse in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all — and I’ll come to that — what took place is appalling and it is shameful. It is inexcusable. It does not represent what America stands for, nor does it represent our values. We do not tolerate prisoner abuse, and when it comes to light we take steps to address it, as you heard from the President. That stands in stark contrast to regimes like Saddam Hussein’s, who — which tolerated, encouraged, and praised such activity.
The vast majority of our men and women in the military are serving with honor and distinction, and they’re upholding the high standards of conduct that we expect from those who are serving in our military.
But in terms of the President, obviously when this rose up to higher levels within the military and Secretary Rumsfeld became aware of it, Secretary Rumsfeld informed the President about it at a later time, and let the President know that there were allegations of prisoner abuse in Iraq and that the military was taking action to address it, launching investigations into the matter to find out exactly what had happened and who was responsible so that we could take actions to address it. The exact time period I’m not sure of, but it was some time after Secretary Rumsfeld became aware of it because he was the one who informed the President about the situation.
Q I’m just wondering, why can’t we put even a month on it? The President of the United States can’t remember when he first heard that soldiers under his command may have tortured Iraqis? He doesn’t remember that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Now, let’s separate a couple of things here. One, of course, when he was informed by Secretary Rumsfeld, the President wanted to make sure that the military was investigating the matter and acting to address it. That was the President’s first concern. He was told that they were. The precise nature of what occurred only came to light more recently. And I think that that’s to be expected, once investigations begin, that you’re going to learn more as you go down through that investigative process.
And so the President, as he said last week after seeing the pictures, he was disgusted by them. They are — they are abhorrent, as he talked about earlier today in his interviews. And he — that’s why, on Monday, he called Secretary Rumsfeld to make sure that strong steps were being taken to correct the matter, and that strong steps were being taken to bring those responsible to justice. They talked about the comprehensive review that was underway by the military to look at whether or not there was a systemic problem in the prison system in Iraq.
Q Just one more on this. The President had to find out the gravity, the graphicness of this from the media, not from his chain of command. Isn’t that a failure of the system, that this episode — which as you’ve said has had such terrible effects around the world — he finds out about from the media, and his own chain of command fails him in that way?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no. Again, let’s separate this out. First of all, he was informed that there were allegations of prisoner abuse by Secretary Rumsfeld, and that action was being taken to address it, that there was an investigation underway. I would remind you that Central Command informed the press on January 16th that there were allegations of prisoner abuse and that they were investigating those allegations and charges. General Kimmitt continued to brief reporters about the matter, as well. And the Pentagon has a series of investigations going on right now to look at these issues.
The indications are that there were a few people involved in this and certainly those few individuals do not represent the 99 percent of our men and women in the military who are upholding the high standards of conduct that our military adheres to, and serving with honor and distinction, and working to bring about a free and peaceful and brighter future for the Iraqi people.
When we see this kind of activity, we take action to address it. And the President has continued to stay on top of it and make sure that our military is taking action to address it. That’s why he met with Secretary Rumsfeld again today, to receive follow-up updates about what was going on and what action that they are taking.
Q But, Scott, let me follow up in this way. Does the President now regret the fact that this administration was not more proactive in explaining to the American people and, indeed, the Iraqi people, that there were — such an investigation was underway, what was being learned, and being more proactive about how serious this investigation was, so as to avoid — as Terry points out, the President learns about how graphic this became, and the whole world does because of a report on CBS. Does he regret that nobody in the government, including himself, got out front and said, this may be going on, we’re looking into it –
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, the military did get out front, and they said that we have allegations of prisoner abuse and we’re taking action to address it; we’re launching investigations. Obviously, when the President saw these pictures, he was disgusted. They are appalling pictures and appalling images. We do not tolerate that kind of activity in America. America stands for freedom and democracy. America stands for rule of law and justice. America stands for treating all people with dignity and respect –
Q I understand that –
MR. McCLELLAN: — and treating people humanely, including prisoners.
Q Let’s talk about process here. Is he upset that the change of command, that the military, that nobody in the Pentagon let him know that, first of all, they were in negotiations with CBS to try to get them to delay airing some of these pictures in the first place? He had to learn about it, as he told in interviews today, he had to learn about it by watching the report?
MR. McCLELLAN: His focus is on making sure that the military is taking strong steps to address this matter and bring to justice those who are responsible for this abhorrent activity and taking action to make sure that nothing like this happens again, because it does harm our image in the Arab world. And America stands for much better than what these images represent.
Q Does he, or does he not have questions for the Pentagon about how this came to light and about the information flow to him?
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, he’s been talking to Secretary Rumsfeld to make sure that they are investigating this fully and that they are getting to the bottom of this. The President wants to get to the bottom of this.
Q One last follow-up here on America’s image overseas. How does the President feel about the fact that he has to sit down in interviews and sort of make the case, the moral distinction between the United States and Saddam Hussein, which he did in two separate interviews today?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, obviously, as he pointed out in one of those interviews, as well, he said there are some that will use any excuse, those who are enemies of freedom and democracy,
END CLIP TWO
those who want to see what we are working to achieve in Iraq fail — but what we are working to achieve in Iraq is a brighter future for the Iraqi people, a future based on freedom and peace and hope. And that will be very important for change in the Middle East.
So the President believes it’s important when something like this comes to light that we address it and that we take quick action, swift action to make sure that this kind of activity does not happen again. And that’s exactly what the Pentagon is already doing. They’ve sent a new person to be in charge of overseeing the prison system in Iraq; they’ve taken a number of steps at this facility to make sure that things are corrected so that this kind of activity does not happen again.
And that’s where the President’s focus is to make — and he’s going to continue speaking out about what America stands for and the great job that our troops are doing over in Iraq to help the Iraqi people realize a better future.
Q Why didn’t he hear about it until it became public with a television broadcast? Why — wouldn’t he be concerned that he was, in effect, the last to know of the seriousness of this, that it had to become public before he became aware of how serious it is?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as I said, Bill, obviously, as the investigation process moves forward, more information is going to come to light. You’re going to learn more about the precise nature of what occurred. And it’s — we take this very seriously. The Pentagon takes this very seriously, as you’ve heard from our military leaders –
Q I’m asking about the President –
MR. McCLELLAN: — General Sanchez took immediate steps to address the matter in Iraq when it came to light. And now we’ve been learning more over the last couple of months about the nature of what occurred.
Q Isn’t he upset that he was the last to know, in effect, how bad this was?
MR. McCLELLAN: He is not happy about what occurred in these images that people saw last week. And he wants to make sure that strong steps are taken to stop that from happening again, and that those responsible are held accountable. And that’s what the military is doing. And that’s where the President’s focus is.
Q In that connection, has he issued a worldwide alert that all military prisons under U.S. control are not participating in such abuse? And does he know — how about Guantanamo? Is it clean?
MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, our military adheres to high standards of conduct. And when — and when there is a bad behavior –
Q We don’t need that lecture. We know that. We believe in our country.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the way you phrased your question doesn’t make it sound like you do –
Q I’m asking you if he is looking into other military prisons that we have control over, as to whether there –
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the Pentagon has talked about how they are looking at their entire prison system and making sure that –
Q This new man at Abu Ghraib also believes in interrogation, of keeping the lights on, no sleep and so forth.
MR. McCLELLAN: There are international accords under the Geneva conventions that we are committed to adhering to. We are committed to treating prisoners humanely and committing [sic] prisoners with dignity and respect, and I think that our military has made that clear, as well.
Q Scott, if the President was so disgusted and disturbed by what he saw in these pictures when they became public last Wednesday, why did it take him until Monday to go to Rumsfeld and say, you need to take strong action to correct this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he’s in constant contact with his military leaders. I would remind you that I think over the weekend this classified report came to light, as well. That is something that is still, from my understanding, working its way through the chain of command at the military. It’s part of this overall effort to investigate matters and take steps to prevent this from happening again. And the President is asking these questions and making sure that the Pentagon is working to find answers and find the facts.
Q But why shouldn’t we conclude that he only began to take a more aggressive stance on this after the diplomatic and political ramifications became clear?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, when it first came to light, the President made sure that we were investigating these matters. We have learned more information since that time, and the President is going to continue asking his military leaders what they are doing to address this issue and the steps that they are taking to prevent it from happening again.
Q — the President in his interview was asked, “Would you allow the International Red Cross and other human rights organizations to visit prisons under the control of the U.S. military?” And the President replied, “Of course, we’ll cooperate with the International Red Cross.” So does that suggest that he will allow them access to prisons under the control of the U.S. military?
MR. McCLELLAN: They already have access to prisons under the control — we work with them and cooperate with the International Red Cross.
Q And the second part of the question was about other human rights organizations, will the President allow human rights organizations to see conditions in the prisons?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what’s important is that as we move forward on these series of investigations that are underway, is that the process is open and transparent. That’s another value that America stands for.
And so the President, in his interview, as you heard, talked about the importance of, as we move forward in the investigations, that this be an open and transparent process for everyone to see and for everyone to know the facts. And that’s what he — that’s what he’s committed to doing.
Q So your expectation is that other groups will be able to see the prisons?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, you can refer those questions to the military, in terms of what contacts they may have had with other outside organizations. But the President is committed to making sure that this is an open and transparent process so that everybody understands the truth and sees what happened.
Q Excuse me, Scott, my other question –
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure, go ahead.
Q — is a quote from Senator Biden. He said, “Accountability is essential. So the question from me is, what did Secretary Rumsfeld and others in the Pentagon know, when did they know, and what did they do about it? If the answers aren’t satisfactory, resignations should be sought.” Is the President satisfied with the approach Secretary Rumsfeld has taken, which includes not informing the Hill; which includes, as of yesterday, not reading –
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know that I can agree with the premise of your question. I mean, obviously, those questions you can direct to the Pentagon, in terms of what contacts they have had with the Hill. But let’s go back to the very beginning of this. It was made known publicly that there were allegations of prisoner abuse in Iraq and that there were investigations underway. We can go back to January 16th, like I said, when Central Command first made this known publicly, shortly after it rose up to some higher-level officials in the military command. And General Kimmitt continued to brief people about that even after that time period, as well. So it was publicly known that there were allegations of prisoner abuse and that steps were being taken.
The President does have confidence in our military leaders to address this matter and find out who was responsible and hold those people accountable, as well as take other steps and corrective actions that are necessary to prevent this from happening again.
Q You’re suggesting the President is satisfied with the approach Secretary Rumsfeld –
MR. McCLELLAN: He’s going to continue asking them where things stand and what is happening in terms of the investigations. The President wants to know the facts. He wants to know the truth. So he will continue asking those questions, as he did earlier today with Secretary Rumsfeld.
Q You didn’t answer that question at all.
Q We can agree you didn’t say “yes”?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, go — ask your question again.
Q Is the President satisfied with the specific steps that Secretary Rumsfeld has taken in dealing with this matter?
MR. McCLELLAN: He believes that they are taking appropriate action to address the matter and that they are looking fully at whether or not there’s a systemic problem beyond the actions of a few that we have already been made aware of.
Q What about up until now, though?
Q The President said today, “The first time I saw or heard about pictures was on TV.” We know that General Abizaid, we know that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers, both knew weeks before that, A, these pictures existed, and, B, that they would be broadcast. In light of the fact of the impact these pictures have had on U.S. credibility, is the President disturbed that he was not notified of the existence of these pictures, or that they would be broadcast?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think this question was — is mentioned in David’s question earlier today, and we discussed it earlier this morning, as well. The President’s focus is on making sure that our military is taking this matter seriously, that they’re taking steps to address it, and that they’re holding people accountable who are responsible for these appalling acts, because it does not represent what America stands for. It does not represent American values. And the President wants to make sure that this kind of activity doesn’t happen again. And he appreciates the fact that there are a series of investigations going on now by our military leaders, and that when it came to their attention, they immediately took steps to look into these issues and work to address them.
Q But does the President believe that he was informed by Rumsfeld in a timely manner about these photos?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I pointed out to you that after Secretary Rumsfeld became aware of it, he informed the President about it at a later time. And so the President –
Q When was –
MR. McCLELLAN: It was sometime after Secretary Rumsfeld became aware of it. As I mentioned to Terry earlier, I don’t have the exact time period, but can you go back and look at the time line that the Pentagon outlined. All this came to light really in the month of January and rose up through the chain of command to higher level officials.
Q When the President today said that General Kimmitt made people aware that there was allegations of abuse in early January, was the President saying that he was aware of those allegations, either through Kimmitt or someone else, in early January?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, like I said, I don’t have the exact time period, but it was sometime after Secretary Rumsfeld became aware of it, because he’s the one who informed the President about these matters.
Q Which would have been after January 16th, when the Coalition Provisional Authority put out a release saying that the allegations –
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don’t know the exact time when Secretary Rumsfeld became aware of it, you can direct that question to him, but it was sometime after that.
Q So we’ll ask Secretary Rumsfeld when Rumsfeld knew, and then that will give us a clue as to when the President knew, because the President doesn’t know?
MR. McCLELLAN: It was some time after that, at a later time after that. And the President, like I said, wanted to make sure that action was being taken, that they were investigating the matter and that the appropriate steps were being taken to address it; he was told that they were. As the investigation has moved forward, more information has come to light. We’ve learned more about the precise nature of what occurred. And the President is continuing to ask questions and make sure that our military is taking this matter seriously.
Q The President would have been informed, though, before January 16th, before the Coalition Authority puts out a press release — I mean, is that fair to say, that the President was informed before the press release came out?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I mean, there were charges — I’m not sure — no, I’m not sure that I would make that assumption, because I’m not sure when Secretary Rumsfeld first became aware of it.
Q Scott, let me ask you two questions on the details that are related. Number one, when Secretary Rumsfeld told the President that there are allegations of prisoner abuse, was that as detailed as Secretary Rumsfeld got with the President?
MR. McCLELLAN: It was a general sense, at that point, and that –
Q So it was no more than that?
MR. McCLELLAN: — they were investigating the matter. The President wanted to make sure that they were investigating it. And, again, as the investigations or series of investigations have been moving forward, more information is coming to light.
Q And part two is, since that briefing by Secretary Rumsfeld to the President, the President knew or heard, was told nothing more until he saw the television and the pictures of the prison and prisoners?
MR. McCLELLAN: He was aware that investigations were underway looking into this matter. He learned more about the precise nature through some of the media reports, and that’s when he started asking some additional questions of Secretary Rumsfeld. And he has been informed about some of the additional steps that they have been taking more recently.
Q So the only information he got after the first Rumsfeld briefing was from the media?
MR. McCLELLAN: Ed, I don’t — he’s in contact with our military leaders on a regular basis, and he’s briefed on matters in Iraq. But I think that if you go back, yes, he was aware of a general sense that there were allegations of prisoner abuse, that it was being investigated, and when more information came to light and the precise nature — more about the precise nature of what occurred was learned, the President wanted to know additional information. And he will continue to ask questions as these investigations move forward.
`Q Scott, was the President aware before he saw the reports on television that there were pictures of this abuse –
MR. McCLELLAN: He already addressed that. He actually got asked that in his interview.
Q — pictures that were likely to have an impact on the Arab world?
MR. McCLELLAN: He actually addressed that in his interview; that question came up. In terms of what this does to us in the Arab world, it certainly does not help. It does hurt our efforts. But that’s why the President went on these networks earlier today to assure people in the Arab world that what America stands for is treating everybody with dignity and respect, and treating people in a humane way. And that’s what we are committed to doing when it comes to prisoners.
Q I’m not sure if that’s what I’m asking. If the President wasn’t aware of the nature of the abuse before he saw the pictures, the question I have to you is, did Secretary Rumsfeld inform him of the nature of the abuse and that there were pictures –
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s what I think Ed was asking, that he had a general sense of that there were charges or allegations of prisoner abuse and that there was an investigation underway. So it was more of a general sense. More information has come to light more recently.
Q You’re saying that — we know that General Myers knew at least two weeks before and tried to get CBS to hold them up because of the situation at the time. You’re telling us the President was not informed at all that these pictures were in the hands of CBS?
MR. McCLELLAN: He got asked the question earlier and he addressed it. I addressed it the other day, as well.
Q Two questions, please. One, has the President heard or any — or he spoke to any Muslim or Arab leaders, or if he heard about this statement also of these alleged abuses?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I would say that the administration is always in close contact with leaders in the Arab world, whether it’s Dr. Rice or Secretary Powell or the President. And we certainly keep you posted of the President’s conversations. And he looks forward to the meeting tomorrow with King Abdullah, as well.
Q Second question, can I go off the line now?
Q Not yet.
Q Not yet.
MR. McCLELLAN: I’ll try to come back to you.
Q Has the President discussed any steps, creating any steps that would avoid not having to learn about photos like this by watching it on TV again? Something down the chain of command to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, the President’s focus right now is on making sure that the military is taking the steps necessary to address this matter; that people are being held accountable for this kind of behavior that is abhorrent; that action is being taken to make sure that we prevent something like this from happening again; and to make sure that we are taking a broad look at what is going on in our prison system so that we can be assured that it is not a systemic problem. And that’s where the President’s focus is. Obviously, he was informed that there were some allegations of prisoner abuse and, like I said, more information comes to light as the investigations move forward. And he’s going to continue asking for updates on where things stand as they move forward.
Q It’s pretty obvious in this case that there’s a system to hold the military personnel accountable for what’s happened here, but there appears to be a connection with private contractors who had one-time military work out-sourced to them. There’s legislation in the House that’s been tied up for more than a year now, when there were earlier problems with — that came to light regarding private military contractors. Does the President believe that this is a good opportunity to perhaps pursue more oversight for the non-uniform personnel, people who actually give orders to some of our men and women in uniform?
MR. McCLELLAN: And that’s — when you look at the series of investigations that are underway now by the military, they’re going to help us learn more. And then we can better address some of these problems so that they don’t happen again in the future. The President wants to make sure that we learn all the facts, and that we fully learn the truth. That’s what our military is working to do right now.
The President expects that anyone who violates the law or breaks code of conduct be held accountable, whether it’s in our military or private contractors. It’s important that people who commit these kind of despicable acts are held accountable, and that’s what the President believes.
Q If I may, what system do the private contractors face in similar –
MR. McCLELLAN: Obviously, there are laws in place, and I don’t know the specific rules, but I think the military has talked a little bit about that, as well.
Q I remain puzzled over the inability to pin down a date for when the President first learned about this from Secretary Rumsfeld, because if you look at the facts in hindsight, he’s told by Rumsfeld of the allegations and the situation; his reaction is, I want this investigated. That makes him look pretty good, in hindsight. Why can’t we pin this down?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, Dick, I could speculate about it, but I’ve gone and looked and I’ve checked to try to help you all have that information, and I know that he was informed by Secretary Rumsfeld and that it was some time, obviously, after Secretary Rumsfeld was informed about what was going on.
Q Why is it so difficult to pin down the date? If his response was one of concern directed at Rumsfeld –
MR. McCLELLAN: It wasn’t something he was informed about in the last week. I mean, he learned more about the precise nature in the last week, but –
Q I understand that. But if his reaction was, let’s look into this, I’m concerned about this, I mean, that reflects well on him. Why can’t we know when it was that that exchange took place? Do we have to wait for the next Woodward book? (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: Dick, I’ve gone and asked the people that were in that conversation when that occurred and I’ve told –
Q Including the President?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. The President doesn’t recall the specific time period, and I’ve talked to — Andy Card was in that conversation, as well.
Q Scott, people around this building are pretty thorough and it would seem to be unusual that the President would ask for action and nobody wrote a note to themselves, nobody sent an email –
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, keep in mind, Mike, that when he was first informed about it, obviously, it was more general in nature at that point, that there were allegations of prisoner abuse and that there was an investigation underway to look into these allegations. As I said, as investigations move forward you learn information, you learn more about the precise nature of what occurred, and that’s what we have seen over the course of the last week.
Q Scott, it seems like you’re trying not to tell us the President didn’t really understand what was going on –
MR. McCLELLAN: We’re trying to bring some order to this room. I’ll come back to you. Go ahead, Mark.
Q — didn’t really understand what was going on before he saw the pictures. Is that the case? He didn’t really have a grasp of what was going on before he saw the pictures?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I said that we’ve only learned more recently about the precise nature of what occurred. There is still an investigation going on, I would remind you, Wendell. It’s important that we let those investigations proceed and come to a conclusion. The President would like to see those investigations move forward as quickly as possible so that we can know the truth and get to the bottom of what occurred.
Q Okay, a simple question. The President had two interviews today the White House set up for Arabic TV networks. In neither did the President apologize. Why was that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we’ve already said that we’re sorry for what occurred, and we’re deeply sorry to the families and what they must be feeling and going through, as well. The President is sorry for what occurred and the pain that it has caused. It does not represent what America stands for. America stands for much better than what happened.
Q He didn’t think that was necessary to say in his own voice, with his own words?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, he was — he was addressing the questions that were asked, but we’ve made it very clear that we are deeply sorry for what occurred.
Go ahead, April. Bob, is that red jacket for a reason, or did you take it from Les? (Laughter.)
Q Scott, this seems to be a little bit deeper than just the pictures. And the pictures are very, as the President said, abhorrent, he finds them abhorrent. But it’s deeper in the fact that, apparently there have been 14 prisoner deaths in Iraq, and two, allegedly, are homicides. Did he know about these homicides — these two homicides and these prisoner deaths in Iraq prior to this abuse situation with the photos? Did he know that at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: The Pentagon is looking into all these matters. The President is aware of those. I told you that he knew that there were allegations of prisoner abuse within the prison system in Iraq and it was more of a general nature, and that there were investigations underway. And these are all matters that the Pentagon is looking into, that our military is looking into and working to address.
Q So let me ask you this. Would you be more inclined now to say this is a systematic — a systemic — excuse me — situation because you have not only the pictures, you have deaths — two of them are deemed homicides — of Iraqi prisoners?
MR. McCLELLAN: April, I would remind you that there are some — more than 135,000 of our troops who are over in Iraq — and the vast — vast majority of those troops are serving honorably. They’re serving with honor and distinction. They’re performing superbly. They are — they are fully committed to what they are working to achieve, and that is a free and peaceful and democratic future for the Iraqi people. They’re there to help the Iraqi people realize their aspirations.
The indications that we have are that there are a few that have participated in some despicable behavior. And those people must be held accountable. Obviously, I’m not going to get into talking about any individual cases. There are charges being pursued against individuals. There are criminal — criminal investigations underway. The President expects people to be held accountable for this kind of activity.
Q But, Scott, I want go back to my original question. How is the President made aware of 14 deaths — Iraqi prisoner deaths? When would he be made aware of this? Was he made aware of this prior to finding out about –
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is briefed by his military leaders. He meets on a regular basis with Secretary Rumsfeld and General Myers and others within the Pentagon.
Q Just a couple of quick things. One, to recap, you’ve told us today the President learned about this sometime between January 16th and April 30th, when he spoke to us about it. That’s a four-month window. I’m just trying to make sure, we can’t narrow it down any more than that.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it wasn’t more recently, like within the last week or two. But he learned more about the precise nature just within the recent days.
Q Okay. Second, the President said today that he wants a full and transparent investigation. Would that include congressional hearings? Does he think that’s appropriate for this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Congress — and he talked about an open and transparent process, and that’s part of our democracy here in America. That is part of what we stand for. Congress has a role to play in what is going on, and they should be kept informed about what is going on. And I think our military leader is — our military leaders are talking to Congress about what occurred.
Q You said today that this was a few individuals, in your words, and Secretary Powell suggested the same thing earlier. What is that based on — given that the President apparently did not learn about the nature of this until news reports came out? What is the basis of your confidence?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, from what we’ve seen so far, that’s what the basis is. But as the President said, they are taking a comprehensive look at matters to see whether or not this is a systemic problem. And we want to know, to make sure that it is not a systemic problem. And as I said, we also know that our troops adhere to high standards of conduct, because that’s what America stands for, and that they are doing their best to adhere to those conducts — to adhere to those high standards of conduct.
Like I said, 99.5 to 99.9 percent of our men and women in the military who are over there are working to help the Iraqi people realize their aspirations, and they’re serving superbly and they’re serving honorably. It’s important to remind people that the few who are responsible for these despicable acts do not represent the vast majority of our men and women in uniform.
Q About the pictures, who had them first? Did the Pentagon have them before CBS, or did CBS have them before the Pentagon?
MR. McCLELLAN: Jeff, I don’t know the answer to that question.
Q Let me ask it this way: Has the President had them for some time, and somehow they got to CBS, or was it the other way around?
MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to direct that question to the Pentagon. I don’t know the answer to that question.
Q Scott, getting back to the apology issue that Mark raised, did you mean to say that the President didn’t apologize because — he didn’t address that issue because no one brought it up in either interview?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we’ve already said that we are deeply sorry for what occurred. The White House has already said that, on behalf of the President.
Q There seems to be a sense, among some Arab scholars and Arab diplomats today that from, at the very least, a cultural standpoint, that it would have gone a long way had the President himself apologized. It’s, with all due respect, a little bit different than you or Condoleezza Rice or someone else. If the Arab world had heard him — heard the President personally apologize, it would have gone a long way. Why did he choose not to use those words?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I just told you, the President is deeply sorry for what occurred, and the pain that it has caused.
Q Why didn’t he say so himself?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is deeply sorry for it. And he was pleased to sit down and do these interviews and address the questions that were asked of him.
Q Why didn’t he say so himself?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m saying it for him right now, Peter. And Condi Rice said it yesterday. We’ve already made — the President –
Q — wasn’t what was –
MR. McCLELLAN: No, but go back to the interview. The President made it very clear that what occurred was wrong, and that it does not represent what America stands for. So he made it very clear in those interviews that it was wrong, that we do not stand for that, and that when we — when that kind of activity comes to our attention, we take action to address it, and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
Q There’s a distinction, Scott.
Q Shouldn’t an apology be at the President’s forethought, not you saying it?
MR. McCLELLAN: April, I’ll try to come back to you. Go ahead.
Q Is the President worried that with this situation the U.S. would lose authority on international forums, as the Human Rights Commission at the U.N. to judge or criticize other countries who –
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me remind you that the United States is a leader when it comes to defending human rights and promoting human dignity for all people. And the President talked a little bit about that in his interviews.
Q Scott, you say that the actions that were taken were contrary to American values, and I think I and everybody else can agree with you on that. Nevertheless, isn’t there a sense of responsibility, to the extent that over the past couple of years the United States has deviated from its traditional values — has launched a preemptive strike against a nation without what was generally considered due cause; they put out –
MR. McCLELLAN: There was ample cause. And I remind you what David Kay uncovered and what Charles Duelfer had uncovered.
Q Let me finish — they put out of operation general legal procedures when it concerns those suspect terrorists; and they have created a climate which has been especially aggravated by friends of the President within the Christian fundamentalist groups who are talking about the danger to Christian values of the Muslim hoards that are facing us. And this is being done in the churches, these are the people who strongly support the President. Have we not created a climate in which some people see this as a “great crusade,” a word which the President, himself, used inadvertently at one point, and that wouldn’t you expect this type of thing –
Q Is there a question coming? (Laughter.)
Q — from occurring when you have created that –
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know where to begin with , because I disagree with the premise of everything that you were saying there, essentially. We are at war on terrorism. There are people in this world who are killers. They seek to harm America. And this is a broad war on terrorism. We face many new dangerous threats in the 21st century, and this President’s most solemn obligation is to protect the American people. And this President will act aggressively to make sure that the American people can live in freedom and security, and to make the world a better place.
Advancing freedom and democracy is key to winning the war on terrorism. And there are lots of ways we do that. We support efforts that are underway to move forward toward freedom and democracy. And we are also working in Afghanistan and Iraq to advance freedom and democracy. We liberated some 50 million people in those two countries alone. In Iraq, they were under a brutal, oppressive regime. In Afghanistan, they were under a brutal, oppressive regime. And the people in those countries are seeing a better future.
And I would remind you that what we are accomplishing in those countries is providing people with hope and opportunity, and it’s going to the root causes of terrorism, which thrives on despair and poverty. And we’re working on those fronts to bring about more stability in that region and bring about hope for people in those regions, so that we can win the war on terrorism.
END 2:16 P.M. EDT