White House Daily Briefing, June 17
|Thursday June 17,
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:47 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. The President had a very good Cabinet meeting earlier today. They discussed the war on terrorism, and the progress being made on the President's five-point plan for transitioning to a democratically elected representative government in Iraq. Certainly, there are dangers that remain. And each step that we take to move closer to transitioning to a sovereign, democratically elected government, the more desperate the terrorists will become. And they will seek to derail that transition. The President made it very clear that they will not prevail. We are making great progress. Iraqis are assuming more and more responsibility, and there was a discussion of that in the Cabinet meeting. And as you heard from the President, a free and peaceful Iraq is critical to winning the war on terrorism and transforming a dangerous part of the world, which will make the world a safer and better place, and America more secure.
And they also spent a good bit of the Cabinet meeting talking about our economy, and how our economy is shifting into a higher gear. It is continuing to grow stronger. The policies that the President advocated and worked to pass are working to get our economy growing even stronger. We've seen 1.4 million new jobs created since last August. We've seen the fastest growth in some 20 years. And we're seeing real after-tax incomes up by 11 percent since December 2000. And the President looks forward to going to the National Federation of Independent Business here shortly and making some remarks about our economy, and how our economy has been through a lot, but it is showing great promise and opportunity. It's been through a recession. It's been through the attacks of September 11th, and the corporate scandals, and the "March to War." And the President today is going to directly take on the pessimists who opposed the tax relief and who pursued -- those who opposed the tax relief and the policies that we pursued to get the economy growing stronger. He'll challenge the pessimists who doubted that the economy was recovering, who said that businesses and households would not spend their tax savings, and who said we were headed for a double-dip recession. And he'll challenge the pessimists who still don't believe in America's entrepreneurs and workers, and who are still trying to find things that are going wrong.
And the President will talk about how going forward, we need to continue to pursue these pro-growth, lower tax policies to see continued economic growth over a long period of a time. And so he looks forward to taking on those critics and their gloomy predictions with his optimistic vision for this country.
And with that I will go straight to your questions. John.
QUESTION: Scott, I'm a little confused, and it could be a factor of age, but I'm just wondering, you were saying this morning that the findings of the 9/11 Commission, which definitively say that there was no collaborative relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, are completely consistent with your position that there was such a collaborative relationship. And I'm just wondering if you could explain how those two disparate thoughts are completely consistent.
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. If you go back and look at what the September 11th Commission said, they talked about how there had been high-level contacts between the regime in Iraq and al Qaeda. And they specifically pointed out to contacts between Iraqi intelligence officials and bin Laden in Sudan; and they talked about other contacts. And if you go back and look at what Secretary Powell outlined before the United Nations, this was back in February of 2003, he talked about how we know -- this is quote, "We know members of both organizations met repeatedly and have met at least eight times at very senior levels since the early 1990s. In 1996, a foreign security service tells us that bin Laden met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official in Khartoum and later met the director of the Iraqi intelligence service." So he talked about some of contacts in his presentation to the United Nations.
Q: Right, but the 9/11 --
MR. McCLELLAN: And that is perfectly consistent with what the September 11th Commission talked about in their report yesterday.
Q: But here's where the two positions diverge, and that is that the 9/11 Commission says, yes, there were these contacts, but they did not result in any kind of collaborative relationship. It means the same thing as you and I contact each all the time, but I don't think anybody here at the White House would account you of having --
MR. McCLELLAN: John, we made it clear a long time ago --
Q: -- a collaborative relationship with me.
MR. McCLELLAN: We made it clear a long time ago that there is no evidence to suggest that Saddam Hussein's regime was involved in the attacks of September 11th.
Q: But they say -- the 9/11 Commission is saying, not only is there no evidence to support that or any collaboration in any other attacks on America, but no evidence to support any kind of collaborative relationship which you have claimed.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, if you go back and look at what Secretary Powell said, and look at what Director Tenet said -- let me point out what Director Tenet said, as well, let me read you facts because you're talking about impressions, let's talk about the facts. I think you need to look at the facts, and look at exactly what was said prior to the decision to go into Iraq and remove that regime from power.
Here's Director Tenet to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in a letter October 7, 2002:
"We have solid reporting of senior-level contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda going back a decade. Credible information indicates that Iraq and al Qaeda had discussed safe-haven and reciprocal nonaggression. Since Operation Enduring Freedom, we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad."
So those are the facts. And I think if you go and look back at what the September 11th Commission report said yesterday, it's consistent with that report.
Q: Scott, let me try to take a stab at this because I think one of the things that you're asserting there is a statement from the Director of Central Intelligence, who has since resigned, who apparently was the same one who told the President that it was a slam-dunk case.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's not trying to say he resigned for reasons other than were personal reasons.
Q: People can make up their own minds.
MR. McCLELLAN: As he cited, for family reasons.
Q: Okay, but they can make up their own minds.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, well, you're trying to lump it all together, though.
Q: I'm pointing out that he resigned. And he also said -- you quoted him as saying that -- he's also the one who told the President that it was a slam-dunk case that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Today -- as of today, there are not. And isn't the issue that whatever the intelligence was about ties, any kind of relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq, that for the Vice President of the United States two days ago to assert deep, long-standing ties is, at its most charitable, an overstatement of what the evidence shows?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, he's actually referring to exactly what Secretary Powell outlined before the United Nations and what Director Tenet outlined in open session to members of Congress. So, again, I would go back to what we stated were the facts and what we knew. And if you --
Q: But that's in direct contradiction to what the 9/11 Commission has found.
MR. McCLELLAN: And if you look back at what we said, we said that -- we said all along that Saddam Hussein's regime supported and harbored terrorists, and that there were ties to terrorism -- including al Qaeda. And if you go back and look at what was outlined before the United Nations -- Secretary Powell goes to talk about how there was support for suicide bombers in the Middle East who sought to undermine the peace process, who sought to undermine the road map.
Q: But, Scott, you're trying to make such a technical --
MR. McCLELLAN: Director Tenet --
Q: -- argument, cherry-picking what you want to see.
Q: Not Iraq.
Q: And not only that, this President has said that he thought that Saddam Hussein would like to use al Qaeda as a forward army, as one of his forward armies. The 9/11 Commission is saying, contacts a relationship don't make.
MR. McCLELLAN: David, you're just ignoring the facts. You're not looking at what Director Tenet said. You're not looking at what Secretary Powell said before the United Nations.
Q: Scott, do you really think people buy this?
MR. McCLELLAN: And I think that you can seek to drive a wedge, but there is no wedge there between what the September 11th Commission said and what the facts --
Q: Between what the facts are and what the reality is.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and what the facts are. You're talking about impressions; I'm talking about facts.
Q: No, I'm also talking about facts. The President said he thinks that al Qaeda would like to be a forward -- that Saddam wanted to use al Qaeda as a forward army -- his words from, I believe, October 2002 at a Michigan rally.
This commission has said after its own investigation, and you were the ones who set up the commission, that there was no collaborative relationship. So the conclusion -- the question and conclusion seems to be that administration overstated the evidence that exists.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish what I was saying a minute ago, David. I appreciate your comments, and I'd like to make some myself because there are important facts that I think are being ignored here in this discussion. The facts were very clear. They were outlined by Secretary Powell before the United Nations.
Q: Repudiated --
MR. McCLELLAN: They were outlined by Director Tenet to members of Congress.
Q: Powell wants know why the intelligence was wrong, doesn't he?
MR. McCLELLAN: And again, if you'll let me finish, I would like to go through some of this, because this is an important discussion to have. It's important for the American people to have the complete picture, and to have all the facts before them. And that's exactly what this administration put before the American people in a very public way. Secretary Powell, one of the key things he talked about in his remarks was -- and let me just go back to those remarks -- quote from Secretary Powell's remarks:
"Iraq and terrorism go back decades. Baghdad trains Palestine Liberation Front members in small arms and explosives. Saddam uses the Arab Liberation Front to funnel money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers in order to prolong the intifada. And it's no secret that Saddam's own intelligence service was involved in dozens of attacks or attempted assassinations in the 1990s. But what I want to bring to your attention today is the potentially much more sinister nexus between Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network, a nexus that combines classic terrorist organizations and modern methods of murder. Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda lieutenants." And he goes on to talk about Mr. Zarqawi. We certainly have seen Zarqawi up close during --
Q: After the invasion.
MR. McCLELLAN: He was in Iraq prior to the invasion, David. And it's important to point that out to the American people. He had a safe harbor in Iraq. He received medical treatment in Baghdad. And that's what Secretary Powell talked about. And certainly, when you're talking about a post-September 11th world, this President is not going to rely on the good intentions of Saddam Hussein to protect the American people. Saddam Hussein had a long history of using weapons of mass destruction, of supporting and harboring terrorists, and he had a long history of oppression in that country. He certainly knew what was going on in that country. This was a police state in Iraq. And the world is safer and better off because Saddam Hussein has been removed from power.
Q: The New York Times says the President should apologize to the American people. Also, are you saying that the 9/11 report is wrong? Is that what you're saying that you reject the findings?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm saying that it's consistent with what we have said.
Q: It is not consistent. They said this business on the nexus -- sinister nexus is not so.
MR. McCLELLAN: Where did they say that?
Q: It's in the story.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay.
Q: No collaborative relationship.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Terry.
Q: Well, I'll pick up on that, if I may.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well -- and we never said that there was operational ties involved in attacks on the United States. Let's be very clear about that. The President talked about that just a short time ago.
Q: What are people supposed to conclude, that they're having lunch with each other?
MR. McCLELLAN: A short time ago in his remarks.
Q: You talk about deep, long-standing ties. What is that supposed to mean?
MR. McCLELLAN: Saddam Hussein supported and harbored terrorist groups --
Q: Why don't you just say the commission is wrong?
MR. McCLELLAN: All right.
Q: Well, because the terms that you did use, "deep, long-standing ties -- sinister nexus," and the President himself saying, "By removing Saddam Hussein we have removed an ally of al Qaeda," that means they are working together. Did Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda work together, where and when?
MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree with your characterization about --
Q: Well, what does "ally" mean?
MR. McCLELLAN: But Saddam Hussein's regime and al Qaeda had a common enemy: It was the United States of America. And when you talk about a regime that has a history of supporting and harboring terrorists, and has a history of using weapons of mass destruction on its own people and on its neighbors, and then you look at the world through the lens of September 11th, the President made the absolute right decision to go in and remove that regime from power.
Q: That's an argument. Those are not facts.
MR. McCLELLAN: One of the most dangerous --
Q: That's just an argument. The facts as determined do not bear out that argument.
MR. McCLELLAN: One of the most dangerous threats we face in this day and age is the nexus between outlaw regimes with weapons of mass destruction and --
Q: But you didn't find any.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- terrorist organizations. And the President acted, based on the information that we outlined, and that you can go back and look at. It's public information. Secretary Powell speaking before the United Nations --
Q: Who has repudiated his own testimony.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and Director Tenet testifying before Congress about these ties.
Q: And just to button this down, the President stands by his statement that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda were allies.
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, if you go back and look at the facts --
Q: I'm asking what the President would say today.
MR. McCLELLAN: He stands by saying that Saddam Hussein's regime had ties to terrorism, including al Qaeda. And the basis of that is what I pointed out in Secretary Powell's remarks and Director Tenet's remarks. And that is consistent with what the September 11th Commission said. The relationship and contacts go back over the last decade.
Q: One more on this.
MR. McCLELLAN: And they have a common enemy in the United States of America.
Q: That's your definition of allies. One more on this: the information you are pointing us to all comes from before the war in Iraq. In other words, it comes from that same -- we now know, certainly, when it comes to weapons of mass destruction -- deeply flawed intelligence. Since then, the substantial majority of the leaders of Saddam Hussein's regime have been captured and interrogated, and we also have, as the President likes to tell us, two-thirds of the leadership of al Qaeda captured and interrogated. Is there anything new that you can add, because the 9/11 Commission, the only new fact they added was that two senior leaders of al Qaeda denied that there were any ties at all.
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, what they said was that there were high-level contacts, going back for quite some time. And that's consistent with what we said prior to going into Iraq and removing that regime from power.
Q: But I'm asking whether there is new information since the war, developed from all of these leaders that we have captured on both sides. We now have in our custody leadership of this alliance on both sides. What have they told us?
MR. McCLELLAN: What do you want to dispute that Secretary Powell said and Director Tenet said? I mean, let's talk about the facts, because those were the facts that we outlined before making the decision to go in and remove that regime from power. And so let's talk about those facts.
Q: Have they been borne out by these --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's nice to talk about these impressions and the way people are trying to spin certain things, but let's talk about the facts.
Q: I'm looking for facts.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's not ignore those facts. Well, the facts were before the United Nations, through Secretary Powell's statement, and they were before Congress, through Director Tenet's testimony.
Q: What have we learned since then, from all this intelligence?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, obviously you learn more post the decision to go into Iraq, and you learn more as you get information from those detainees. And I'm sure that Director Tenet can talk to you about those issues and give you a read on that. That's a very general question you're asking me right here, right now.
Q: Is there anything else that goes to the notion of an al Qaeda-Iraq alliance?
MR. McCLELLAN: But if you go back and look at what we outlined, and the facts, we stand by that.
Go ahead, Connie.
Q: It's an established fact that past administrations did not take adequate action against terrorists. Is there a lesson in this to Iran and North Korea, and is the U.S. strong enough to mount any offensive against those countries?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Connie, as you know, we're pursuing diplomatic solutions when it comes to North Korea and Iran. And we're working on taking a multilateral approach to address those issues. Certainly, when it comes to confronting threats, there are different ways to confront different threats in different parts of the world. And this President is committed to confronting those threats and addressing them before it's too late, because September 11th, which is what we're talking about here today, changed the equation and taught us that we must confront threats before it is too late. And that's exactly what this President is doing. That's exactly what he did in Iraq.
Q: Where was the threat?
MR. McCLELLAN: Saddam Hussein was a threat, he was a destabilizing force in a dangerous region of the world.
Q: Did he ever threaten the United States?
MR. McCLELLAN: And he was a sworn enemy of the United States of America who had a history of using weapons of mass destruction both on his own people and on his neighbors. He was a very destabilizing force, and the world is better off because he has been removed from power.
Q: Scott, the last poll on the subject found that most Americans, more than half, believe that Iraq had some hand in the planning and the execution of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Do you believe that the White House, the administration has done anything to contribute to that misimpression? Do you believe that you have, in any way, at any time, overstated the ties, the connections between al Qaeda and Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said we said a long time ago that there was no evidence to suggest Saddam Hussein's regime was involved in the September 11th attacks. We made that very --
Q: After the war you said that.
Q: Overstated the relationship in any way?
MR. McCLELLAN: We made that very clear.
Q: Yes, in September, after the war you made it clear.
Q: Two questions, one, what kind of message President Bush is sending to the new government in New Delhi of Mr. Singh by designating Pakistan yesterday a major non-ally status?
MR. McCLELLAN: Right, and we have previously -- and we have previously announced that.
Q: Indian officials in New Delhi are saying that there will be an arms race between India and Pakistan. And now in the next two weeks, they are going to have peace talks again in Delhi.
MR. McCLELLAN: It's important that that dialogue continue, and that India and Pakistan continue to have close contacts and work to reduce tension in that region, work to address these issues through dialogue. We've made that very clear. We certainly have good relations with both countries, and we will continue to build on those relations and help to do our part to facilitate that dialogue so that we can continue to reduce tensions in the region.
Q: But how about --
Q: Why don't we go back to --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep going. Let me keep going because the President is due to be speaking here shortly.
Q: I want to go back to Kathleen's question. Do you believe -- you're saying that the White House believes that administration officials bear no responsibility for this misperception of Iraq's role in 9/11 that polls indicate a good half of the American people have. Are you concerned about that? Two questions.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you can go back and look at the facts. And I think the American people recognize that Saddam Hussein's regime was a brutal one. It was an oppressive one. It had a history involving terrorism, and so you have to look at that and have to take that into account when perceptions are formed. There are some facts there that point to the dangers and point to reasons why people might have those views.
In terms of this administration, we laid out the facts very clearly for the American people. And it's important to look at the facts as we outlined them. And it's important to look at it in the context of post-September 11th. September 11th taught us that we must confront these threats before it is too late. September 11th taught us that we are -- or showed us that we are at war on terrorism. This was a terrible tragedy that occurred on American soil, and it taught us that we must confront threats that we face in the 21st century. That's what this President is doing. And you have to look at all the facts that are involved here. But we made it very clear that there was no evidence to suggest that regime was involved in September 11th.
Q: And you're not concerned about the -- it doesn't trouble you that so many people have this misperception?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'm dealing with the facts up here, and I'm pointing out to you what the facts are in what we said.
Q: It is a fact that --
MR. McCLELLAN: And I'm also pointing out to you that people looked at Saddam Hussein --
Q: -- that a number of people had this misperception. I want to know if you're concerned about that. Does it trouble you that so many Americans believe Saddam had a role in 9/11?
MR. McCLELLAN: Wendel, I don't -- I guess, I don't look at polls and look at it in those terms. I think I look at it in terms of the facts and what was said.
Q: Scott, the AP reports from Little Rock that Bill Clinton attended the world premier of the documentary The Hunting of The President, a film "claiming to expose the 10-year campaign to destroy Bill Clinton." The Washington Post this morning quotes Clinton as saying, his fight against impeachment was, "a badge of honor." And my question -- the first part of two -- how could President Bush possibly reconcile his promise to restore honor to the White House with his salute on Monday of this same convicted perjurer whose dishonesty under oath required the restoration of honor promised by Governor Bush?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, first of all, the unveiling of the presidential portraits is a tradition that dates back quite some time. And the President was pleased to welcome the Clintons back to the White House and participate in that unveiling ceremony. I think you heard from him directly. In terms of these other issues, I think you might want to address them to President Clinton.
Q: There's a growing national concern that the World War II Memorial's remembrance of Pearl Harbor, which quotes part of President Roosevelt's "Date of Infamy" speech has deleted its undeniable climax, "We will go on to the inevitable triumph, so help us God." And my question: Will the President as a dedicated worshiper of God do anything about this deletion of God or not?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, first I've heard about it.
Q: It's out there.
MR. McCLELLAN: You brought it to my attention. I'll take a look into it.
Q: It's out there. You will?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Ken.
Q: Scott, how much of a political problem is it for the President leading into a reelection campaign that one rationale after another for going to war in Iraq seems to be vanishing in terms of credibility?
MR. McCLELLAN: One, I disagree with that characterization because I don't accept the premise of your question.
Q: So you don't see any political difficulty in these latest revelations, the fact that there's no weapons of mass destruction?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the American people recognize that we are better off with Saddam Hussein removed from power. I think the American people recognize that the decision the President made was the right one because it was based on making the world a safer and better place, and based on making America more secure. Saddam Hussein was a threat.
Q: That's not true.
MR. McCLELLAN: Saddam Hussein was a destabilizing force in the Middle East. It is a region that has been a breeding ground for terrorism. A free and peaceful Iraq will help transform that region for the better, and it will help make the region safer. And it will help provide hope to people in that region who aspire to be free, and who aspire to have a better life. And in turn, it will make the world a safer place for all.
Q: And you don't see any political price to be paid for the erosion of one justification --
Q: -- after another before the war?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, see, I disagree with the premise of your statement there. I don't accept it. The facts were clear. And we can talk about what someone's impressions or perceptions may be. I'm going to talk about the facts. And I think you should look at the facts.
Q: Well, the fact is -- the fact is there's been no WMD found. We clearly haven't been welcomed as liberators.
MR. McCLELLAN: And if you go back and look at the Iraq Survey Group, they clearly pointed out that he had the intention and capabilities, and he certainly had a history of using those weapons of mass destruction. And let me point out, that was a serious violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution. It's important that our word means something. The President means what he says, and does what he says he is going to do. Saddam Hussein was given ample opportunity over the last decade to comply with his international obligations. He continued to defy the international community. And the President followed through on what was called for by the Security Council in an unanimously passed resolution to impose serious consequences on that regime if they failed to comply this one final time.
Q: What I'm trying to get you to address, Scott, is that the political atmosphere surrounding this whole enterprise in Iraq clearly has shifted if you read polls. More and more people doubt the rationales for going to war. More and more people question --
MR. McCLELLAN: He doesn't make decisions based on polls, Ken. He makes decisions based on what is right for the American people, and he recognizes the most important responsibility he has is the safety and security of the American people. And he is acting decisively to do everything we can to win the war on terrorism so that we don't continue to let terrorists carry out the kinds of attacks they did on September 11th --
Q: I'm not trying to be argumentative, but clearly --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- or don't let terrorists get a hold of weapons of mass destruction.
Q: But clearly, the elections are decided by voters. Polls measure the attitudes of voters. Those attitudes seem to have shifted. Is there a political --
MR. McCLELLAN: And I'll move on after this response. But again, the American people understand that the Middle East is a dangerous region in the world, and that a free, democratic and peaceful Iraq will help transform that region and it will bring about a more secure America. It will make the world a safer and better place because to win the war on terrorism, we not only have to go and confront the terrorists before they can carry out their attacks, we have to work to spread freedom and democracy. Free nations are peaceful nations. And I think the American people recognize that, and they understand the decision the President made was based on protecting future generations of Americans.
Q: Clearly, Scott, obviously, what you just said, the President's reelection hinges in large part on whether enough people believe that he made the right decision to do that. And how does he go about -- given all this news and evidence to the contrary and all that, how does he go about continuing to make this case between now and the next four, four-and-a-half months that the decision was the right one?
MR. McCLELLAN: Because you have to stand firm behind the principles upon which you make decisions. And this President provides strong leadership and stands firmly behind the decisions that he makes. He knows the decisions he has made are the right ones for the American people. You're going to go see him here talk shortly about the economy -- another high priority for this administration. And he's going to take on those pessimists. He's going to stand firmly behind the decision that he made to remove Saddam Hussein's regime from power because it was the right decision. And you heard from him directly in the Rose Garden -- I mean directly in the Cabinet Room earlier today talk about why it was the right decision, because Saddam Hussein was a threat. And he was viewed as a threat by the international community. He was viewed as a threat by his neighbors. He was viewed as a threat by Congress. He was viewed as a threat by the previous administration. And in light of September 11th, we cannot allow those threats to continue build.
Q: As a follow-up on my colleagues over here, do you think that if this was March 1, 2003, and the 9/11 report had come out, and we knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction, do you think the American people would have supported us going to war?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's a complete hypothetical.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead. Bob.
Q: As you know, the President's critics have said this was a war of choice. The President told Tim Russert last winter, this was a war of necessity. Given what's been learned about the weapons and about the ties to terror, does the White House stand by that contingent that this was a war of necessity?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, the premise of your question is suggesting something on ties to terrorism that I disagree with. And you're trying to go back to that there is a wedge between what the commission said and what the administration said prior to the decision to go into Iraq. So I reject the premise of what you're saying.
What was the first part of the question?
MR. McCLELLAN: Does the White House stand by the President's assertion to Tim Russert last winter this was a war of necessity?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q: On Tuesday, the American Enterprise Institute held a media event where a video of Saddam's atrocities was shown. The tape showed fingers being cut off, tongues being cut out, and beheadings. None of the networks showed the tape. And few media outlets even mentioned it. Did anyone in this administration ask that these images not be showed to the American people?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, Jeff. But it is important to remind people of the atrocities that Saddam Hussein's regime committed. Saddam Hussein was a brutal oppressive dictator who carried out atrocities over a period of years against his own people and against his neighbors. And it's important that the public --
Q: Well, how do you explain a virtual media blackout on these horrendous acts, when every single day there are pictures about what American soldiers have done in Iraq when these things are far worse? How is there any explanation for that? Is there somebody in the administration that doesn't want the American people to see that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you're going to see the Iraqi people hold Saddam Hussein accountable for the atrocities that he committed. We will be turning him over to the Iraqi people to face a tribunal by the Iraqis for the atrocities that you mentioned. And I don't think the Iraqi people will ever let people forget those atrocities. It's important to remember that this was a regime that had mass graves, torture rooms, and rape rooms, and engaged in the kinds of atrocities that no one should stand for.
Q: There is visual physical evidence out there. Why is not being put out there for Americans to see and make their own judgment against?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think I've expressed it from our standpoint. If you're talking about it from the media standpoint, I'll leave it to the media to address those issues?
Q: Scott, have you figured out a formula to transfer custody yet?
Q: Scott, you said there is a misperception of what the commission said on ties to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, let me ask you this, did this administration commit any mistakes? Are you -- in other words, are you considered a perfect government?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry? Do you consider what?
Q: A perfect government. I mean you are not accepting any --
MR. McCLELLAN: You're talking about the government in Iraq?
Q: No, this government -- the government of President George W. Bush.
Q: You're perfect.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure that there are mistakes that are made, but talking about Iraq and talking about the economy and those decisions, those policy decisions were the right decisions. Let's go to those issues. Just a general question about any mistakes --
Q: As we're talking about Iraq --
MR. McCLELLAN: The decision to go into Iraq was the right decision. We stand firmly behind it because it made the world a safer and better place, and it's going to make America more secure.
Q: You probably don't see the headlines around the world today --
MR. McCLELLAN: If you have a specific -- if you have a specific question, I'm glad to address it.
Q: But you don't think the commission is right with its conclusion about there is any -- any ties between terrorism, al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, they talked about -- they talked about the ties. They talked about the contacts between al Qaeda and the regime in Iraq. And they pointed out some of those high-level contacts that occurred. We pointed out some of those high-level contacts that occurred through Secretary Powell, and through Director Tenet. It's perfectly consistent.
Q: Scott, I've got a specific question. Who are the doom and gloomers to whom you are referring here on the economy? And by name?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you hear from them. You know exactly who they are. They're those who try to talk down the economy when the economy is moving in the right direction. We have overcome significant challenges over the last few years. And the economy is shifting into a higher gear.
Q: We've already heard you say that. But I'm just wondering, you and your associates sitting over here like to lecture us about, who are you referring to when you mention critics or observers or whatever, so we're asking you: Who are these pessimists?
MR. McCLELLAN: Peter --
Q: I'm talking specifics. What are specific names?
MR. McCLELLAN: And, Peter, these people are well known. All you have to go is go and look and read the paper, or watch the news.
Q: Well, give us a name here, Scott.
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is going to continue to talk about his optimistic, positive vision for this country and how we can build upon the policies that we have implemented to get our economy growing stronger. Our economy is growing stronger every day. New jobs are being created. This administration acted decisively to get our economy out of a recession and get it growing stronger. And all you have to do is look at the news, and you'll see who those individuals are.
Q: On September 11th, there's some confusion about events, did the President or the Vice President issue that order allowing shoot-down of civilian airliners on that day?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President and the Vice President were in close contact throughout the day, and the President authorized the Vice President to go ahead with that decision.
Q: One question on Afghanistan --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me go here.
Q: Just a quick question, has the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is getting ready to speak any minute now.
Q: Has the President yet answered any of investigators' questions on the CIA leak investigation?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look -- and I know we can go through this every day -- and as I said the other day, I'm going to work to keep you informed about it at the appropriate time. And I remain committed to that. But I'm not going to go through every day, has he done this, or done that.
Q: Just checking.
MR. McCLELLAN: I will keep you informed at the appropriate time.
END 1:20 P.M. EDT
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