Bush Calls Criticism of Guantanamo Detainee Treatment Absurd

By James Gerstenzang

Los Angeles Times

May 31, 2005

WASHINGTON — President Bush today brushed aside criticism of the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and questions about whether his domestic agenda was losing momentum, as he sought to push his continued relevancy in a second term facing a recalcitrant Congress and debate about his policies in Iraq.

Speaking at a news conference in the Rose Garden, the president used the word "absurd" four times in the course of a 10-sentence response when asked his reaction to a highly critical report by Amnesty International that challenged the administration's respect for the human rights of detainees in the campaign against terrorism.

"It's an absurd allegation. The United States is a country that promotes freedom around the world," he said, adding: "We've investigated every single complaint against the detainees. It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of — and the allegations by — people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble — that means not tell the truth. And so it was an absurd report."

The human rights organization said last week in its annual report that the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba was "the gulag of our time," and urged the administration to close it.

Irene Khan, Amnesty's secretary general, accused the United States of shirking its responsibility to set the standard for human rights protections.

The approximately 50-minute news conference was Bush's seventh such session since his re-election.

He emphasized his efforts to win congressional support for his proposal to allow workers to place some of the money withheld for Social Security in individual investment accounts, and took issue with a suggestion that Congress was balking at enacting his program.

Asked whether he worried that he was losing momentum, he replied: "Well, I'm-I shouldn't. My attitude toward Congress is, will be, reflected on whether or not they're capable of getting anything done."

He ticked off areas of success, citing passage of the overall budget resolution, changes in legal procedures, and confirmation of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla R. Owen to an appellate court seat. But he also pressed Congress to approve his long-stalled energy proposals and to approve the Central America Free Trade Agreement.

"One thing is for certain: It takes a president willing to push people to do hard things," he said, defending the pace of progress on his agenda.

Asked again whether he was worried that he was losing "some of your push," he added: "I don't worry about anything here in Washington, D.C. I mean, I feel comfortable in my role as the president, and my role in the president is to push for reform."

The president used strong language to call for a Senate vote on his nomination of John R. Bolton, an undersecretary of State, to be ambassador to the United Nations.

"The reason it's important to have an up-or-down vote is because we need to get our ambassador to the United Nations to help start reforming that important organization," Bush said.

Democrats have demanded the administration produce documents related to Bolton and intelligence intercepts.

"I view that as just another stall tactic," Bush said. "Another way to delay."

He said that when the Senate returns from its Memorial Day recess next week, he hoped it would "stop stalling and give the man a vote. Just give him a simple up-or-down vote."

Bush emphasized the efforts to use diplomacy to persuade North Korea to abandon what the administration has presented as that country's program to develop a nuclear arsenal.

"I see either diplomacy or military, and I am for the diplomacy approach," Bush said. "And so for those who say that we ought to be using our military to solve the problem, I would say that, while all options are on the table, we've got a ways to go to solve this diplomatically."

At the same time, the administration has stepped back from its efforts, conducted jointly with North Korea, to find the remains of Americans missing from the Korean War more than 50 years ago — the only military contact the United States has had with North Korea in recent years.

On Iraq, the president acknowledged that the new government in Baghdad was not yet ready to hold off the insurgency. In the month since the government was assembled, the toll of U.S. deaths has gone beyond 60, and 760 Iraqis have died, a questioner noted.

Asked whether the government there was up to the mission of defeating the insurgents and guaranteeing security, Bush said: "I think the Iraq government will be up to the task of defeating the insurgents," and that the elections there in January were a blow to the armed opposition.