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Bush issues warning on peril of releasing Gitmo prisoners

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2005

President Bush yesterday promised to abide by a court ruling on whether Guantanamo Bay prisoners should receive civilian trials, although he warned they might resume attacks on Americans if released.

"Make no mistake," Mr. Bush said in an East Room press conference with European Union officials. "Many of those folks being detained -- in humane conditions, I might add -- are dangerous people.

"Some have been released to their previous countries, and they got out and they went on to the battlefield again," he said. "I have an obligation, as do all of us who are holding office, to protect our people."

To that end, Mr. Bush said he will not release Guantanamo Bay prisoners such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whom he called "the mastermind of the September the 11th attack," anytime soon.

"He is being detained because we think he could possibly give us information that might not only protect us, but protect citizens in Europe," he said. "And at some point in time, he'll be dealt with, but right now, we think it's best that he be kept in custody."

The president indicated that less-dangerous prisoners might have their cases adjudicated soon.

"We're now waiting for a federal court to decide whether or not they can be tried in a military court, where they'll have rights, of course, or in the civilian courts," he said. "When the courts make the decision they make, we'll act accordingly."

But the administration prefers military courts, in part because Mr. Bush regards terrorism as an act of war, not a criminal offense.

"We went and set up the military commissions, where these detainees would have full and vigorous representation by defense counsel for those who were suspected of committing war crimes," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.

"Those commissions have temporarily been suspended, pending further review by the federal courts," he said. "And that's where it stands at this point."

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush urged journalists to visit Guantanamo Bay in Cuba in order to witness firsthand the humane treatment of prisoners by U.S. forces.

"They'll be treated in accord with the Geneva Convention," he said. "There's 24-hour inspections by the International Red Cross."

The president also issued a guardedly optimistic assessment of the ongoing struggle between U.S. forces and the insurgency in Iraq.

"I spoke to our commanders today," Mr. Bush said. "And the report from the field is that while it's tough, more and more Iraqis are becoming battle-hardened and trained to defend themselves.

"And that's exactly the strategy that's going to work. And it is going to work."

Mr. McClellan acknowledged the difficulties facing Iraq.

"Democracy is hard," Mr. McClellan said. "It takes time to build a democracy and for it to take hold."

Mr. Bush spoke in unusually personal terms about the 1,700 U.S. troops who have died in Iraq since invading in 2003.

"I think about Iraq every day -- every single day," he said, "because I understand we've got kids in harm's way.

"And I worry about their families," he said. "But I want those families to know, one, we're not going to leave them -- not going to allow their mission to go in vain; and, two, we will complete the mission, and the world will be better off for it."

Luxembourgian Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Council, used yesterday's press conference to praise the U.S. as Europe's "strongest ally." He insisted the European Union "is not at its knees," despite France and the Netherlands voting down the EU constitution in recent weeks.

Also at the press conference was European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who called on the U.S. and Europe to eradicate global poverty.

"Every day, 25,000 people die because they don't have enough to eat or they don't have clean water to drink," he said. "This is really a shame for our generation."