- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 6, 2005

President Bush yesterday ruled out paying ransom for the return of at least two Americans being held in Iraq, and said that while the United States “does not torture,” his administration will continue to do everything legally possible to protect the nation.

“We, of course, don’t pay ransom for any hostages,” the president told reporters. “What we will do, of course, is use our intelligence gathering to see if we can’t help locate them.”

Mr. Bush spoke on the same day that Al Jazeera broadcast a video claiming insurgents kidnapped a U.S. security consultant, and the militants showed a blond, Caucasian man sitting with his hands tied behind his back. The video, the authenticity of which could not be immediately confirmed, also bore the logo of the Islamic Army in Iraq and showed a U.S. passport and an identification card.

Another American is among a group of four Christian peace activists seized by gunmen in Iraq.

Mr. Bush said insurgents in Iraq “want to stop the spread of democracy.”

“There are terrorists there who will kill innocent people and behead people and kill children; terrorists who have got desires to hurt the American people,” he said. “The more violent they get, the clearer the cause ought to be, that we’re going to achieve victory in Iraq, and that we’ll bring these people to justice. We will hunt them down, along with our Iraqi friends, and at the same time, spread democracy.”

Speaking to reporters at the end of an Oval Office meeting with the director-general of the World Health Organization, Mr. Bush would not comment on reports that the United States is running secret prisons abroad.

“I don’t talk about secret programs, covert programs, covert activities,” he said. “Part of a successful war on terror is for the United States of America to be able to conduct operations, all aimed to protect the American people, covertly.”

But the president said the United States does not torture suspected terrorists.

“I can tell you two things: one, that we abide by the law of the United States; we do not torture. And two, we will try to do everything we can to protect us within the law.

“We’re facing an enemy that would like to hit America again, and the American people expect us to, within our laws, do everything we can to protect them. And that’s exactly what the United States is doing. We do not render to countries that torture. That has been our policy, and that policy will remain the same,” he said.

Human rights organizations and legal groups, both in the United States and abroad, have accused the United States of allowing a practice known as “rendition to torture,” in which suspects are taken to countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where harsh interrogation methods are used.

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