- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2006

President Bush yesterday warned Congress that failure to pass his proposal for interrogating and trying suspected terrorists will kill a vital program that has prevented attacks on the United States, but he expressed optimism that the final legislation will follow his recommendation.

One day after four Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee joined Democrats to approve a bill that calls for broader rights for suspected terrorists than he has set out, the president said lawmakers need to act swiftly because “time’s running out.”

“Congress has got a decision to make: Do you want the program to go forward or not? I strongly recommend that this program go forward in order for us to be able to protect America,” Mr. Bush said during a Rose Garden press conference.

“If not for this program, our intelligence community believes al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland,” he said.

But Democrats yesterday reminded Mr. Bush that the senators and others leading the fight against his proposal are Republicans.

“When conservative military men like John McCain, John Warner, Lindsey Graham and Colin Powell stand up to the president, it shows how wrong and isolated the White House is,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat. “These military men are telling the president that in the war on terror you need to be both strong and smart, and it is about time he heeded their admonitions.”

Mr. Powell, the former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this week that the president’s proposal would encourage the world to “doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism” and “put our own troops at risk.”

Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine also announced that she supports Mr. McCain’s and Mr. Warner’s proposal rather than Mr. Bush’s.

The president urged the Senate to support the kind of legislation passed by the House Armed Services Committee, which would allow the administration to try terror suspects before military tribunals and use interrogation techniques the president argues have been crucial to protecting America.

He refused to speculate on whether he would veto a bill that doesn’t include his proposals.

“I believe we can get a good bill,” Mr. Bush said. “Hopefully, we can reconcile differences; hopefully, we can come together and find a way forward without ruining the program.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said Mr. Bush should bow to the “bipartisan process under way in the United States Senate.”

The president’s proposal seeks to clarify Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which bans “outrages upon human dignity.”

“That’s … very vague. What does that mean, ‘outrages upon human dignity’? That’s a statement that is wide open to interpretation,” he said.

Mr. Bush argued that “by clarifying Article 3 we make it stronger, we make it clearer, we make it definite.”

The administration sought congressional clarification this month after the Supreme Court in June struck down the president’s current setup for trying detainees held at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a ruling the president called “flawed.”

Mr. Bush said Congress must act to protect U.S. intelligence professionals who are called on to question detainees to obtain vital information. “They don’t want to be tried as war criminals. … They expect our government to give them clarity about what is right and what is wrong.”

He also urged Congress to support the terrorist surveillance program, which allows the federal government to eavesdrop on international calls to and from suspected terrorists in the United States.

“Both these bills are essential to winning the war on terror. We’ll work with Congress to get good bills out because we have a duty,” Mr. Bush said.

On other subjects, the president:

• Again pressed for comprehensive immigration legislation, but did not say whether he would support a House bill passed Thursday that calls for construction of a 770-mile fence on the U.S.-Mexico border.

• Rejected a face-to-face meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad next week when he attends the U.N. General Assembly meeting, saying, “I have made it clear that we will sit down with the Iranians once they verifiably suspend their enrichment program.”

• Predicted the Republicans will retain control of Congress. “I don’t believe the Democrats are going to take over because our record on the economy is strong,” he said.

• Paid tribute to Ann Richards, who died Wednesday. Of his one-time rival for Texas governor, Mr. Bush said: “Running against Ann Richards taught me a lot. She was a really, really good candidate. She was a hard worker. She … had the capacity to be humorous and yet make a profound point. I think she made a positive impact on the state of Texas.”

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