President Bush faces some tough questioning

Sunday, May 1, 2005

President Bush at podium

White House reporters used their first "prime time" chance in over a year to pepper U.S. President Bush with questions during a nationally televised press conference. Bush talked about the a wide range of topics including the threat of North Korea, Social Security solvency and his support for privatized accounts as well as means-based benefits, the rocketing price of crude oil, and issues concerning Iraq.

During the Thursday evening conference, President Bush was asked, "Mr. President, under the law, how would you justify the practice of 'renditioning', where U.S. agents who bust terror suspects abroad, taking them to a third country for interrogation? And would you stand for it if foreign agents did that to an American here?"

"That's a hypothetical," President Bush quickly replied.

After a brief pause, Bush continued, "We operate within the law, and we send people to countries where they say they're not going to torture the people..."

"The unusually expansive authority for the CIA to operate independently was provided by the White House under a still-classified directive signed by President Bush within days of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon", the New York Times reported, quoting government officials. Since 9/11, concern has grown that the CIA may be flying suspected terrorists to nations such as Uzbekistan in order to have them interrogated using methods that would be prohibited by law in the U.S. itself.

The president told reporters, "I'm going to say it again: One of my concerns after September the 11th is the farther away we got from September the 11th, the more relaxed we would all become and assume that there wasn't an enemy out there ready to hit us..."

One episode of renditioning was reported by The Washington Post in November 2003. It relates to a Canadian citizen who, while on an international flight that stopped in New York to pick up passengers, was detained and deported to Syria where he endured 10 months of what he described as torture in a Syrian prison.

Maher Arar, who lives in Toronto with his family, was released in October of 2003 and has never been charged with any crime. He said that he pleaded with U.S. authorities to let him return to Canada. The Syrian chargé d'affaires in Washington, Imad Moustafa, denied that Arar was tortured in an interview on CBC Radio.

President Bush was also asked, "Mr. President, your State Department has reported that terrorist attacks around the world are at an all-time high. If we're winning the war on terrorism, as you say, how do you explain that more people are dying in terrorist attacks on your watch than ever before?"

Scene of press conference

"Well, we've made the decision to defeat the terrorists abroad so we don't have to face them here at home," President Bush replied.

During the hour long telecast, President Bush restated his primary messages on social security, energy policy, and the war in Iraq.

Social security was the biggest topic before he opened up to reporters for discussion. He pressed for politicians working on the program to act with bipartisanship, citing tough challenges ahead when shortfalls in the program's funding are in some calculations projected to begin in about a decade.

The press conference was only the fourth prime-time press conference held by President Bush since he took office in 2001.