James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:19 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Hello, everybody. I’ve got a couple of things for you. Today the President will meet with and deliver remarks to family members of military personnel who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will take place over in the East Wing of the White House — I think it’s the East Room, but I’ll confirm that for you. The Vice President, Cabinet members and other administration officials will be in attendance. Of course, it’s closed press, in keeping with how the President handles these events.
Tomorrow morning there’s a scheduling update for you, as well. President Bush will go over to the State Department where he’ll have a chance to thank the Foreign Service and the State Department staff for their service over the last eight years. This is also a chance for the State Department to recognize the President for his foreign policy achievements. And he will deliver remarks; this event will be open press. I don’t remember the time on that, but we’ll get that for you — it’s late morning.
Also I have an announcement for you about the post-presidency. After leaving office, President Bush and Mrs. Bush, as you know, will return to their home state of Texas. That’s where the President will begin an exciting and busy post-presidency, including the building of his presidential library and his freedom institute. He’s eager to continue to promote the unwavering ideals and principles for which he has stood while serving as President of the United States.
To that end, in order to help him make that transition and continue his work, the President is pleased to announce that Michael E. Meece will serve as chief of staff in the office of George W. Bush. Mr. Meece has been a trusted advisor to the President over many years, beginning in his policy office when he was governor of Texas. Mr. Meece previously served as special assistant to the President and deputy director for the Office of Public Liaison here at the White House. And prior to coming to the White House he served as deputy chief of staff to then Commerce Secretary Don Evans, who is also a very good friend of the President.
He is currently the President of Meece Group, LLC, which is a Washington, D.C., consulting firm. He received both his bachelor’s and his law degree from the University of Texas at Austin. He and his wife are both natives of Texas, so over the next few weeks they will pack up their lives here in Washington, wrap that up, and then head back to Texas. And we’re thrilled to be able to make that announcement today.
Additional details about the post-presidency I hope to get out as soon as possible. And if you can just bear with me, I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that in a briefing or send out an email to you all.
In addition, a heads up for tomorrow, we’re working toward the President’s farewell address. I think I’ll brief sometime after that State Department event, because I’m going to go over to that. I’ve asked Ed Gillespie to join us for the briefing so he could preview the speech for you. I’ll plan to do excerpts in the mid-afternoon. And then head to the — as we get towards his speech, I will work on full text. I’ve had lots of questions about it, and I’ll just see what I can do; I’ll do my best.
And with that, I’ll go to questions. Jennifer.
Q: Are you all worried about any prosecutions of Guantanamo detainees being in danger because the convening authority over military commissions had dismissed charges, saying that one of them was tortured?
MS. PERINO: I saw that report in the — that story in The Washington Post today, and DOD has commented. Let me just make sure it’s clear, and I’ll say it on the record one more time, that it has never been the policy of this President or this administration to torture. DOD has commented and they have made the point about their revisions that they’ve made over the years. Because of command influence concerns, I have not commented about individual cases from this podium and I just — that’s as much as I can say about it today.
Q: Dana, the Palestinians say their Gaza death toll has topped a thousand, with well more than half of those being civilians. Has this given the administration any cause to reassert with Israel the need to take caution to prevent civilian casualties? And has the U.S. — is the U.S. pressing Israel to start wrapping things up in Gaza?
MS. PERINO: Well, from the beginning, we have been pressing Israel about civilian casualties and protecting innocent people. One of the problems is that the enemy, Hamas, which is a terrorist organization, hides amongst innocent people and uses them for human shields. But, yes, of course we continue to urge Israel to try to prevent civilian casualties. I believe that they understand that and are trying. We continue to work with other governments across the world to try to see if we can reach a durable cease-fire. But we don’t need the death toll number to go up in order to encourage us to urge Israel to be more cautious; we’ve been doing that from the very beginning.
Q: What about wrapping up their offensive?
MS. PERINO: As we’ve said, what we would like to achieve is, as quickly as possible, a durable cease-fire. And that’s what we’re working towards. And we appreciate what the Egyptians have done to try to establish a dialogue so that we could get to that point.
Q: If you could just go back to The Washington Post report and Susan Crawford. You said that the policy of the United States is that military does not torture. Are you essentially saying that this story, and Susan Crawford says, that there was a detainee who was tortured, al-Qahtani, is not true?
MS. PERINO: What I have to — given the litigation and given command influence matters, President Bush has not had us comment from the White House — this is the guidance that we have from legal counsel — on any individual case, and that is why I can’t give you any more than what I gave to Jennifer earlier.
Olivier. What is with that? (Laughter.)
Q: Just for you. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Wow. Looks like a protest. (Laughter.) Okay, sorry.
Q: I have a quick — a follow-up on the Gaza situation. You talked about a durable cease-fire. You said you appreciate the Egyptian efforts to mediate. Hamas now has indicated that it plans to sign on to the Egyptian proposal. Are you going to urge Israel to sign on, as well?
MS. PERINO: I’m sorry, who said that they would?
Q: Hamas is now indicating they’re going to accept the Egyptian —
MS. PERINO: I think we have to — let’s wait and see what Hamas really does. I mean, I think that it’s right — we have every right to be skeptical of things that you see in the newspaper reported about Hamas. And so I think we need to wait and see what actually happens. And as things develop, we’ll comment from here.
Q: And I apologize if you already visited this, but what exactly — how will you know a durable cease-fire when you see it?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that one of the things that we have to do is — the way we laid it out, was that the rockets had to stop being sent from Gaza into Israel, and that we had to do something about the smuggling situation, because in previous cease-fires, what Hamas has done is used that time not to build roads and not to help their people and provide food and shelter for those that need it, but to rearm and buy rockets with that money. So by helping stop the smuggling routes, that should help in a cease-fire. And then the third thing would be the access agreement from 2005, we would like to see that restored.
Q: I had a question about Gaza — but on the issue of Qahtani, can you just define the term “command influence” — what the issue —
MS. PERINO: I’m sure there is a legal definition of it, but as I understand it, the Commander-in-Chief should not be commenting on cases where the government is bringing a case against a detainee. It would be inappropriate to do so from the White House. DOD is running the interrogations and the detainee trials — tribunals, as we call them, military tribunals — and so it’s appropriate that we keep that over there. And Geoff Morrell put out a statement last night and I’d refer you to that.
Q: Okay. On Gaza, I’m assuming that the President is not trying to wrap or push for a resolution before he leaves office, but, I mean, is he okay with this conflict continuing as he leaves office or is there any kind of sense within the White House that he’d like to wrap things up or at least achieve a resolution before —
MS. PERINO: This is not — President Bush didn’t want the situation to arise in the first place. But given where we are I think that he has exercised the appropriate authority that he can over what the United States can do. And the United States is not there pulling any triggers. But what we have done, the United States has done is tried to work with the Israelis to provide more aid for the humanitarian crisis that’s occurring. And we’d like to see a durable cease-fire established as soon as possible, but we’re not — I know there’s a lot of countdowns that are going on around here, but when it comes to protecting innocent people and caring about the people of the Palestinian Territories, especially those in Gaza, the President has no time limit on that.
Q: Dana, on that, the President has said numerous times that he’s sprinting to the finish in these final days and weeks. On that point, then, when’s the last time he was working the phones on this situation?
MS. PERINO: President Bush every morning is working with his intel advisors, and obviously works with Steve Hadley every morning at 7:00 a.m., and Secretary Rice and he talk several times a day. And we keep you updated when appropriate on phone calls; we don’t read all of them out to you.
Q: But when is the last time he had direct conversations with people brokering the Egyptian-French cease-fire —
MS. PERINO: The President isn’t doing that; he has a Secretary of State who he has working on that and that’s who should be — that’s absolutely appropriate, is to have his Secretary of State working on that.
Q: Dana, any word on timing of more pardons, potentially?
MS. PERINO: No, and as you know we don’t talk about pardons here. And I truly don’t know; I don’t know if there will even be any more, but when there — if and when there are, I’ll let you know.
Q: Prime Minister Olmert is maintaining that he caused the U.S. to abstain on the U.N. resolution. Are you maintaining that it didn’t happen?
MS. PERINO: I think that for two days now we have said that that was not an accurate portrayal of a story that was reported yesterday. And I don’t know the full context of Prime Minister’s Olmert’s remarks, but I think that you saw the President was giving his speech in Philadelphia and nobody got off the — he didn’t get off the podium to make a dramatic phone call.
Q: You still say that the President’s last public appearance is going to be the speech to the nation tomorrow night?
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q: What’s he doing the rest of the time? I mean, he’s going to Camp David, obviously. What’s he doing in — the rest of the time in private?
MS. PERINO: I’ll see if I can — it’s private time, but he’ll have things that he needs to do around here, meetings with staff, a goodbye lunch with the senior staff on Friday, and, you know, some calls that — some requests for calls from world leaders that I think will take place between now and then. And we’ll provide you an update on those if appropriate.
Q: Any packing going on?
MS. PERINO: A lot of the packing is done. Mrs. Bush is very organized and she has a lot of the books — most of what they have to take back are the books that they have, and obviously their clothes, but a lot of those books have already made their way — are at least on their way to Texas. So he hasn’t had to do a lot of packing himself.
Q: And is anything special going on at Camp David this weekend?
MS. PERINO: Let me find out for you. I know that they wanted to spend one more weekend at Camp David. It is a place that they have thoroughly enjoyed. They love having their family there, they’ve spent a lot of special moments there, and it’s a good place to get away from Washington, D.C. I think that it will probably be really cold up there this weekend, but he loves to be able to go up there and he can ride his mountain bike as well, and just spend a little bit of quiet time. Let me see if I can get a guest list for you. I don’t know — I don’t think it’s too extensive; I’ll find out.
Q: If I could extend that one more day, are there any public events on Monday?
MS. PERINO: No.
Q: It is a federal holiday and —
MS. PERINO: No, there are no public events on Monday. I’ll be here, but there’s no public events.
Q: Dana, two questions, thank you. One, how can you explain to people around the globe as far as presidential emergency declaration, because many of them do not understand or misunderstood.
MS. PERINO: Okay. I can understand why because of its title, but under the law, the city or state or the District of Columbia can ask the administration, whichever administration it is, for more funds or access to more funds in case they need it in order to be able to protect people for some major event, whether it be a natural disaster or something like the Super Bowl — I don’t know if anybody has ever actually done that. But obviously this inauguration is going to bring a huge number of crowds, and there’s going to be a large amount of security. And therefore, we thought it was appropriate that when Mayor Fenty asked President Bush for access to additional funds that we’d provide it.
Q: And second, as far as President and America’s image in India is concerned, is very high, he’s well known in India and very much appreciated as far as fight on global war on terrorism. And President-Elect Obama is also one of the very famous person today in India, or among Indians. My question is that, how can you, or President, explain as far as India-U.S. relations today and also under the new administration?
MS. PERINO: I think that India and U.S. relations have been exceedingly good during our administration, and I have no reason to expect that it won’t continue when Barack Obama becomes President next Tuesday.
Q: The President has said that the biggest regret of his presidency was the Iraq intelligence failure, and that he wishes the intelligence had been different. But he’s also said that even with the faulty intelligence, his decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision. If the intelligence had been different, though, isn’t it true that he would not have been able to make that decision? So why does he consider the faulty intelligence his biggest regret?
MS. PERINO: As the President has said before, you don’t get do-overs in the presidency. You act with the information that you have, and he thinks it was the right thing to do.
Q: Thank you.
END 12:32 P.M. EST