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Presidential News Conference

Aired September 15, 2006 - 10:59   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Cal Perry joins us from Baghdad now.
Cal, give us a sense of the kinds of injuries that you saw on that day and the kind of heroic efforts that are always present as -- as the medical staff tries to treat these injuries.

CAL PERRY, CNN BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF: Well, first to the injuries, Tony, we saw a wide variety of injuries. Some were just walking wounded, what they call ambulatory. Others were very, very severely wounded.

When you talk about these bomb attacks, IEDs, you're talking about oftentimes limbs literally blown off. These doctors do absolutely astonishing work. They do things here that they don't do back in the U.S. simply because they've had the training here on the ground. There is no question that the works of these doctors, these medics and these nurses saved many lives yesterday. It is without a doubt that a lot of those soldiers returned home alive that would have normally died on the battlefield.

HARRIS: Cal Perry in Baghdad for us.

Cal, thank you.

Spend a second hour in the NEWSROOM this morning. We promise to keep you informed.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris.


A presidential news conference live this hour from the Rose Garden. Trials for terror suspects likely to be a major topic there.

HARRIS: Top Republicans in the Senate define the president on terror trials. They've got their own plan.

COLLINS: Republicans are divided weeks before the midterm elections. Will there be fallout from this on Election Day?

It's Friday, September 15th. You are in the NEWSROOM.

Two plans, one party. Top GOP senators breaking with President Bush over terror trials. The four Republicans sided with Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee to pass their plan yesterday. We expect to hear the president's reaction to that live in just a few minutes from now. But first, a quick breakdown of the two versions. The big issue, Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

What's that? Well, it sets international standards for the treatment of prisoners of war. The White House says it is too broad. The Senate committee says, well, you can't mess with the Geneva Conventions, arguing it could put U.S. personnel at risk.

On detainee access to classified information used against them, the White House says it should be kept from them. The Senate panel says the terror suspects should be allowed to see it.

On evidence obtained by coercion, the White House rejects coercion. The Senate panel goes a little bit further, saying no torture, no cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.

And on allowing evidence at trial, well, the White House says all relevant evidence should be on the table. The committee says the trials essentially need to follow the rules of military courts- martial.

So, our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano, joins us now.

Elaine, we have been waiting all day for this. We expect there to be quite a few fireworks here.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Good morning to you, Heidi.

We can expect the president to once more very forcefully try to make his case for why he thinks Congress needs to very quickly push through his proposed detainee legislation. Now, there are a number of sticking points, as you so thoroughly pointed out a moment ago, between the president and a handful of powerful Republican senators. But the biggest sticking point, as you noted, Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions dealing with detainee treatment and which bans "outrages upon personal dignity."

Now, the White House says that is too vague. The president says that U.S. interrogators need that to be clarified in order to do their job without fear of being prosecuted for war crimes. Now, President Bush also says that the CIA program cannot continue without that kind of clarification first, and he says if that happens Americans will be less safe.

Now, politically, this election year, this is not the fight certainly that the White House wanted right now. Still, one GOP strategist says that the silver lining perhaps is all of this is that this very public GOP debate has shifted the focus away from the unpopular Iraq war and shined the spotlight on national security, traditionally, of course, a GOP strong suit.

Nevertheless, President Bush finding himself this hour in the unexpected and awkward position of fighting not Democrats on this issue but fellow Republicans -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. Elaine Quijano, thanks for the breakdown on that.

We are awaiting the news conference.


HARRIS: The latest from Capitol Hill and CNN Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash now.

Dana, just a quick thought. We just heard what Elaine had to say in terms of setting up what the president will say, or is at least expected to say. But what is he up against in terms of opposition from members of his own party?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Stiff opposition, Tony. You know? And I'll just pick up where Elaine left off.

First, on the politics, some Republican strategists certainly may be looking for a silver lining, but I can tell you, seven weeks before Election Day, I have talked to many Republicans here on the Hill. No matter where they stand on this issue, the last thing they want is this wrenching split within their party on this issue of national security. But this is one of those areas where, frankly, strong policy differences are trumping what really is smart politics for them.

Now, three senior Republicans who have very strong ties to the military committee, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, John Warner, Senator Lindsey Graham, and John McCain, of course, a former prisoner of war, they all say that the president, as Elaine just described it, is just wrong. What they say is especially the issue, as Elaine was talking about, of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

What the president wants to do, of course, is make it easier for tough interrogations to continue on some of these terror suspects. But what Senator McCain and others say is that if you do that, that you will not only be causing a P.R. nightmare for the United States around the world, you will actually be endangering Americans.

Listen to the way Senator McCain described his position on THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Suppose that we amend the Geneva Conventions to our interpretation of it. Then another country that is not quite as democratic as ours decides they will amend their version. A Special Forces person is captured by them, and their attorney general tells their secret police, OK, here's our interpretation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Have at him.

That's what people are worried about.


BASH: And this debate is largely confusing and a bit of legalese, but bear with me because there's a key point in what Senator McCain was talking about.

What the White House wants to do is clarify how detainees are interrogated. And what they want to do is borrow language that Senator McCain has advocated in the past, and that is to ban cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. But what Senator McCain and his allies here on the Hill say is that the bottom line is, that would still change a 60-year-old international treaty, and they say that would weaken it and set a precedent that others -- a bad precedent, from their point of view, that countries would follow.

HARRIS: Very good.

Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash for us.

Dana, appreciate it. Thank you.

BASH: Thank you.

COLLINS: Want to bring in our Barbara Starr at the Pentagon now.

And Barbara, what we've been listening to about the Geneva Conventions is particularly interesting coming from the Pentagon and the view there. A 60-year-old convention, but this and the war on terror is a new enemy and new tactics.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Heidi. And that's what officials here at the Pentagon and officials in the intelligence community, especially over at the CIA, are saying. The reason the administration says it's pressing so hard for this clarification of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions is they say that the intelligence community needs it, especially for its interrogation of those so-called high-value targets, people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, all of those types of people.

Now, those, those 14 high-value detainees, they've already been transferred from CIA prisons into the more regular facility at Guantanamo Bay. But for the capture of future high-value detainees, what the CIA is saying, unless they get this clarification, they don't think they can go forward with a future interrogation program. And they say that will weaken national security.

That is one of the big sticking points right now between the Senate Armed Services Committee and the president. There are three other points that are under contention, but officials say, analysts say they might be able to work something out on these three others.

That is, first, access to classified information. The administration's position is it would allow classified information to be kept from detainees at trials. The committee says, to the greatest extent possible a detainee at trial should see all the evidence against them.

Evidence obtained by coercion, the administration would prohibit the use of statements obtained by coercion to a large extent. But the committee offers even stronger language, saying, no torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.

On the final point, rules of evidence, the administration would essentially allow all evidence to be presented if it was what they call probative value or had some meaning to prove a case. But the committee would be more restrictive and require trials to largely follow military courts-martial proceedings. Again, the committee saying that would offer detainees more legal protections.

All of these could be worked out, except, we are told, the debate over the Article 3 issue at the moment and the interrogation procedures, especially as they affect the CIA, right now no one is talking compromise on that -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes. And boy, that one point in particular seems to me, anyway, to be incredibly sticky, the one about the classified information and having all of that come out in a said trial.

If that particular suspected terrorist is found not guilty, if you will, then there is all of the information out there. Who knows what could really happen to it from that point forward?

STARR: Well, that's right. And that's why so much of this is a matter of great controversy.

There -- you know, it's going to be very complicated, how it's all set up, and there will be exceptions in the law, in the regulations, to all of this. A lot of this, if somebody actually goes to trial, would be left to military judges. They would have the ability to make rulings, to withhold certain information and all of that.

What the Senate is trying to do is lay out a framework. But at this point it sure looks like the White House and Capitol Hill, at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, really only agree on one thing, and that that -- this matter is of great importance. But how to settle it remains a debate.

COLLINS: Indeed the case.

All right. Barbara Starr, live from the Pentagon.

Thanks, Barbara.

STARR: Sure.

HARRIS: You know, I think we've determined that it probably takes a lawyer to sort some of this out, at least the two plans that are being discussed right now. Fortunately, we have our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, with us from New York.

Jeffrey, good morning to you.


HARRIS: All right. You've been -- you've been listening to both sides of this. Give me your general sense of it, and then we'll break it down.

TOOBIN: Well, you know, a lot of times in politics issues are about trivia and symbolism. And, you know, that's not what's going on here.

This is a profound difference here. I mean, these are important issues and literally matters of life and death for the detainees, for -- for our troops, and for potential targets of terrorism. So what's going on here is not trivial. This is important.

HARRIS: So the Supreme Court, if we back up just a bit, the Supreme Court says you need to clarify this, which brings us to where we are right now. And it seems that the language that the administration wants some clarity on is this: this idea of prohibiting outrages -- outrages and personal -- outrages against personal dignity.

TOOBIN: Right.

HARRIS: So what does that mean?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, that is -- the question is whether that phrase is adequate to protect our people who are doing the interrogations. What the administration says is it's simply too vague, so what we're going to do is we're going to make a list of things that are prohibited. Everything else is fair game.

What senators McCain, Warner, and Graham say is, if you do that, you are both creating a roadmap for avoidance of this rule, and what you're also doing is separating the United States from all the other countries who signed on to this treaty, and basically saying that we are operating by different rules and we are inviting other countries to do the same, potentially against our own troops. Those are basically where the -- where the two sides are.

HARRIS: So the point will come when we will get specific language as to what is on this list from the administration?

TOOBIN: That's right. And in the field manual they came out last week, we got a sense of sort of what they think is off limits and on limits. But, you know, as the president said in his speech last week, there are certain alternative means.

He used that sort of mysterious word, "alternative," and it is protecting the opportunity to use those alternative means, whatever they are, that he's trying to protect by clarifying what's prohibited. The "alternative" means they're not prohibited.

HARRIS: Common Article 3, in your opinion, in your view of it, is it outdated in terms of the fight that's being waged right now against global terrorism?

TOOBIN: You know, it's hard to say, because, you know, Common Article 3 has served us well against some pretty terrible adversaries. You know, Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda are horrendous, dangerous people, but so was Adolph Hitler. And, you know, Common Article 3 was in effect all through World War II, was abided by our troops all through World War II. So it's not like we haven't faced difficult adversaries before and managed to abide by what the general understanding of it was.

HARRIS: And one other question. I think we just got the two- minute warning to the start of the press conference.

The sense is from some Republicans, at least the question here, that this represents -- Common Article 3 represents kind of the gold standard that binds all civilized nations. What's your thought on that?

TOOBIN: Well, I think it is. And the United States used to define the gold standard of how we treat prisoners.

You know, in World War II, the German troops rushed to surrender to American troops instead of Soviet troops because of our traditions of how we treated prisoners. That is what Colin Powell, I think, was saying in his letter yesterday, that reputation is at risk. And that's -- that's why...


TOOBIN: ... he took the unusual step of speaking out.

HARRIS: Jeffrey Toobin, appreciate it. Thanks for your insights.

Let's get quickly now to Suzanne Malveaux in Washington, as we are just moments away from the start of this news conference.

Suzanne, good morning.


Really want to talk about the politics behind all of this. The White House strategy has been to really emphasize and introduce these anti-terrorism measures to Congress weeks before the midterm congressional elections.

Why? Essentially, want to take the focus off of the Iraq war and the broader war on terror, essentially making the case to the American people, look, we are doing a better job of protecting you, the Republican Party is doing a better job. Essentially, they are trying to get those Republican voters, the president's dire supporters, to come out to the polls, just weeks away, and keep the Republican majorities in the House and the Senate.

Ultimately, that will allow the president to get something done in the remaining two years.

President Bush.



It's always a pleasure to be introduced into the Rose Garden.

Thank you, Wendell.

Thank you for coming. Looking forward to answering some of your questions.

This week our nation paused to mark the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It was a tough day for a lot of our citizens. I was so honored to meet with family members and first responders, workers at the Pentagon, all who still had heaviness in their heart.

But they asked me a question. They kept asking me, "What do you think the level of determination for this country is in order to protect ourselves?" That's what they wanted to know.

You know, for me, it was a reminder about how I felt right after 9/11. I felt a sense of determination and conviction about doing everything that is necessary to project the people.

I'm going to go back to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly. And I'll talk to all leaders gathered there about our obligation to defend civilization and liberty, to support the forces of freedom and moderation throughout the Middle East.

As we work with the international community to defeat the terrorists and extremists, to provide an alternative to their hateful ideology, we must also provide our military and intelligence professionals with the tools they need to protect our country from another attack.

And the reason they need those tools is because the enemy wants to attack us again.

Right here in the Oval Office, I get briefed nearly every morning about the nature of this world. And I get briefed about the desire of an enemy to hurt America. And it's a sobering experience, as I'm sure you can imagine. I wish that weren't the case, you know, but it is the case.

And therefore, I believe that it's vital that our folks on the front line have the tools necessary to protect the American people.

There are two vital pieces of legislation in Congress now that I think are necessary to help us win the war on terror.

We will work with members of both parties to get legislation that works out of the Congress.

The first bill will allow us to use military commissions to try suspected terrorists for war crimes. We need the legislation because the Supreme Court recently ruled that military commissions must be explicitly authorized by Congress.

So we're working with Congress. The Supreme Court said, "You must work with Congress," we are working with Congress to get a good piece of legislation out.

The bill I have proposed will ensure that suspected terrorists will receive full and fair trials without revealing to them our nation's sensitive intelligence secrets.

As soon as Congress acts on this bill, the men our intelligence believed helped orchestrate the 9/11 attacks can face justice.

The bill would also provide clear rules for our personnel involved in detaining and questioning captured terrorists.

The information that the Central Intelligence Agency has obtained by questioning men like Khalid Sheik Mohammed has provided valuable information and has helped disrupt terrorist plots, including strikes within the United States.

For example, Khalid Sheik Mohammed described the design of plane attacks on building inside the U.S. and how operatives were directed to carry them out. That is valuable information for those of us who have the responsibility to protect the American people.

He told us the operatives had been instructed to ensure that the explosives went off at a point that was high enough to prevent people trapped above from escaping.

He gave us information that helped uncover Al Qaeda cells' efforts to obtain biological weapons.

We've also learned information from the CIA program that has helped stop other plots, including attacks on the U.S. Marine base in East Africa, our American consulate in Pakistan, or Britain's Heathrow Airport.

This program has been one of the most vital tools in our efforts to protect this country. It's been invaluable to our country, and it's invaluable to our allies.

Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that Al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland.

By giving us information about terrorist plans we couldn't get anywhere else, this program has saved innocent lives. In other words, it's vital.

That's why I asked Congress to pass legislation so that our professionals can go forward doing the duty we expect them to do.

Unfortunately, the recent Supreme Court decision put the future of this program in question. It's another reason I went to Congress. We need this legislation to save it.

I'm asking Congress to pass a clear law, with clear guidelines, based on the Detainee Treatment Act that was strongly supported by Senator John McCain.

There's a debate about the specific provisions in my bill, and we'll work with Congress to continue to try to find common ground.

I have one test for this legislation. I'm going to ask one question, as this legislation proceeds, and it's this: The intelligence community must be able to tell me that the bill Congress sends to my desk will allow this vital program to continue. That's what I'm going to ask.

The second bill before Congress would modernize our electronic surveillance laws and provide additional authority for the terrorist surveillance program.

I authorized the National Security Agency to operate this vital program in response to the 9/11 attacks. It allows us to quickly monitor terrorist communications between someone overseas and someone in the United States, and it's helped detect and prevent attacks on our country.

The principle behind this program is clear.

When an Al Qaeda operative is calling into the United States or out of the country, we need to know who they're calling, why they're calling and what they're planning.

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 -- we have a duty to work together to give our folks on the front line the tools necessary to protect America.

Time's running out. Congress is set to adjourn in just a few weeks. Congress needs to act wisely and promptly, so I can sign good legislation.

And now I'd be glad to answer some questions.

QUESTION: Mr. President, former Secretary of State Colin Powell says, "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism." If a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former secretary of state feels this way, don't you think that Americans and the rest of the world are beginning to wonder whether you're following a flawed strategy?

BUSH: If there's any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, it's flawed logic.

It's just -- I simply can't accept that.

It's unacceptable to think that there's any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.

My job and the job of people here in Washington, D.C., is to protect this country. We didn't ask for this war. You might remember the 2000 campaign. I don't remember spending much time talking about what it might be like to be a commander in chief in a different kind of war.

But this enemy has struck us and they want to strike us again. And we'll give our folks the tools necessary to protect the country. That's our job.

It's a dangerous world. I wish it wasn't that way. I wish I could tell the American people, "Don't worry about it. They're not coming again." But they are coming again.

And that's why I've sent this legislation up to Congress. And that's why we'll continue to work with allies in building a vast coalition, to protect not only ourselves but them.

The facts are -- is that after 9/11, this enemy continued to attack and kill innocent people.

I happen to believe that they're bound by a common ideology. Matter of fact, I don't believe it, I know they are. And they want to impose that ideology throughout the broader Middle East. That's what they have said.

Makes sense for the commander in chief and all of us involved in protecting this country to listen to the words of the enemy. And I take their words seriously. And that's what's going to be necessary to protect this country, is to listen carefully to what they say and stay ahead of them as they try to attack us.


QUESTION: Can I just follow up?

BUSH: No, you can't.


If we follow up, we're not going to get -- I want Hillman (ph) to be able to ask a question. It's his last press -- not yet, Hillman (ph).


Soon. You and Wendell seem...

QUESTION: Thanks very much, sir.

What do you say to the argument that your proposal is basically seeking support for torture, coerced evidence and secret hearings?

And Senator McCain says your plan would put U.S. troops at risk. What do you think about that?

BUSH: This debate is occurring because of the Supreme Court's ruling that said that we must conduct ourselves under the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention.

And that Common Article 3 says that, you know, "There will be no outrages upon human dignity." It's like -- it's very vague. What does that mean, "outrages upon human dignity"? That's a statement that is wide open to interpretation.

And what I'm proposing is that there be clarity in the law so that our professionals will have no doubt that that which they're doing is legal.

You know, it's a -- and so the piece of legislation I sent up there provides our professionals that which is needed to go forward.

The first question that we've got to ask is: Do we need the program?

I believe we do need the program. And I detained in a speech in the East Room what the program has yielded; in other words, the kind of information we get when we interrogate people within the law.

You see, sometimes you can pick up information on the battlefield, sometimes you can pick it up, you know, through letters, but sometimes you actually have to question the people who know the strategy and plans of the enemy.

And in this case, we questioned people like Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who we believe ordered the attacks on 9/11, or Ramzi Binalshibh or Abu Zubaida, cold-blooded killers who were part of planning the attack that killed 3,000 people.

And we need to be able to question them, because it helps yield information, information necessary for us to be able to do our job.

Now, the court said that you've got to live under Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. And the standards are so vague that our professionals won't be able to carry forward the program, because they don't want to be tried as war criminals. They don't want to break the law.

These are decent, honorable citizens who are on the front line of protecting the American people. And they expect our government to give them clarity about what is right and what is wrong in the law. And that's what we have asked to do.

And we believe a good way to go is to use the amendment that we worked with John McCain on, called the Detainee Treatment Act, as the basis for clarity for people we would ask to question the enemy.

In other words, it is a way to bring U.S. law into play. It provides more clarity for our professionals.

And that's what these people expect. These are decent citizens who don't want to break the law.

Now, this idea that somehow, you know, we've got to live under international treaties, you know -- and that's fine; we do. But oftentimes the United States government passes law to clarify obligations under international treaty.

And what I'm concerned about is if we don't do that, that it's very conceivable our professionals could be held to account based upon court decisions in other countries. And I don't believe Americans want that.

I believe Americans want us to protect the country, to have clear standards for our law enforcement, intelligence officers, and give them the tools necessary to protect us within the law.

It's an important debate. It really is. It's a debate that really is going to define whether or not we can protect ourselves.

I will tell you this -- and I've spent a lot of time on this issue, as you can imagine. And I've talked to professionals, people I count on for advice. These are the people who are going to represent those on the front line protecting this country.

They're not going forward with the program. They're professionals -- will not step up unless there's clarity in the law.

So Congress has got a decision to make. 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.

Hillman (ph)?

This is Hillman's (ph) last press conference so -- sorry about that.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

On another of your top priorities, immigration, leaders of both parties have indicated that any chance of comprehensive immigration reform is dead before the election.

Is this an issue you would like to revisit in a lame duck session after the election? Or would it be put off until the new Congress?

BUSH: I strongly believe that in order to protect this border, Congress has got to pass a comprehensive plan that, on the one hand, provides, you know, additional money to secure the border and, on the other hand, recognizes that people are sneaking in here to do jobs Americans aren't doing, it would be better that they not sneak in; that they would come on a temporary basis, in an orderly way, to do work Americans aren't doing, and then go home.

And I will continue to urge Congress to think comprehensively about this vital piece of legislation.

I went up to the Hill yesterday and, of course, this topic came up. And that's exactly what I told the members of Congress.

They wanted to know whether or not we were implementing border security measures that they had funded last January. And the answer is: "We are." And one of the key things I told them was we had ended what's called catch-and-release. That was, you know, where the Border Patrol agent would find somebody, particularly from a -- not from Mexico -- and would say, "Well, we don't have enough detention space, so why don't you come back and check in with the -- you know, the local person you're supposed to check in with?" and then they'd never show back up.

And that, of course, frustrated the Border Patrol agents, it frustrates American citizens, it frustrates me. And we ended it, because Congress appropriated money that increased the number of beds available to detain people when we get them sneaking into our country illegally.

The border has become modernized. And Secretary Chertoff here later on this month will be announcing further modernizations, as he has let a contract that will use all kinds of different technologies to make the border more secure.

But in the long run to secure this border, we've got to have a rational work plan.

And finally, we going to have to treat people with dignity in this country. Ours is a nation of immigrants. And when Congress gets down to a comprehensive bill, I will just remind them, it's virtually impossible to try to find 11 million folks who've been here working hard, in some cases raising families, and kick them out. It's just not going to work.

But granting automatic citizenship won't work either. To me, that would just provide an additional incentive for people to try to sneak in.

And so, therefore, there is a rational way forward. I'll continue working. I don't know the timetable. My answer is as soon as possible. That's what I'd like to see done.


QUESTION: My apologies, Mr. President, for talking too long at the start.

BUSH: I'm not going to apologize for talking too long to your answer.


QUESTION: Talk as long as you like, sir.


When you go to New York next week, it's our thinking that one of the things you'll be trying to do is to get more international support for taking a tough stance against Iran.

I wonder how much that is frustrated by two things: one, the war in Iraq and world criticism of that; and the other, the Iraqi prime minister's going to Iran and basically challenging your administration's claim that Iran is meddling in Iraqi affairs.

BUSH: First, my decision, along with other countries, to remove Saddam Hussein has obviously created some concern amongst allies, but it certainly hasn't diminished the coalitions we put together to deal with radicalism.

For example, there's 70 nations involved with the Proliferation Security Initiative. And that's an initiative to help prevent weapons of mass destruction and/or component parts from being delivered to countries that could use them to hurt us; or the broad war on terror, intelligence-sharing or financial -- the sharing of financial information; or Afghanistan, where NATO troops are there now, along with ours.

In other words, there's a broad coalition -- most nations that -- you know, recognize the threat of Iran having a nuclear weapon in the Middle East. And there's common consensus that we need to work together to prevent the Iranian regime from developing that nuclear weapons program.

I have -- I am pleased that there is strong consensus. And now the objective is to continue reminding the Iranian regime that there is unanimity in the world and that we will move forward together.

And we expect them to come to the table and negotiate with the E.U. in good faith. And should they choose to verifiably suspend their program -- their enrichment program, we'll come to the table.

That's what we have said and the offer still stands.

During the Hezbollah attacks on Israel, the United Nations did pass a resolution with our European friends and ourselves and, of course, Russia and China voting for the resolution.

I think it passed 14-1. One nation voted against the resolution toward Iran. So there is common consensus.

And if you've heard me lament oftentimes it takes a while to get diplomacy working.

There's one nation of Iran and, you know, a bunch of nations like us trying to, kind of, head in the same direction. And my concern is that, you know, they'll stall; they'll try to wait us out.

So part of my objective in New York is to remind people that's stalling shouldn't be allowed. In other words, we need to move the process. And they need to understand we're firm in our commitment and that if they try to drag their feet or, you know, get us to look the other way, that we won't do that; that we're firmly committed in our desire to send a common signal to the Iranian regime.

It is important for the Iranian people to also understand we respect them, we respect their history, we respect their traditions, we respect the right for people to worship freely. We would hope that people would be able to express themselves in the public square. And that our intention is to make the world safer, and we'll continue to do so.

QUESTION: If I could follow up on that question, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, will actually be in the same building as you next week in Manhattan for the United Nations General Assembly.

You say that you want to give the message to the Iranian people that you respect them.

Is this not an opportunity, perhaps, to show that you also respect their leader? Would you be willing to perhaps meet face- to- face with Ahmadinejad? And would this possibly be a breakthrough -- some sort of opportunity for a breakthrough on a personal level?

BUSH: No, I'm not going to meet with him.

I have made it clear to the Iranian regime that we will sit down with the Iranians once they verifiably suspend their enrichment program, and I meant what I said.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you have said throughout the war in Iraq and building up to the war in Iraq that there was a relationship between Saddam Hussein and Zarqawi and Al Qaeda. A Senate Intelligence Committee report a few weeks ago said there was no link, no relationship, and that the CIA knew this and issued a report last fall. And yet a month ago you were still saying there was a relationship.

Why did you keep saying that? Why do you continue to say that? And do you still believe that?

BUSH: The point I was making to Ken Herman's question was that Saddam Hussein was a state sponsor of terror and that Mr. Zarqawi was in Iraq.

He had been wounded in Afghanistan, had come to Iraq for treatment. He had ordered the killing of a U.S. citizen in Jordan.

I never said there was an operational relationship. I was making the point that Saddam Hussein had been declared a state sponsor of terror for a reason, and therefore he was dangerous.

The broader point I was reminding people is why we removed Saddam Hussein from power: He was dangerous. I would hope people aren't trying to rewrite the history of Saddam Hussein and all of a sudden he becomes, kind of, a benevolent fellow. He's a dangerous man.

And one of the reasons he was declared a state sponsor of terror is because that's what he was. He harbored terrorists. He paid for families of suicide bombers.

Never have I said that Saddam Hussein gave orders to attack 9/11. What I did say was after 9/11, when you see a threat, you've got to take it seriously. And I saw a threat in Saddam Hussein, as did Congress, as did the United Nations.

I firmly believe the world is better off without Saddam in power.

Dave? He's back!

QUESTION: Sorry, I've got to get disentangled.

BUSH: Would you like me to go to somebody else, here, till you get...



BUSH: Well, take your time, please.


QUESTION: I really apologize for that. Anyway...

BUSH: I must say, having gone through those gyrations, you're looking beautiful today, Dave.


QUESTION: Thank you very much.

Mr. President, critics of your proposed bill on interrogation rules say there's another important test. These critics include John McCain, who you've mentioned several times this morning.

And that test is this: If a CIA officer, paramilitary or special operations soldier from the United States were captured in Iran or North Korea and they were roughed up and those governments said, "Well, they were interrogated in accordance with our interpretation of the Geneva Conventions," and then they were put on trial and they were convicted based on secret evidence that they were not able to see, how would you react to that as commander in chief?

BUSH: My reaction is, is that if the nations such as those you name adopted the standards within the Detainee Detention Act, the world would be better. That's my reaction.

We're trying to clarify law. We're trying to set high standards, not ambiguous standards.

And let me just repeat: We can debate this issue all we want, but the practical matter is, if our professionals don't have clear standards in the law, the program is not going to go forward.

You cannot ask a young intelligence officer to violate the law. And they're not going to. They -- let me finish please -- they will not violate the law.

You can ask this question all you want, but the bottom line is -- and the American people have got to understand this -- that this program won't go forward if there's vague standards applied like those in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. It's just not going to go forward.

You can't ask a young professional on the front line of protecting this country to violate law.

Now, I know they say they're not going to prosecute them. Think about that, you know. "Go ahead and violate it, we won't prosecute you." These people aren't going to do that.

Now, we can justify anything you want and bring up this example or that example. I'm just telling you the bottom line. And that's why this debate is important and it's a vital debate.

Now, perhaps, some in Congress don't think the program is important. That's fine. I don't know if they do or don't.

I think it's vital and I have the obligation to make sure that our professionals who I would ask to go conduct interrogations to find out what might be happening or who might be coming to this country -- I got to give them the tools they need, and that is clear law.

QUESTION: This is an important point, and I think it...

BUSH: The point I just made is the most important point, and that is the program is not going forward.

You can give a hypothetical about North Korea or any other country. The point is that the program is not going to go forward if our professionals do not have clarity in the law.

And the best way to provide clarity in the law is to make sure the Detainee Treatment Act is the crux of the law. That's how we define Common Article 3. And it sets a good standard for the countries that you just talked about.

Next man?

QUESTION: But wait a second. I think this is an important point.

BUSH: I know you think it's an important point.

QUESTION: But, sir, with respect, if other countries interpret the Geneva Conventions as they see fit, as they see fit, you're saying that you'd be OK with that?

BUSH: I am saying that I would hope that they would adopt the same standards we adopt; and that by clarifying Article 3 we make it stronger, we make it clearer, we make it definite.

And I will tell you again, you can ask every hypothetical you want, but the American people have got to know the facts.

And the bottom line is simple: If Congress passes a law that does not clarify the rules -- if they do not do that, the program's not going forward.

QUESTION: This will not endanger U.S. troops in your...

BUSH: Next man?

QUESTION: This will not endanger...

BUSH: David, next man please. Thank you.

Took you a long time to unravel, and it took you a long time to ask your question.


QUESTION: Good morning, sir.

I'd like to ask you another question about Iraq.

It's been another bloody day there. The last several weeks have been 40, 50, 60 bodies a day. We've been talking for the last several months about Iraq being on the brink of a civil war. I'd like to ask you if it's not time to start talking about Iraq as being in a civil war. And if it's not, what's the threshold?

BUSH: Well, it seems like it's pretty easy to speculate from over here about the conditions on the ground. And so what I do is I talk to people like our ambassador and General Casey, which I just did this morning.

And they and the Iraqi government just don't agree with the hypothesis it is a civil war.

They believe that -- there's no question of violence; they believe that Al Qaeda still is creating havoc. They know that there's people taking reprisal. They're confident there are still Saddamists who are threatening people and carrying out attacks.

But they also believe that the Baghdad security plan is making progress.

There was a lot of discussion about al-Anbar province recently. And I spent some time talking with our commanders. No question it's a dangerous place. It's a place where Al Qaeda is really trying to root themselves. It's a place from which they'd like to operate.

You know, this business about Al Qaeda -- al-Anbar is lost is just not the case. That's not what our commanders think.

So to answer your question, it's no question it's tough. What I look for is whether or not the unity government is moving forward, whether or not they have a political plan to resolve issues such as oil and federalism, whether or not they're willing to reconcile and whether or not Iraqi troops and Iraqi police are doing their jobs.

QUESTION: But how do you measure progress with a body count like that? BUSH: Well, one way you do it is you measure progress based upon the resilience of the Iraqi people: Do they want there to be a unity government; or are they splitting up into, you know, factions of people warring with the head leaders, with different alternatives of governing styles and different philosophies?

The unity government's intact. It's working forward. They're making tough decisions.

And we'll stay with them. We'll stay with them because success in Iraq is important for this country.

We're constantly changing our tactics. We're constantly adapting to the enemy. We're constantly saying, "Here's the way forward. We want to work with you."

But this is really the big challenge of the 21st century, you know, whether or not this country and allies are willing to stand with moderate people in order to fight off extremists. It is the challenge.

I said the other night in a speech this is like the ideological war of the 21st century, and I believe it. And I believe that if we leave that region, if we don't help democracy prevail, then our children and grandchildren will be faced with an unbelievable, chaotic and dangerous situation in the Middle East.

Imagine an enemy that can't stand what we believe in getting ahold of oil resources and taking a bunch of oil off the market in order to have an economic punishment. In other words, "You go ahead and do this, and if you don't, we'll punish you economically."

Or imagine a Middle East with an Iran with a nuclear weapon threatening free nations and trying to promote their vision of extremism through Hezbollah.

I find it interesting that young democracies are being challenged by extremists. I also take great hope in the fact that by far the vast majority of people want normalcy and want peace, including in Iraq; that there is a deep desire for people to, you know, raise their children in a peaceful world; a desire for mothers to have the best for their child.

That has not -- this isn't -- you know, Americans, you've got to understand, this is universal. And the idea of just saying, "Well, you know, that's not important for us, to me or the future of the country" is just not acceptable.

And I know it's tough in Iraq. Of course it's tough in Iraq, because an enemy is trying to stop this new democracy, just like people were trying to stop the development of a Palestinian state, which I strongly support, or people trying to undermine the Lebanese democracy.

And the reason why is because the ideologues understand that liberty will trump their dark vision of the world every time. And that's why I call it an ideological struggle. It's a necessary struggle and it's a vital struggle.

QUESTION: Mr. President, as you prepare to go up to the United Nations next week to address the General Assembly, Secretary Kofi Annan has been critical of some U.S. policies, particularly in Afghanistan, lately.

How would you characterize the relationship between the United States and the United Nations at this point?

BUSH: First of all, my personal relationship with Kofi Annan is good. I like him. We've got a good personal relationship.

I think a lot of Americans are frustrated with the United Nations, to be frank with you.

Take, for example, Darfur. I'm frustrated with the United Nations in regards to Darfur. I have said, and this government has said, there's genocide taking place in Sudan.

And it breaks our collective hearts to know that.

We believe that the best way to solve the problem is for there to be a political track as well as a security track.

And part of the security track was for there initially to be African Union forces, supported by the international community, hopefully to protect innocent lives from militia.

And the A.U. force is there. But it's not robust enough. It needs to be bigger. It needs to be more viable.

And so the strategy was then to go to the United Nations and pass a resolution enabling the A.U. force to become blue-helmeted -- that means become a United Nations peacekeeping force -- with additional support from around the world.

And I suggested that there also be, you know, help from NATO nations in logistics and support in order to make the security effective enough so that a political process could go forward to save lives.

The problem is, is that the United Nations hasn't acted.

And so, I can understand why those who are concerned about Darfur are frustrated. I am.

I'd like to see more robust United Nations action. What you'll hear is, "Well, the government of Sudan must invite the United Nations in for us to act."

Well, there are other alternatives, like passing a resolution saying, "We're coming in with a U.N. force in order to save lives."

I'm proud of our country's support for those who suffer. We provided by far the vast majority food and aid.

I'm troubled by reports I hear about escalating violence. I can understand the desperation people feel for women being pulled out of these refugees centers and raped. And now is the time for the U.N. to act.

So you asked of levels of frustration. There's a particular level of frustration.

I also believe that the United Nations can do a better job spending the taxpayer -- our taxpayers' money. I think there needs to be better management structures in place, better accountability in the organization.

I hope the United Nations still strongly stands for liberty. I hope they would support my call to end tyranny in the 21st century.

So I'm looking forward to going up there. It's always an interesting experience for a West Texas fellow to speak to the United Nations. And I'm going to have a strong message; one that's hope -- based upon hope, and my belief that the civilized world must stand with moderate, reformist-minded people and help them realize their dreams. I believe that's the call of the 21st century.

QUESTION: On both the eavesdropping program and the detainee issues...

BUSH: We call it the terrorist surveillance program.

QUESTION: That's the one.

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: You're working with Congress, sort of, after the fact, after you established these programs on your own authority. And federal courts have ruled in both cases you overstepped your authority.

Is your willingness to work with Congress now an acknowledgement that that is a fact?

BUSH: First of all, I strongly believe that the district court ruling on the terrorist surveillance program was flawed. And there's a court process to determine whether or not my believe is true. That's why it's on appeal.

We're working with Congress to add certainly to the program.

In terms of the Hamdan decision, I obviously believed that I could move forward military commissions. Other presidents had. The Supreme Court didn't agree. And they said, "Work with Congress." And that's why we're working with Congress.

QUESTION: Polls show that many people are still more focused on domestic issues, like the economy, than on the international issues in deciding how to vote in November. And I'd just like to ask you if you could contrast what you think will happen on the economy if Republicans retain control of Congress versus what happens on the economy if Democrats take over.

BUSH: If I weren't here -- first of all, I don't believe the Democrats are going to take over, because our record on the economy is strong.

If the American people take a step back and realize how effective our policies have been given the circumstances, they will continue to embrace our philosophy of government.

We've overcome recession, attacks, hurricanes, scandals, and the economy's growing -- 4.7 percent unemployment rate.

It's been a strong economy. And I strongly believe the reason it is, is because we cut taxes, and at the same time showed fiscal responsibility here in Washington with the people's money. That's why the deficit could be cut in half by 2009 or before.

And so I shouldn't answer your hypothetical, but I will.

I believe if the Democrats had the capacity to, they would raise taxes on the working people. That's what I believe.

They'll call it "tax on the rich," but that's not the way it works in Washington, see? For example, running up the top income tax bracket would tax small businesses.

A lot of small businesses are subchapter S corporations or limited partnerships that pay tax at the individual level. If you raise income taxes on them, you hurt job creation.

Our answer to economic growth is to make the tax cuts permanent so there's certainly in the tax code and people have got money to spend in their pockets.

And so, yes, I've always felt the economy is a determinant issue, if not the determinant issue, in campaigns.

We've had a little history of that in our family and -- you might remember. But it's a -- I certainly hope this election is based upon economic performance.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. I'd also like to ask an election-related question.

The Republican leader in the House this week said that Democrats -- he wonders if they are more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people.

Do you agree with him, sir? Do you think that's the right tone to set for this upcoming campaign? Or do you think he owes somebody an apology?

BUSH: I wouldn't have exactly put it that way. But I do believe there's a difference of attitude.

Take the Patriot Act, for example. Interesting debate that took place not once but twice. And the second time around there was a lot of concern about whether or not the Patriot Act, you know, was necessary to protect the country.

There's no doubt in my mind we needed to make sure the Patriot Act was renewed to tear down walls that exist so that intelligence people could share information with criminal people. It wasn't the case before 9/11. In other words, somebody had some intelligence that they thought was necessary to protect the people, they couldn't share that with somebody whose job it was to grab (ph) people out of society to prevent them from attacking. Just made no sense.

And so there was a healthy debate, and we finally got the Patriot Act extended after it was passed right after 9/11. To me, that was an indication of just a difference of approach.

No one should ever question the patriotism of somebody, you know -- let me just start over.

I don't question the patriotism of somebody who doesn't agree with me. I just don't.

And I think it's unwise to do that. I don't think it's what leaders do.

I do think that -- I think that there is a difference of opinion here in Washington about the tools necessary to protect the country, the terrorist surveillance program, or what did you call it...

QUESTION: Eavesdropping.

BUSH: Yeah, the illegal eavesdropping program you wanted to call it.


IEP, as opposed to TSP.


There's just a difference of opinion about what we need to do to protect our country. I'm confident the leader, you know, meant nothing personal. I know that he shares my concern that we pass good legislation to get something done.

QUESTION: I'd be interested in your thoughts and remembrances about Ann Richards, and particularly what you learned in running against her 12 years ago.

BUSH: Obviously, Laura and I pray for her family.

I know this is a tough time for her children. She loved her children and they loved her a lot. Running against Ann Richards taught me a lot. She was a really, really good candidate. She was a hard worker. She was -- 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.

One thing's for certain: She empowered a lot of people to be -- to want to participate in the political process that might not have felt that they were welcome in the process.

She is -- I will miss her. She was -- she really, kind of, helped define Texas politics in its best way. You know, one of the things we have done is we -- in our history, we've had characters, people larger than life, people that could fill the stage; you know, when the spotlight was on them, wouldn't shirk from the spotlight but would talk Texan and explain our state.

And she was really good at that.

And so I -- you know, I'm sad she passed away, and I wish her family all the best -- and all her friends. She had a lot of friends in Texas. A lot of people loved Ann Richards.

And anyway, as I understand, they're working on the deal on how to honor her. And she'll be laying in state in the capital.


BUSH: Yes, I will send somebody to represent me. I don't know who it's going to be yet. Well, we're trying to get the detail -- before I ask somebody, got to find out the full -- thanks for asking the question.

New York Times, Sheryl?

QUESTION: Hi, Mr. President.

BUSH: Fine. How you doing?

QUESTION: I'm well today, thank you.


BUSH: Did you start with, "Hi, Mr. President"?

QUESTION: Hello, Mr. President.

BUSH: OK, that's fine. Either way. I thought it was a friendly greeting. Thank you.

QUESTION: We're a friendly newspaper.

BUSH: Yes.


Let me just say, I'd hate to see unfriendly. (LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Mr. President...

BUSH: Want me go on to somebody else and you collect your breath?


Sorry, go ahead, Sheryl.

QUESTION: Mr. President, your administration had all summer to negotiate with lawmakers on the detainee legislation. How is that you now find yourself in a situation where you have essentially an open rebellion on Capitol Hill, led by some of the leading members of your own party, very respected voices in military affairs?

And, secondly, would you veto the bill if it passes in the form that the Armed Services Committee approved yesterday?

BUSH: First, we have been working throughout the summer, talking to key players about getting a bill that will enable the program to go forward. And was pleased that the House of Representatives passed a good bill with an overwhelming bipartisan majority out of the committee -- the Armed Services Committee.

And I felt that was good progress.

And, obviously, we got a little work to do in the Senate and will continue making our case.

But, no, we've been involved. Ever since the Supreme Court decision came down, we've been talking about both the military tribunals and this Article 3 of the Geneva Convention.

The Article 3 of the Geneva Convention is hard for a lot of citizens to understand. But let's see if I can put it this way for people to understand: There is a very vague standard that the court said must -- well, it's kind of -- be the guide for our conduct in the war on terror and the detainee policy.

It's so vague that it's impossible to ask anybody to participate in the program for fear -- for that person having a fear of breaking the law. That's the problem.

And so we've worked with members of both bodies and both parties to try to help bring some definition to Common Article 3.

I really don't think most Americans want international courts being able to determine how we protect ourselves.

And my assurance to people is that we can pass law here in the United States that helps define our treaty -- international treaty obligations. We have done that in the past. It is not the first time that we have done this.

And I believe it's necessary to do it this time in order for the program to go forward.


QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

Sheryl's second question was whether you would veto the bill as it passed yesterday.

BUSH: Oh, I don't, I don't -- that's like saying, "Well, can you work with a Democratic Congress?" when I don't think the Democratic Congress is going to get elected.

I believe we can get a good bill. And I am -- there's a -- as you know, there's several steps in this process.

The House will be working on a bill next week; the Senate will be. Hopefully we can reconcile differences. Hopefully that we can come together and find a way forward, without ruining the program.

And so your question was her question.

QUESTION: No, sir.


BUSH: Oh, you were following up on her question?

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

BUSH: That's a first.

QUESTION: We're a friendly paper, too.


Mr. President, you've often used the phrase stand up/stand down to describe your policy when it comes to troop withdrawals from Iraq.

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: As Iraqi troops are trained and take over the fight, American troops will come home.

The Pentagon now says they've trained 294,000 Iraqi troops and expect to complete their program of training 325,000 by the end of the year, but American troops aren't coming home. There are more there now than there were previously.

Is the goal post moving, sir?

BUSH: No. No. The enemy is changing tactics, and we're adapting. That's what's happening.

And I asked General Casey today, "Have you got what you need?" He said, "Yes, I got what I need." Look, we all want the troops to come home as quickly as possible. But they'll be coming home when our commanders say the Iraqi government is capable of defending itself and sustaining itself and it's governing itself.

And, you know, I was hoping we would have or be able to -- hopefully Casey would come and say, "You know, Mr. President, there's a chance to have fewer troops there."

It looked like that might be the case until the violence started rising in Baghdad.

And it spiked in June and July, as you know -- or increased in June and July. And so they've got a plan now; they've adapted. The enemy moved, and we will help the Iraqis move.

So they're building a berm around the city to make it harder for people to come in with explosive devices, for example. They're working different neighborhoods inside of Baghdad to collect guns and bring people to -- into detention. They got a clear, build and hold strategy.

The reason why there are not fewer troops there but are more -- you're right, it's gone from 135,000 to about 147,000, I think, or 140,000-something troops, is because George Casey felt he needed them to help the Iraqis achieve their objective.

And that's the way I will continue to conduct the war. I'll listen to generals. Maybe it's not the politically expedient thing to do is to increase troops, coming into election. But we -- you can't make decisions based upon politics about how to win a war.

And, you know, the fundamental question you have to ask -- and Martha knows what I'm about to say -- is, can the president trust his commanders on the ground to tell him what is necessary? That's really one of the questions, yes.

In other words, if you say, "I'm going to rely upon their judgment," the next question is, how good is their judgment, or is my judgment good enough to figure out whether or not they know what they're doing.

And I'm going to tell you, I've got great confidence in General John Abizaid and General George Casey. These are extraordinary men who understand the difficulties of the task and understand there is a delicate relationship between self-sufficiency on the Iraqis' part and U.S. presence.

And this is not a science, but an art form in a way -- you know, to try to make sure that a unity government is able to defend itself and, at the same time, not be totally reliant upon coalition forces to do the job for them.

And the issue is complicated by the fact that there are still Al Qaeda or Saddam remnants or, you know, militias that are still violent. And so to answer your question: The policy still holds. The stand up, stand down still holds, and so does the policy of me listening to our commanders to give me the judgment necessary for troop levels.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

Earlier this week, you told a group of journalists that you thought the idea of sending special forces to Pakistan to hunt down bin Laden was a strategy that would not work.

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: Now recently, you've also...

BUSH: Because, first of all, Pakistan is a sovereign nation.

QUESTION: Well, recently, you've also described bin Laden as a sort of modern day Hitler or Mussolini. And I'm wondering why, if you can explain, why you think it's a bad idea to send more resources to hunt down bin Laden wherever he is.

BUSH: We are, Richard. Thank you. Thanks for asking the question.

They were asking me about -- somebody report -- well, you know, your special forces here. Pakistan -- if he is in Pakistan, which this person thought he might be who was asking me the question -- Pakistan's a sovereign nation. In order for us to send thousands of troops into a sovereign nation, we've got to be invited by the government of Pakistan.

Secondly, the best way to find somebody who is hiding is to enhance your intelligence and to spend the resources necessary to do that. And then when you find him, you bring him to justice.

And, you know, there is a kind of an urban myth here in Washington about how this administration hasn't stayed focused on Osama bin Laden. Forget it. It's convenient throw-away lines, you know, when people say that.

We have been on the hunt, and we'll stay on the hunt until we bring him to justice. And we're doing it in a smart fashion, Richard, we are.

And I'll look forward to talking to President Musharraf.

Look, he doesn't like Al Qaeda. They tried to kill him. And we've had a good record of bringing people to justice inside of Pakistan, because the Paks are in the lead. They know the stakes about dealing with a, you know, a violent form of ideological extremists.

So we will continue on the hunt, and we've been effective about bringing to justice most of those who planned and plotted the 9/11 attacks, and we still got a lot of pressure on them. The best way to protect the homeland is to stay on the offense and keep pressure on them.

Last question.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

It was reported earlier this week that in a meeting with conservative journalists, you said you'd seen changes in the culture you referred to as a third awakening. I wonder if you could tell us about what you meant by that, what led you to that conclusion, and do you see any contradictory evidence in the culture.

BUSH: No, I said -- thanks -- I was just speculating that the culture might be changing. And I was talking about when you're involved with making decisions of historic nature you won't be around to see the effects of your decisions.

And I said that, you know, when I work the rope lines, a lot of people come and say, "Mr. President, I'm praying for you." A lot.

As a matter of fact, it seems like a lot more now than when I was working rope lines in 1994.

And I asked them to -- I was asking their opinion about whether or not there was a, you know, a third awakening, I called it.

I just read a book on Abraham Lincoln, and his presidency was right around the time of what they called the second awakening. And I was curious to know whether or not these smart people felt like there was any historical parallels.

I also said that I had run for office in the first time to change the culture.

Herman and (inaudible) remember me saying, you know, the culture said if it feels good doing it, you got a problem, blame somebody else, to helping to work change a culture in which each of us are responsible for the decisions we make in life.

In other words, usher in a responsibility era.

And I reminded people that responsibility means, if you're a father, to love your child, or if you're corporate America, be honest with the taxpayers; if you're a citizen of this country, love your neighbor.

And so I was wondering out loud with him.

It seems like to me that something is happening in the religious life of America. But I'm not a very good focus group either. I'm encapsulated here. I'm able to see a lot of people. And, from my perspective, people are coming to say, "I'm praying for you."

And it's an uplifting part of being the president. It inspires me. And I'm grateful that a fellow citizen would say a prayer for me and Laura.

Anyway, thank you all very much.