By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2006 – The pending legislation in Congress about detaining, questioning and trying suspected terrorists will give military intelligence professionals the clarity they need to protect the American people from another terrorist attack, President Bush said here today. "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," Bush said at a news conference at the White House.
The first bill pending would allow the U.S. to use military commissions to try suspected terrorists for war crimes and would clarify the rules on the detention and questioning of such suspects, Bush said. This bill is vital because it will allow the Central Intelligence Agency's interrogation program to move forward, he said.
The CIA's program has yielded a lot of valuable information since the war on terror began and has helped disrupt numerous terrorist plots, including attacks on the U.S. Marine base in eastern Africa, the American consulate in Pakistan, and Britain's Heathrow Airport, Bush said.
"This program has been one of the most vital tools in our efforts to protect this country," he said. "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."
There is debate about the specific provisions in this bill, Bush acknowledged, but the most important aspect of it will be to allow the interrogation program to continue.
The second bill pending will modernize U.S. electronic surveillance laws and provide additional authority for the terrorist surveillance program, Bush said. The surveillance program has allowed the government to quickly monitor terrorist communications and has helped detect and prevent terrorist attacks, he said.
Both the pending bills are essential to U.S. victory in the war on terror, and the administration is committed to working with Congress to ensure military professionals have clarity enough to do their jobs, Bush said.
"It's a dangerous world," he said. "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 goal of both pieces of legislation is to clarify U.S. laws and set high standards for the treatment of detainees, Bush said. The Supreme Court's ruling that detention operations must be conducted under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention is vague, and opens U.S. military and intelligence professionals up to the possibility of violating the law without knowing it, he said.
"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," he said.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists have continued to strike around the world and have demonstrated their commitment to spreading their ideology of hatred, Bush said. The U.S. needs to take the terrorists' words and actions seriously, and do what is needed to protect the country from another attack, he said.
"My job and the job of people here in Washington, D.C., is to protect this country. We didn't ask for this war," he said. "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."