Bush at Press Conference Calls Amnesty’s Charges on Gitmo “Absurd”

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By: The Associated Press

President Bush on Tuesday dismissed a human rights report as “absurd” for its harsh criticism of U.S. treatment of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying the allegations were made by prisoners “who hate America.”

“It’s an absurd allegation. The United States is a country that promotes freedom around the world,” Bush said of the Amnesty International report that compared Guantanamo to a Soviet-era gulag.

In a Rose Garden news conference, Bush defiantly stood by his domestic policy agenda while defending his actions abroad. He repeatedly pledged to press ahead ? “The president has got to push, he’s got to keep leading” ? despite mounting criticism.

With the death toll climbing daily in Iraq, he said that nation’s fledging government is “plenty capable” of defeating insurgents whose attacks on Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers have intensified.

Bush spoke after separate air crashes killed four American and four Italian troops in Iraq. The governor of Anbar province, taken hostage three weeks ago, was killed during clashes between U.S. forces and the insurgents who abducted him.

Standing in the sun, sweat beading on his forehead, Bush said the job of the U.S. forces in Iraq is to help train the nation’s own forces to defeat insurgents.

“I think the Iraqi people dealt the insurgents a serious blow when we had the elections,” Bush said. “In other words, what the insurgents fear is democracy because democracy is the opposition of their vision.”

On another foreign policy issue, Bush shot back at critics who suggest his diplomatic approach to North Korea is allowing the communist regime to expand its nuclear program. “If diplomacy is the wrong approach, I guess that means military. That’s how I view it as either diplomacy or military. I am for the diplomacy approach,” he said. “And for those who say we ought to be using our military to stop a problem, I would say that while all options are on the table, we’ve still got a ways to go to solve this diplomatically.”

Bush said he expressed concerns with Russian President Vladimir Putin about legal proceedings against former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Once the richest man in Russia, Khodorkovsky was convicted Tuesday of fraud and tax evasion and sentenced to nine years in prison following a trail widely denounced as politically motivated.

“Here, you’re innocent until proven guilty and it appeared to us, at least people in my administration, that it looked like he had been judged guilty prior to having a fair trial,” Bush said. “We’re watching the ongoing case.”

The president said he has questioned whether the case shows a backsliding away from the rule of law and democracy in Russia and said it will “be interesting to see” how Khodorkovsky’s expected appeal is handled by the government.

He said it was a “reasonable decision” to allow Iran to apply for WTO membership as a way to advance diplomatic discussions with Europe on Iran’s nuclear program.

On the Amnesty International report, Bush said, “It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of the allegations by people who were held in detention, people who hate America.”

The president opened the news conference by urging Congress to pass his stalled energy legislation, restrain the growth of government spending, approve the Central American Free Trade Agreement and overhaul Social Security with a partial privatization plan.

Despite democratic opposition and Republican skittishness about his plans for Social Security, he said he would push forward. “It’s like water cutting through a rock. I’m going to keep working and working and working,” he said.

“…The people are watching Washington and nothing is happening. Except you’ve got a president who’s talking about the issue and a president who’s going to keep talking about the issue until we get people to the table.”

He declared that the economy is strong, with 3.5 million jobs in two years and an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent. “Obviously, these are hopeful signs, but Congress can make sure the signs remain hopeful,” he said in a five-minute opening statement in the Rose Garden.

After a bruising week on Capitol Hill, Bush urged both political parties to “set aside partisan differences” and work together.

Bush did not challenge the premise of a question about the Supreme Court ? that he will soon have a vacancy to fill on the aging court. He did pledge to consult with Congress about his nominee or nominees at “an appropriate time,” though he didn’t say how early in the process those talks would come.

Turning to the controversial issue of embryonic stem cell research, Bush said that the extra embryos created during fertility treatments ? estimated to now number around 400,000 ? should be adopted.

“There’s an alternative to the destruction of life,” he said. “But the stem cell issue is really one of federal funding, that’s the issue before us, and that is whether or not we use taxpayers’ money to destroy life. … I don’t believe we should.”

Though he did not mention tax cuts in his opening argument, Bush said he still wants Congress to make his first-term cuts permanent. He also pledged not to give up on Social Security reform, despite intense opposition on Capitol Hill. “The easy path is to say, `Oh, we don’t have a problem. Let’s ignore it — yet again’.”

On a lighter note, Bush said he was comfortable with the decision by his staff and Secret Service not to notify him when the White House and Congress were evacuated in May because of an errant airplane.

Noting that his wife, Laura, has said he should have been told of the potential threat, the president joked, “She often disagrees with me.”

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