President Bush expressed a no-tolerance stance on the use of torture by the United States in the war on terrorism in an exclusive wide-ranging interview with NBC News anchor Brian Williams, broadcast Monday.
Responding to a question from Williams on whether the United States can "be definitively against torture," Bush was adamant in his opposition to the practice.
“We are, and we will be at home and abroad," Bush said.
“And we're working with both Senator [John] McCain and Congressman Duncan Hunter,” he said. McCain, a prisoner of war who was tortured in Vietnam, said on the Dec. 4 broadcast of NBC's “Meet the Press” that he will not drop demands that the White House agree with his proposed ban on the use of torture to extract information from suspected terrorists.
The White House said previously it could not accept restrictions that might prevent interrogators from gaining information vital to the nation’s security, and it threatened a presidential veto of any bill that contained the McCain language.
‘Interrogate without torture’
But in his interview with Williams, Bush appeared to moderate that posture.
“We want to make sure that we're in a position to be able to interrogate without torture,” Bush said. “The American people expect us to do that which we can do within international law, and our own declaration of supporting the premises of international law is what I really meant to say — to protect us. I mean, if they know something, we need to know it. And we think we can find it without torturing people.”
The president addressed a spectrum of other topics in the interview, including progress in the Iraq war, relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the state of the economy and the way he gets the daily news.
Williams' day with the president began with an interview in the Oval Office. From there, he traveled on Air Force One with Bush to Philadelphia, where the president met with members of the World Affairs Council, addressing them on the topic of Iraq.
“[N]ot everything has gone the way we had hoped," Bush said of Iraq. "On the other hand, we are making progress. We get all kinds of opinions about how to proceed. ... And I hope when it's all said and done, people will say that George Bush knew how to make a decision and to stick by it."
On Katrina: ‘Don't call me a racist'
On the topic of Hurricane Katrina, Bush rejected the notion that government's roundly criticized response to Katrina was based on race.
As he has in the past, Bush acknowledged that the "federal government and other levels of the government fell down on the job. ... I was appalled that a nation as wealthy as ours was not able to respond as effectively as we should have and took blame for it."
But, he said, race didn't play a role in the poor response. "That is absolutely wrong. And I reject that," Bush said. "Frankly, that's the kind of thing that — you can call me anything you want, but do not call me a racist.”
Staying in touch
Bush also rejected the idea that he was out of touch, responding to “some visual aids” Williams brought to the Oval Office: copies of Time and Newsweek magazine that offered contradictory characterizations of the president's ability to stay in touch.
Williams noted that Time said Bush was out "talking to people," while Newsweek said the president was in a bubble. “You have a very small circle of advisers now,” Williams said. “Is that true? Do you feel in a bubble?”
“No, I don't feel in a bubble,” Bush responded. "I mean, you feel in a bubble in the sense that I can't go walking out the front gate and, you know, go shopping, like I'd love to do for my wife. ... Look, I feel like I'm getting really good advice from very capable people and that people from all walks of life have informed me and informed those who advise me. And I feel very comfortable that I'm very aware of what's going on.”
Williams asked him if he read the newsweekly magazines at all.
“No,” the president said. “I really don't. I'm interested in the news. I'm not all that interested in the opinions.”
“I see a lot of the news,” Bush said. “Every morning I look at the newspaper. I can't say I've read every single article in the newspaper. But I definitely know what's in the news. Occasionally, I watch television. I don't want to hurt your feelings, but it's occasionally.”