Bush Says He Will 'Reserve Judgment' on Destruction of CIA Tapes
President Also Criticizes Congress for Funding 'Wasteful' Pet Projects
Thursday, December 20, 2007; 3:35 PM
President Bush insisted today that he would "reserve judgment" on the CIA's destruction of interrogation videotapes pending inquiries by the federal government and Congress, and he stood by his previous assertion that he does not recall being informed of the matter until he was briefed on it this month.
Bush also complained today that Congress crammed thousands of "wasteful" pet projects into a $555 billion domestic spending bill passed last night. He said he was instructing his budget director to review options for dealing with them.
In response to questions about the videotapes at a year-end White House news conference, Bush suggested that critics of harsh interrogation techniques shown in the tapes want the United States to become isolationist.
Speaking publicly about the tapes for the first time since the CIA disclosed their existence and subsequent destruction, Bush said there was nothing ambiguous about a White House statement two weeks ago that he did not recall hearing of the recordings before CIA Director Michael V. Hayden briefed him Dec. 6.
"It sounds pretty clear to me when I say I have -- the first recollection is when Mike Hayden briefed me," Bush said.
Congressional Democrats demanded investigations and oversight hearings after the CIA disclosed that it recorded the 2002 interrogations of two al-Qaeda captives and destroyed the tapes in 2005. The captives were subjected to harsh methods of extracting information. One of them, known as Abu Zubaida, is among three terrorist suspects who officials have said was subjected to waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning. But it is not clear whether that tactic was shown on the tape of his interrogation.
Democrats urged Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey to investigate whether CIA officials broke the law when they destroyed the videotapes and withheld information about their existence from official proceedings.
Bush refused to comment today on whether it was appropriate to destroy the tapes, saying he would let the government investigations and congressional oversight hearings run their course.
He said he was confident that inquiries by the attorney general and the CIA inspector general, combined with congressional oversight, "will end up enabling all of us to find out what exactly happened." Meanwhile, he said, "I'm going to reserve judgment until I find out the full facts."
Pressed on the issue later in the news conference, Bush said: "We get criticized a lot for a variety of reasons. We're asking people to do hard things, for starters, which is intercept and find terrorists and to spread freedom. And there's isolationist tendencies in this world. People would rather, you know, stay at home. They would rather not aggressively pursue people overseas and aggressively pursue freedom."
He added, "We've got people like that in our own country. That's why in my State of the Union address a couple of years ago I talked about the perils of isolationism and protectionism."
In a prepared statement, Bush praised lawmakers for keeping tax increases out of the domestic spending bill and for including $70 billion in funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with no strings attached.