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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Bush Speaks at Pentagon

Aired May 10, 2004 - 11:51   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are standing by now waiting for the Pentagon. The president set to appear any minute. We also expect to see Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary, at his side. Our Dana Bash standing by at the White House for a preview of what we can expect to hear -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, the president will be coming from a briefing, a private briefing with many of the senior members of his war cabinet including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the chairmen of the Joint Chief of Staff, of course the defense secretary, the secretary of state and others.

This was a briefing that was scheduled before the controversy erupted over the Iraqi prisoner abuse issue. But the president obviously was expected to talk a great deal about it. It was supposed to dominate this particular briefing.

The open question that we will be looking for, one of the open questions, is whether the president himself viewed some of the unreleased photographs that Donald Rumsfeld said existed on Friday. There are photographs and, of course a video of the abuse. And they are supposed to be, according to Rumsfeld, much, much worse than those that have already been released to the public or at least leaked through the media.

Now we're told this morning that the president had been briefed about these pictures but he hadn't actually seen them. So we'll be looking to see whether or not he did that.

And of course, the other thing we will be looking for is the "stand by your man" moment. The president actually standing side by side with the defense secretary as he continues to hear calls for his resignation from Democrats. The White House is still somewhat emboldened about the fact they have not heard that from Republicans, although some Republicans on Capitol Hill are saying that they are reserving judgment.

But we are going to watch and listen for what the president says about the defense secretary or at least even the pictures and images of the president with the defense secretary at this briefing in a short while -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Dana, as you are reporting, this meeting was set up previous to the scandal breaking in the media. What about a news opportunity like this for the president to stand side by side with Donald Rumsfeld? BASH: Well, you know, in an ironic way it is good timing for the White House because they spent the entire weekend sort of putting out word through White House aides that they do support the defense secretary. They felt that he did a good job on Friday. And they felt that it was time to make a more impassioned, supportive case for him in public.

We saw a very rare statement over the weekend from the vice president put out to CNN and other news media outlets saying the vice president supports Donald Rumsfeld, that he was the best -- is the best defense secretary in the United States history and saying that people ought to let him do his job.

That coupled with other discussions being had over the weekend with White House aides -- obviously heard them trying to make the case that Donald Rumsfeld, as far as they're concerned, should stay in his job.

KAGAN: We have you stand by. We also have our Barbara Starr standing by at Pentagon herself.

Barbara, how important from the Pentagon to see this picture of President Bush standing next to the defense secretary?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: This will be the vote of confidence from the commander in chief to the defense secretary.

From the picture we see here, this appears to be the office directly adjacent to Secretary Rumsfeld's private office. That door you see leads to his office there. Likely to come through there and come into this room next door. President Bush expected to make that statement before television cameras.

As we keep our eye on that picture, this is the picture the Pentagon wants to see, the president again voicing his support for the secretary of defense. Also, for the military leadership of General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

We don't know yet how much the president has seen this morning. More pictures described by as many sources as hundreds of pictures now in the possession of the Pentagon, pictures that they are trying to decide whether they will keep in a classified environment to protect any criminal prosecution.

Here they are.

KAGAN: No sign yet of Donald Rumsfeld or the president. As we're waiting for that to happen -- the door is opening. There it is. There's President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney. As well let's listen to the president.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. Secretary, thank you for your hospitality, and thank you for your leadership. You are courageously leading our nation in the war against terror. You are doing a superb job. You are a strong secretary of defense. And our nation owes you a debt of gratitude. I've just completed a meeting here at the Pentagon with members of my national security team, as well as a meeting with generals on the ground in Iraq. We discussed the needs of our military personnel, the status of current operations in Iraq, and the progress of that nation toward security and sovereignty.

The United States has a vital national interest in the success of free institutions in Iraq as the alternative to tyranny and terrorist violence in the Middle East.

As we carry out this mission, we are confronting problems squarely, and we are making changes as needed.

Our priorities, however, remain the same: the protection of our country, the security of our troops, and the spread of freedom throughout the world.

Like other generations of Americans, we have accepted a difficult and historic task. We have made clear commitments before the world, and America will keep those commitments.

First, we will take every necessary measure to assure the safety of American and coalition personnel, and the security of Iraqi citizens. We're on the offensive against the killers and terrorists in that country, and we will stay on the offensive.

In and around Fallujah, U.S. Marines are maintaining pressure on Saddam loyalists and foreign fighters and other militants. We're keeping that pressure on to ensure that Fallujah ceases to be an enemy sanctuary.

In northern sectors of the city, elements of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force are prepared to strike at terrorist fighters and prevent a resurgence of violence and chaos.

South of the city, the Marines are disrupting enemy attacks on our supply routes, and rooting out anti-coalition fighters. In towns of Ramadi and Husaybah and Karma (ph), Marines are on the offensive, conducting hundreds of patrols and raids every day.

The enemy in Fallujah is hiding behind an innocent civilian population, and calculating that our coalition's use of force will alienate ordinary Iraqis. Yet every day our troops are responding with precision and discipline and restraint.

We're taking every precaution to avoid hurting the innocent as we deliver justice to the guilty. We're helping to build Iraqi forces that can take responsibility for security.

And our forces are also helping to ensure the delivery of humanitarian supplies to families that suffer as a result of the chaos in certain communities created by the terrorists and those who want to halt the advance of freedom.

In Najaf, a major Shiite population center, in the holy site, our military is systematically dismantling an illegal militia that has attempted to incite violence and seize control.

Soldiers from the 2nd Light Calvary Regiment are conducting reconnaissance to learn the precise strength and location of enemy forces. The 1st Armored Division is steadily defeating these enemy forces while seeking to protect the people and holy sites of that city.

Elements of this militia have been ejected from the Najaf governor's office and a legitimate governor has been appointed.

The people of Najaf and Shia leaders oppose the occupation by this illegal militia and are putting pressure on the militia to withdraw. We're encouraged to see more Iraqis take responsibility take responsibility for resolving the standoff in Najaf.

In all these ongoing operations, our troops continue to face serious danger. And this government is giving them every means of protecting themselves and every means necessary to gain victory. We're fielding the most technologically advanced military forces ever assembled, forces that are agile and flexible, able to strike in darkness and in light.

Supplying and protecting our forces in Iraq is a long-term responsibility, so I've asked Congress to provide an additional $25 billion for a contingency reserve fund that can be used for ongoing operations in Iraq.

I have pledged, as has the secretary of defense, to give our troops everything that is necessary to complete their mission with the utmost safety, and I urge Congress to join me in fulfilling this important commitment.

Our military from this building, to the streets of Fallujah, is performing with exceptional skill and courage. They and their families are making tremendous sacrifices for the security of our nation and for the freedom of others.

And all the hardships and sacrifices are not behind us. Our nation is caring for the wounded and grieving for the lost, praying for families who live in sorrow. We'll always remember the ones who have died and we'll honor their sacrifice by completing the mission.

Our second great commitment in Iraq is to transfer sovereignty to an Iraqi government as quickly as possible. Decades of oppression destroyed every free institution in Iraq, but not the desire to live in freedom.

Like any proud country, the Iraqi people want their independence. The Iraqi people need to know that our coalition is fully committed to their independence and we're fully committed to their national dignity.

This is the reason the June 30th transfer of sovereignty is vital.

The Iraqi people, and men and women across the Middle East are watching closely, and they will see America keep its word.

The United Nations' special envoy, Mr. Brahimi, is now back in Iraq consulting with diverse groups of Iraqis. In the next few weeks, important decisions will be made on the makeup of the interim government.

As of June 30th, Iraq's interim government will assume duties now performed by the coalition, such as providing water and electricity and health care and education.

A key strategic goal of our coalition is to help build a new Iraqi army and civil defense corps and police force and facilities protection service, and a border guard capable of defending and securing the country.

Major General Dave Petraeus, who commanded the 101st Airborne in Iraq, has returned to oversee the training and equipping of these all- Iraqi forces. Once constituted, they will protect a free Iraq from external aggression and internal subversion.

Yet the vital mission of our military in helping to provide security will continue on July 1st and beyond. Having brought freedom to Iraq, America will make sure that freedom succeeds in Iraq; a nation we will be proud to call a friend and partner in the pursuit of peace.

Third, because America's committed to the equality and dignity of all people, there will be a full accounting for the cruel and disgraceful abuse of Iraqi detainees. Conduct that has come to light is an insult to the Iraqi people and an affront to the most basic standards of morality and decency.

One basic difference between democracies and dictatorships is that free countries confront such abuses openly and directly. In January, shortly after reports of abuse became known to our military, an investigation was launched.

Today, several formal investigations led by senior military officials are under way. Secretary Rumsfeld has appointed several former senior officials to review the investigations of these abuses. Some soldiers have already been charged and those involved will answer for their conduct in an orderly and transparent process.

We will honor rule of law. All prison operations in Iraq will be thoroughly reviewed to make certain that such offenses are not repeated.

Those responsible for there abuses have caused harm that goes well beyond the walls of a prison. It has given some an excuse to question our cause and to cast doubt on our motives.

Yet who can doubt that Iraq is better for being free from one of the most bloodiest tyrants the world has ever known?

Millions of Iraqis are grateful for the chance they have been given to live in freedom, a chance made possible by the courage and sacrifice of the United States military.

We have great respect for the people of Iraq and for all Arab peoples, respect for their culture and for the history and for the contribution they can make to the world.

We believe that democracy will allow these gifts to flourish, that freedom is the answer to hopelessness and terror, that a free Iraq will lead the way to a new and better Middle East and that a free Iraq will make our country more secure.

I understand the difficulty of the mission of our men and women in uniform. They're facing an enemy in sand and heat and blasting winds, often unable to tell friend from foe.

I know how painful it is to see a small number dishonor the honorable cause in which so many are sacrificing.

What took place in the Iraqi prison does not reflect the character of the more than 200,000 military personnel who have served in Iraq since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

All Americans know the goodness and the character of the United States armed forces. No military in the history of the world has fought so hard and so often for the freedom of others.

Today our soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines are keeping terrorists across the world on the run.

They're helping the people of Afghanistan and Iraq build democratic societies. They're defending America with unselfish courage. And these achievements have brought pride and credit to this nation.

I want our men and women in uniform to know that America's proud of you and that I'm honored to be your commander in chief.

Thank you.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The president of United States at the Pentagon following a briefing with top military commanders. The president expressing his strong unqualified support for the embattled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, saying he has been acting courageously, he's been doing a superb job, he's a strong secretary of defense. The president adding, our nation owes you a debt of gratitude.

The president also, once again, making it clear that the United States government will conduct a full investigation into the prisoner abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib Prison. There will be, in his words, "a full accounting."

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