Today on Holden’s Obsession with the Gaggle

From Holden:

Judd Leggum has Helen Thomas’ question of the day but I also liked the exchange that ensued from her follow-up.

Q My questions is, in the first place — I gather you can go on to the next question. Will the President abide by the ban on torture of prisoners of war that is very specified in the military spending bill? I mean, his signing statement does not seem to go along with that.

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I think you ought to look at the op-ed that was issued by Robert McCallum over at the Department of Justice yesterday — it was in USA Today — and he walked through this. I mean, the signing statement is consistent —

Q Will the President abide by — that’s all you’ve got to say, yes or no.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he is fully committed to following the law. It’s also been our policy, but the President has made it very clear that we are a nation that abides by our laws and our values, and that we do not torture.

Q We haven’t —

MR. McCLELLAN: If people have, then they’ve been held to account, Helen. And that’s the difference between us and others.

Q Do you think everybody is a free-lancer who has been torturing?

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, I reject that wholeheartedly — the President made it clear that we do not torture. If people engage in that kind of activity, they are held to account —

Q It’s been proved otherwise.

MR. McCLELLAN: — and we have held people to account for engaging in the mistreatment of detainees. And the world has seen that we are someone that takes the treatment of prisoners very seriously —

Q What did we see in the Abu Ghraib pictures, photographs? Should we not believe our own eyes?

MR. McCLELLAN: And look at what has happened. People that were engaged in that kind of activity are being brought to justice. They’ve been held to account; there have been steps taken to prevent something like that from happening again. Our military goes out of the way to treat detainees humanely. That stands in stark contrast to the terrorists who target innocent civilians and —

Q That’s not the question. The question is that this happened and the higher-ups knew about it.

And the series that came next had Little Scottie in full foot-stamp mode.

Q Scott, can you respond to the human rights report that came out today saying “the U.S. government’s use of offensive torture and inhumane treatment played the largest role in undermining Washington’s ability to promote human rights; in the course of 2005 it became indisputable that U.S. mistreatment of detainees reflected not a failure of training, discipline, or oversight, but a deliberate policy choice”?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven’t seen the report. I have seen news accounts of it. It appears that the report is based more on a political agenda than on facts. The United States of America does more than any country in the world to advance freedom and promote human rights. Our focus should be on those who are denying people human dignity and who are violating human rights.


Q You say you haven’t seen the report, so how do you know it’s based on politics and not on fact?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’ve seen the reports, the news coverage of the reports, and it specifically references some — or talks in negative terms about some of our efforts in Iraq. And so I think it’s clear from some of the news coverage that it’s based more on a political agenda than on facts, because if you look at the facts, the United States is leading the way when it comes to promoting human rights and promoting human dignity. And we will continue to do so.


Q Scott, are you saying that talk in negative terms about the administration is inherently political? Anybody who says negative things about the administration —

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I didn’t say that; you said that.

Q No, you just said —

MR. McCLELLAN: I described it the way — what I said is based on the news accounts — because the focus ought to be on those regimes that are engaged in torture and that are violating people’s human rights. This administration speaks out all across the world for human dignity and human rights, and advancing human rights.

Q You said you knew it was political because it spoke in negative terms about the administration.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the characterizations I saw in the news reports clearly reflect what I said.


Q Does it not create a challenge for this administration in terms of credibility to have an organization that’s coming out and essentially —

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, look at what we have done and look at what we are doing. We are leading the way when it comes to promoting human rights and human dignity, and we will continue to do so. In other words, I reject wholeheartedly the suggestions.

And to go back to Peter’s question, where does it point out facts? I mean, it seems to imply things that don’t back up with facts — in the news reports, at least.

Q Are you denying everything in the report?

Here’s a good question.

Q The Secretary of the Army says the Army has increased its advertising budget by 65 percent, has put more recruiters on the job, and is doubling the bonus for some enlistees to $40,000, all this in an effort to get new recruits. Is the President concerned that the Army may not have the soldiers to handle any future conflicts while engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Then it was time for the AbramOffal.

Q Scott, just quickly back to Abramoff. Can you give any more specificity on those meetings, when they were, years, times?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, this is sticking with our past policy. We’re not going to engage in a fishing expedition.

Q Not even years? I mean, you’re talking about —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Hanukkah receptions were back in 2001 and 2002.

Q Okay, you talked about the Hanukkah receptions. Can you talk about the staff-level meetings and what years those were, or —


Q And why would you tell us the Hanukkah —

MR. McCLELLAN: I did a check for you all, to provide you that information. But we’re not going to engage in a fishing expedition. I know that there are some that want to do that. But I don’t see any reason to do so.

Q Can you explain why you wouldn’t want it out there?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this has been in keeping with past practice, in terms of what — in similar incidents. In terms of why we wouldn’t want what out there?

Q Why wouldn’t you want to just clear up who these meetings were with, who was there, who wasn’t —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think there are some people that are insinuating things based on no evidence whatsoever. I said if you have a specific issue of concern, then we’ll be glad to take a look into that. But no one has brought anything like that to my attention.

Q You could clear up all the insinuation that you say is going on?

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, people are insinuating things based on no evidence whatsoever. And remember, this is a gentleman who contributed, either through himself or through his clients, to both Democrats and Republicans. This was not —

Q Not many Democrats.

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, there’s significant amount, if you look at some of the media reports, that has been contributed by his clients to Democrats.

Q Far more Republicans.


Q Who is insinuating, Scott, and what are they insinuating?

MR. McCLELLAN: Peter, go ahead.


Q Scott, who is insinuating anything about Abramoff, and what are they insinuating? In our requests that say —

MR. McCLELLAN: Some that want to engage in partisan politics. I’m not saying you.

And it wouldn’t be the gaggle with out Your Daily Les. Today’s sermon is on tolerance.

Q Scott, a two-part. There’s been extensive reporting of a homosexual group, Soulforce, calling on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual and trans-gender Americans to be the first in line at this year’s White House Easter Egg Roll on April 17th, as a way to show the nation their so-called families. And my question: Will the President take any measures to prevent these activists from using this non-political event as a way to push their agenda on the rest of us?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this event is a time to celebrate Easter and to have a good family celebration here at the White House. And in terms of any other details about it, I think it’s still a few months off, so we’ll talk about it as we get closer. I’ve seen a couple of reports about it; I don’t know how extensive that reporting has been. But this has been a family event for a long time and the President always looks forward to this event.