Jeebus, We’re Stuck WithTony Farto Today And He Does Not Like Ponies
Q A new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows the President’s disapproval rating has now reached 68 percent. That’s the highest disapproval rating since Gallop’s first in 1938. Any thoughts on that?
MR. FRATTO: No, I don’t think we’ve commented on polls and I don’t think there’s a good reason to start now.
Q I mean, what would you say to Americans who —
MR. FRATTO: We don’t base what we try to do here by polls. We know people have lots of different views of what’s going on out in the political world and what they’re hearing. But we try to focus on the policies that we’re trying to accomplish for the rest of the way here and not comment on what we hear in one poll or another.
The Taliban Is Kicking Ass
Q Tony, we saw the President’s meeting on Afghanistan this morning and the brief comments. Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense was saying that the number of villages northwest of Kandahar have been taken over, essentially, by the Taliban. Is there truth to that from this White House; do you believe that to be a fact? And what about that situation as it develops in southern Afghanistan?
MR. FRATTO: Well, look, I think it’s — as we have said many times, our forces in Afghanistan are facing a determined enemy. That enemy is there, it’s showing itself, it shows itself in certain spectacular acts from time to time. I don’t know for a fact whether Taliban troops have taken over certain villages or not, and we’ll try to get that from DOD or maybe DOD can share more on that.
Q We saw the British pledge, but are we going to have to see another surge of U.S. troops into Afghanistan soon?
MR. FRATTO: I couldn’t give you anything on that. I think you’d have to check in with DOD and see what their estimates are.
Tony Farto Thinks Hope Is A Plan
Q You talk about building up Afghan troops. How confident can you be that that’s going well when they weren’t able to stop the Taliban from blowing a hole in the wall and letting a thousand prisoners escape?
MR. FRATTO: That’s the problem that we have, whether it’s in Iraq or Afghanistan or here at home, is that we need to be successful a hundred percent of the time and these troops are —
Q This is about the readiness of those troops to do anything material in defending themselves.
MR. FRATTO: Yes, and we’re seeing them getting better trained, better equipped, better able to be mobile around the country and deal with the threats as they see it. That does not mean that they’re going to be able to stop 100 percent of the attacks of a very determined and creative enemy.
So what we need to do is to continue to increase their level of training — the British troops and U.S. troops and others are doing excellent work on training. We need to see more numbers. We need to see their equipment improve. And you will see, and as we have seen, their capabilities will improve also.
Q And you think you can do that without another U.S. infusion of troops into Afghanistan?
MR. FRATTO: Well, we hope so.
Tony Don’t Know!
Q Tony, there’s a Senate hearing today on the treating on detainees. And one of the ways the White House has defended its policy before is by saying that the International Red Cross is able to go into Guantanamo Bay and other prisons and check out what’s going on.
At this hearing today, a memo surfaced — a previously secret memo — suggesting that when the Red Cross came into Gitmo over the past few years, prisoners who were treated harshly were being hidden from the Red Cross. Is the White House concerned at all? Would you condone such —
MR. FRATTO: I haven’t seen that memo, and haven’t had a chance to follow the hearing. I can tell you it’s always been the policy of this government to treat these detainees humanely and in line with the laws and our legal obligations.
Q Well, along those lines, another memo came out suggesting that a senior CIA lawyer, while they were debating this in 2002, said the only sure test for torture is if a detainee dies or not, and said, “If the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.” Does that fit into the guidelines —
MR. FRATTO: I don’t know who that is or who that came from. I’m telling you that abuse of detainees has never been, is not, and will never be the policy of this government. The policy of this government has been to take these detainees and to interrogate them and get the information that we can get to help protect this country, which we have been very successful at doing, and we’ve been very successful at getting the information that has saved lives and prevented attacks on this country and on our allies.
Q But the White House policy does not — the bar is not —
MR. FRATTO: The White House policy —
Q — the bar is not whether or not you die.
MR. FRATTO: No, the White House policy is what I told you, which is that we do not abuse and we treat detainees humanely and comporting with the law.
Lindsey Graham, GITMO Bait
Q To follow that up, Tony, because one thing that struck me from those hearings was something a Republican senator said, Lindsey Graham. I’ll quote it at you and ask for your response, if I may — that the analysis that the military got from the administration civilian lawyers would “go down in history as some of the most irresponsible and short-sighted legal analysis ever provided to our nation’s military intelligence community.” What do you say to that — a Republican?
MR. FRATTO: We have great respect for Lindsey Graham. We’re not going to review every legal opinion that has ever been proffered by this government. I’m telling you what our policy has been has been to deal with these detainees humanely, get the information from them that we can to protect this country, and as we’ve been working through the process with Congress and putting in place laws to deal with them in a legal way.
Q His conclusion clearly is that that’s not the advice that the military was getting.
MR. FRATTO: Yes, Les.
And, Right On Cue, Les Throws A Hissy-Fit
Q Thank you, Tony. Two questions. Last week, Senator Leahy told the American Constitution Society — and this is a quote — “We need a President who has actually read the Constitution, understands the Constitution, and will respect the Constitution.” Now, my question: Aside from this slur that the President has neither read nor understands the Constitution, how does the President imagine that this Judiciary Committee Chairman can expect any respect for what Mr. Leahy alleges is neither read by, nor understood by the President?
MR. FRATTO: Les, I’m not sure I followed the whole line of the question, but let me just say, the President has read and is sworn to defend and protect the Constitution, and he does that.
Q Senator Leahy also said the Guantanamo decision was a stinging rebuke of the Bush administration. “I’m in support of the Constitution of the USA. If we turn our backs on the Constitution where would we be?” And my question: How can this be interpreted as anything but a charge that the President has turned his back on the Constitution? And is that either accurate or fair?
MR. FRATTO: Again, I think you lost me somewhere along the long line of that question. I’ll just tell you that we expressed our views on the Boumediene decision. We disagreed with it. The President said he would —
Q And you disagree very strongly with the Senator from Vermont, don’t you?
MR. FRATTO: But that’s usually where we are, is disagreeing with the Senator from Vermont.