Joe Conason's Journal

The White House decision to nab money destined for tortured POWs shows yet more evidence of its tender concern for enlisted Americans.


Salon Staff
November 11, 2003 11:13PM (UTC)

No amount of money -- and he means it
The billions included by Congress in the president's supplemental budget fall well below estimates of what will be needed to rebuild Iraq. So the Bush administration is looking everywhere for money (while averting its gaze from the tax revenues squandered on wealthy contributors). Among the funds they've found is a court judgment won against the Iraqi government by a group of former American prisoners of war who were brutally tortured during the 1991 war. The White House position -- which seems likely to prevail -- is that any frozen Iraqi funds should be turned over for reconstructing Iraq rather than used to pay damages to those tortured U.S. soldiers and officers.

The decision provides yet more evidence of the tender White House concern for enlisted Americans -- as anyone could tell from Scott McClellan's remarkable response to questions on this topic last Thursday. It's worth reproducing in full, if only to marvel at McClellan's increasing resemblance to Ari Fleischer:

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"Q: Scott, there are 17 former POWs from the first Gulf War who were tortured and filed suit against the regime of Saddam Hussein. And a judge has ordered that they are entitled to substantial financial damages. What is the administration's position on that? Is it the view of this White House that that money would be better spent rebuilding Iraq rather than going to these former POWs?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I view it in those terms, David. I think that the United States -- first of all, the United States condemns in the strongest terms the brutal torture to which these Americans were subjected. They bravely and heroically served our nation and made sacrifices during the Gulf War in 1991, and there is simply no amount of money that can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering that they went through at the hands of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. That's what our view is.

Q: But, so -- but isn't it true that this White House --

Q: They think there is an --

Q: Excuse me, Helen -- that this White House is standing in the way of them getting those awards, those financial awards, because it views it that money better spent on rebuilding Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, there's simply no amount of money that can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering --

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Q: Why won't you spell out what your position is?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm coming to your question. Believe me, I am. Let me finish. Let me start over again, though. No amount of money can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering that they went through at the hands of a very brutal regime, at the hands of Saddam Hussein. It was determined earlier this year by Congress and the administration that those assets were no longer assets of Iraq, but they were resources required for the urgent national security needs of rebuilding Iraq. But again, there is simply no amount of compensation that could ever truly compensate these brave men and women.

Q: Just one more. Why would you stand in the way of at least letting them get some of that money?

MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree with the way you characterize it.

Q: But if the law that Congress passed entitles them to access frozen assets of the former regime, then why isn't that money, per a judge's order, available to these victims?

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MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I pointed out that that was an issue that was addressed earlier this year. But make no mistake about it, we condemn in the strongest possible terms the torture that these brave individuals went through --

Q: You don't think they should get money?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- at the hands of Saddam Hussein. There is simply no amount of money that can truly compensate those men and women who heroically served --

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Q: That's not the issue --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- who heroically served our nation.

Q: Are you opposed to them getting some of the money?

MR. McCLELLAN: And, again, I just said that that had been addressed earlier this year.

Q: No, but it hasn't been addressed. They're entitled to the money under the law. The question is, is this administration blocking their effort to access some of that money, and why?

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MR. McCLELLAN: I don't view it that way at all. I view it the way that I stated it, that this issue was --

Q: But you are opposed to them getting the money.

MR. McCLELLAN: This issue was addressed earlier this year, and we believe that there's simply no amount of money that could truly compensate these brave men and women for what they went through and for the suffering that they went through at the hands of Saddam Hussein --

Q: So no money.

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MR. McCLELLAN: -- and that's my answer.
[11 a.m. PST, Nov. 11, 2003]

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