"I don't know the facts, Terry"

Published January 26, 2005 5:33PM (EST)

ABC News' Terry Moran came armed to this morning's presidential press conference with a gotcha question of sorts for George W. Bush. About Bush's goal of bringing freedom and democracy to all the world, as he articulated in his inaugural address, and convincing allies of the need to "continue to work together to help liberate people," as Bush stated during his press conference this morning, what about our ally Jordan, Moran wanted to know. Here's the exchange:

Q: Last month in Jordan a gentlemen named Ali Hattar was arrested after delivering a lecture called "Why We Boycott America." He was charged under Section 191 of their penal code for slander of government officials. He stood up for democracy, you might say. And I wonder if here and now you will specifically condemn this abuse of human rights by a key American ally. And if you won't, sir, then what in a practical sense do your fine words mean?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I am unaware of the case. You've asked me to comment on something that I didn't know took place.

I urge my friend His Majesty to make sure that democracy continues to advance in Jordan. I noticed today that he put forth a reform that will help more people participate in future governments of Jordan. I appreciate His Majesty's understanding of the need for democracy to advance in the greater Middle East. We visited with him at the G-8. And he has been a strong advocate of the advance of freedom and democracy.

Now let me -- let me finish. Obviously, we're discussing a process. As I said in my speech, not every nation is going to immediately adopt America's vision of democracy, and I fully understand that. But we expect nations to adopt the values inherent in a democracy, which is human rights and human dignity, that every person matters and every person ought to have a voice. And His Majesty is making progress toward that goal. I can't speak specifically to the case. You're asking me to speak about a case that I don't know the facts -- (chuckles).

Q Fair enough. But if I can just follow up, will you then -- does your inaugural address mean that when it comes to people like Mr. Hattar, you won't compromise because of a U.S. ally and you will stand --

PRESIDENT BUSH: Again, I don't know the facts, Terry.

Here is the Human Rights Watch statement on the Ali Hattar case. President Bush may not know the facts yet on this one, but one can only imagine how many more Ali Hattars are out there. Is Bush willing to demand that even our allies respect human rights and democratic principles? Or are some governments exempt from such scrutiny? If Bush hasn't considered the answers to this questions yet, he should start.

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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