White House

Give 'em Helen!

Scared, Mr. Bush?One of the many tragedies of the Bush administration is the banishing of Helen Thomas from participation in Bush's televised press conferences. For more than 30 years, Helen had the honor of the first question and the last word -- the signature, "Thank you, Mr. President."

Her questions for the chief executive were always hard-hitting, rarely comfortable, and never easily blown off. But for George W. Bush, who bristles and smirks when challenged on anything, Helen Thomas quickly wore out her welcome, especially after a very public (and spot on) comment in which she described 43 as the "worst president in history". On March 6, 2003, for the first time in three decades, Helen Thomas was publicly snubbed by Mr. Bush in prime time.

Since then, her diminutive frame and biting remonstrations have been relegated to the back of the room and her voice has been silenced in Bush's presence (for such a tough "bring 'em on" cowboy to fear her so much provides further insight into the Bubble Boy's true personality), but she remains a voice of conscience in the White House press corp.

Yesterday, she gave Press Secretary Scott McClellan a taste of the fire for which we love her.

It was an important exchange about Guantanamo and (very obvious) Geneva Convention violations at the hands of the United States military and Justice Department. Despite the seriousness of the content, the fact that the inquiry came from Helen will make you want to stand up and cheer. Read on...

HELEN THOMAS: I asked you the other day and didn't get an answer and I'll ask you again, do we follow the Geneva Conventions at Guantanamo?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President has already answered that question. We've answered that question on numerous occasions, Helen. The President's most solemn obligation is to protect the American people, and in terms of -- in terms of Guantanamo, it's related to the war on terrorism that we're fighting. We're fighting a different kind of war and we face an enemy like we have never faced before. The President designated individuals again Guantanamo as unlawful enemy combatants who do not share -- they are people who do not share our values, who do not respect the rule of law, and who have no regard for innocent --

HELEN THOMAS: You haven't even charged them.

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, I'm going to move on to other people if you're not going to let me answer the questions.


MR. McCLELLAN: I would like to answer your question and I'm trying to do that. We can disagree on the war on terrorism, but I want to make my points, too.

But these are people who have no regard for innocent civilian life, and the military -- and in terms of the military and the detainees who are at Guantanamo Bay, the President expects them to be treated humanely and consistent with the Geneva Conventions. That's what he has said to the Pentagon, and that's what he expects to happen. We are a nation of values and laws, and we adhere to our values and laws.

HELEN THOMAS: Why are there so many reports, then, of abuses at Guantanamo?

MR. McCLELLAN: You should direct your questions to the Department of Defense if there are any allegations of abuse. They take them very seriously.

HELEN THOMAS: You're not aware of any?

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, Helen, we can disagree on this, but --

HELEN THOMAS: It isn't a question of -- I'm asking you a very valid question.

MR. McCLELLAN: And you're not letting me respond to it, Helen. I would like to respond to it, but you're not letting me.

HELEN THOMAS: You said that we don't really have to obey the law in this case, in terms of not giving these people a fair trial and charging them --

MR. McCLELLAN: These are people that are -- that do not adhere to the Geneva Conventions. These are enemy combatants who were picked up on the battlefield trying to do harm to Americans, or plotting to carry out attacks against the American people.

HELEN THOMAS: How do you know that without charging them?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, go ahead. Helen you've got to let me have a chance to respond. Thank you.

Thank YOU, Helen Thomas.Read her syndicated column here.