For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 14, 2004
President Presents Medal of Freedom
The East Room
11:30 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, and welcome to the White House.
Laura and I are proud to have you all here today, especially our three
honorees and their families and their friends.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is our nation's highest civil
award given to men and women of exceptional merit, integrity and
achievement. Today this honor goes to three men who have played
pivotal roles in great events, and whose efforts have made our country
more secure and advanced the cause of human liberty.
George Tenet learned the value of hard work as a bus boy in the
20th Century Diner, the family restaurant in Queens, New York. Between
work and school and athletics, George always kept up with current
events and world affairs, and that enthusiasm led him into public
In Washington, George immersed himself in the field of intelligence
work. After a long career in the legislative and executive branches of
government, George was tapped by President Bill Clinton to run the
agency he loved. His challenges at the CIA were many. George acted
quickly and aggressively to rebuild the Agency's capabilities. He made
the recruitment of new talent a top priority. Applications to join the
Agency have now soared or more than 138,000 per year. Under George's
leadership, the number of yearly graduates from the Clandestine Service
Training Program have increased nearly sixfold. And just about every
CIA officer can tell you a story about Director Tenet's hands-on style
of management. He was often seen in the hallways, chewing on an unlit
cigar -- (laughter) -- or showing up at their cafeteria table and
George, and his wife, Stephanie, came to know the people of the
CIA; and the people of the CIA came to know them as decent, caring
people who love their country and love their family, especially their
son, John Michael.
Early in his tenure as DCI, George Tenet was one of the first to
recognize and address the growing threat to America from radical
terrorist networks. Immediately after the attacks of September the
11th, George was ready with a plan to strike back at al Qaeda and to
topple the Taliban. CIA officers were on the ground in Afghanistan
within days. Seasoned American intelligence officers, armed with
laptop computers, Afghan clothes and a visionary plan, rode horseback
with the fighters of the Northern Alliance, identified key targets for
our military and helped to free a nation.
Since those weeks, CIA officers have remained on the hunt for al
Qaeda killers. More than three-quarters of al Qaeda key members and
associates have been killed or detained, and the majority were stopped
as a result of CIA efforts. CIA officers were also among the first to
enter the battle in Iraq, alongside their colleagues in uniform.
In these years of challenge for our country, the men and women of
the CIA have been on the front lines of an urgent cause, and the whole
nation owes them our gratitude.
George is rightly proud of the people of the Agency, and I have
been proud to work with George. George has carried great authority
without putting on airs, because he remembers his roots. There's still
a lot of Queens in George Tenet. (Laughter.) A colleague once said
that "George has the intellect of a scholar and the demeanor of a
longshoreman." (Laughter.) His tireless efforts have brought justice
to America's enemies and greater security to the American people. And
today, we honor a fine public servant and patriot in George John
General Tommy Franks was raised in Midland, Texas -- nothing wrong
with that. (Laughter.) I didn't know him then, but Laura and he went
to the same high school. In those days, some people in Midland
wondered about Tommy's future. It sounds familiar. (Laughter.) At a
recent high school reunion, Tommy's old principal told the General,
"You weren't the brightest bulb in the socket," to which the General
replied, "Ain't this a great country?" (Laughter.)
America rewards talent, intelligence, and hard work, and the career
of Tommy Franks is living proof. Tommy dropped out of college after
two years to enlist in the Army. He quickly rose to become an officer,
graduating from Officer Candidate School with honors, and beginning his
ascent through the ranks. He went on to finish his degree and earn one
more. And he made the best decision of his life when he asked a young
lady named Cathy Carley to marry him.
Tommy Franks served in Germany and Korea, at the Pentagon, and at
the Army War College. He served in the Persian Gulf War. He served in
Vietnam where he was wounded twice. Yet his greatest challenges and
his greatest service came after the attacks on September the 11th.
As the commander of CENTCOM, Tommy Franks held responsibility for
defending American interests in some of the most remote and difficult
terrain in the world. It's a job that requires the toughness of a
general, the foresight of a strategist, the tact of a diplomat, and the
skill of a good manager. Tommy Franks led the forces that fought and
won two wars in the defense of the world's security, and helped
liberate more than 50 million people from two of the worst tyrannies in
In Afghanistan, America and our allies, with a historically small
force and a brilliant strategy, defeated the Taliban in just a few
short weeks. The General likes to say that "no plan ever survived the
first contact with the enemy." But in Iraq, Tommy Franks' plan did. A
force half the size of the force that won the Gulf War defeated Saddam
Hussein's regime and reached Baghdad in less than a month, the fastest,
longest armored advance in the history of America warfare.
Today the people of Iraq and Afghanistan are building a secure and
permanent democratic future. One of the highest distinctions of
history is to be called a liberator, and Tommy Franks will always carry
General, the American people thank you for your courage, your
leadership, and your lifetime of service in the cause of freedom and
security. To the lists of medals and honors and awards you have
already earned, I am proud to add the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Jerry Bremer is a diplomat, a philanthropist, a businessman, and a
fashion pioneer. (Laughter.) Everyone knows the Bremer look -- coat,
dress shirt and tie, and desert combat boots. (Laughter.) Beyond the
fashion statement, Jerry will be remembered for his superb work in
laying the foundations of a new democracy in the Middle East.
Jerry Bremer's life of service began in 1966, when he joined the
Foreign Service. He was a special assistant to six different
Secretaries of State, and rose to become America's Ambassador to the
Netherlands. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan appointed Jerry
Ambassador-at-Large for Counterterrorism. Eventually, Speaker Hastert
named him Chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism. And I
chose him to serve on my Homeland Security Advisory Council.
When America and our coalition needed a seasoned diplomat and a
manager to help the people of Iraq emerge from decades of oppression, I
knew where to turn. For 14 months, Jerry Bremer worked day and night,
in difficult, dangerous conditions, to stabilize the country, to help
its people rebuild, and to establish a political process that would
lead to justice and liberty. The job was demanding, requiring personal
courage, calmness under fire and hundreds of decisions every day.
Yet, Jerry not only rose to the challenge, he found time nearly
every day to study the Arabic language. Jerry Bremer earned the
respect and admiration of Iraqis, and helped to assemble an exceptional
group of Iraqi leaders for the Governing Council. With his help, these
leaders drafted the Transitional Administrative Law which charted the
country's political future and established a bill of rights. In the
final days of hammering out consensus on this landmark law, Jerry sat
through day-long meetings, sometimes without ever speaking. His
silence was essential to reassure Iraqis that the new law was entirely
their own. Yet his presence was essential to reassure Iraqis of our
coalition's steadfast commitment to their future and their success.
Every political benchmark that the Iraqis set for themselves and that
Jerry helped them meet was achieved on time or ahead of schedule,
including the transfer of sovereignty that ended his tenure.
Sometimes, Iraqi officials would express doubts that the day would
ever come. Jerry would pick up a photo of his granddaughter and say,
"This is your guarantee I'm leaving." (Laughter.)
Jerry, I know your wife, Francie, and your children, Paul and
Leila, and your granddaughter, Sophia, are really glad to have you
When Jerry Bremer greeted visitors at his office in Baghdad, he
always began, "Welcome to free Iraq." Jerry, Iraq is free today and
you helped make it so. And a free Iraq will help make generations of
Americans more secure. Our nation will always be grateful to
Ambassador Jerry Bremer and his good work. (Applause.)
These three men symbolize the nobility of public service, the good
character of our country, and the good influence of America on the
Now it is my honor to present the Presidential Medal of Freedom,
and I ask the Military Aide to read the citations.
(The citations are read and the Medals of Freedom are presented.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming. Laura and I now invite
you for a reception here to honor our honorees.
END 11:44 A.M. EST