WASHINGTON – Linking the military prison in Guantanamo Bay (search) to the gulags in the former Soviet Union (search) is "absurd," especially when the United States is taking special care to protect the civil liberties of prisoners, President Bush said Wednesday.
"This is absurd to equate Gitmo, or Guantanamo, with the Soviet gulags. It's just not even close," Bush told FOX News' Neil Cavuto in an exclusive interview.
"Prisoners are being treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention (search)," the president said, adding that the prisoners are stateless fighters who are not explicitly governed by the conventions. "We treat the prisoners in accordance with international standards, and that's what the American people expect."
Watch FOX News Channel for Neil Cavuto's interview with President Bush at 4 p.m. EDT.
Sen. Joe Biden (search), D-Del., ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (search), and former President Jimmy Carter are leading a small chorus of critics who say the United States ought to close down the military base on Cuba because it will help improve America's image in the world.
The demands followed a report by Amnesty International that compared the Guantanamo detention center with the infamous Soviet prison camps where forced labor was practiced and at which more than 3 million people were said to have died.
Bush said the U.S. military is making sure to follow accepted rules for treating prisoners, but it would be unwise to release prisoners for the sake of public relations.
"We're exploring all alternatives into how best to do the main objective, which is to protect America. What we don't want to do is let somebody out who comes back and harms us," Bush said, adding that the Pentagon investigates and reports on allegations of improper behavior.
Bush added that the best way to protect the United States from would-be terror attacks is to use a dual strategy of "committing our troops and intelligence services to the task and also spreading freedom."
Having finished his daily briefing with FBI Director Robert Mueller (search) and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (search), Bush said he is impressed with the increasing coordination and intelligence-sharing among intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
Bush said he was undeterred by news that a member of an alleged Al Qaeda (search) cell in California was taking target practice on a picture of him.
"I was briefed on some of the particulars on the matter you just described. I can assure the American people that we are following every lead and we're doing everything we can to keep us protected," he said, adding that he doesn't know if other cells are operating in the United States but "a lot of people are looking for them."
Elsewhere, Bush said that the option of U.N. sanctions on North Korea is on the table, but is a decision to be made down the road. On Tuesday, Pyongyang said it was willing to resume six-party talks on dismantling its nuclear weapons program after dropping its insistence on one-on-one discussions with the United States. Bush said he prefers multi-party talks because it will keep the pressure on North Korean President Kim Jong Il (search).
"The change in strategy, the change of U.S. policy occurred when I decided to make sure China had a seat at the table with us ... on the theory that more than one voice that had different interests in the region speaking to Kim Jong Il would have a better effect on him," Bush said. "They're at the table and that's been constructive."
Speaking on the economy, the president said that he was pleased with the numbers on housing starts and unemployment rates, but he was troubled by the lack of a national energy bill, which he partly blamed for the ongoing high gas prices. The national average on retail gas prices as of Monday was $2.11 per gallon, according to the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration.
"I understand that the gasoline price rise is like a tax. It's a tax on families, it's a tax on small businesses, and I understand why gasoline prices are going up and that is because we're dependent on foreign sources of energy and the price of crude oil is going up and it's the main price driver of gasoline," Bush said.
The House has passed a national energy bill. The Senate is still working on its version of the legislation. Bush acknowledged that the bill won't affect prices immediately, but will give producers incentives to look for alternative energy and fuel sources.
On Wednesday, the president headed out to discuss Social Security reforms to an audience in Washington, D.C. A couple hundred protesters stood outside the Capital Hilton to greet the president’s motorcade as he arrived to deliver his remarks.
An ABC News-Washington Post poll taken last week and released Tuesday shows that of 1,002 respondents, 48 percent support the president's plan to let individuals invest a portion of their Social Security contributions into private accounts while 49 percent oppose the plan. Sixty-three percent in the poll said they don't think it will help increase the financial stability of Social Security.
The president has already said his investment proposal is not aimed at increasing solvency, but his plan to allow a mix of price- and wage-indexing to gauge the speed in which benefits rise is meant to improve Social Security's solvency.
"Such a plan, called 'progressive indexing,' (search) will go a long way to solving social Security, the Social Security problem permanently," Bush told FOX News.
In that same Washington Post poll, 13 percent of respondents said Social Security is the top problem facing the country, behind Iraq, economy and jobs and health care. Terrorism in general earned 12 percent of respondents' votes. Bush said he is not concerned with the polls.
"If I didn't take this on, I would have said, 'What did you go to Washington for in the first place.' I also believe we can get something done, I truly believe it," he said.
"I really do not worry about the second guessing and the focus groups," he added. "Polls go up and polls go down but I also know my job."
On a lighter note, Bush said that he is impressed with the reception first lady Laura Bush has received as she undertakes more duties and appears in public. The first lady recently won accolades for a stand-up routine at the White House correspondents' association dinner in which she made several jokes at the president's expense.
Since then, she has been named by some political strategists as a potentially strong presidential candidate in 2008, a notion rejected by the president.
"I don't think she's going to run for office. It's an unusual city here where she gets a couple of good cracks off on her husband at one of these events, and all of sudden they've got her running for president," Bush said. "She's not going to run for president, but I will let her say that to you, not me."