WASHINGTON – President Bush, warning that "the enemy wants to attack us again," called on Congress Friday to give U.S. intelligence agencies "the tools needed" to interrogate and try suspected terrorists for war crimes.
"Time is running out. Congress needs to act wisely and promptly," Bush said at a press conference in the White House Rose Garden.
The president's comments came a day after Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee broke with the administration and approved a bill for detention and trial of foreign terrorism suspects. Bush claims the measure would compromise the war on terrorism.
Bush, instead, is urging the Senate to pass a bill more like a House-passed one that would allow his administration to continue holding, interrogating and trying terror suspects before military tribunals.
Bush said he would work with Congress to resolve the disputed language, but stood firm on his demands.
"I believe it is vital that our folks on the front line have the tools necessary to protect the American people," Bush said.
"If not for this program, our intelligence community believes Al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland," he said.
"Unfortunately the recent Supreme Court decision put the future of this program in question. ... We need this legislation to save it."
The high court earlier this year struck down Bush's current arrangement for trying detainees held at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"I believe the court process was flawed," he said. "The Supreme Court said work with Congress, so we’re working with Congress."
Bush said he wanted to make sure U.S. intelligence personnel were not fearful of doing their jobs.
"They don't want to be tried as war criminals," he said. "They expect our government to give them clarity about what is right and what is wrong."
"These are decent citizens who don’t want to break the law," he said.
Bush promised to work with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill who have split with him on the issue, including Arizona Sen. John McCain.
"I have one test for the legislation," he said. "The intelligence community must be able to tell me that this vital program will continue."
Four Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., joined Democrats on Thursday on the Armed Services Committee and voted 15-9 for the measure that Bush opposes.
Three other Republicans joined all 11 panel Democrats in supporting the measure: Sens. McCain, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine.
In a letter sent Thursday to McCain, Powell said Bush's proposal to redefine the Geneva Conventions would encourage the world to "doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism" and "put our own troops at risk."
Bush said his former Secretary of State's criticism was "flawed logic."
"If there's any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists — it's flawed logic," Bush said
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who voted against the legislation, said the bill would restrict CIA interrogators from obtaining intelligence from terror suspects to thwart terrorists attacks.
“We don’t want to take the shackles off of these unlawful combatants like Al Qaeda and then put the same shackles on the wrists of our CIA interrogators,” Cornyn said.
Democrat Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said Republicans shift away from Bush's proposal shows how wrong it is.
"These military men are telling the president that in the War on Terror you need to be both strong and smart and it is about time he heeded their admonitions," Schumer said in a statement.
Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell said there was no scheduled vote on the measure passed out of committee, but hoped for a floor vote next week.
"I think the president is right on this issue and I think the majority is correct on this," McConnell, R-Ky., said.
Bush said it was important to interrogate terror suspects.
"We need to know who they're calling, why they're calling and what they're planning," Bush said.
Bush cited the capture of alleged Sept. 11 terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed as an example for the need of intelligence officials to obtain information to help prevent terror plots.
"This program has been one of the most vital tools in our efforts to protect this country," Bush said. "This program has saved innocent life."
The battle over how to prosecute terror suspects comes less than two months before the midterm congressional elections, which could sway power of Congress if Democrats win enough seats.
Bush's poll numbers are on the rise, according to a FOX News poll. The president's job rating went up to 40 percent from 38 percent two weeks ago.
Opinion Dynamics Corp. conducted the national telephone poll for FOX News from Sept. 12 to Sept. 13. The poll has a 3-point error margin.
Bush took the fight to Capitol Hill Thursday morning in hopes of garnering support to allow tougher interrogation of terror suspects.
"I will resist any bill that does not enable this plan to go forward," Bush told reporters back at the White House after his meeting.
On Friday, Bush also previewed his trip to New York next week to address the United Nations General Assembly over stalled negotiations with Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program.
The president said he would not meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“We’re firmly committed in our desire to send a common signal to the Iranian regime,” Bush said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.