WASHINGTON — President George W. Bush is giving the nation's highest civilian award to three foreign leaders who have been among his most loyal partners on the world stage, particularly in the Iraq war.
Bush is awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and to two former leaders: former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Bush is conferring the prestigious award on his friends in an East Room ceremony on Jan. 13 _ exactly one week before he leaves office, White House press secretary Dana Perino said Monday.
"The president is honoring these leaders for their work to improve the lives of their citizens and for their efforts to promote democracy, human rights and peace abroad," she said. "All three leaders have been staunch allies of the United States, particularly in combating terrorism."
The Medal of Freedom was established by President Harry S. Truman in 1945 to recognize civilians for their efforts during World War II. The award was reinstated by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 to honor distinguished service. It is given to those deemed to have made remarkable contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, culture, or other private or public endeavors.
Prior to these three leaders, Bush has awarded 78 medals during his tenure in office.
Among the most controversial came in December 2004, when Bush gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former CIA Director George Tenet, former Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer and retired Gen. Tommy Franks, three people central to his early policy in Iraq. Bush was especially criticized for including Tenet, who came under fire for intelligence failures leading to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the Iraq war.