September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Attorney General Ashcroft News Conference with US Ambassador William S. Farish; December 12, 2001

Attorney General Transcript

News Conference with US Ambassador William S. Farish
December 12, 2001
London, England

AMBASSADOR FARISH: One year ago this month, when President Bush announced his decision to nominate John Ashcroft as Attorney General of the United States, he described him as a man of great integrity, of great judgement and a man who knows the law. John Ashcroft was born in Chicago, raised in Missouri where he served as State Auditor, State Attorney General, Governor and was elected to the Senate in 1994.

Attorney General Ashcroft has long stated his commitment to confronting injustice by leading a professional Justice Department, free from politics, defined by integrity and dedicated to uphold the rule of the law. As you know, in the global war on terrorism that has followed the September 11th attacks on America, priorities of the Justice Department have been refocused. At the President's command Attorney General Ashcroft has mobilized the Department's resources for the single overriding objective – to save innocent lives from further acts of terrorism. The Department is carrying out this critical task in close cooperation with our coalition partners. Attorney General Ashcroft is supporting this effort through his meetings this week in Europe. Ladies and gentlemen, Attorney General of the United States, John Ashcroft.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: Thank you very much Mr. Ambassador and I'm very pleased to be here. I'm delighted to be accompanied on this trip by two individuals who have very important roles in the United States Justice Department. Asa Hutchinson, would you stand up. Asa is the Director of the Drug Enforcement Agency for the United States of America and in spending time here in the United Kingdom and in other capitals in Europe, I wanted him to be with me and to develop our further capacity to cooperate on issues within narcotics. Thank you Asa.

Michael Chertoff is the Assistant Attorney General in charge of criminal prosecutions in the United States. Obviously, when it comes to matters relating to the security of the American people, and the security of freedom loving people everywhere in our war against terrorism, our ability to have the effective criminal prosecution of those that are apprehended is very important.

I'm delighted to have spent time this morning with Home Secretary David Blunkett. His commitment to the safety and security of individuals, to the fight against terrorism, is a matter of inspiration to me. And I thank him for his most hospitable welcome and for his understanding of the nature of terrorism, especially a redefined approach to terrorism which, at least in our awareness in the United States, is something that we've learned more than we wanted to learn about, in ways that we didn't want to learn about it, but we have learned about it.

Now, obviously the United Kingdom has had experience with terrorism in ways that have been first hand for a longer period than the United States of America but the acts of September11th have taught us something about the international nature of terrorist activities. That the training frequently takes place in one jurisdiction, that the development and planning of an operation takes place in another jurisdiction and the operation itself might be executed in a third or fourth jurisdiction. Given this span of jurisdictions and the variety of national contacts with the continuity of the terrorist effort it makes it very important for us to have the capacity to cooperate, both in preventing terrorist attacks and, finally, in developing a capacity to prosecute those who perpetrate acts of terrorism at the peril of innocent citizens.

The terrorist attack which we describe as an attack on the United States on September 11th turned out to be an attack on a broad number of countries whose citizens were destroyed in that attack. I mean 79 United Kingdom victims, at least our understanding is is that count, which may make it one of the largest terrorist attacks ever on the United Kingdom, took place in the United States, and the loss of life there is something that we are keenly aware of and sensitive to. We do not want to be a country in which not only are our own residents unsafe but in which our visitors are unsafe, and we want to do everything we can to fight terrorism.

I was very pleased yesterday that our Secretary of State, Colin Powell, was here with Prime Minister Tony Blair, to mark the three month period since the September 11th attacks and to commend and to thank and express the appreciation of the United States of America to the United Kingdom for its cooperation and its understanding and its team effort to curtail the impact of international terrorism. Terrorism is not confined to a single country, or a group of countries.

In October of this last year we publicized a most-wanted list from the Justice Department as a part of a worldwide assault on terror. It lists 22 known terrorists who are responsible for acts, and most of the acts for which they are responsible took place outside the United States but we know that these individuals have, in many cases, been linked to the organizations which perpetrated the acts of September 11th. And the President of the United States has, with clarity, stated the position of the United States as that the war is broader on terrorism than simply a war to eradicate the specific individuals responsible for the terrorist acts of September 11th. That those who harbor terrorists, those who provide a base for terrorism, those who, as a matter of fact, perpetrate terrorist acts that threaten the interests of the United States and around the world are the subject of our effort and we will continue to work hard to make sure that we provide a context for greater security.

I had the opportunity, this morning, with Home Secretary David Blunkett to express my deep appreciation for the fact that we believe that the relationship between the United States law enforcement authorities, both the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshall Service, the variety of law enforcement…the Immigration and Naturalization Service law enforcement individuals, and the like, including others from outside the Justice Department, and the United Kingdom, is a commendable model of cooperation between mature, independent sovereigns and there are ways in which we can work together, and do work together, respecting the sovereignty and independence and dignity of each of the nations.

The New Scotland Yard officials, British Constabularies and British Secret Service have extensive experience with terrorism and they can provide for us a much-needed understanding. They have been pro-active in their cooperation with the United States and I personally want to extend my appreciation. Nine Scotland Yard officers, for example, testified and gave critical evidence at the trials of the al Qaeda terrorists who bombed U.S. Embassies in Dar-es-Salaam and Nairobi in 1998. Their assistance was extremely valuable in obtaining conviction of all the four al Qaeda terrorists regarding those particular bombings that have completed the trial in New York.

All the investigative leads we have asked our British colleagues to track down, particularly in the identification of emerging threats, have been expertly and relentlessly pursued, and we are grateful. In particular, before I take questions, I want to express my gratitude to the United Kingdom and to Home Secretary David Blunkett for their cooperation with an extradition request we have for Lofti Raissi. Mr. Raissi is currently charged with making false statements in connection with records he submitted for a pilot's license in the United States but he is obviously the subject of an enquiry related to September 11th and we appreciate the despatch and cooperation of the Home Secretary in helping the United States, again, achieve its objectives of justice. With that in mind, let me just express my appreciation to you, and be available for questions. Yes sir?

QUESTION: Richard Beeston from The Times. On the question of Mr. Raissi, Mr. Ashcroft, I was wondering if you could tell us if you are hopeful that this case will lead to an extradition to the United States. And also, on the case of Mr. Moussaoui which you announced details of in Washington yesterday, I believe he lived in London for some time, have the British authorities assisted in that prosecution and provided evidence or any back-up to the trial you expect in that case?

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: Thank you very much. We do have a pending request for extradition of Mr. Raisi and believe that that matter is being handled with the appropriate dispatch and regard for the appropriate procedures. Secondly, with Zacarias Moussaoui, an individual who is a French citizen but who went to school here in the United Kingdom, he came to the United States, we have received the cooperation of United Kingdom authorities in inquires we have made regarding his time here. Yes sir.

QUESTION: Guto Harri, from the BBC. Two questions if you will forgive me. One, have you heard anything of the reports that Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar have asked associates of them to kill them, a report in one Pakistani newspaper today. And secondly, whether there is a danger because of your decision to seek the death penalty with terrorist suspects, that it could make extradition from European countries of other terrorist suspects very difficult.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: First of all, I can't give you anything other than what I've read in the newspapers and sometimes I can rely on that information, sometimes I can't. So in all candor I don't know if it works the same here as it does in the United States, sometimes, it's sort of like politicians, s ometimes you can rely on them and sometimes you can't. Second, each case is dealt with independently in regard to extraditions from various countries and we have in the last several months frankly been favored with high levels of cooperation, particularly by European nations in extraditions, I can think of the French having satisfied two of our requests in regard to one defendant name Einhorn and another defendant name Copp. Both very serious cases for which we were grateful for that cooperation. The United Kingdom has been a model partner to the United States in law enforcement issues, but we understand that case by case defines the way in which we operate in the universe of extraditions. Sir in the back.

QUESTION: Tim Marshall from Sky News. Regarding Lofti Raissi, potentially if he was extradited could he face the death penalty, because I'm not aware of what charges you have against him?

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: I don't believe that the kinds of things for which he is currently being, the extradition has been requested, are death eligible offences. Yes Sir. I'm sorry I don't know all of your names, I could get the Americans whom I know but…

QUESTION: Anton La Guardia of the Daily Telegraph. If I could just go back to the death penalty, is it a problem, what issue of the death penalty in extradition? Geoff Hoon was quoted as saying a few days ago, for example, if British troops were to capture Osama Bin Laden that they wouldn't hand him over to the United States unless they had assurances that he wouldn't face the death penalty. Is this a problem that's going to dog your investigation throughout and are you willing to give guarantees that suspects that are extradited would not face the death penalty?

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: Well it is clear that the United States, most of the States in the United States, and the Federal Government of the United States, have laws, the violation of which provides death eligibility in terms of the sentencing. We deal with those cases on a case by case basis, and frankly individuals and nations with whom we have dealt regarding extraditions have dealt on a case by case basis, and I think that's the best way to go forward. Mr. Reid.

QUESTION: T R Reid, Washington Post. The U.S. has regularly given a diplomatic letter in extradition cases saying that the person extradited from a European country won't be given the death penalty. Are you willing to give the same kind of letter to European countries saying an extradited person won't be given placed in trial before a

military commission to get the extradition?

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: Well first of all, a military commission is not a place where traditional criminal activity is adjudicated. The order for a war crimes commission on the part of the President is a military order, so it's outside the jurisdiction of the civil authorities of which I am one. And secondly, it's designed to adjudicate war crimes not ordinary criminal activity. With that in mind, that decision of the President, is a uniquely Presidential decision about whether or not he will assign someone to be considered and adjudicated for war crimes committed against the United States in a war crimes commission. So I simply cannot indicate what all the procedures would be there, he's asked the Secretary of Defense to come up with a set of regulations.

I could make a few comments on war crimes commissions, you know there are several war crimes commissions operating now that are seeking to vindicate war crimes in factions that took place in Bosnia for example, when atrocities were committed against the people of Bosnia and the world has largely endorsed the idea that a war crimes commission should provide relief as a result of that atrocious behavior and activity. Similarly, in regard to war crimes committed in crimes against humanity, those kinds of criminal activities, in I believe Central Africa in Rwanda and the like, war crimes commissions are supported now by the world community to address those. I think that the President wants to have the tool available, if he feels it necessary to vindicate crimes of atrocity against the United States in the same way the world has endorsed historically and presently the ability to remediate war crimes through a war crimes commissions against other people in the way when they have experience those kinds of atrocities. Sir I saw your hand up.

QUESTION: Robin Oakley of CNN. Mr. Ashcroft, given the spats that there have been across Europe about the adoption of a Europe wide arrest warrant and given the mauling that the U.K. anti terrorist bill has been received in the House of Lords, are you worried that Europe by comparison with the United States is soft on terrorism despite all the talk of standing shoulder to shoulder?

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: Well, I believe that the world is a different place since September 11th . The nature of terrorism has been redefined. The clarity with which we now understand that terrorism is multi-jurisdictional, as I indicated earlier, frequently trained in one setting like a camp in Afghanistan, perhaps plotted or planned in another setting like we believed there were several settings that may have been involved in plotting the September 11 attacks in the United States, but those plotting arenas were outside the United States in other nations. And then the execution of the attack in a third jurisdiction, this emphasizes the need for the world community to understand that terrorism is a broad threat. It is a threat against the civil by the savage to do those things which are unthinkable and unexplainable and unjustifiable. Now, it stands to reason that given the breath of the operation, the multi-jurisdiction aspect of it, the fact that it is staged in some areas, executed in others, trained for and planned in others, that we need to have a worldwide consciousness of this new threat and we have to develop an understanding that to stamp out terrorism we are going to have to have levels of cooperation that recognize this inter-related nature and extended way in which terrorism has begun to operate.

With that said I want to emphasize this. The United States understands that we participate cooperatively and collaboratively with mature, sovereign, independent nations and each nation has to make its own judgements about those things that it can and needs to do to protect its innocent citizens from being the victims of savage, terrorist attacks. The Justice Department of the United States, has come to a conclusion, and I believe it's one that other cultures will reach as well, that we needed to adjust our framework to make sure we were up-to-date with our capacity to interdict, disrupt, deal with terrorist threats. We have come to the conclusion that we can protect the American people and at the same time respect the rights of citizens that are enshrined in the constitution of the United States which we revere. That balance which is drawn, that ability to do that, has to be drawn independently in each culture and now I'm coming to, actually you 've heard me talk and now I'm going to answer your question, I do not stand in judgment of other nations, about what they are doing, I understand that as mature sovereigns they need to make assessments of their own, I urge for the safety and security of freedom loving people everywhere, that assessments be made in the light of the nature of terrorism, I kind of international terrorism which has taken so many lives and impaired the capacity of people to operate in freedom. I thank you all very much. Thank you.

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