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Bush Speaks At White House

Aired December 21, 2001 - 11:39   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now we go to the White House. Some words from President Bush.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: --anymore; or could be in a cave where he can get out or may have tried to slither out into neighboring Pakistan. We don't know.

But I will tell you this: We're going to find him.

And one of the things I said early on in this war was that -- I told the American people that this administration would be patient and would be relentless. And you're talking to a patient man when it comes to achieving the objectives.

I understand the degree of difficulty has increased significantly. First part of the objective was to destroy the Taliban's military; that was relatively easy. Secondly, the objective was to hold those accountable who had harbored Al Qaeda. It took a while, but once we were able to bring our military strength, made our military strength, air strength in particular, with boots on the ground, commitment of troops, it unfolded well.

Now we're on the hunt, and we're chasing one or two, three or four, 20 individuals at a time. And this is pretty rugged country, as you know. And so we are slowly but surely chasing down every single lead, and as our friends and allies take over more and more of the country, and as the new government gets in the beginnings, gets into place, we'll continue to get good intelligence and we'll continue to chase Mr. bin Laden and others. Abu Zabeda (ph). Zawahiri. And I could give you the list of names.

But if they think they can hide from the United States, they're making a terrible mistake again. And we'll get them, we'll bring them to justice. I wish I could give you the exact moment, but I can't. And, frankly, since this administration is in the fight against terror for the long pull, I am not the least bit anxious about bringing a particular individual to justice.

I know that we've disrupted the Al Qaeda network. Today I was briefed that there are hundreds of Al Qaeda fighters being held hostage. And by the way, we're in the process of developing a system to deal with each and every fighter, depending upon the nature of the fighter, how to deal with them legally. And I've instructed the National Security Council to take their time and to come up with a process to deal with foreign Al Qaeda fighters, Taliban, Walker. I have no answer on Walker yet, because I want the process to be able to address all the different circumstances that may arise and then we'll be able to brief the country as to how we're going to deal with these people.



G. BUSH: Well, I've tasked the National Security Council to work up a strategy on how to deal with each and every person that we capture.

And obviously, Walker is unique in that he's the first American Al Qaeda fighter that we have captured. And we will announce to the country when we have made up our mind on all -- on how to deal with a wide variety of cases.

Walker himself is being well-treated on a ship of ours. I suspect he's finding his berth a little better than it was when he was placed in the prison in Afghanistan. And, you know, we've heard -- the administration has heard from his lawyer. And we've told his lawyer that, at the appropriate time, we'll let everybody know, including his family, how we're going to proceed with Walker, as well as others that have become captured during this war.

But, no, I don't have an announcement today.

QUESTION: And nothing's been ruled out on treason...

G. BUSH: No, nothing has been ruled out, because I want to make -- obviously, every decision we make at this point will set precedent for future decisions. And I want us to fully think through all the ramifications of the different options. And Defense and the Justice Department are taking the lead on preparing a strategy.

This ought to be a strategy, by the way, that when we capture somebody who has a certain characteristic to him, then the process ought to automatically kick in as to how that person is dealt with. And I think we owe that to the country to take our time. And then I'll make it clear -- somebody will make it clear, once the decision is made.

QUESTION: Sir, would you consider bringing -- of asking Congress to come back early to finish the economic stimulus?

G. BUSH: No.

QUESTION: Are you angry at anyone?

G. BUSH: No, I'm not angry at all. I'm joyous. I welcome the holiday season. No, I don't intend to bring them back early. QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

G. BUSH: Well, the impact was, it was disappointing. I mean...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) with the American people. G. BUSH: Well, we just have to see. We have to see what the affects are. And we'll have time when they come back to take a look- see at the state of the economy. And, you know, we're continuing to get mixed signals. Hopefully, the economy will be good, but we'll deal with it when we get back.

But I think a lot of people are going to ask the question, "Why couldn't get something done?" And, you know, one of my jobs was to facilitate an agreement.

BUSH: And I went up to Capitol Hill, as you know -- one of my rare appearances up there -- and sat down with Democrats and Republicans from both bodies who had made the commitment to work together to get a bill. And there was a great -- it's a very good bill, by the way. Billions of dollars of help for displaced workers. And the will to get something done just wasn't there.

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you think the stimulus is a must?

BUSH: Is a month?

QUESTION: Is a must?

BUSH: Oh, a must? We'll see. I mean, I thought it was important to get a good stimulus package out, as well as I thought it was very important to take care of displaced workers. And the bill that I supported and my administration helped craft with both Democrats and Republicans would have done just that. But we'll see when we come back and take a look.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you had said that the next phase of the war, following the defeat of the military in Afghanistan, would be (OFF-MIKE)...

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: ... and that countries who didn't work with us were against us. So do we have any sort of time lines or goals that we have set out for these countries (OFF-MIKE)? Or do we say at a certain point, you're going to have to (OFF-MIKE)?

BUSH: Yes, I see what you're saying. Well, I also said that, sometimes, a war will take place and actions will take place that the American people won't be able to see. And by that, I mean that this is a multi-front war that will be effective when we cut off money or encourage governments to round up Al Qaeda cells. And we are encouraging governments to try to round up and sometimes -- and bring to justice Al Qaeda cells. But it wouldn't be very wise for me to describe those to you, because the Al Qaeda cell we're trying to round up may flee. But, yes, we're constantly talking to countries, reminding them that, "If you're with us, perform." I'm a performance-oriented person. I believe in results.

And many of the world leaders that have been here in the Oval Office will tell you that one of the strong messages that I send is, "Thank you for your condolences. I appreciate your flowers. Now arrest somebody if they're in your country. And we will help you. We'll give you the intelligence necessary to show you who they are and where they are. And we will -- if you need be, we'll be glad to lend some troops."

Now, that hasn't happened yet, but the enemy needs to know that we're on the hunt. And part of being a -- and the friends need to know if you're a member of the coalition, we expect you to perform.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Are there any phone calls (OFF-MIKE)?

BUSH: All the time, all the time, we're reminding people that this is a performance-oriented world. If you want to win the war on terror, you must perform.

And a good area, for example, is in the financial area, where we're constantly working with nations to help them chase down money that is moving illegally. We are -- there's a lot of cooperation.

But you ask a very interesting question: Do you keep a scorecard? And the answer is, I do.

BUSH: I do, because I'm an old baseball guy. And I like to keep the score, I like to see who's performing and who's not performing. That's a part of being a coalition.

Tommy Franks said something interesting the other day -- and by the way, he was one year ahead of Laura at Midland Lee High School. They were Fighting Rebels together.

But Tommy said, the phase of this war is kind of like a baseball game. Of course, my ears perked up. He said, "There will be a lot of moments of boredom and then there would be some great joy." What he was saying was, is that, it's just we're in slow pursuit to achieve the objective that Ron (ph) talked about.

STAFF: Thank you all very much.

BUSH: Last question.

STAFF: Last question.

QUESTION: Did you say that the country is more secure today and less vulnerable to terrorism than it was before September 11?

BUSH: Yes, sir. The country is more secure today and less vulnerable to attack than before September the 11th, because the enemy has made it clear that we are a target, and we've responded. America never dreamt before September 11 anybody would attack us. We knew there were threats. During the summer there had been some threats to overseas assets that we responded to. But we really never felt that -- we've had a sense that we were invulnerable. And now they've made it clear that they're not afraid to attack us.

And so, one, we're aware.

Secondly, we have got a much better system of sharing information -- information we gather overseas to agencies here at home. When we get a hint -- and by the ways, as a result of the coalition, there is much more intelligence-sharing going on. So oftentimes we'll get a lead from an intelligence service, you know, say, in the Middle East or in Europe. And that piece of information will be analyzed and passed immediately on to the FBI; that has now shifted its culture from one of doing important work like white-collar crime or spy-on-spy work to prevention -- that is the most primary job of the FBI, is to prevent a further attack. And there's over 4,000 agents working on every single lead we get. Leads that, you know, sometimes prove to be false, but sometimes indicate that there could be somebody here in the country that intends to do us harm. And we'll use whatever resources necessary to haul them in, if that's the case.

And so, yes, the country is safer. Is it still totally safe? No. And that's why, as I've told you, my main job, my main worry for America is to prevent another attack.

BUSH: Every morning at 6:50 in the morning I come in here and I think about the possibilities. And every day I meet with the FBI Director Tom Ridge and John Ashcroft, along with George Tenet, reminding them that we have an awesome responsibility to do whatever we can to protect the American people. And we made great progress since September the 11th.

The American people need to know that, even though we go into a holiday season, this government will be doing everything we can to keep our country safe. We're keeping camps up, we're keeping -- those are military flights around, just to make sure that if somebody tries to attack us, there will be -- you know, we have the measures in place to prevent it.

Listen, I hope you all have a great holiday. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have fun. Happy holidays.


KAGAN: Wanted to share with you there some videotape we're just getting in from the White House with some comments from President Bush. Some interesting comments on a number of topics.

First of all, on John Walker, who to remind you, is the 20-year- old American who was found allegedly fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. President saying no decision has been made yet on what charges the U.S. government might file against John Walker. Also he says, the President says, he believes that the country is more secure today and less vulnerable to attack than it was on September 11th, but he does believe America is not totally safe and that's his number one worry, preventing another attack on the United States.




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