Wednesday, September 06, 2006
U.S. Attorney General Seeks to Reassure on bin Laden
On September 5, 2006, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer interviewed U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Blitzer asked some mildly pointed questions about the failure to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, to which Gonzales responded in his typically evasive manner with the usual empty platitudes.
A very interesting point brought out by Blitzer is that, in the White House’s updated Counterterror Strategy, the list of “major challenges” set forth by the Administration did not include capturing or killing bin Laden or his second-in-command Zawahiri. Nevertheless, Gonzales sought to reassure the American people that “bringing bin Laden to justice” is an important priority of the Bush administration.
Gonzales gave what I thought was a very telling response, in terms of his thought process, to Blitzer’s final question as to whether America remains vulnerable to terrorism today. Gonzales said, in essence, America is safer but not yet safe “because of the type of society that we have, because of the type of freedoms that we enjoy in this country, because of the type of enemy that we're dealing with.” Apparently, according to Gonzales, only one of the three reasons America is not yet safe is because of our enemy. The other two of the three reasons America is not yet “safe” are our fault because of the type of society we have (presumably he means a relatively open, egalitarian, and free society), and the types of freedom we enjoy. Therefore, one might ask the Attorney General if America would be safer if we had less freedom, and is he in favor of decreasing our freedom.
Transcript of interview:
BLITZER: Most Americans look back at five years ago, what happened on 9/11 and they immediately ask this question -- where is the most wanted man in the world? Why haven't you, the United States government, been able to find, capture or kill Osama bin Laden?
GONZALES: Well, we have spent a lot of time and a lot of effort in trying to locate Bin Laden. And it again, as the president has said many times, it's not a question of if, it's simply a question of when. We are going to capture Bin Laden. And we're working with our friends and allies around the world to try to find out where he's at. But even if we --
BLITZER: You want him more than any other criminal out there?
GONZALES: I think it's very, very important.
BLITZER: He's at your top priority?
GONZALES: I think it's very important to get Bin Laden.
BLITZER: But is he your top priority? GONZALES: Again -- BLITZER: In terms of America's most wanted.
GONZALES: There are a lot of very important people that we want to prosecute and Bin Laden would certainly be at the top of that list. But I don't want the American people to believe that if he were captured that America would be safe. I think that would be important in our battle against terrorism, but there are others who are dangerous and would want --
BLITZER: Who is at that level of Osama bin Laden?
GONZALES: Well, I'm not going to get into specific names, but as I said, Wolf, capturing Bin Laden would be very, very important. It would be important for operational reasons. It would be important for symbolic reasons. So clearly, he would be at the top of the list.
BLITZER: Because we hear from him occasionally, more often from his number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri. They show up on these videotapes and they make these declarations. You would think that that would be your number one priority.
GONZALES: Well, there's a lot of effort that is expended by the U.S. government in trying to identify, trying to locate where Bin Laden so that we can bring him to justice.
BLITZER: Because I asked the question, I read this morning this national strategy for combating terrorism that the administration put out. And in a detailed summary, I didn't see a lot of new information in there, but there was a lot of material about the war on terrorism. At one point though, there were a list of successes, what has been achieved over these past five years, a lengthy list. And then there's a list of what are called challenges. Some of the major challenges facing the United States right now in the war on terrorism. None of that -- in none of those challenges did I see any reference to Osama Bin Laden himself or his Deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.
GONZALES: Well I want the American people to know that that still remains an objective, an important priority for the administration is to get Bin Laden and to bring Bin Laden to justice.
BLITZER: You have just come back from the region. You were in Iraq, you went to the Persian Gulf, you were in London. Do you, as the nations top law enforcement official, do you have a sense of where Osama bin Laden is right now?
GONZALES: I do. I have a sense of where he's at but I --
BLITZER: Where is that?
GONZALES: Well, in the Middle East is all I'm going to say. But we have difficult terrain that we sometimes have to work with. We have sometimes sympathetic people in the region. Sometimes there are issues relating to cooperation with governments. And so there are challenges that we have to deal with in trying to find one individual in a region of the world. And -- but I guess what I want to reassure the American people is that we remain focused on this challenge and that there are obviously other challenges that we have to worry about, other issues that we have to worry about. But capturing Bin Laden remains an important priority for the administration.
BLITZER: You keep saying an important. It's not the most important priority in this war on terrorism? Symbolically a man who ordered the murder of 3,000 Americans and others in the World Trade Center, Pennsylvania, and here in Washington?
GONZALES: Perhaps the reason I don't say it is the number one objective, is because even if he were captured -- if we could capture him and that would win the war on terror, I think I could without qualification say that is the number one objective. But that doesn't end the fight. And so there are other challenges to this government and to our country that we also have to focus on. Because those continue and will continue even after Bin Laden is captured.
BLITZER: And just to reiterate, America remains vulnerable today?
GONZALES: I think America is safer today, but yes, it is possible because of the type of society that we have, because of the type of freedoms that we enjoy in this country, because of the type of enemy that we're dealing with. I think we're safer today but we are not yet safe.