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White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington, D. C.
September 17, 2001
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QUESTION: But, Ari, one of the hijackers was an American.

MR. FLEISCHER: And I repeat my answer: law enforcement will target those who break the law.

QUESTION: Ari, on the issue of bringing -- potentially bringing someone like Osama bin Laden to justice, he's already under indictment in New York. Does the President believe that it's, as a security matter, that it's even possible to try Osama bin Laden in the United States, particularly in New York? Does he think a trial is even a viable option?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think we'll just have to see what steps unfold and in what manner this is dealt with.

QUESTION: Does he want him tried, or does he want him --

MR. FLEISCHER: As the President said, dead or alive.

QUESTION: Right, but this is not a hypothetical. I mean, he's under indictment in New York, currently. If he were to be produced, there's a real question, if you talk to former prosecutors, current prosecutors about the ability of the United States to even try such a person, to secure a courthouse, to be able to put somebody like that on trial --

MR. FLEISCHER: David, I hope the United States has to deal with this. I hope the United States has to face the fact that Osama bin Laden is found, either dead or alive, and then it's a question we will actively have to deal with. Until that time, I'm not going to speculate about any trials in the United States. I just refer you to the words of the President and the words of the Vice President on this very specific matter.

QUESTION: I'm not asking for details, but has the President settled on a course of action, or is that still under debate within the administration?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to discuss the timing of
it --

QUESTION: That's not the question. Has he settled on --

MR. FLEISCHER: To answer that could be a clue that something could be imminent or it could be a long time from now. So I'm not going to get into giving status reports on the President's decision-making process.

QUESTION: Ari, when the President said, "wanted dead or alive," did he have a preference as to whether -- (laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: I did not hear him express any preference.

QUESTION: Ari, has the President, vis-a-vis the "dead or alive" comment, has the President lifted the directive that forbids the use of assassination?

MR. FLEISCHER: That directive is in effect. And I also want to add that it does not limit the United States' ability to act in its self-defense.

QUESTION: -- has been interpreted to limit our ability to target a specific individual at a specific time?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll just refer you to my words. It is in effect, but it does not limit America's ability to act in self-defense.

QUESTION: Are you saying we haven't prohibited assassination?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've answered the question in the context in which it was asked.

QUESTION: Can we follow?

QUESTION: Let me follow up on that point. You said it doesn't limit the U.S. ability to act in self-defense. Does going after a prime -- going after someone who we believe is responsible or behind the Trade Center fall under that directive? Is that an act of self-defense?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just going to repeat my words, and others will figure out the exact implications of them. But it does not inhibit the nation's ability to act in self-defense.

QUESTION: Can you give us a copy of that order?

QUESTION: Would going after bin Laden be an act of self-defense?

MR. FLEISCHER: This is a legal matter and I'm sure the lawyers will have more to say if they want to. But that's the answer, Ron. It does not -- the executive order does not limit the United States' ability to act in self-defense.

QUESTION: And is going after bin Laden an act of self-defense?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to define all the steps that may or may not be taken.

QUESTION: Ari, we like to think of ourselves as a civilized world, so why does the administration feel that it is appropriate to encourage, globally, people to go kill someone else?

MR. FLEISCHER: Jean, our nation has been attacked and we're at war, and to win a war it is vital for the United States to engage in it. And, unfortunately, having had the first blow taken at our nation, our nation will defend itself. And defending itself means acts which involve the lives of others. We will defend ourself. And the United States will act in self-defense, and that is why.

QUESTION: The President's visit to the Islamic center you mentioned has an important domestic purpose. Does it have an international purpose, as well? How concerned is the President that in defending ourselves we could ignite, not among the government of the region, but among the people of the region, a kind of religious conflict, a holy war?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's fair to say that any actions the President takes domestically have international repercussions. The world is looking to us to see how we react to the fight against terrorism. The world will follow America's lead in many cases. And we will continue to work directly with many of those other nations.

But I remind you, also, Terry, that many of those nations have their own threats from within and they have to ask themselves if they fail to act against terrorism, will that further embolden the terrorists and send a signal that they can get away with more?

QUESTION: But is there a concern that this could degenerate into a conflict, not between terrorism and civilization, but between Islam and Christianity?

MR. FLEISCHER: This attack had nothing to do with Islam. This attack was a perversion of Islam.

QUESTION: Ari, if you could just come back to the coalition you're trying to put together here -- and the President has used that phrase a few times. How does this differ from the kind of coalitions put together in the Persian Gulf time? Do you envision a different role for, say, the close and traditional allies, the NATO allies, and then, obviously, this other group that you are going to -- who tend to be, in large cases, either Arab states or states that encircle Afghanistan?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a very good question. The biggest difference is while the United States is talking to coalition allies and asking for various things, the war to be fought is a very different war. In 1991, the Persian Gulf War was much more a traditional war. It involved a lengthy period of aerial attacks on Iraq, as part of a broad coalition, followed by a ground force invasion of Iraq, organized by a large coalition of nations, including Arab nations, in that case.

What is different in this war, as the President has said, as the Vice President has said, as the Secretary of Defense said yesterday on one of the shows, is a war on terrorism does not involve those traditional targets. There may be some elements of that, but there will be some things that don't involve overt military action of that nature.

And what that means is that some nations are going to contribute in ways more identical to 1991. Others are going to contribute in ways that are much more limited, but they have real contributions to make on that front, on the political front, on the diplomatic front, on the financial front. So different nations will contribute in different ways. But just because one nation contributes more or less doesn't make them any more or less an important part of the coalition.

QUESTION: Ari, can you clarify one thing for me? Going back to this "dead or alive," the Vice President said yesterday that he wouldn't mind seeing Osama bin Laden dead, but that he would have to consult more with the White House lawyers. Is the description that you gave us based on a recent interpretation by the White House legal counsel staff as recently as yesterday? Or is this the standing policy of this administration? Can you clarify --

MR. FLEISCHER: I couldn't tell you the exact genesis, the date of that. But that is the policy.

QUESTION: Two-part. The President does not want the State Department to keep pressuring Israel to negotiate with Arafat, does he, since that would be to tell Israel, do as we say, not as we are preparing to do?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I've thought about this a lot, and they really are very different circumstances. In the case of Israel, and the situation there, you have a lengthy process that was involved in bringing the partners together, toward peace, a process that both have committed themselves to. So the President does see here an opportunity to help address the problems of the Middle East, and he does believe that the patterns in the Middle East need to rededicate themselves to the Mitchell Accords and to the peace process.

QUESTION: The Baltimore Sun reports that radio stations in Washington and Baltimore and elsewhere owned by Maryland multi-millionaire Kathy Hughes are, "broadcasting African-Americans either endorsing or excusing the acts of terrorists who took thousands of lives and who are expressing sympathy with both bin Laden and the Palestinians."

And my question is, does the President, who stated, we are at war, believe it would be wrong for the FCC, which already take action on pornography, to contact Mrs. Hughes? Or does the President believe we were wrong after another war to send to federal prison Axis Sally and Tokyo Rose?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard these reports, so I'm not going to comment on things that I have not --

QUESTION: Well, they were in the Baltimore Sun.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to comment on things that I haven't heard. But if you have anything that would demonstrate that, I'd be interested to see it.

QUESTION: Two questions. There was a wire report that Berlusconi said he had talked to the White House or the President about a G-8 meeting here, sounding somewhat imminent, and that the White House has agreed to it. Do you know anything about that?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's nothing. I think there was some conversation, I saw a report on the wire that someone is proposing a G-8 meeting on the ministerial level, but I don't know what the status of that is. That's something that, obviously, if it's ministerial, it's Treasury.

QUESTION: What about at the leader level?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, there just was a G-8 meeting and I don't anticipate any upcoming ones, other than previously scheduled.

QUESTION: The President, in his remarks at the Pentagon, used some fairly graphic language talking about the terrorists slitting the throat of a woman who was on one of the planes. Is he talking about a specific incident or was it imagery or what --

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I have not talked to the President since he said that, but I know I'm aware of public reports involving things that were said on cell phones with passengers on the flight in southwest Pennsylvania.

QUESTION: So there wasn't something -- I mean, do you know which flight he was talking about or was this just general --

MR. FLEISCHER: I just indicated. I just said.

QUESTION: But it's based on press reports?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I indicated I haven't talked to the President to see beyond that. But you all have heard those same reports.

QUESTION: On the meeting this afternoon with the economic team, when you said that they're considering what steps, if any, to consider in the way of an economic stimulus package, is it possible the administration might be considering the appropriateness of encouraging proposals to encourage the sell-off of assets at a time when, in fact, there is a concern about major sell-offs?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think you have to let the meeting take place and see what information is presented to the President and what his reflections are. I'll be there; I'll do my best to give you some type of information.

QUESTION: Ari, speaking of civilized nations and religion, America heeded the call that President Bush gave this week, talking about going to the church house or going to the place of worship and praying. Many of those who prayed this week were praying to prevent war. What does the President, who is a devout Christian, say to these people as they're praying that there is no more bloodshed?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that, also, is a great question. I've thought about that a lot, as somebody who works here, frankly. And I just think it's really -- it has to be said, but it's unfortunate to say -- that one of the reasons all of us are here and enjoy what we do and have the lifestyles we lead is because somebody in a generation before answered the call. And, unfortunately, in our history, there has been a call to war at times. And it's a call that a peace-loving nation and a free nation like the United States never -- ever -- wants to get involved in or answer.

But make no mistake: the United States has been attacked, and the United States will answer the call.

QUESTION: The Bible says, turn the other cheek.

MR. FLEISCHER: This nation will be defended. That way, we can have a Bible to continue to live by and to listen to, as well as a Koran, or as well as everybody else who comes to this country so we can protect their way of life.

QUESTION: Ari, just a few days ago, the President talked about Osama bin Laden as a suspect. What has happened in the past few days to bring a finer point on his sense that this is the perpetrator and that this is the person who is responsible, and this is what he wants to tell the American people?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I can't share that information with you, of course, and that deals with anything that would involve how the United States has learned information. If I were to answer that question, that would be information our enemy would love to have about how we get the information we get.

QUESTION: Just to clarify, this is what the President wants to tell the American people, that this is the mastermind of this, this is the person who is responsible, and that he is worth, dead or alive, rather than being brought to a court of justice?

MR. FLEISCHER: People have asked him questions, and he's answered them. People have said, is Osama bin Laden a suspect, and he's answered your questions directly. But this is why I caution you that, ask away on the topic of Osama bin Laden -- but that is not all this is about. This is about something so much bigger and broader than any one person. And as I think the Vice President could not have made it plainer yesterday, that if Osama bin Laden was dead, this war would continue on, because it does not stop with him.

QUESTION: Ari, does the President consider the possibility that by declaring these acts of war, he might prevent some of the businesses in the New York area that were harmed from collecting on insurance? Is there any contingency plan, perhaps, to help those businesses out if they have catastrophe insurance, but cannot collect because this was deemed an act of war?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, the President has called this an act of war because it is, and our nation previously has dealt with the consequences of acts of war. And as a result of our dealing with those consequences, we've led the world every time. We will do so again. But there are economic implications to all of this, and that's one of the reasons the President is meeting today with his economic team.

But, fundamentally, the President knows that America is a nation of patriots. And as he said today at the Pentagon, corporations have to pay more attention to just the bottom line, to profits and losses. He said that in the context of those who allow the Reservists to come up. But everybody in this country is going to be asked to chip in, in one way or another.

QUESTION: Ari, is the Vice President, personally, taking part in the NSC meeting here at the White House today? Was he there? Was he present?

MR. FLEISCHER: That was earlier this morning, and he did.

QUESTION: He was here?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.

QUESTION: Ari, going back to the President's trip to Islamic center. There have been some incidents of Indian Sikhs and Indian Muslims were also under attack. And one Sikh was shot dead in Phoenix, and other -- now, also the Prime Minister of India called President Bush. They spoke on the phone yesterday. So could you share their conversation and what the President is going to take action against those -- Indian Sikhs who look like Osama bin Laden?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President spoke with President Vajpayee yesterday, and it's just another reminder that everybody in this country is an immigrant here, and everybody may have come at a different time and from a different place. But for this President, it doesn't matter how recently you've been here, everyone here is just as American as the next.

And I think at a time like this, it's incumbent on leaders -- and that's why he is going to go to the Islamic Center today -- to say that to the American people. I indicated earlier that in several of the private meetings I've been in with the President and, for example, at the meeting with those who represented New York and Virginia and Pennsylvania, the areas that were hit, the President said, it is your job as leaders to go out and remind people that all of us have to speak out and remind Americans not to act violently toward our fellow citizens just because of their ethnicity or the color of their skin.

QUESTION: Just to follow, I'm sorry, almost every Hindu temple around the country, including this area, they've been having prayers and they are sending message to President Bush that they are united and they are with the American people, including yesterday. The Indian Ambassador, he spoke clearly that India is with the United States. And tomorrow, all over India, they will observe prayers for the victims in New York and Washington.

MR. FLEISCHER: And I can report to you, the President, he has noted this and he's been touched by it. I've heard the President comment about the prayers and the candle-lightings around the world, the fact that the American National Anthem was sung at the Elysee. And these are powerful signals that the world is sending as the world stands as one.

QUESTION: Ari, just a couple weeks ago the U.S. government was condemning Israel for hunting down and killing people that they said were terrorists, they said they were acting in their self-defense, that a war had been declared on them. And we were saying that was wrong. Now it seems that we're making the exact same argument the Israelis were. Has the U.S. changed its position on this?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, that's basically Les's first question. The difference clearly is that the two parties there had pledged to each other and to the United States to engage in a peace process. That process has begun, and when the two parties are committed to that peace process, the President believes the best course is to help them and urge them to honor that peace process.

I don't think there's any peace process that was ever begun between those who committed this act and the United States.

Thank you, everybody.

END 2:00 P.M. EDT