House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington, D. C.
September 17, 2001
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.