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08 December 2003

U.S. Winning War on Terrorism, White House Says

White House Report, Dec. 8: War on terrorism, Sudan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq/Sen. Clinton, China, ambassadorial nominations

"The United States is winning the war on terrorism, with unrelenting focus and unprecedented cooperation," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters December 8 in response to a question on a recent study by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

The study says that the U.S. Justice Department has sharply increased prosecution of terrorism-related cases since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States but relatively few cases have ended in convictions or significant prison sentences.

About 6,400 people were referred by investigators for criminal charges involving terror in the two years after the attacks, but fewer than one-third actually were charged and 879 were convicted, the study, based on government records, says.

"Prevention of future terrorist attacks is our highest priority, and the president has been leading that effort to improve information-sharing and cooperation. Those efforts have greatly increased today. We are better able to connect the dots," McClellan said.

"We are disrupting, arresting, and detaining potential terrorist threats. The FBI and our partners, both here and abroad, have identified, disrupted and neutralized over 100 terrorist threats and cells. Worldwide two-thirds of al Qaeda's senior leadership has been captured or killed. Worldwide more than 3,000 operatives have been incapacitated. Four alleged terror cells in Buffalo, Detroit, Seattle, and Portland have been broken up; 287 individuals have been criminally charged in terrorism investigations since the September 11th attacks. Already, 155 individuals have been convicted, or have pled guilty, including shoe-bomber Richard Reid and American Taliban John Walker Lindh. And over 515 individuals linked to the September 11th investigation have been deported."

McClellan said "We are gathering information by leveraging criminal charges and long prison sentences. When individuals realize that they face a long prison term, they often try to cut their prison time by pleading guilty and cooperating with the government. Since September 11th, we have obtained criminal plea agreements from more than 15 individuals who must and will continue to cooperate with the government in its terrorist investigations. These individuals have provided critical intelligence about al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, safe houses, training camps, recruitment and tactics in the U.S. and the operations of those terrorists who mean to do harm to American citizens.

"One individual has given us intelligence on weapons stored here in the United States. Another cooperator has identified locations in the U.S. being scouted or cased for potential attacks by al Qaeda. And we're also dismantling the terrorist financial network in many ways.

"But the bottom line is that investigations and prosecutions of individuals suspected of ties to international terrorism have significantly increased since September 11th. The president made it clear to the government that prevention of future terrorist attacks is the number one priority. Law enforcement officials are more proactive now at stopping terrorist incidents before they occur. Terrorism is now being disrupted at earlier stages. And while this is resulting in shorter sentences for some individuals, it also results in greater prevention of future terrorist attacks, and protection of America's families and communities.

"Early arrests and prosecutions have also led to a wealth of intelligence that is not reflected in the study that you mentioned. So I think that the conclusions of the study are somewhat premature. Many of the more serious terrorism prosecutions continue to this very day. And I think the study itself points out that more serious offenses and cases ought to require more time to complete."


President Bush, in phone calls December 8 to Sudan's President Umar Hasan Ahmad Bashir and to the Chairman of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement, Dr. John Garang, "congratulated each leader on the progress made thus far in the Sudan peace process, and indicated that he was watching the peace process closely," McClellan told reporters.

"Both calls were upbeat and positive," McClellan said.

"The president encouraged each side to demonstrate the flexibility to resolve their remaining differences and take the final steps to complete a just and comprehensive peace agreement," McClellan said, adding that Bush "explained that peace in Sudan would give a great boost to the aspirations of the people in Sudan and that Sudan could be a beacon of reconciliation."


"[B]ased on the pre-election polling, it appears that the election results roughly reflected the views of the electorate in Russia," McClellan said, when asked about the outcome of the December 7 parliamentary elections in Russia.

But he pointed out that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which monitored the elections, "has expressed concerns about the fairness of the election campaign, especially the media environment and the use of government resources. And those are concerns that we share."


Asked to comment on recent Saudi advertising in the United States describing the anti-terrorism efforts of the Saudi government, McClellan said the Bush administration appreciates "the efforts they are making in the war on terrorism," and believes "they are making good progress" in that arena.

"We are working closely with Saudi Arabia to continue to build on the cooperation and progress we are making in the war on terrorism," he said, and "they understand the pain and suffering that comes from terrorist attacks and the need to address those terrorist attacks."


Bush administration decisions regarding self government in Iraq are based "on what is in the best interest of the Iraqi people," White House Press Secretary McClellan said, when asked to comment on remarks December 7 by Senator Hillary Clinton (Democrat-New York), who recently visited Iraq.

Appearing on several television talk shows December 7, Clinton said she suspects that U.S. domestic politics is pushing political developments in Iraq more than the practical realities on the ground.

McClellan said Clinton is "absolutely" wrong.

"We have always said that we are moving as quickly as possible to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people," he said. "And as they are able to assume more and more responsibility, we want to turn more and more authority over to the Iraqi people.

"And they are doing that in a number of areas," he said, "from the Iraqi Governing Council in the steps they are taking, to the local councils they've established throughout the country, to the schools being opened, hospitals running, to ministers being appointed by the Governing Council.

"Iraqis are assuming more and more responsibility for their future, and we are working closely with the Governing Council, who came to this decision and we agreed with, to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people at the end of June. And it's based on that."


President Bush "looks forward to establishing a personal relationship" with China's Premier Jiabao Wen when the two leaders meet at the White House December 9, McClellan said.

"Working together with him," President Bush will "promote common goals, as well as address some differences," McClellan said, adding that "the two leaders will discuss the full agenda of political, security and economic issues on the U.S.-China agenda."

President Bush "looks forward to discussing North Korea, the war on terrorism, proliferation and other issues, and global peace and stability."

On North Korea, McClellan said "we are working very closely and appreciate China's efforts in regards to the six-party talks, and we'll continue to work with them on a new round of talks."

McClellan said that Bush and his senior economic team will talk with Wen "about the increasingly important bilateral trading relationship as well as global economic issues. And we anticipate that both sides will raise respective concerns," McClellan said.

"The president is likely to engage the premier on human rights and religious freedom. And we expect the premier will raise Chinese concerns about Taiwan."

"[W]e have consistently raised our concerns about a number of areas in which China can do more to live up to its international obligations," McClellan said. "And there has been some progress made and there is more to do. But those are the issues we have raised and we will certainly provide an update or you will hear from the two leaders themselves tomorrow after they have had an opportunity to meet."


The White House is urging the U.S. Senate to act as quickly as possible on some 100 pending presidential nominations, including ambassadorial nominees for "critical posts" such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, India, Uzbekistan, Tunisia and Morocco, McClellan said.

Congress returns to Washington for a few days this week.

"Two weeks ago Congress left town without acting on almost 100 presidential nominations," McClellan said.

"Obstruction by a Democrat minority that had largely been confined to judicial nominations has now spread to other executive branch nominations. A Democrat minority is obstructing progress on confirming high priority presidential nominations for no other reason than to play partisan politics. These are positions that are critical to running the government. Many are important to our efforts to win the war on terrorism."

"We do not have a confirmed Deputy Attorney General, the number two post at Justice, which has oversight of the FBI and all U.S. attorneys. We do not have a general counsel at Treasury, a position critical to our success in cracking down on terrorist financing. As Congress returns to Washington this week, we urge the Senate to act as quickly as possible on these highly qualified nominees."