02 September 2003
Ashcroft Says Preventing Terrorist Acts is Number One Priority
Aug. 29: U.S. Attorney General, Norwegian Justice Minister in Oslo
To fight terrorism, the world needs "an integrated system of exchanging information and providing support and help" so that disjointed bits of intelligence can be put together in time to prevent a terrorist act, says U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.
"As the world becomes a smaller place, and as communication makes it possible for people in one nation to literally act and operate around the world, direct communication and cooperation [among national and law enforcement authorities] is a basis for sustaining the rule of law," he said August 29 during a joint press conference in Oslo with Norwegian Minister of Justice Odd Einar Dorum.
"Preventing terrorists in advance is our number one priority in the United States," Ashcroft stressed.
He said his discussions with Dorum focused on "the mutual responsibility" Norway and the United States have "to thwart terrorism and promote freedom, to reinforce liberty around the world." He characterized those discussions as "extremely productive."
But he declined to comment on any specific case.
In his opening remarks, Dorum told journalists that he had reiterated to Ashcroft "the Norwegian position on the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, which is that they are prisoners of war." He later elaborated: "They should be tried by a tribunal in accordance with the Geneva Convention."
Ashcroft defended the U.S. view that those held at Guantanamo are "unlawful combatants."
"They were people who attacked innocent civilians, without warning: this is a violation of the law of war. They're individuals who operated without a uniform, which is another violation against the law of war. And the conventions governing the retention of individuals who have been apprehended in a war generally accord certain standing to individuals who fight in accordance with the law of war, but unlawful combatants are not eligible for the same regime or conventions or protocols of their detention," he explained.
Ashcroft noted in addition, however, that President Bush "has made a decision to honor in substantial measure the conventions related to humane treatment of individuals who have been apprehended.... We will continue to treat people with humanity and respect for their humanity."
He said that unlawful combatants detained in time of war "generally throughout history" have been considered legally detainable "pending the outcome of the conflict."
Ashcroft emphasized that the war against terrorism is not over. "We are going to fight the war against terror effectively and aggressively and we are grateful to other freedom-loving, independent sovereigns like this great nation [of Norway] who understand the threat of terror."
The attorney general also commented on the legal basis for the war against Iraq, citing the UN resolutions flouted by Iraq and the need "in defense of humanity to make sure that we stopped that regime before it was too late."
Following is a transcript of the press conference:
Department of Justice
August 29, 2003
TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE, WITH NORWEGIAN MINISTER OF JUSTICE ODD EINAR DORUM AND ATTORNEY GENERAL JOHN ASHCROFT
Moderator: "Welcome to this press conference with Attorney General Mr. John Ashcroft and Minister of Justice Odd Einar Dorum. These gentlemen will give you a brief summary of their meetings."
Minister of Justice Dorum: â€˜Thank you. I wish Mr. Ashcroft welcome to Norway who has come here to search out his roots, and I think that's necessary for everyone. And I of course appreciate that he would do that in Norway. When it comes to the practical terms, (inaudible)...we had a common exchange of views of mutual interest...to combat international terrorism and organized crime..and I would also like to give a short description of the so-called repartee [inaudible....regarding Krekar] and the relation to Norwegian law (inaudible).... I also stated the Norwegian position on the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, which is that they are prisoners of war.(inaudible) I say this because until their status is decided (inaudible) ...is accepted in accordance with the 3. Geneva convention. So this is a short, executive summary.. and we have this session and we have exchanged our views on Norway because Mr. Ashcroft is now here; and I think that he is very conscious of his heritage....(inaudible) .he would now like to talk to...(inaudible)
Attorney General Ashcroft: Let me thank the Minister for his hospitality to me. This morning, I had the opportunity of entering discussions about the mutual responsibility that the independent sovereign nation of Norway and the United States of America, each of our nations has to thwart terrorism and promote freedom, to reinforce liberty around the world. Our nations also cooperate as we seek to curtail the transnational nature of crime generally. As the world becomes a smaller place, and as communication makes it possible for people in one nation to literally act and operate around the world, direct communication and cooperation is a basis for sustaining the rule of law. Our opportunity to speak today has been extremely productive, and I want to express the appreciation that I have and that the United States of America has to the nation of Norway for its cooperation in law enforcement matters and matters relating to the sustenance of freedom. I did have the privilege earlier this morning of spending some time with members of the Supreme Court of this nation and was pleased to have candid and valuable discussions with them regarding matters related to the judicial system, not only in the United States, but the rule of law, and how the cooperation between nations in support of the rule of law can foster the ability of people to live in freedom. Having said that and expressing my appreciation both to the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice who joined us for lunch here today, and the Minister, I would be pleased together with the Minister, to answer questions.
Moderator: You are now free to ask questions, we start with TV2.
Question: Norway has been given custody because it has not been able to extradite the former leader of Ansar-al islam Mr. Mullah Krekar. Have you been discussing this concrete topic during your conversations with the Norwegian Minister?
Ashcroft: The Minister indicated in his remarks that he had reported to me about the situation regarding this individual, and we have exchanged views, and discussed the matter in accordance with his report.
TV2: What's your opinion on that?
ASHCROFT: Well, I don't want to make comments on specific cases; I believe that the important thing is that when cases are before the litigating and adjudicating authorities, that we do -- that we present the merits in court, in the adjudicating process, rather than in the press.
I will say that I believe that it is important for us to do everything we can to make sure that we maintain the security from terrorism of free cultures around the world. And I'm pleased that we can cooperate with Norway to do that. But I don't want to make remarks about any specific case and I don't necessarily want to associate that remark with any specific case.
Q: I just want you to give a comment to NRK Television. Mr. Attorney General, welcome to Norway. There was a question about the criticism against the U.S. policy on how to fight terrorism, and Mr. Dorum mentioned the conditions which are at Guantanamo Bay. What would be your comment?
Ashcroft: Now, individuals that are held at Guantanamo Bay are individuals we believe were unlawful combatants. And when I say unlawful combatants, I mean that they are combatants who did not observe the law of war. They were people who attacked innocent civilians, without warning: this is a violation of the law of war. They're individuals who operated without a uniform, which is another violation against the law of war. And the conventions governing the retention of individuals who have been apprehended in a war, generally accord certain standing to individuals who fight in accordance with the law of war, but unlawful combatants are not eligible for the same regime or conventions or protocols of their detention.
The United States -- President Bush -- has made a decision to honor in substantial measure the conventions related to humane treatment of individuals who have been apprehended, in spite of the fact, that they were unlawful combatants. And we will continue to treat people with humanity and respect for their humanity. But I think it is very clear that the individuals who are being detained there are individuals who are unlawful combatants and were not detained as a result of their having observed the lawful convention relating to war. But of course it's violating the law of war in the way which they conducted themselves.
Q: Minister Dorum said that he regarded them as prisoners of war. What did you say in reply?
Ashcroft: The explanation which I have given to you reflects my understanding of that situation and our remarks have been candid, and I think he understands my position in that respect.
Dorum: Just to add a very short comment: It is quite obvious that among close allies which have many things in common; there can also be a frank discussion, and an alternate (inaudible). And that is just what is presenting now.
Q: I want to ask Mr. Ashcroft with... are you still convinced of the legal basis for the war against Iraq, I mean, there has been no discovery of weapons of mass destruction like some of the information you got from British Intelligence is fraud, and there is no direct link between Al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, are you still as convinced as you were that this was the right thing to do?
Ashcroft: Well, first of all, there were a number of resolutions of the United Nations that called upon Iraq over time to satisfy those resolutions and put to rest any problems that might have existed with the rest of the world in Iraq. At no time were any of those conditions satisfied. And the abrogation of the responsibility of Iraq in that respect in and of itself provides adequate basis that is substantial and significant. And frankly, it is very clear to me, that in a setting where individuals who are approaching or developing weapons of mass destruction and the capacity to inflict carnage upon the human race.
Where you have that situation, if you don't stop those individuals before it's too late, you can only stop them when it's too late. And I believe that's important to the United States: to exercise what I believe was an important step in defense of humanity to make sure that we stopped that regime before it was too late. Having done so, in accordance with a wide variety of the resolutions of the United Nations which had been passed over and over again, which had been breeched over and over again by Iraq.
Q: My question to Mr. Ashcroft is regarding the cooperation between the United States and Saudi Arabia -- how is it going now? And the second question is about the sheltering of prisoners in Guantanamo -- is there any information from the United States that they are going to be released soon? And another question to Minister Doerum: regarding Jordan authorities asking about Mullah Krekar to Jordan, was there any new information about this, or information from the United States?
Ashcroft: Let me see if I can remember the questions. In mid-May, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia was the location of several vicious terrorist attacks which have been the occasion of an elevated level of cooperation between the U.S and Saudi Arabia to find those responsible for those attacks and to fight against terror. And I would characterize the cooperation between the US and Saudi Arabia, between the law enforcement authorities with whom we have regular contact and with whom we cooperate in these matters to be very good. I believe that progress is being made, and I think not only that it is good, and that it continues to improve. I forgot your second....
Q: Detention of children at Guantanamo?
Ashcroft: We are sensitive to the responsibility that we have to treat with humanity those individuals who are being detained at Guantanamo. These individuals who were unlawful combatants are being accorded humane treatment as I indicated before. In some cases, individuals who were unlawful combatants were individuals that one might not anticipate would normally be a part of a fight between nations or against nations, or a part of terrorism. But when they have been, and merit being detained, it's the responsibility of the United States to detain them. And for me to say more than that would be inappropriate.
Dorum: And the other question concerning the extradition: that is a matter for the Norwegian prosecuting agency (inaudible) ... the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had asked for information from the Jordanian authorities pertaining to the case....
Q: [To Dorum in Norwegian regarding the U.S. allegedly undermining the situation for human rights with its treatment of detainees at Guantanamo.]
Dorum: The question is from Amnesty International, which brought up the question for the Prime Minister and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and me about a week ago (inaudible) She asked me if I followed up her discussion. My comment to that is that in our discussion of twenty minutes we've covered many aspects. My government has a certain point concerning Guantanamo which I presented and which has been commented on by my counterpart, Mr. Ashcroft, and I stated the Norwegian position, which I repeat, that these are prisoners of war and that they should be tried by a tribunal in accordance with the Geneva Convention. So that's my comment on that, sir.
Q: Reuters: Mr. Attorney General, I have two questions, one concerns the Ansar al Islam case. Firstly, in your opinion, to which extent is this group a terrorist threat, and specifically to which extent is Mullah Krekar -- who is today in Norway -- a threat. How dangerous do you think he is?
Ashcroft: These are matters currently being litigated here. In this culture there is adjudication relating to deportation order, and there are other matters, and I think for me to make comments regarding the merits of the situation outside of the judicial process would be counterproductive. So I will again reiterate what we had said before: that we discussed this issue, that for us to discuss the merits of the issue in this setting would be counterproductive.
Ashcroft: We are very concerned about a variety of groups who have over and over again expressed their willingness to impose themselves on the rest of the world. The terrorist does not believe in people making free choices. The terrorists believe that they might extort by violence, carnage and destruction their view or else it will not be embraced. And unfortunately there are many groups who are in that category because they cannot win the marketplace of public opinion. We are concerned about groups like that because they threaten not only individuals, but they threaten the very system where free people make decisions and do so in a free and non-fettered and non-violent setting. The terrorist seeks to extort with violence and carnage and destruction and to impose decision making -- and that's a counter to freedom. So a wide variety of groups that are involved in terrorist activities are simply an assault on the freedom which the rest of the world embraces, and which freedoms are growing, and we want to continue their growth. So we are very concerned about such groups and will continue to reflect that concern with our effort to make sure that those groups are not successful.
Q: So Ansar al-Islam is in this category?
Ashcroft: Ansar al-Islam is a group in which we have great interest and to the extent that we reject the idea of terror as a rule for shaping public policy.
Q: What can Norway do better to satisfy or help the United States in the war against terrorism?
Ashcroft: All freedom loving people around the world need to be alert to the terrorist threat and the terrorist threat is singularly transnational; if you do an anatomical study of 9/11, you will find out that the training was done in Afghanistan, that much of the funding was from elsewhere in the Middle East. Some of the very sophisticated planning was in Germany, much of the task specific training in small towns across the United States; a replanning and reprogramming of the operation in South East Asia. And then the implementation of the specific terrorist plot beginning in places like Portland, Maine, Dulles Airport in Virginia, and the targets being eventually New York City, Washington DC, and I don't believe the plane in Pennsylvania landed on a target. I think it was something that American and other citizens on that plane decided they would refuse to allow that plane to reach its target. That they would have it land in the Pennsylvania fields instead of on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC.
So, when you see that the way terrorists operate now is transnational, and the very small pieces of the operation are developed in a wide variety of settings which would make detection by a non-integrated law enforcement community very difficult. We need to have an integrated system of exchanging information and providing support and help so that when there is a threat and there are parts of it that are manifest here and other parts that are manifest in another setting we can put those parts together -- as we say in the United States, we can "connect the dots" -- and we can begin to draw the picture. And when we draw the picture early enough we can see what's happening and we can stop the event.
Preventing terrorists in advance is our number one priority in the United States. When you have a terrorist event that costs 3,000 people their lives, there is no amount of justice after the fact that is acceptable as a means of sort of remediating or making up for that. We've got to learn to prevent those in advance. So the cooperation between nations in providing information about activities that might someday be a part of a terrorist attack -- so if we could prevent terrorism -- is a thing that we all must do to help each other. And the United States has just as much a responsibility to help every other nation as every other nation has to help the US. If we love freedom and care about the concept of people making their own choices and decisions, rather than terrorist imposing their values on the rest of the world, then we have to do that kind of thing to cooperate, and that's how an independent sovereign like the United States can help another independent sovereign like Norway.
Q: And how is Norway coping so far?
Ashcroft: We believe that Norway is one of the most valuable partners the United States of America has. Norway has been a long-standing defender of freedom and partner with freedom loving nations as well as the United States because the values of freedom unite us.
Spokesperson: Two more questions -- and please keep it short.
Ashcroft: I'll do my best. (Laughter)
Q: In Iraq, how confident are you that you will find weapons of mass destruction?
Ashcroft: I believe that we've already found a number of things that are very troublesome. Things that relate to the development of the evil chemistry and evil biology that could be very dangerous to mankind. So I don't think it's a question about this. There's a substantial body of evidence that indicates that over time not only were those kinds of weapons being developed, but there has in the past been efforts to develop nuclear weapons and there is a likelihood that components of that kind of development will be detected. But, when you put together the facts of that history and the evidence relating to those kinds of weapons of mass destruction, I think it's clear that the UN appropriately and properly called upon Iraq to develop and present evidence that it was no longer involved in that and that those weapons have been destroyed. Iraq never came forward with that and as a result it was incumbent upon those who care to make sure that capacity did not develop (inaudible) on a continuing basis in that culture.
Q: Is there anything done today that speeds up the process [of detainees]?
Ashcroft: Let me just indicate that my responsibility in the United States of America is under the Article 3 provision of the judicial process and I don't have responsibilities for the detention of people outside the judicial process -- those individuals who will be apprehended in a conflict. I've given a basic explanation of that setting, but if you were to ask me about the Bureau of Prisons I'd have some more refined capacity to make a response; but people being detained in Guantanamo are being detained as a result of the military power of the United States and its confrontation with terror, and they're not being detained in the judicial system. I think I've basically said what I can about that. That is that the Department of Defense and the President, in exercising his responsibility to operate in the defense of the United States and encountering unlawful combatants has detained them. When you detain unlawful combatants in time of war, generally throughout history there has been a capacity to maintain those individuals as detainees pending the outcome of the conflict.
I will concede, this is a different and unique kind of conflict, that is pretty clear that the war is still very active. We went to India last week and several dozens of people died in car bombs and you look at Iraq with the relief agencies and the United Nations being attacked with terror. You look at terrorism as it is rearing its ugly and vicious head around the world on a recurrent basis: terrorists have not abated their efforts to interrupt orderly processes and freedom in the world. So individuals feel that the war against terror somehow is over -- that is not the position of the United States of America. We are going to continue to fight the war against terror effectively and aggressively, and we are grateful to other freedom loving independent sovereigns like this great nation who understand the threat of terror and what it means in terms of destruction with intended destruction of liberty.
With that, I thank you all for your kindness and hospitality and I look forward to continuing our relationship here. It was my pleasure to welcome the Minister to Washington last year and I was hoping to be able to make this trip to Norway sooner than I have now...but later is better than never, and I'm delighted to be with you.
Thank you very much.
Q: Any word about your plans in western Norway?
Ashcroft: My grandfather was born in Western Norway and he came to the United States, and Norwegian was spoken in my home as a means of keeping secrets from us children. My mother spoke Norwegian; my father even learned to speak Norwegian; I learned enough to say grace before we ate our meals and to this day we say [recites prayer in Norwegian] Amen. And my five year old grandson has at least that much Norwegian heritage. I know that takk means thank you and takk takk means thank you very much. And I would say takk takk takk to the Norwegian people for all they've meant to America and for their hospitality to me this week. Thank you.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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