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Bush Addresses Press at Eid-al Fitr

Aired December 17, 2001 - 13:34   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush spoke to reporters just a few moments ago at the White House, this observing the Eid-al Fitr, the end of Ramadan.

Let's listen in to what he had to say.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I may answer a few questions if you have some.

QUESTION: Mr. President, with -- the campaign against the Taliban is winding down to a very small area of Afghanistan, will you consider this operation a success if Osama bin Laden remains at large?

BUSH: Osama bin Laden is going to be brought to justice. It may happen tomorrow, it may happen in a month, it may happen in a year. But he is going to be brought to justice. He's on the run. He thinks he can hide, but he can't. We've been at this operation now for about two and a half months, and we've made incredible progress. And one of the objectives I've set in this theater, and in all theaters for that matter, is that we want all Al Qaeda killers brought to justice, and we'll bring him to justice.

QUESTION: What do you know, sir, about whether he's still in Afghanistan? And have you spoken to the Pakistani government about helping to track him down if, in fact, he has got across the border?

BUSH: Well, the Pakistanis will help us, and they are helping us look for not only Osama bin Laden, but for all Al Qaeda murderers and killers. They will be brought to justice, and it's just a matter of time, as far as I'm concerned. We get all kinds of reports, that he's in a cave, that he's not in a cave; that he's escaped, that he hasn't escaped. There's all kinds of speculation.

But when the dust clears, we'll find out where he is and he'll be brought to justice.

QUESTION: Will you order a military tribunal for him?

BUSH: One think at a time. I do have the option of military tribunals, because I think it's going to be a way to protect national security matters, but I'll make that judgment when we bring him to justice. QUESTION: On another matter, sir. Have the investigators concluded the anthrax used in the mailings had a domestic source?

BUSH: Well, we're still looking on that. You know, we've all got different feelings about it, and we're gathering as much information. As soon as we make definitive conclusions, we'll share it with the American people.

QUESTION: Mr. President, have you made a decision yet as to what (inaudible)

BUSH: Yes, we're looking. I mean, anytime there's somebody harboring a killer or a terrorist, we will work with them to bring those people to justice.

And one of the things I won't do, of course, is tell the enemy what our next move will be. I'm working to build up and keep our coalition strong. Colin Powell, myself and others in the administration are constantly talking to world leaders to encourage them to cut off money or disrupt killer cells that might be hiding in their countries.

We've made great progress. We've arrested over -- I think, it's over 300 now. We're beginning to shut down financial institutions around the world.

Not every operation needs to be a military operation to be successful against the terrorist networks, and I'm pleased to tell you that the coalition is working cooperatively. We're sharing a lot of intelligence between nations and it's having an effect.


BUSH: Oh, no, I'm not going to tell the enemy what's next. They just need to know that so long as they plan and have got plans to murder innocent people, America will be breathing down their neck.


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) about John Walker's involvement in the Taliban or Al Qaeda and should he face the death penalty because...

BUSH: I'm going to let the appropriate law enforcement agencies make recommendations to me. He has been questioned, properly questioned, by the U.S. government.

I have yet to see the transcript myself, but we'll make a decision on what to do with Mr. Walker. He is a U.S. citizen. Obviously, I've said that U.S. citizens will not go in the military tribunals. And so, we'll make the determination whether or not he stays within the military system or comes into the civil justice system.

WOODRUFF: President Bush answering reporters' questions, just as he finished reading a story to a small group of Muslim children on this day, at feast of Eid-al Fitr. This is the end of Ramadan, a time of feasting for those who have been fasting for the last 30 days of these Muslim holy days.

Joining us now, from the White House, is John King.

John, the president was underlining what he says every chance he gets: We are going to go after Osama bin Laden until we find him.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But Judy, the president's answers on that and other questions reflecting the uncertain period of operation is now in. Over the weekend, administration sources speaking with some certainty to the idea that Osama bin Laden was still in the mountains in Tora Bora. Today, U.S. officials are saying they think is he still there, but they are not so sure and that perhaps he has tried to sneak out over the mountains into Pakistan. The president is saying we will continue to hunt until we find him.

The president is also refusing to say, in response to several questions there, where the war on terrorism might turn next. That is a subject of urgent debate at the highest levels of administration, now that for the most part, the military campaign is making progress in Afghanistan.

The president is also refusing to say what will be the fate of American John Walker, that Taliban fighter now aboard a U.S. military vessel in the region over there, how will he be prosecuted back here. So you get a lot of answers from the president, a lot of conditionals. He says we just need to wait and see.

Obviously, the big question is where is Osama bin Laden? Top U.S. officials say they cannot answer that with any certainty right now, and was reflected in what the president had to say.

WOODRUFF: John, on the one other subject that came up, the source of the anthrax that was mailed to a number of senators and figures in the news media. We had Ari Fleischer saying, within the hour, that they increasingly have reason to believe it was a domestic source. The president didn't really want to say.

KING: Ari Fleischer went beyond the president in saying increasingly, the evidence -- and Mr. Fleischer wouldn't get into the evidence, just simply saying that from the reports that come to the White House from the scientific teams and the law enforcement teams, that the evidence points to the fact that those anthrax spores came from domestic sources. But Mr. Fleischer did make the key distinction: The source and who mailed them could be two very different things.

As you heard the president, he does not want to talk about this until he gets a final investigative report, and top officials in the administration say they don't know just when that might come; they say there is still much to be investigated.

WOODRUFF: John King, our chief White House correspondent. Thank you, John.




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