Bush says bin Laden not escaping, promises he will be brought to justice

Friday, December 28th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) _ President Bush pledged on Friday to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, saying U.S. forces are determined to capture him.

``He is not escaping us,'' Bush said at his Texas ranch, adding that the world's most-hunted man no longer has a leadership role in Afghanistan.

``He's not in charge of Afghanistan anymore,'' Bush said. ``He's not the parasite that's invaded the host. ... Now, he's maybe in control of a cave. He's on the run. We're going to get him running and keep him running and bring him to justice.''

Bush's news conference, held on a clear, windy, winter day just outside his old home on the ranch, followed two days in which bin Laden held the media spotlight with a newly released videotape.

The president dismissed the tape as terrorist propaganda.

``I didn't watch it all,'' Bush said. ``I saw snippets of it on TV. Who knows when it was made.''

Appearing with the war commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, Bush said the U.S. military would stay in Afghanistan for as long as it takes to rid the nation of al-Qaida terrorists and ensure future political stability.

``The world must know that this administration will not blink in the face of danger and will not tire when it comes to completing the missions that we said we would do,'' Bush said.

The U.S. military has 70 Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners in custody and the Pentagon is making plans to send them to a Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but has not determined the procedures for military tribunals.

A draft of proposed Bush administration rules for the tribunals states that a unanimous vote of a tribunal's military officers would be required to impose a death sentence on a foreign terror suspect, an official said Friday on condition of anonymity.

Civil rights groups and some members of Congress have said they were concerned about the fairness and openness of the tribunal process.

Bush said discussions continue and no decisions have been made about the tribunal process, but that ``our system will be more fair than the system of bin Laden and the Taliban. That is for certain.''

Asked if he fears bin Laden's terrorist network is still targeting Americans, Bush said: ``I hope 2002 is a year of peace, but I'm also realistic. I know full well that bin Laden and his cronies would like to harm America again.''

The president said he does not know whether bin Laden is still in control of his terrorist network.

``If he's alive he's on the run, and you don't need to worry about whether or not we're going to get him because we are,'' Bush said. ``It's just a matter of time. I mean, I've read reports where he's dyed his hair red. It's not going to stop us from finding him.''

Bush, nearing the end of his first year in office, arrived at the ranch Wednesday facing decisions on America's next target in the war on terrorism, the fate of American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh and how to jump-start the economy.

Bush said Lindh, accused of fighting with the Taliban, was ``well- berthed'' on the Navy's amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu in the Arabian Sea.

``Walker made a terrible decision and our system is such that he'll have proper justice,'' Bush said. ``He's working with the enemy and we'll see how the courts deal with that.''

On other topics, Bush said he discussed escalating tensions between India and Pakistan with his national security advisers and that Secretary of State Colin Powell had spoken with both sides, urging restraint.

The president also addressed a controversy surrounding Enron, the Texas energy giant that filed for bankruptcy on Dec. 2.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats have criticized Enron, accusing the company of burning stockholders who were unaware of its failing condition and throwing thousands of people out of work and wiping out retirement accounts.

Bush said he had had no contact with Enron officials in the last six weeks and that there would be ``a lot of government inquiry'' into the company's activities.

``I'm deeply concerned about the citizens of Houston who worked for Enron, who lost life savings,'' he said. ``It's very troubling.''