Text: Attorney General John Ashcroft
Following is a transcript of comments by Attorney General John Aschcroft made after touring the Pentagon crash site.
ASHCROFT:Let me first say that this tangled, charred situation is one that has been a difficult work environment for heroic individuals who have been doing an outstanding job of coordinating their effort and working together.
I want to thank those individuals who, without regard in many instances to their own safety and security, and certainly working through fatigue and through discomfort in very, very serious conditions, have done a wonderful job.
My heart goes out to the families. My first response at this site is obviously a response of anger. And then it's a response of sympathy to the victims and to their families.
And then it's a response of renewing a commitment to make sure that the network of individuals responsible for this would be brought to justice and would pay the price.
And we will intensify in every respect all that we can do not only to understand and pursue and identify and to punish those individuals who are responsible and the network associated with it, but we will take every possible action to make sure that this kind of injury and assault on America and on its freedom does not happen again.
You had another question, which, frankly, I...
QUESTION:I'm happy to restate it, sir. My question is--well, it's actually twofold. How far have you moved along in identifying exactly what happened and who all these people are? And the first question I had asked you was the source of the funding--have you made any progress in identifying who was behind the money, how much it took, and how the network was financed?
ASHCROFT:I think it's fair to say that we are making progress on a variety of fronts, including the kinds of--some progress on fronts like you mentioned. But for me to begin to discuss particular evidence is premature at this time.
QUESTION:Can you confirm that there were criminal charges filed against some individuals in connection with the investigation in Detroit yesterday?
ASHCROFT:It's my understanding that criminal charges were filed against individuals who were apprehended in the process of the FBI following a series of leads related to these incidents.
And the affidavits and materials filed in the court speak for themselves. It is a process that we are pursing with intensity and we will continue to pursue with every ounce of our energy to disrupt any potential that we possibly can of any individual or group of individuals or part of any network to similarly inflict additional injury upon the United States or our citizens.
QUESTION:... those individuals are connected to the individuals who perpetrated last weeks attacks?
ASHCROFT:The statements which were made in the documents associated with the arrests and the charges contain all of the statements that we're prepared to make at this time.
QUESTION:So these are your first criminal charges in connection with this case at all. Can you characterize for us how significant these three people may have been in the overall scheme of the plot?
ASHCROFT:I think it would be far too early to indicate that this is some sort of major breakthrough in the case. But we are going to pursue every lead and we will prosecute every infraction. We will intensify efforts.
You know, yesterday I announced that in all U.S. attorney's offices across the nation there will be anti-terrorism task forces. It will be their responsibility to identify violators associated with these networks and with terrorist organizations, and any violation will be prosecuted.
QUESTION:Is there evidence that foreign governments may have provided support for those who carried out the hijackings and the attacks?
ASHCROFT:It's pretty clear that the networks that conduct these kinds of events are harbored and supported, sustained, protected by a variety of foreign governments. And it's time for those governments to understand with crystal clarity that the United States of America will not tolerate that kind of support for networks that would inflict this kind of damage on the American people.
QUESTION:Does that include Iraq when you speak of nations that are harboring (inaudible)?
ASHCROFT:I think the statement speaks for itself.
QUESTION:Just one question on the immigration rule from yesterday, already raising concerns among civil rights groups. Are you already invoking the emergency clause of that order that would allow you to keep detainees indefinitely before they've been charged? Are you already invoking that?
ASHCROFT:When circumstances require us to use the full force and effect of the order, we will do so. I make no apology. I make no apology for being forceful in our enforcing the law and requiring adherence to the law. This investigation will pursue violators and use every tool available to us to curtail and prevent and disrupt any effort to further inflict this kind of damage on the United States or our citizens.
QUESTION:Mr. Ashcroft, yesterday you said you can't rule out that there may have been a fifth plane. Why can't you rule out and have you moved any farther in the investigation in terms of being able to conclude that there was another attack planned?
ASHCROFT:I would repeat today that we cannot rule out that there may have been additional aircraft targeted. We cannot rule that out. And that's the extent of the comment that I would make on that at this time.
QUESTION:The ACLU held a news conference today expressing concern about civil liberties in the package that you're going to propose. Can you assure people that privacy rights and civil libertarian rights won't be eroded?
ASHCROFT:I'm deeply concerned about the civil liberties of all Americans. I'm especially concerned about the civil liberties of Arab Americans and Middle Eastern Americans who are patriotic citizens, who lament and regret this loss perhaps as keenly or more keenly than any, and whose commitment to the strict enforcement and pursuit of these networks of terror that inflict this kind of injury is as strong as any.
We will conduct this effort to investigate and to prosecute with strict regard for every safeguard of the United States Constitution. But we will not fail to use any tool. We will not fail to use any tool that can promote the apprehension, the disruption of the networks that caused these damages and prevent a similar occurrence in the future.