Text: Ashcroft on NBC's 'Meet the Press'
Following is a transcript of NBC's Meet the Press with guests Attorney General John Ashcroft, U.S. Senator Bill Frist, former Assistant Secretary of Defence for Health Affairs Dr. Sue Bailey, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Deputy Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan Sohail Shaheen.
RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: America on a full state of alert, fearing another terrorist attack. And more cases of anthrax, including NBC.
Our guest, the attorney general of the United States, John Ashcroft.
Then, how do we protect ourselves from anthrax and other biological or chemical attacks? With us, the only physician in the United States Senate, Bill Frist, Republican from Tennessee; and Dr. Sue Bailey, former assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.
And the United States presence in Afghanistan triggers violent protests in neighboring Pakistan. Will this nation with nuclear weapons remain stable? With us, the former prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto.
But first, a short while ago I spoke with Sohail Shaheen. He is the deputy Taliban ambassador to Pakistan.
RUSSERT: Mr. Shaheen, 5,000 innocent people from 80 different countries were killed in the United States. Why won't you turn over Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda? They have all but admitted they did it, and they are promising to do more. You can spare your own people in Afghanistan, and try to bring peace to a region, simply by turning over Osama bin Laden.
SHAHEEN: If they want to have opposition of nationality and reason, they should produce all the evidence that they have. Not attacking Afghanistan. They should send evidence instead of sending planes in order to prosecute Osama.
RUSSERT: The government of Pakistan said there is more than enough evidence to indict Osama bin Laden. Osama bin Laden himself has said as follows: ``God guided the path of the Muslims who destroyed America. America has been hit, destroying, thank God, its most prestigious buildings.'' It sounds pretty close to an admission by Mr. Osama bin Laden.
SHAHEEN: First, we are the party to the case, not Pakistan. If America wants to talk, to resolve the issue, it should talk with us. If he is involved in any kind of terrorist act, America should provide evidence, and then we will discuss his putting on trial.
RUSSERT: It has been suggested that the Taliban has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Osama bin Laden, and any trial conducted by Taliban would be a complete joke.
SHAHEEN: That trial will, they say, if that is conducted in America, would it not be joke? America, before putting on trial, the White House administration has issued its own verdict that Osama, alive or dead.
RUSSERT: We were told that if the United States attacked the Taliban militarily, the Taliban would respond vigorously, and yet the military response from Taliban has been nonexistent. Are all your planes and tanks and anti-aircraft, have they all been destroyed? Why haven't you responded militarily after all the boasting?
SHAHEEN: You know, America is technologically more advanced. We are not equal to America. But the real war will start when the ground troops enter Afghanistan.
RUSSERT: Do you believe that the United States will ever capture Osama bin Laden?
SHAHEEN: I don't know. The future will tell. You know, I could not tell.
RUSSERT: Eight international relief workers, including two Americans, are being held by your government. Why not release them immediately?
SHAHEEN: The case is in the court. It is under process.
RUSSERT: What is their alleged crime? What did they do wrong?
SHAHEEN: They came to Afghanistan under the cover of assisting the Afghan people, under the cover of relief, providing relief to the Afghan people. But they were converting Muslims into Christianity.
RUSSERT: Americans have been attacked not only on September 11, but throughout the country. Anthrax, a poison, is showing up in workplaces all across the country. Is Al Qaeda responsible for that?
SHAHEEN: I think America is doing a very great mistake by focusing on Osama, only on Osama, and they have freed all other terrorist organization to do what they can do. America has many enemies, open and secret. They should not too much focus on Osama, as they did during the past years. Then the real culprit will escape, and there will be more incidents and events like this under the name Osama.
RUSSERT: And now we are joined live by the attorney general of the United States, John Ashcroft.
RUSSERT: Mr. Attorney General, welcome.
ASHCROFT: Thank you.
RUSSERT: You just watched the representative of the Taliban. Your reaction?
ASHCROFT: Well, we've been getting messages that are really more propaganda than anything else. I think that's consistent with the propaganda that Osama bin Laden had in the first tape that he released.
And frankly, I don't think it's valuable for us to deal with propaganda. I don't want to further their position or enhance their standing. I just think that the propaganda campaign is a part of the effort in the war here, the war effort. And I think the American people can evaluate the credibility of it, and they see it for what it is. It's nothing more nor less than propaganda.
And your questions, I think, indicate clearly that the state of denial in which the Taliban finds itself: having boasted of its military might, not capable of response. And this is propaganda.
RUSSERT: He did acknowledge that the eight rescue workers are being charged with preaching Christianity in a Muslim country.
ASHCROFT: Yes, he did. And I guess the disconcerting thing about that is that they view that kind of thing a crime, that someone would speak openly about one kind of faith or another. In America, we are a nation grateful for the framework of freedom in which we exist and where many Muslim Americans are patriotic good citizens here, encouraged in their faith rather than repressed in their faith. You would think that setting would be a testimony of the value of freedom.
RUSSERT: He did deny that Al Qaeda had anything to do with the anthrax that's showing up at work places around our country. Do you have any evidence that the anthrax people are being exposed to is the result of the terrorism of September 11?
ASHCROFT: Well, we have to view this in two ways. One, obviously, we haven't had anthrax as the kind of threat that we now see it, historically. And I think the vice president properly said that there is a real suspicion here. We don't have conclusive evidence at this time, and we don't have evidence that could rule out the possibility.
I think it's important for us to, in the two ways we look at this to, on the prosecution side, to look carefully for the direct linkages. But we have a responsibility of prevention. And that responsibility in government is to try and alert people and help them understand. And so, you look at evidence differently when you're using facts and things to prevent than you do when you are seeking to have those facts eventually show up in court.
So it's pretty clear to me from the prevention side that as a policy we should consider this potential that it is linked. It's premature for us at this time to decide whether or not there is a direct link.
RUSSERT: The military has a vaccine which is given to the troops who go into high-risk areas which would prevent them from anthrax. Should that vaccine be made available to all U.S. citizens?
ASHCROFT: Well, I don't know that we can make a judgment about that yet.
Let's kind of look at where we are. We have two cases of anthrax that have been detected in the United States. One resulted in the death in Florida, a tragedy. The other, a colleague of NBC with cutaneous anthrax being treated very successfully. A number of other individuals who came into contact with anthrax spores but haven't shown or manifest the fact of the infection or the disease of anthrax.
I believe that in this setting, we should recognize that anthrax is not communicable. So that it--even when someone does contract it, it's not to be spread to other people. Secondly, that it is imminently treatable when it is found and diagnosed early. And one of the reasons it's important for the American people to have some understanding about what's happening is that we wouldn't want any diagnosis or understanding about it to be delayed.
And given that setting, I believe that this capacity to treat very successfully anthrax is appropriate at this time.
RUSSERT: Do you believe the United States' public health system is prepared for a widespread bioterrorist attack?
ASHCROFT: You know, Secretary Thompson has addressed this issue very squarely. And when the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was launched on September the 11th, he was able to move the kind of supplies that would have also addressed bioterrorism into New York in less than eight hours. I'm talking about massive capacity to address those kinds of threats and issues.
Our capacity to deploy those kinds of resources is nationwide. He has indicated that the nation is prepared, and I believe that he is correct in saying so.
RUSSERT: Let me show you and our viewers a statement issued by the Department of Justice on Thursday which received a lot of attention: ``Certain information, while not specific as to target, gives the government reason to believe that there may be additional terrorist attacks within the United States and against U.S. interests overseas within the next several days. The FBI has again alerted all local law enforcement to be on the highest alert, and we call on all people to immediately notify the FBI and local law enforcement of any unusual or suspicious activity.''
Do we remain on that highest alert?
ASHCROFT: Yes. Obviously, we're always in a position to reevaluate a situation like that.
And I believe the American people can be a big part of our defense and prevention of additional terrorist acts. I believe the American people can be trusted with information. And very frequently, we won't have very complete information or very specific information. But we'll have information that we believe is credible enough that we should indicate to the American people that they should take some fundamental common-sense steps.
If you were to see someone filming a petrochemical plant that might, if attacked, provide a basis for noxious fumes or substances as a threat, then report that. People are learning to adjust their behavior as it relates to mail. If there are suspicious or inappropriate kinds of pieces of mail, there are ways to look at that. The FBI has issued several--well, last year we issued a special poster on an awareness about mail.
These things Americans can do and should do, but we should not stop being Americans. We can adjust our way of doing things, but we should not adjust the things we do.
RUSSERT: There was an internal debate, we're told, in the FBI and the Department of Justice as to whether to issue such a statement because it would create a lot of anxiety and concern all across the country. Some have argued that it was more of a political cover, that if something happened, the government could say, ``See, we told you so.'' Others said, ``No, no. We have to continue this high-threat alert and have everybody involved in it.''
But is there not an inconsistency to say to people, go to shopping malls, go to sporting events, get on airplanes, and oh, by the way, we are in the highest state of alert because we think in the next few days there is probably going to be a terrorist attack?
ASHCROFT: Well, to indicate that there is a risk of terrorist attack is not the same as to say we think there is going to be one. And language is very important here. It is important for us to learn, as a culture--and I think the American people are to be trusted to do this--that there are things we can do to devalue risks, in other words to put the--to hold the risk down, while we still conduct ourselves appropriately.
I think we have to understand that we are a nation in the condition of war. And one of the things we have to do is to adjust the way we do things, but it doesn't mean that we stop doing things and that we bring America to a halt. That's exactly what the terrorist wants to do, to bring America to a halt. We need to say, ``No, you're not going to bring America to a halt, and you're not going to be able to victimize us.''
We're going to have a special alertness and a carefulness. It's a preparedness, it's not a panic. It's not a paralysis. It's an understanding that we can adjust and be careful about the way we do things and reduce the risk of damage by those who obviously had a clear intention to injure us badly.
RUSSERT: This week on October 18, there will be a sentencing of those terrorists involved in the blowing up of our embassies in Africa. Will that be a special day of alert for our country?
ASHCROFT: I'm not in a position to tell you in advance about those kinds of things.
You know, we share these alerts with about 18,000 law enforcement agencies. It's called the national law enforcement system. And we feel that the American people might as well, in a number of these settings where appropriate, be given the alert along with the law enforcement agencies. It's going to be understood and learned eventually.
So we are careful to try and provide information. The American people are participants. They've already sent in over 200,000 suggestions and leads for us to act on. They are a part of the national security. I like to call it a national neighborhood watch. And they're doing a good job. And I think they can be trusted with the kind of responsibility of being alert and reporting.
RUSSRET: The Philadelphia Enquirer reported yesterday that terrorist groups, according to three internal government memos, have targeted Walt Disney World, Disneyland, the Sears Tower in Chicago and the Mall of America in Minneapolis. Can you confirm that?
ASHCROFT: No. You know, there'll be a lot of information about threats and threat assessments.
Let me just help people understand. We have processed, through our threat-assessment operation, 573 threats. We evaluate them. We examine them. And we will share with the appropriate parties and the American people credible threats. And frankly, we've erred on the side of sharing generously because we think the American people are capable of learning to adjust their behavior and assisting us in making sure that we prevent as many attacks as we possibly can. And prevention is a top priority now.
So, I think it's inappropriate to start to surface so-called threats. It can be very damaging, and an environment in which lots of random threats are surfaced would be inappropriate.
RUSSERT: Are you looking into the issuing of driver's licenses to drive large trucks in Denver, Colorado, to at least 20 people who applied who couldn't even speak English?
ASHCROFT: We have examined the driver's license issuance procedures in a number of settings where we've found, particularly, HAZMAT licenses which were being issued without the appropriate safeguards. I don't want to comment on any specific investigations or cases.
But, obviously large trucks, you know, are--the biggest domestic terrorism case prior to this was the bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, and a truck was used as a container for Timothy McVeigh's explosive device, which took the lives of many people.
So, we are being very watchful, and we're going to do everything possible. And understand we have detained or arrested or detained almost 700 individuals related to this effort to be strong in our prevention. These are all people who have violated the law and who have, for our purposes, we have reason to believe have an association with terrorism or groups that are sympathetic to terrorist groups.
RUSSERT: Let me move to the issue of immigration. And the INS issued a statement, and this is the way it was reported, and I'll put it on the screen:
``At least nine hijackers in the September 11 attacks were in the United States on valid visas. Three more had entered legally but stayed beyond their visa expirations, a top U.S. immigration official said yesterday. He said the authorities are still mystified how the others got in.''
How could that possibly be? Terrorists given a visa to come to the country, staying too long, and at least six others simply sneaking into our country?
ASHCROFT: Well, we have a responsibility to improve our security for those coming into the country. The president spoke in his campaign of reorganizing the Immigration and Naturalization Service. We have very frequently placed a lot of our resources along the southern border with Mexico, and we've done a pretty good job of curtailing what had been an unrestrained flow there. We have 9,000 people on the southern border.
We have fewer than 500 people on the northern border. And that northern border is 4,000 miles long.
We do need to improve our border security, and we're in the process of not only asking for the congressional help to get that done but in the reorganization and reconstitution of what we're doing there.
In terms of visas, I think it's very appropriate that we think carefully about the issuance of visas and our ability to verify the purpose for which visas were given. Visas are issued by the United States government in overseas offices. People allege that they're coming for business or for education, and frankly, we need to be able to act with greater certainty in verifying those objectives.
RUSSERT: The Senate passed by 100 to nothing a bill which would take over screening of baggage and passengers at all airports by the federal government. Well-trained, well-paid, skilled federal employees. The administration is resisting that. Why?
ASHCROFT: Well, the administration--obviously this is subject to additional activity in the House.
The administration supports enhancing the security at our airports. And the question, I suppose, will exist as to how we do that. Is it best that we federalize it with governmental workers? Or should we have a system whereby we set standards that would require that the standards be met and that they be adhered to, and that we enforce those standards vigorously? That kind of enforcement is something that's necessary.
This last week I announced an active and aggressive enforcement against a company that has not lived within a court order that was issued when its failure to enforce standards was previously noted.
RUSSERT: This is Argenbright.
ASCHROFT: That's correct.
RUSSERT: And our viewers should know that they were hiring convicted felons to screen baggage and passengers. And, in fact, 80 percent of the screeners at Dulles Airport here in Washington were non-citizens.
ASHCROFT: Yes. We have taken action against this company. Very clearly and aggressively, we have notified the general counsel of the Department of Transportation of our desire to take action in cases like this, in conjunction with the FAA.
The general counsel there has indicated that audits of or assessments of compliance with the laws by this company, at a number of different airports is being undertaken. And we will act aggressively to provide the basis for more confidence about our airport security, if we find any noncompliance.
RUSSERT: But if we contract it out, won't it be done on the cheap? People who are trying to make a profit are going to hire the least-skilled and least-expensive workers. Why not, in this very critical time, have the federal government take it over, with skilled, armed, professional U.S. government employees?
ASHCROFT: I think the standards that you use will have to be high, whether those standards are government standards or whether those standards are standards monitored by the government but imposed on the private sector.
There are a number of opportunities and there are situations where we require high standards, and those standards are met in the private sector. And there are lots of other places, where we think we require high standards, and we don't do so well governmentally.
The keen, clear part that I think is important here is that you have the right standards and the right enforcement.
RUSSERT: Are you convinced there are terrorists living right now in the United States?
ASHCROFT: I believe that it's very unlikely that all of those individuals that were associated with or involved with the terrorism events of September 11, and other terrorism events that may have been repositioned and preplanned, have been apprehended.
We are doing everything possible to disrupt, to interrupt, to prevent, to destabilize any additional activity. And we are on our alert, and we will continue to act aggressively in every respect to prevent additional activity.
I don't believe that it's fair to--that we could conclude that there are no terrorist sympathizers or terrorists that would be in the United States. We are looking for individuals and are aggressively pursuing them.
RUSSERT: Attorney General John Ashcroft, we thank you very much for joining us.
ASHCROFT: Thank you.
RUSSERT: Coming next, how do we cope with anthrax and other biological and chemical attacks? With us, Dr. Sue Bailey and Dr. and Senator Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee.
Then the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan and Islam. We'll talk to the former prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto.
They are all coming up right here on Meet the Press.
RUSSERT: And we're back.
Dr. Senator Frist, let me start with you. Do you believe the United States is prepared to take on a massive bioterrorist attack?
FRIST: We are very prepared to take on what we're seeing today with these anthrax outbreaks, very prepared, and we're seeing it in Florida and in New York City.
I believe we are underprepared to take on a massive, biological attack, not just of anthrax but there's lots of other organisms that are out there.
We are much better prepared than we were two years ago, much better than a year ago. And with legislation coming through Congress right now, we'll be very prepared in the next six months to the next year.
RUSSERT: Dr. Bailey?
BAILEY: We are not prepared for an aerial attack, but the good news is it's very difficult to launch that kind of an aerial attack that could involve mass casualties.
RUSSERT: Do you believe that citizens should have access to the vaccine that the military does to prevent anthrax?
BAILEY: It's going to be a question for America, I believe, in the future were we to see more of these attacks. But I would like to see vaccine provided now for our first responders.
FRIST: Anthrax itself, vaccine is not the treatment, and America needs to understand that. The treatment is antibiotics. Anthrax, as we're seeing it today, is treatable, it is curable, it needs to be started early. After these cutaneous lesions (ph), it can be treated.
I do think we're going to need increased doses of anthrax, of the vaccine itself. I think that that can be supported by our government, should be supported by our government. But again, that's an adjunct to treatment. That is not the treatment itself.
RUSSERT: But eventually made available to citizens?
FRIST: I think it will be made available to citizens.
Again, vaccines are not the answer for everything. And I think it's very important for people to realize that there are many different agents. We're looking at one today, and we need a much broader effort attack on our public health system to strengthen that.
RUSSERT: Dr. Bailey, millions of people are watching this program. An envelope arrives at their office place or their home. They open it up and the white powder comes out. What should they do?
BAILEY: They should first of all notify the CDC, call 911, talk to authorities. Because they need to be tested immediately. If they have inhaled those spores, they could get the much deadlier form of anthrax, which is inhalation anthrax which is very hard to treat once you have symptoms. If you get the cutaneous skin kind, we can treat that.
RUSSERT: Dr. Frist?
FRIST: Well, I think, first of all, all mailrooms right now should go back and develop a protocol. You can go to my website. You can go to the CDC website and see what that protocol should be.
RUSSERT: The Centers for Disease Control or Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee.
FRIST: That's right. Either website there's a protocol out there. And that's what's going to happen. Americans do have a responsibility. There are things that can be done in terms of prevention, preparedness, and that is one.
Know what you should do in a mailroom. Suspicious mail should be just set aside. If you open it up and powder comes out, you should walk away from it, clear the room, wash your hands with soap and water, not bleach, not other things but soap and water, and then notify the appropriate authorities.
Again, the inhalational part, you have to inhale a lot. What you're seeing today of colonization of nasal swabs, that's not the disease itself. You have to have about 10,000 spores to be inhaled before you will develop the disease.
RUSSERT: What does anthrax do to you?
BAILEY: The inhalation type unfortunately goes from that spore form--and Dr. Frist is right, it takes over 10,000 spores. That's the good news, it's hard to get. But we did see Mr. Stevens get it.
If it gets into the lungs, then it goes into a toxin form after the bacteria forms, and that pretty much causes so much inflammation and swelling in the cells that it overwhelms the body and is lethal.
RUSSERT: The concern about bioterrorism, chemical and biological weapons, how real is it?
FRIST: The threat is real. It's becoming more and more real every day starting with September 11 in terms of public awareness. Many of us started looking at this years and years ago.
So the threat is there, but it is tiny, it is small as a weapon of mass destruction. But it's growing, it's growing in light of the fact that Osama bin Laden said it is his religious duty to acquire biological weapons. And we've seen that he'll weapons, and so this could be one.
It's not just anthrax. It's tularemia, it's butolinum toxin, it is smallpox--the sort of things that a lot of people haven't thought about that our public health infrastructure has thought about. But now we need to put the resources there to strengthen it to eliminate the gaps which do put us at some risk, some vulnerability that we can address and we should address.
RUSSERT: People of our generation were all vaccinated against smallpox but then it stopped because we thought the threat had been eliminated. Should the United States resume vaccinating people against smallpox?
FRIST: You'll hear the debate--first of all, you're exactly right. Almost nobody listening to this show right now is vaccinated appropriately for smallpox.
Smallpox, unlike anthrax, and as General Ashcroft said, anthrax is not contagious. If you had it, you can't give it to me. That's not true with smallpox.
But the vaccination you had and that we all had as a child doesn't apply anymore.
Should everybody, 300 million people be vaccinated? I would say no. About 25 out of every 100,000 people have a side effect to the vaccination itself. Probably 600 to 2,000 people would die just from the vaccine itself. The risk is too small for that. The cost-benefit ratio does not justify it.
Should we have more doses of smallpox vaccine available? Right now we have about 10 million. We need about 40 million. A bill that Senator Kennedy and I have before the United States Congress now will put that money there to have those doses available.
RUSSERT: Dr. Bailey, there is a Dark Winter scenario where terrorists did spread some smallpox around a small area, and what happened?
BAILEY: Well, unfortunately that was an experiment that simulated an attack of smallpox on a city, in Oklahoma City as a matter of fact.
BAILEY: And what we showed there was we were not able to contain it; that once it was out--because even though 30 percent only--only--die, the fact is, they go on infecting. And it spread to 25 other states and 15 other countries, and there was a worldwide epidemic.
The good news is, with the smallpox vaccine that we're looking for, if you're treated in seven days--you have known exposure to smallpox--that vaccine then can give you protection and you would not develop the disease.
RUSSERT: So you could rush the vaccine to that city within seven days and people would be fine and the risk of spreading would be minimal?
BAILEY: Exactly. And that's really the point. We need to be sure that we've got the vaccines and medications where they need to be.
RUSSERT: Senator Frist, give the country some advice.
FRIST: I say, be calm. You know, I say that because everywhere you go--people tomorrow at work when they open their letters. It is true, by what's happened over the last two weeks, that terrorism now is just a stamp away. That letter you pick up, you have to at least think about it. And that's frightening. So it's not an agent of mass destruction now, but it is a terrifying agent.
So I'd say, be calm. Think what you can do in terms of prevention. Watch people around you. Be suspicious of mail. Think what you can do in terms of preparedness. Don't go out and stockpile antibiotics, but know what you will do in the event that anthrax does come out of that envelope. And in terms of response, who are you going to call?
Know that it's treatable. Know that it's not contagious. Know that there is something that you can do.
RUSSERT: Dr. Bailey, some advice?
BAILEY: Well, they are not spreading disease with this anthrax method that they are using right now, but they are spreading terrorism. Fortunately, we have the best health care system in the world. We can handle it.
RUSSERT: Dr. Bailey, Dr. Frist--Senator Frist, thank you both.
Coming next, her father was prime minister of Pakistan, and she was prime minister of Pakistan twice. Benazir Bhutto is next, coming up right here on Meet the Press.
RUSSERT: Benazir Bhutto, welcome.
Since the beginning of this crisis, all eyes on Pakistan because of the nuclear weapons that your country has. How volatile is the situation in Pakistan?
BHUTTO: The situation is uncertain. There is a possibility of the removal of the regime, but not a probability. General Musharraf has moved to secure his own position by removing hard-liners in the army. And the public reaction, while violent, has remained containable to certain areas.
RUSSERT: If he was removed, would the nuclear arsenal fall into the wrong hands?
BHUTTO: I hope not. But this is an issue that is agitating the international community, and I think it's important for my country to engage the international community on this issue, to see how we can build greater confidence.
If General Musharraf were removed, there would be two options: Firstly, it would be, if it was through a military coup, another hard-liner, perhaps, which could be dangerous. Or the chief justice would take over as the president.
So we are unsure exactly--I mean, I hope for Pakistan's stability, that General Musharraf is able to take the country back to democratization next year, but the situation is uncertain.
RUSSERT: Two years ago to this day, General Musharraf took control in a military coup. How is he doing thus far during this crisis?
BHUTTO: In this crisis he showed a lot of nerves, and he's taken actions that people did not expect.
He sidelined two of his closest colleagues in the military who had helped bring him to power. He also took the right decision in standing with the international coalition.
We are hoping that the military regime will now try to broaden its political base by co-opting the democratic parties in an interim cabinet. I'm not looking for a position for myself. But I do think that it's important to have the other leaders of the democratic parties in a broadening of political support.
RUSSERT: Just a few months ago, you had some interesting things to say about General Musharraf, and I'll show you and our viewers on the screen: ``An unelected dictator, the general has no mandate to represent my people and my country.'' And you went on to say, ``Musharraf lacks legitimacy. He lacks the moral and political authority.''
All that being said, have you been pleasantly surprised the way he's conducted himself?
BHUTTO: Well, I have been surprised at his ability to come out so strongly in support of the battle against terrorism.
And as for myself and my party, we feel that he is the person in charge, and what options did we have? Either we would stand on the fact that he is a military dictator and keep away--but that could have facilitated a fundamentalist takeover and greater street riots.
So we felt, keeping in mind Pakistan's interests, that we had to deal with who was in power, irrespective of the legitimacy. And so, to prevent a fundamentalist takeover of Pakistan, we have supported the regime at this time.
RUSSERT: If, in fact, there are elections a year from now, will you return back to Pakistan and run for prime minister?
BHUTTO: Well, I would very much like to return to Pakistan and run for prime minister again. And my party has been urging the military regime to have negotiations that can facilitate such a transfer. We would like General Musharraf to assure me that I could return in safety and contest those elections.
But right now, we think the focus ought to be on what's happening with regard to the prime suspects in the World Trade Center bombings.
And I'd like to condole with the many Americans who lost their loved ones in the Trade Center and also in the Pentagon.
RUSSERT: The general thus far has been unwilling to allow you back into the country. This is what was in the Guardian in Great Britain a few months ago: ``Pakistan's dictator, General Musharraf, warned that former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto would be locked up if she returns home. `Legal action will be taken against her. Certainly she's accountable to this nation for her misdeeds,' Musharraf declared. The general accused Ms. Bhutto of mismanaging, corrupting the country. `She has not been acquitted at all. She's trying to create this misunderstanding that she has been acquitted. She's to be retried, absolutely.'''
And then later, you'll see this from the Associated Press: ``Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was sentenced in absentia to three years in prison Saturday after failing to appear in court on corruption charges. Bhutto, who lives in self-imposed exile, will be arrested when she returns home, court officials said.''
Do you fear being arrested if you go home?
BHUTTO: At the moment, they would like to arrest me, although I have not been convicted of any substantive crime. I was not served any notice to appear before any court.
Actually, the debate is much larger in the Muslim world. It's one between dictatorship and democracy. And that's one of the underlying causes of the social ferment in Pakistan and in other Muslim countries.
I think the time has come for all of us as Muslim nations to restructure our own outdated systems in a more democratic light. Without that, I fear that this tussle between dictatorship and democracy can play into the hands of fundamentalists.
RUSSERT: If the general said, ``Ms. Bhutto, I want you to come home now, you will not be arrested, and I want you to join me in a unity government,'' would you do that?
BHUTTO: It would be very difficult for me to serve a unity government as a formal member. But certainly, if my party and other opposition parties were in that unity government, I would act as an emissary of that government without taking a formal post.
RUSSERT: When you were the prime minister, the Taliban in effect was created in Afghanistan. And at that time, you talked to former president Bush, Bush 41, as he's referred to here in the United States, and let me show you a comment about that.
``I cautioned former President Bush that he was creating a veritable Frankenstein by aligning the United States with the most extremist of the mujahedeen groups.''
RUSSERT: Those are groups that were sponsored by the United States in their fight against the Soviet Union.
``The extremists, so emboldened by the United States during the '80s, are now exporting their terrorism to other parts of the world. To the extent that they use heroine trafficking to pay for their exploits, international terrorism and international drug trafficking intersect. And as terrorism and drug trafficking pervade western society, the decision of the United States a generation ago has come full circle.''
We had little choice but to arm the mujahedeen to take on and repel the Soviet Union. But are you suggesting that we armed the wrong elements?
BHUTTO: Well, we did the right thing at the time. But when I became prime minister in 1989, I talked to President Bush Number 41 about the need to have a broad-based government that was sustainable, with the economic support, and President Bush was wonderful.
Even though the Soviets withdrew, he supported an effort in Congress to get Pakistan substantive military and economic assistance to help us cope with the fallout of the Afghan situation.
But then my government was undermined and dismissed by the president as part of the destabilization by the hard-liners. And that aid package, which President Bush Number 41 had been willing to give, just was lost in the inability of Islamabad to keep the interest of Washington in our region.
RUSSERT: The ISI, the Pakistan equivalent of the CIA, was very instrumental in creating and supporting the Taliban, correct?
BHUTTO: Well, the ISI denied to me that they had created them. But the Taliban did come out, and the ISI and my government did own them. But at that time, the Taliban were very different. They promised peace as opposed to war with the world.
Secondly, they were confined to Kandahar and did not go to Kabul. They entered into negotiation with the Northern Alliance, and were prepared to deal with them.
Most importantly, the Taliban in my time, did not allow Osama bin Laden to use their territory as a base for Al Qaeda against the rest of the world.
RUSSERT: Knowing what you know about Afghanistan, do you think that it will be possible for the U.S. military to successfully go into Afghanistan and capture him?
BHUTTO: Well, I'm not a military person, and I'm unable to comment directly. But I do feel that there is a lot of local opposition to the Taliban, and that that local opposition is in a position to take sizable parts of the country. And if they do, I feel that the U.S. commando units would have a base within Afghanistan, as well as intelligence that comes more directly from the field, and could launch a successful operation to arrest all the prime suspects.
RUSSERT: Don't you think the ISI in Pakistan has a pretty good idea where Osama bin Laden is?
BHUTTO: Well, it's difficult to say. There were certainly elements within the security authorities who had sympathies, and perhaps some of them are still there and could know.
But I do think that, as prime minister of Pakistan, I was able to get a lot of information from my political sources and that such information should be available in Pakistan. Pakistan is very close to Afghanistan and knows quite a bit.
RUSSERT: Let me show you something that you wrote about militancy in the Arab and Muslim world. And I'll put it on the screen.
``Militancy in the ranks of Muslims is as much a threat to Islamic societies in the world as it is to Western values. Sadly, there is little concern in the Islamic countries to address the problem. We are yet to come to grips with what prompts a Muslim to become a radical, embrace violence and give up his life.
RUSSERT: We are yet to come together in guiding young aggrieved Muslims on the responses possible as meaningful and acceptable forms of protest.''
We have reported on this program and throughout the American media on the madrasas, the schools in Pakistan that preach violence and hate to young people.
How do we, the Western world, and responsible Muslim leaders get into the hearts and minds of the millions and millions of young Muslim children and tell them there is a competing destiny to Osama bin Laden, there is a better way, and that the United States is not evil, it's good, and democracy is healthy and something to be imitated?
BHUTTO: Well, as far as the Muslim world is concerned, there is a very big debate on our own future. There are those who would say that to defend Islamic values is to adopt terror and to have a clash of civilizations. But there are others like myself who believe that the message of Islam is of peace and it is our duty to build peace, and that we should look for a dialog between civilization rather than a conflict.
Now, a lot of this also spins on dictatorship versus democracy. Osama bin Laden piggybacks on the Palestinian cause, Kashmir, other areas where Muslims feel aggrieved. But he wants a theocracy, he wants a dictatorship and tyranny.
So it's important within the Muslim world for us Muslim leaders to begin opening up our societies so that social ferment can be controlled.
RUSSERT: Osama bin Laden wants a lot more than the United States out of the Middle East. There are some who suggest he doesn't want Israel to exist. He wants Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt and Morocco all to become extremist Islamic countries. And he would like to control Afghanistan and perhaps even Pakistan--be, in effect, the leader of the Islamic extremist world. Do you agree with that assessment?
BHUTTO: I think that he is certainly interested in imposing--he and his backers are interested in imposing a theocracy and a dictatorship in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other parts of the world.
I wonder about the sincerity of identification with the Kashmiris or the Palestinians. But I do think that the underlying causes of political dissent in the Muslim world are issues which he is trying to successfully exploit.
And once the dust is settled, I think it's important for Muslim countries to consider reform and restructuring, and for the West to try and deal with the issues, such as the recent violence in the Middle East, to take away the underlying causes.
RUSSERT: I want to show you a tape from 28 years ago, almost to the day, September 23, 1973, another Bhutto who you knew well, appearing on this program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNKNOWN): What would you suggest should be done in the case of the Middle East to try to reduce that area of hostility to a more manageable situation?
ZULFIKAR ALI BHUTTO: Ms. Frederick (ph), it's all very well to indulge in semantic expressions. We have burnt our fingers badly in our own subcontinent, and we are concentrating all our efforts on trying to find a new equilibrium in our part of the world.
All I can tell you is that we would be extremely happy if some solution is found to the impasse of the Middle East. It will lessen our burdens considerably and cause us great satisfaction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RUSSERT: Seven years later, your dad was hanged.
BHUTTO: Yes, that's right. That's right.
RUSSERT: But he acknowledges that he burned his fingers and so did a lot of countries there. But a solution to peace in the Middle East and perhaps throughout the world would help bring peace to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
BHUTTO: That's right. And I'm glad President Bush has done--taken two measures: One, the aspect of dropping food to show that the American people want to help the poverty and the poor people of the Muslim countries. And second, his vision for a Middle East settlement, which he has outlined. I think that's important.
RUSSERT: Benazir Bhutto, we thank you very much for joining us.