Take bin Laden `dead or alive,' president says

Bush threatens force against Taliban, warns of casualties

U.S. sharpens rhetoric

Terrorism Strikes America

The Nation

September 18, 2001|By David L. Greene, Mark Matthews and Gail Gibson | David L. Greene, Mark Matthews and Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush said yesterday that he wants Osama bin Laden, the Islamic militant suspected of masterminding last week's terrorist attacks, to be captured "dead or alive."

As Bush considers his military options, which include targeting bin Laden and his Al Qaeda organization, he was asked whether he wanted bin Laden killed.

"I want justice," he replied. "There's an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, `Wanted: Dead or Alive.'"

Many Americans returned to work yesterday, seeking a semblance of normality. A cherished tradition, Major League Baseball, resumed play, and the stock markets reopened. But it was all a backdrop to the intensifying talk of war in Washington.

The president spoke at the Pentagon, where he met with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to discuss the call-up of 35,000 reservists in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Bush has spoken of the likelihood of a war on terrorism that would be led by the United States and that could rage for some time. Yesterday, he warned Americans that this war would probably produce casualties.

"We will win the war, and there will be costs," Bush said.

"The U.S. military," he added, "is ready to defend freedom at any cost."

Holding people accountable

The administration has steadily sharpened its rhetoric toward bid Laden, whom it calls the "prime suspect" responsible for the attacks, as well as toward those who harbor or aid terrorists.

"We're going to hold the people who house [terrorists] accountable," Bush said. "The people who think they can provide them safe havens will be held accountable. The people who feed them will be held accountable. And the Taliban must take my statement seriously."

It was the first time that the president had publicly threatened U.S. military action that would target the Taliban regime in Afghanistan if it refused to surrender bin Laden.

Ari Fleischer, Bush's spokesman, asserted yesterday that a quarter-century-old executive order that bars assassinations "does not limit America's ability to act in its self-defense."

In Afghanistan, several senior Pakistani military officials have been rebuffed in their effort to persuade the Taliban government to turn over bin Laden and some of his associates. Reports yesterday indicated that the Pakistanis had been "severely discouraged" by the response of the Taliban, who set out conditions for giving up bin Laden that seemed impossible to meet.

But the Pakistani officials chose to stay overnight in Afghanistan in hopes of persuading the Taliban to relent.

Room to maneuver

Despite its threatening rhetoric, the Bush administration appears to be giving the Pakistanis room to maneuver. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said that the United States had not set a deadline for the Taliban to hand over bin Laden and that "there will be some communication in the future" between the United States and the Taliban.

Powell indicated that the United States would send its own delegation to Pakistan in coming days but that decisions on who would go and when had not been made.

At a news conference, Powell also touched on one of the difficulties in assembling an anti-terror coalition that would include Arab and Muslim states: the violent conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

"I think we do have to do something about the situation in the Middle East," the secretary of state said. "I carve out part of my day to press and work on that."

While expressing sympathy for the people of Afghanistan, Powell warned them that in a global war on terrorism, "all roads lead to the leader of that organization - and his location is Afghanistan."

`We mean no ill'

His remarks reflected an effort by the Bush administration to prepare Arab and other nations for probable military action.

"We mean no ill" to the people of Afghanistan, Powell said. "They are a suffering people. They are a poor people. And for that reason alone they should not allow these invaders to put their society at risk."

The secretary of state has assumed control of a U.S. diplomatic drive to build support for broad actions, including political, economic and military steps, to escalate pressure on the Taliban.

"I am pleased that the coalition is coming together," Powell said. "This challenge is one that went far beyond America, far beyond New York City and far beyond Washington."

Domestic security

As part of the expanding U.S. campaign to target terrorism and track down elusive terrorist networks, Attorney General John Ashcroft urged Congress to approve by the end of the week legislation to expand the government's wire-tapping authority.

Ashcroft also said the government would sharply boost the number of federal agents who fly commercial airliners as air marshals.

"We need these tools to fight the terrorism threat which exists in the United States, and we must meet that growing threat," he said.

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