December 12, 2001
KWAME HOLMAN: Figure-eight-shaped contrails left by American bombers warned al-Qaida fighters an 8:00 A.M. Deadline for surrendering was at hand. The deadline passed and the B-52s resumed bombing the Tora Bora enclaves to flush out al-Qaida forces who may include Osama bin Laden. The foreign fighters in their negotiations with anti-Tailban forces around them then asked to extend the deadline until noon tomorrow. Those foreign fighters mostly are Arabs. They asked to be turned over to a United Nations delegation with diplomats from their home countries present. But the anti-Tailban Eastern Alliance appeared to be having none of it. This leader said he had lost patience with an informal cease-fire and would resume fighting. Alliance forces assembled at this staging area and renewed their advance on al-Qaida fighters in caves dug deep in the distant mountainsides. Journalists were turned back as tribal forces began moving out. The troops are expected to work their way up mountain valleys to the maze of caves and tunnels where the al-Qaida are dug in.
There were reports including one on the Christian Science Monitor's Web site that Osama bin Laden himself may have escaped over the mountains and across the porous border with Pakistan. In the southern part of the country, Afghanistan's interim prime minister, Hamid Karzai, entered the city of Kandahar and took over the abandoned headquarters of Tailban Supreme Leader Mullah Omar. At today's Pentagon briefing in Washington, Marine General Peter Pace and spokesperson Victoria Clarke were questioned about the confusion in eastern Afghanistan over prospects of a surrender.
REPORTER: General, there seems to be a pattern between opposition and al-Qaida and Tailban. We see these talks, negotiations, cease-fires, deadlines come and go. We saw this in Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar. Do you place any stock at all in these type of talks in Tora Bora? Does it have any impact on what the U.S. Military is doing on the ground?
VICTORIA CLARKE, Pentagon Spokeswoman: I'll answer the first part and you can take the second part.
GEN. PETER PACE: Sure.
VICTORIA CLARKE: The first part is, it's just another reflection of what we emphasize all the time. It's a very complex situation on the ground. You're not dealing with set entities or one large group of people on either side. You're dealings with factions within factions, so there are lots of talks and discussions, and some people use the word negotiations and some are more significant than other. But as to what we're really focused on...
GEN. PETER PACE: The mission continues. And it is al-Qaida leadership, Tailban leadership, free the country of terrorists roaming and using it as a sanctuary.
REPORTER: Torie, you mentioned before there was no evidence that Osama bin Laden was out of the country. What supports that?
VICTORIA CLARKE: We haven't seen any evidence that leads us to think that, at the same time while we get reports and information and you might say, well, we think he might be in this region. As we say repeatedly, we do not have pinpoint precision as to his whereabouts. If we did, we would have him.
KWAME HOLMAN: General Pace was asked if the United States is detaining anyone beyond 20-year- old American John Walker, who was among Tailban fighters captured at a fort in northern Afghanistan last month.
GEN. PETER PACE: To my knowledge, the only person we have under our... Battlefield detainee right now is Mr. Walker. And he's at Rhino. The other detainees and prisoners that the opposition forces have captured themselves or who have surrendered to them are still, to my knowledge, under opposition control.
REPORTER: But have we had access to them, and are we talking to any senior people who may be prisoner?
GEN. PETER PACE: We have had access to them, yes, but not all; we have had access to some.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee got an update today from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on the Department's plans to establish military tribunals to try foreign terror suspects. Connecticut Democrat Joseph Lieberman criticized the Bush administration's decision not to try French citizen Zacarias Moussaoui before a military court. Moussaoui was charged yesterday with involvement in the September attacks.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: This guy-- to use the parlance of the regular criminal courts of the United States-- is a big fish. And I fear that the decision to try him in the federal district courts of the United States, with all the rights of evidence and rules of evidence and rights of due process, may let this big fish get away. The other 19 criminals who carried out these acts are dead. We happen to have grabbed this guy, and you know, I don't want the rules of hearsay to be applied to this case. He doesn't deserve the rules of hearsay to be applied to him or any of the other rights that citizens of the United States have when accused of a crime. So I'm troubled, and I wonder... I wonder-- I suppose I have to ask the direct question-- whether the Department of Defense was consulted before the decision was made by the Justice Department to try Zacarias Moussaoui in the federal district courts?
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: We were not, Senator, and so I probably should be careful not to speculate about the considerations. But it does seem to me that presumably the decision by the Justice Department to indict Mr. Moussaoui in a civil court is an indication that they believe that they did not have, for example, the problem that I mentioned of evidence, important evidence that might not be admitted under normal rules of procedure, or the problem of relying on classified evidence, and that they couldn't properly convict this man in a civilian court. Remember, the goal here is... The goal of these military tribunals is to be able to have full and fair trials and defend the United States. And I think there's more than one instrument for achieving that. But the President has made it clear there may be circumstances in which this one is necessary.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: One of the areas that I'm concerned about, and that's about how other countries will see military tribunals, and whether they will look at this as a double standard by the United States. Over the years our government has actively supported the rule of law internationally. We've consistently opposed the military tribunals in other nations because their failure to provide the adequate did you process.
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Senator, I think that's one of the reasons why we want to work out very carefully the kinds of procedures that will make the judgments of any military tribunal, any military commission that we establish, meet a full standard of fairness. I think we will be setting a standard by which other countries will have to be judged and I think it will reinforce our case in objecting to the kinds of abuses that you refer to.
KWAME HOLMAN: Secretary Wolfowitz said the administration has set no deadline for completing the rules of military trials.