U.S. attorney general challenged on terror roots
By Mark Trevelyan
Reuters - January 24, 2003
DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft,
declaring that terrorists must not be appeased, has rejected suggestions
that Washington should do more to understand and address their motives.
Ashcroft rebuffed Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on an issue
that is fundamental to the U.S.-led global war on terrorism in the wake
of the September 11 attacks.
In debate at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Friday, the veteran
Malaysian leader stressed the need to avoid fuelling the anger of
militants, while the American emphasised prevention through improved
security, intelligence and communications.
Mahathir explored the motives of the 19 mostly Saudi nationals who
hijacked airliners on September 11, 2001 and slammed them into the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon in attacks Washington blames on Osama bin
Laden's al Qaeda network.
"They did it because they were incensed over something, and we have to
find out why they are so motivated to do these horrible things," Mahathir
"And if we understand what moves them, we should try our best not to
amplify that, not to create other situations which would anger them some
more, and lead more people perhaps to join them and commit acts of
Ashcroft replied: "Terrorism is an attack on the rule of law.
"When you say you've got to find out what angers the terrorists and then
downplay that, you've got to be careful that you don't say 'if the rule
of law angers the terrorists, we have to downplay the rule of law', or
'if freedom angers the terrorists, we have to downplay freedom.'"
He added: "I'm not willing to say that in order to avoid terrorism, we
have to give up values that are fundamental, and downplay them to appease
Civil liberties groups have accused Washington of compromising such
values in its war on terror, including by detaining hundreds of people
without trial in the United States.
Ashcroft said those detained had access to their relatives and lawyers.
He defended U.S. policy, which he said had shifted from prosecution to
prevention in response to the September 11-style threat from attackers
who were willing to sacrifice their lives.
Arab business leaders and officials at the forum complained bitterly at
what one Bahraini delegate called "racial profiling" by U.S. immigration
authorities under a law requiring the fingerprinting of visitors from
more than 20 mainly Arab and Muslim countries.
Ashcroft said the war on terror commanded wide political support but
President George W. Bush would not allow its course to be determined by
electoral calculations ahead of his expected bid next year to win a
"President Bush of the United States of America will not measure what he
does based on the politics of the year 2004," he said.