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Attorney General Transcript

News Conference with German Interior Minister Otto Schily
Berlin, Germany
December 14, 2001

Moderator: Good morning, welcome to the press conference. The two ministers will give you a short readout of their meeting and then they will take a few questions.

Minister Schily: Ladies and gentlemen, we were very pleased and happy that John Ashcroft, the U.S. Attorney General, was able to visit us today. We had a very intensive and constructive discussion, we are both mutually thankful for the close and friendly cooperation between the security agencies of our two countries. We share the conviction that we must do everything we can to ensure that crimes like those that took place in New York and Washington will not be repeated, that we must also do everything we can to identify and to bring to trial the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, and that we must do everything we can to break up this terrorist network and that all appropriate means are used to achieve that end.

I informed my counterpart Mr. Ashcroft regarding the legal measures that we are taking, measures we will be discussing today in parliament, and regarding other measures of an administrative nature that we implemented after 11 September. But I also pointed out that the problem of international terrorism was not recognized only on 11 September, but that we have been confronted with this threat in the past, too, and that we also implemented measures in the past to counter the threat.

But we both share the conviction that what happened on 11 September demonstrates the depth and extent of the threat. We talked briefly about the video which has been broadcast on television and which demonstrates in the person of Bin Laden a depravity, a moral depravity, of a kind that really is quite beyond human understanding.

We also of share the conviction that what happened, especially in New York, was not just an attack on the United States of America, but an attack on all of civilized mankind, something that was reflected in the fact that the victims who died in the attack on the World Trade Center came from more than 80 nations.

And for Germany, New York has always been a symbol of freedom and democracy. We cannot forget that New York has always been a goal for people fleeing from totalitarian regimes. It is a symbol of freedom and democracy, and for that reason what these criminals have perpetrated is a direct attack on the ideals that bind America and Germany together, and that is why our common efforts in the fight against international terrorism not only are self-evident testimony to the close and unshakeable friendship between our two countries, but are also in our own, most fundamental interest.

We are also of the opinion that the fight against international terrorism will be successful only if it is a common fight, that it cannot be waged in isolation, and that in this respect we must coordinate with each other the measures we take, of course in adherence with our differing legal systems and differing legal traditions.

Attorney General Ashcroft: Thank you very much, Minister Schily. I am honored to be with you and thank you for making time to visit with me, particularly on a busy day, when you will be in the Bundestag later on, explaining new approaches and improved capacity to confront the international challenges of terrorism. I am honored and I am very pleased that you came to Washington, D.C. to express the eagerness of the German people and the government of Germany to be effective in combating international terrorism as it seeks to destroy the freedoms which both the German people and the people of the United States of America so highly cherish.

Terrorism is not directed against any single nation; it is directed at civilization itself. The network of terrorists is worldwide. As Minister Schily has so compellingly stated, the attacks in New York were attacks of savage intensity against the entirety of the civilized world. 86 different nations are among those whose citizens were killed in these attacks. In the United States, we are engaged in a deliberate effort to disrupt terrorists through tighter security around potential targets, through notices and alerts to the public, and a preventative campaign of arresting and detaining violators of the law with the single goal: We want to save innocent lives. But for us to succeed we need the help and cooperation of the international community. We cannot do it alone because we know that terrorism is an international phenomenon. 4,000 agents of the Bureau of Federal Investigation are engaged with their international counterparts in an unprecedented world-wide effort to detect and disrupt and dismantle terrorist organizations.

In October, in conjunction with the State Department, we published a list of most wanted terrorists as a part of our world-wide assault on terror. It listed 22 known terrorists who are responsible for many of the most brutal attacks committed against civilization and particularly against United States citizens and citizens of other countries. Most of these acts did not occur on the soil of the United States, but these 22 individuals responsible for these attacks are enemies of all nations.

I am particularly grateful to the assistance of Germany, and to the assistance of Minister Otto Schily, for his help to the United States and his visit on October the 23rd – it was a very productive meeting that we held in the Department of Justice. We are grateful for Germany's efforts regarding the investigation of 11 September. I commend Germany for its actions to provide greater opportunity to detect and disrupt terrorism through a better framework of laws in Germany. As you well know, in the United States we were confronted with the need to upgrade our capacity legislatively as well.

Germany is also participating in the European Union's efforts to assist in disrupting and combating terrorism through various initiatives, including further enhancing police and judicial cooperation, developing legal instruments that will assist on an international basis, and the effort to disrupt the funding and the financial resources of terrorism. The United States appreciates the access that you have given us to information developed in the investigations here and for the opportunity for us to conduct investigations as well. We look forward to working closely with Germany and with German officials to cut off funding sources that sustain international terrorism and to restore the capacity of civilized nations to provide a greater and more secure environment of freedom in which liberty flourishes. I thank you very much and I'm grateful for having this opportunity to be together again. Thank you.

Moderator: So, thank you very much, we have time for three of four questions. Go ahead...

QUESTION: Two things, Mr. Ashcroft. In the United States have been hundreds of people detained, whereas in Germany so far, where the plotters of the 11 September attacks lived for years, there has only been one arrest. Can you comment on the German investigation here, and also it is said that the leads in the United States now have been pretty much exhausted. Does your trip here to Europe -- particularly to Spain, and next to Italy and here to Germany -- signify that Europe is now becoming the focal point of this investigation?

Attorney General Ashcroft: Let me address the last question first: My trip here is to express my appreciation for the outstanding cooperation of this great nation and other nations in helping us confront international terrorism. And we believe their activities have been most responsible and most helpful and we are grateful, and that 's the reason I am here. This is a cooperation which is valuable and productive and we think most responsible. First question again remind me of it…

Question: That simply answers that also, what do you think of the quality of the German investigation?

Attorney General Ashcroft: We are very pleased with the actions taken by the Germans. We have detained individuals in the United States, but only individuals that are known violators of the law, people whose status can be characterized as illegal, or undocumented, or having been violators of the law.

Minister Schily: If I may comment briefly on this. Indeed, we have been able to conduct one arrest, and there are more warrants that have been issued but unfortunately it has not been possible to implement them. We can issue an arrest warrant only in accordance with our rules, when there is appropriate reason to suspect that a crime has been committed, when the suspicion is supported by the investigations. But, quite apart from that, we also have of course a number of cases in which the legal status here is uncertain. In these cases, it is also possible that the persons in question -- and it is not a small number of persons at all -- will be remanded pending deportation. And it is quite possible that the cases to which you referred in your question are also ones which have been resulted in imprisonment in the United States of America on the same basis.

Moderator: Any more questions? None?

Question: You mentioned the differing legal norms and traditions that apply in the prosecutions. Does that mean that you also talked about the German position on military tribunals?

Minister Schily: We did talk about this question as well, but I believe it is more of a theoretical possibility of applying this option, which has been created in the United States of America. Mr. Ashcroft explained it to me, but I don't think we have to go into details here.

Question: (inaudible) (Translator: The question was whether Mr. Moussaoui, who is a French citizen, whether he would be extradited to the United States and …)

Attorney General Ashcroft: Mr. Moussaoui is in the United States now. He is in custody in the United States and has been charged in the United States with six counts of conspiracy, relating from conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy, to conspiracy to commit international acts of terrorism, to conspiracy to murder American citizens, conspiracy to destroy aircraft. These six different counts are pending counts against him in the Eastern District of the Federal Court System in the United States. So, we don't need to extradite him, he is already in custody in the United States and has been in the United States for quite some time.

Question: There is a gentleman, Mr. Motassadeq, who is in custody here, who is accused of participating and planning in preparation of the 11 September events. Is that someone that you would like to try in the United States and has Germany expressed any concerns about him facing a potential death penalty?

Attorney General Ashcroft: I just might indicate that we did not discuss individuals that are in German custody today and are not in a position to do so at this time.

QUESTION: Have they in the past discussed a concern about that?

Minister Schily: In the past there was one case in which we deported a person from Bin Laden's entourage to America. That was an arrest in Bavaria and there was a deportation to the United States of America.

Moderator: Final question.

Question: You are also here to talk about to stop financing of the terrorists. Are there any indications that the terrorists are financed through Germany?

Attorney General Ashcroft: The mechanisms for financing are world-wide. Nothing flows quite as freely around the globe as capital does, and it's very important that we choke off the life blood of financing to the terrorist movement, and that's something that we need the cooperation of every nation to achieve. If we choke off at many different points but we don't conclude the last point, the flows simply go around the blockages, and so it's very important that we have cooperation that is comprehensive. The German effort has not only been commendable, but it has been an effort of leadership in this respect, and we have talked about that with a view toward getting the kind of cooperation internationally that would make our coverage comprehensive and allow us to achieve the ultimate success that's appropriate.

Minister Schily: Thank you very much.

Attorney General Ashcroft: Thank you. (end text)