Attorney General Ashcroft
Announces the Appointment of the Special Master to Administer the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund November 26, 2001
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Good afternoon. Today I'm announcing an important step in the effort to provide both fair and prompt relief to the victims of the September 11th attacks. That step is the appointment of the special master to administer the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. Congress legislated this fund, which President Bush signed into law. They did so in order to provide assistance to victims and families of those who were physically injured or killed as a result of the terrorist attacks on September the 11th.
While we can never undo the damage that has been done, this fund will assist thousands of individuals and families in rebuilding lives that were shattered by the indiscriminate evil of terrorism.
Kenneth R. Feinberg, a Washington, D.C., attorney specializing in providing relief to victims in mass casualty cases, has agreed to serve as special master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund program. Mr. Feinberg is an experienced legal counselor, prosecutor, manager, and arbitrator. He is a former special counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and a former administrative assistant to Senator Edward Kennedy. Ken served as assistant U.S. attorney in New York City and as special settlement master in the Agent Orange lawsuit.
Today he is an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, at the New York University Law School, and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, as well as other responsibilities.
His appointment as special master is supported by New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; the Senate Majority Leader, Tom Daschle; Senators Hatch, Kennedy, Hagel, Schumer. And like them, I am confident that under his leadership, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund will be administered expeditiously and fairly, and in a manner that is sensitive to the needs of those who have suffered as a result of the attacks of September the 11th.
I commend Ken Feinberg for his volunteering to serve as special master without compensation. His responsibility will be, first and foremost, to see that the neediest of those who were injured by the September 11th terrorist attacks receive relief as soon as possible.
My first instruction to Ken, as special master, is to provide advance payments as quickly as possible to qualifying victims who lost loved ones and are suffering financial hardship, including those so severely injured that they are no longer able to meet the financial needs of their families. These will be partial payments for those who are eligible in order to help families meet their immediate financial needs, while the special master is in the process of determining the final amount of their compensation.
While such advance payments are not mentioned in the statute, I believe that we should do all that we can to help the neediest applicants as soon as possible. For those victims struggling to pay bills and make payments, our message should be today: You are not alone. Help is on the way. We will not allow bureaucratic red tape to injure further those who have already suffered so much at the hands of terrorists.
In addition to ensuring that the neediest victims are helped promptly, Mr. Feinberg's responsibilities as special master will be to disseminate all public information dealing with the Victim Compensation Fund, to develop the manner in which victims can apply for funds, and to oversee the personnel within the program.
I look forward to working with him in the days and the weeks ahead to provide victims and their families the resources they need to heal from the injuries they suffered on September the 11th.
And now I'd like to ask Ken to say a few words. Ken, thank you very much for agreeing to serve.
MR. FEINBERG: Thank you very much, Mr. Attorney General. I just have a few brief comments to make.
First of all, I want to thank the attorney general of the United States for this opportunity -- this honor, this high honor to serve as the special master. I will be reporting to -- directly to the attorney general. I work for the attorney general, and I am very, very excited about the prospect.
I should mention that on the two extensive opportunities that I had to discuss this assignment with the attorney general, it is clear to me that he, the Department of Justice, the administration are determined to make this program work, as he says, fairly, consistently, efficiently, with a view towards helping those in need.
I take on this responsibility with the knowledge that during the past few days, I have worked with the staff of the Department of Justice, focusing on this problem, as well as the staff of others in the administration -- absolutely first rate knowledge of the problems, of the understandings. The Department of Justice staff and administration staff have been just superb in helping me understand the issues that we confront here in the department to make the program work effectively. A few -- that staff, along with my own staff from my firm here in Washington and New York, have made the transition and will make the transition that much easier.
Just a few personal comments about my assignment, and then I'll be finished. Like all Americans, I have been incredibly affected by September 11th, and the needs of people arising out of that disaster on September 11th. Coupled with that is the incredible, unprecedented outpouring of generosity, private and public, from private organizations, private individuals, the Congress of the United States, this administration.
And as difficult as the problems are in addressing the needs of the victims of September 11th, I take great hope and comfort in the fact that the Congress and this administration have demonstrated their absolute commitment to make this program work quickly, simply, efficiently with all that is at my disposal. And that makes the job both challenging, but a lot easier knowing that I've got the attorney general, the department, the administration and the Congress behind me in this effort.
As everybody knows, the statute, the problem that we confront is very, very complex. The statute is complex. The statute that creates this fund is ambiguous in many places. I have wide discretion conferred on me by attorney general to use my judgment in interpreting the statute, construing the statute and trying to make, with the attorney general's help, advice, guidance and support, the tough decisions which I am prepared to make. That's what happens when you take on this assignment.
I do want to say to the claimants, to those who are going to make a claim from this fund, a couple of concluding comments. First, this program will be, to the best that I can do it, simple, efficient and clear. We will treat claimants with similar needs in a similar fashion, in a consistent fashion. And we will try and be as simple in explaining the rules and regulations to those claimants. I will personally see and visit with as many claimants as I can visit with, either directly with them, with their representatives, with organizations that represent them. I am, in a sense, a fiduciary for them. My role is to help them. Just as the attorney general stated a few minutes ago, the role is to help them. Fortunately, the department is available, and the administration and other agencies, available, to help similarly in an effort to get as quick relief as we can to as many eligible people as we can as soon as we can.
So I am honored to serve in this role. It would not be appropriate, in my opinion, to accept any compensation for this, nor would my staff accept any compensation. We're here to help the claimants. And with the undiluted support of the attorney general expressed to me on a couple of occasions, I am sure we will succeed. And thank you, Mr. Attorney General.
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Sir.
Q Attorney General or Mr. Feinberg, as you both know, the Red Cross took a public relations beating because of the way it disbursed or didn't disburse funds specifically collected for this tragedy.
And you also know that appearance counts almost as much as substance, when you're dealing with a program like this. What steps specifically are you going to take to make sure that there is an appearance of fairness, as well as substance in the disbursement of this money?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, as you well know, the department has already gone to work doing some of the preliminary work of developing regulations. Those comments, that would be from the public, are to be received and digested before the final regulations are promulgated.
I think Ken has made it very clear that he wants things to be transparent and simple. And without a premature statement about the final regulations, which we obviously could not make inasmuch as comments are still in the process of being developed and submitted, I will say that we will do whatever we can to promote an understanding of the fairness of the program by making sure that people are treated with equity and fairness, in a context of simplicity which is understandable and transparent.
Ken, you may want to add to that.
MR. FEINBERG: I would just add one other thing. I think it is very important that we reach out to all of these organizations and all of these groups that have expressed an interest in this program, and in other programs, find out what they think, try and gauge their view, make them a part of this process. This is not an adversarial process at all. And I welcome any organization or individual input into how this program can best function.
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Yes?
Q Mr. Attorney General, many of the victims are saying that outside sources that they've received from charities and from other collateral sources should not be subtracted from the federal funds. How will you address that issue, and how will you make the final decision on that?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I think it's pretty clear that we're in the process of developing those regulations. That was really the nature of my previous response. And final decisions -- first of all, Ken's responsibility will be to develop and finalize those regulations. And to make -- to try and make a specific statement about regulations while they're still in formation wouldn't be prudent for us at this time.
Q Does he have to make the final decision on those really tough --
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, his responsibility is to make these decisions. And I've worked hard to choose an individual with experience. He has worked in mass casualty situations before, including Agent Orange, which was one of those very broadly defined situations. And it's that experience and expertise which we anticipate will provide the basis for good decision-making on his part here.
Q Attorney General, are you any closer to charging anyone with planning or conspiring the September 11 attacks?
And what progress, if any, has been made in solving the anthrax cases?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, first of all, I believe that we have been very successful in a number of important ways. America is winning the war on terrorism. We're destroying his base in Afghanistan, al Qaeda's base along with bin Laden's base, been destroying cells overseas, and we've been disrupting the terrorist network in our own country. We've done that with warnings that have been given to the law enforcement community at the national and local level, and to the American public, with a strategy of deliberate terrorist disruption, with tighter security around potential targets in America, and with arrests and detentions that have made America grow stronger, not weaker.
In specifics, the anthrax situation has been the subject of some progress that I think is important. That is, the FBI has determined that they believe all four of the anthrax letters have come from a single individual. And they have developed a profile, which I won't belabor at this point, but it's an individual accustomed to working with toxic and dangerous chemistry. It's an individual who has certain technical skills and capacities, and a variety of other things. And the FBI is following leads, in that respect, which we believe are constructive.
So I believe we're making progress, that we are successful. There will come a time when it will be appropriate for us to make announcements regarding prosecutions. And when that time comes, I think we'll be meeting here to discuss the specifics.
Q There are reports that federal authorities have expressed concern about the possibility of a plot or something involving pipelines or a threat to natural gas pipelines in this country. Have you or the FBI put out any warnings to the energy industry relating to this matter?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, we have a very serious approach to all the strategic assets of the United States. They have been the subject of regular efforts, not just for natural gas, but for nuclear energy, other infrastructural components. Industry representatives and those who have been waging the war of disruption and detection here at the federal level have been in regular communication, and by that -- sometimes in daily, but in multi-week -- multi-communications per week, for a long time.
In addition to that general awareness, when we come on specific information that might be of interest to an industry, we try to pass it along. We try to provide a basis for an evaluation by the industry. There was, maybe 10 days or close to two weeks ago, an uncorroborated report of undetermined reliability about natural gas. Frankly, those are the kinds of reports which we take seriously, but we process and we work to elevate our security to alert the interested industry groups, to alert law enforcement. And our ability to be successful, at least over the last several months, avoiding additional -- additional terrorist attacks, I believe, is a result of that kind of effort. And we're especially always concerned as it relates to things that might have substantial hazard, and some of our energy potentials have substantial hazard.
Q The warning Harry is referring to seems to refer to retaliatory attacks in the event of Osama bin Laden is captured or killed. Do you have credible reason to believe -- credible information to believe that he has given such orders, that if he is captured or killed, that attacks should continue in the United States?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I would just indicate that I don't believe al Qaeda operates on the basis of triggering attacks. It didn't take anything in specific to trigger the attacks on the World Trade Center or on the Pentagon of the United States.
This is an organization motivated by hate. They despise the United States of America and the freedom for which this country stands. That's clear from the videotaped tauntings of Osama bin Laden.
And so we -- we protect with the understanding that we are at risk not based on our activities, but based on their malicious despising of the United States. It's with that in mind that we take seriously these kinds of events, but we evaluate them with some effort to provide the right emphasis to them and regard to them, and we'd obviously share them with appropriate individuals.
Q General, you say the detentions and arrests have made America stronger, not weaker. But there's still so much about those detentions and arrests that is unknown to the public. Are you prepared now, or sometime in the very near future, to lay out how many people have been arrested and detained, what they are being held on, what they've been charged with, and when they will be released?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, we believe that when we have arrested violators of the law that we think have been associated with terrorists, that that is a valuable component of defending the United States of America.
And we have only detained individuals who have been in violation of the law or who have been, by a federal judge, deemed to be a material witness and subject to being held in that respect.
It would be a violation of the privacy rights of individuals for me to create some kind of list of all of them that are being held. They have each had an opportunity to contact legal counsel. They are not being held in secret, but I'm not going to develop some sort of black list of individuals who have been held. We will not, further, provide a list to Osama bin Laden of all the individuals with whom -- about whom he has an interest so that he might know that. If he wants such a list, he'll have to try and assemble it himself. The law properly prevents the department from creating a public black list of detainees that would violate their rights.
Now, having said all that, you asked about whether we are prepared to talk about the numbers of detainees, and this week we will provide an updated list that will give -- without specifics of a so- called list of every detainee, we'll provide the numbers that I believe you're interested in. And the final touches are being developed on that.
Q I have a question, please. Regarding the eight men who were arrested in Spain last week, do U.S. investigators share the theory that they had advanced knowledge of the September 11th attacks? And do you think they should be tried in U.S. courts?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: We were very pleased when our partners in the war against terrorism in Spain sought to disrupt al Qaeda terrorist-type cells operating in Spain. We have noted the fact that some of those involved in the attacks here in the United States had visited Spain and had spent considerable time and energy there. So these are matters of great interest to us, and we commend our friends, not only in Spain, but in a variety of other settings -- the Germans, the French, the English, and others. And I shouldn't have started naming, because I certainly don't want -- I mean, our Canadian friends are at work full time to help us almost all the time, and we're in constant touch with them.
I'm not going to comment about specific prosecutions and where trials should be located. We are interested in the coalition of nations bringing to justice terrorists. It's consistent with our effort, with the responsibility this president has so clearly articulated for all of us here in America, but for freedom-loving nations around the world to root out terrorism and those who support terrorism. And we thank our friends in Spain for the excellent work that they've done.
Thank you very much.