ATLANTA (BP)–The struggle the United States faces against terrorism in the 21st century is a struggle of ideologies, President Bush said, and those who plot to murder innocent people subscribe to a hateful, twisted view of Islam.
During his fourth address in a series of speeches on the global war on terror, Bush delivered a progress report Sept. 7 in Atlanta, outlining steps the government has taken since Sept. 11, 2001, to protect the American people and to win the war on terror.
The same day, a major milestone was reached on Iraq’s road to sustained democracy as coalition forces handed over control of Iraq’s armed forces command to Iraq’s prime minister, who now will act as the Iraqi commander-in-chief.
In Atlanta, Bush said struggles like the one in Iraq are not without purpose.
“Five years after 9/11, are we safer? The answer is, yes, America is safer,” the president said. “We are safer because we’ve taken action to protect the homeland. We are safer because we are on offense against our enemies overseas. We’re safer because of the skill and sacrifice of the brave Americans who defend our people. Yet five years after 9/11, America still faces determined enemies, and we will not be safe until those enemies are finally defeated.”
Bush described in detail four key stages of the Sept. 11 plot, the gaps in U.S. defenses that each stage exposed and the ways the government has since addressed those gaps to make the country safer.
“The war on terror is more than a military conflict — it is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century. And we’re only in its opening stages,” Bush said. “To win this struggle, we have to defeat the ideology of the terrorists with a more hopeful vision. So a central element in our strategy is the freedom agenda. We know from history that free nations are peaceful nations. We know that democracies do not attack each other, and that young people growing up in a free and hopeful society are less likely to fall under the sway of radicalism.”
The president expressed optimism that although the battle continues, progress is evident and will continue.
“In the early days after 9/11, I told the American people that this would be a long war — a war that would look different from others we have fought, with difficulties and setbacks along the way,” Bush said. “The past five years have proven that to be true. The past five years have also shown what we can achieve when our nation acts with confidence and resolve and clear purpose.”
In remarks from the East Room of the White House Sept. 6, Bush gave numerous examples of how interrogation methods employed by the Central Intelligence Agency have saved lives by retrieving information from detained al Qaeda operatives.
“To win the war on terror, we must be able to detain, question and, when appropriate, prosecute terrorists captured here in America and on the battlefields around the world,” Bush said. “… We have a right under the laws of war, and we have an obligation to the American people to detain these enemies and stop them from rejoining the battle.”
The president said the terrorists in U.S. custody — especially those held at Guantanamo Bay — “are not common criminals or bystanders accidentally swept up on the battlefield.”
“These are dangerous men with unparalleled knowledge about terrorist networks and their plans for new attacks,” Bush said. “The security of our nation and the lives of our citizens depend on our ability to learn what these terrorists know.”
Several planned attacks on the United States since Sept. 11 have been thwarted because of information provided by key al Qaeda leaders who were captured and questioned by U.S. authorities, the president said.
“By providing everything from initial leads to photo identifications to precise locations of where terrorists were hiding, this program has helped us to take potential mass murderers off the streets before they were able to kill,” Bush said of the interrogation program. “This program has also played a critical role in helping us understand the enemy we face in this war.”
The president also addressed the issue of torture.
“I want to be absolutely clear with our people and the world: The United States does not torture,” he said. “It’s against our laws, and it’s against our values. I have not authorized it, and I will not authorize it.”
Bush also announced Sept. 6 that he was sending Congress legislation to specifically authorize the creation of military commissions to try terrorists for war crimes. He said the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks as well as 13 other terrorists in CIA custody have been transferred to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay and are being held in the custody of the Department of Defense.
“As soon as Congress acts to authorize the military commissions I have proposed, the men our intelligence officials believe orchestrated the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, can face justice,” Bush said.
In a speech delivered Sept. 5 at a meeting of the Military Officers Association of America in Washington, Bush described in the terrorists’ own words what they believe, what they hope to accomplish and how they intend to accomplish it.
“The terrorists who attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001, are men without conscience — but they’re not madmen,” the president said. “They kill in the name of a clear and focused ideology, a set of beliefs that are evil, but not insane. These al Qaeda terrorists and those who share their ideology are violent Sunni extremists. They’re driven by a radical and perverted vision of Islam that rejects tolerance, crushes all dissent and justifies the murder of innocent men, women and children in the pursuit of political power.”
Bush said the terrorists imposed their radical ideology on the people of Afghanistan before U.S. troops stepped in to challenge them, and they used Afghanistan as a “launching pad for horrific attacks against America.”
“The goal of these Sunni extremists is to remake the entire Muslim world in their radical image,” Bush said. “… They reject the possibility of peaceful coexistence with the free world. Again, hear the words of Osama bin Laden earlier this year: ‘Death is better than living on this earth with the unbelievers among us.’”
The radicals have an “uncompromising hostility to freedom,” Bush said, and al Qaeda intends to create numerous operating bases around the world from which to execute new attacks “and advance their vision of a unified, totalitarian Islamic state that can confront and eventually destroy the free world.”
“These violent extremists know that to realize this vision, they must first drive out the main obstacle that stands in their way — the United States of America,” the president said. “… They’re targeting our forces abroad, hoping that the American people will grow tired of casualties and give up the fight.”
Bush said the terrorists believe America is “weak and decadent and lacking in patience and resolve,” as bin Laden said was evidenced in the United States’ reaction to military conflict in Beirut, Somalia and Vietnam.
“But they’ve made clear that the most important front in their struggle against America is Iraq — the nation bin Laden has declared the ‘capital of the Caliphate,’” he said, referring to a violent political utopia. “… For al Qaeda, Iraq is not a distraction from their war on America — it is the central battlefield where the outcome of this struggle will be decided.”
With the transition of control of Iraq’s armed forces command from coalition forces to Iraqi leadership, Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said the Iraqi military responsibilities will be “increasingly conceived and led by Iraqis,” according to the Associated Press.
The transition affects Iraq’s small naval and air forces and the 8th Iraqi Army Division, while the other nine Iraqi divisions remain under U.S. command with the expectation of a gradual transfer.