FTN - 12/9/01

face the nation logo, 2009

BOB SCHIEFFER: Today on Face the Nation, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff talks about the hunt for Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

United States is bombing cave and tunnel complexes in Eastern Afghanistan as anti-Taliban warriors fight supporters of Al Qaeda. Could Omar and Osama bin Laden have escaped? What is the situation now in Kandahar? And what should happen to John Walker, the American who fought with the Taliban? All questions for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers.

Should the United States go after Iraq next? Well, Senator John McCain thinks so, and we'll ask him why in the second part of our broadcast.

Gloria Borger will be here, and I'll have a final word on Pearl Harbor. But, first, General Myers on Face the Nation.

Good morning again. And with us here in the studio, General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

General Myers, thank you very much.

GEN. RICHARED MYERS, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: Good morning, Bob.

SCHIEFFER: It's a pleasure to have you this morning.

MYERS: Nice to be here. Thank you.

SCHIEFFER: Mohammed Amin, who says he speaks for the anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan, reports this morning that Osama bin Laden himself has taken command of a force of a thousand men in the eastern region of Afghanistan. Do you put any credibility in that?

MYERS: Well, you know, coming up with the ground truth in Afghanistan has always been difficult. In previous statements by the Taliban, I think, have been discredited over time. So you've got to be very careful with assuming what they say is the truth.

But clearly our objectives are not--we've not strayed from our objectives of eradicating the Al Qaeda network, not just in Afghanistan but worldwide, and also insuring that the Taliban are not effective in harboring terrorists there in Afghanistan.

SCHIEFFER: Well, do you--what is your latest information on where Osama bin Laden is?

MYERS: Well, let me just caution again that bin Laden is not the target; it is the network, his Al Qaeda network. Clearly he's part of that network, but he's not the sole target.

As I've said many times, if we capture bin Laden this afternoon, our time, things will not be over. This is going to be--our mission is to destroy the whole network.

Our latest information is, and has been for some time, that he's in this area, the so-called Tora Bora area. And they're in the hills with some other Al Qaeda fighters, and they are fighting fiercely against opposition forces, some of our forces and some of our air attacks, trying to survive.

GLORIA BORGER, U.S. News & World Report: Well, there are reports this morning that U.S. planes are joining these Afghan fighters and hunting for Osama bin Laden literally in the woods. Can you confirm that then?

MYERS: Well, for a long time, we've been working with the oppositiogroups, and there are opposition groups right now that are working in the Tora Bora area. Very fierce fighting, they are fighting against the Al Qaeda, we know that. We know that the Al Qaeda forces are relatively large in number just because of the ferocity of the fighting. And we are supporting them like we have supported the opposition groups in the north and in the south.

BORGER: What about the reports that he may have fled to Pakistan?

MYERS: Well, I think we'll continue to get reports like that. That border is a long border. There are many ways to get across it either on foot, vehicular traffic, as well. And we've gotten help from the Pakistani military to try to prevent that, and we're trying to prevent that as well. The thought that we can do that with 100 percent surety, of course, would not be right. There's, there's, there is always that chance.

But as I've said before, if he does leave Afghanistan, he will be in the second most favorite country. He's obviously very, has been very comfortable in Afghanistan. As the support for him wanes for him there, then, then he may want to leave. If he does, we're going to follow him and the rest of his leadership wherever they go.

SCHIEFFER: Well, is what you're saying is, he's going to have a hard time finding a home someplace else?

MYERS: Well, I think it's harder and harder. I think the message probably, we hope the message is clear to those that harbor terrorists that this is not a strategy that's going to pay dividends in the long run. And that's certainly one of the lessons of this first phase, first military phase of our war on terrorism; that if you want to harbor terrorists there will be consequences.

SCHIEFFER: Do you, General, feel that you have broken the back of the Taliban? Are they still a fighting force of any significance?

MYERS: Well, again, we think we've made some progress. We think that obviously politically they're not much of a force.

Whether we've broken the back yet, I think probably too early to say that, although we've come--we're coming closer day by day. They're certainly in disarray. For some time they've had trouble marshaling their forces in a way that has been significant, although there are a lot of Taliban fighters left, both...

SCHIEFFER: Let me just interrupt you here, because I've just been told something, and this is bulletin material. I've just been told that one of the wire services has moved a report that British forces, if I'm understand--correct me, back there, if I've got this wrong--that British forces say they've captured Osama--no? I see. All right.

Take back the bulletin.


SCHIEFFER: The wire says that British forces say, if they capture Osama bin Laden, they will only turn him over to the United States if they are assured that he will not face the death penalty.

Do you know anything about that?

MYERS: No, I've nevr heard that before. And of course we've consistently said we want to bring the Al Qaeda leadership to justice. And I don't think anything has been ruled out at this point.

BORGER: Well, do you want to try Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar because you want a certain outcome? Would you prefer that than, say, having the Afghans try them?

MYERS: Well, I think--that's clearly not a military decision. Our job is to find them.

BORGER: Right.

MYERS: Our mission remains consistent, to try to find all the leadership and to get the intelligence we can get.

This network is very, very large. It's not just Afghanistan, as we've said many times.

The leadership of Al Qaeda is in over 60 countries, to include this country.

So, first step is to get the leadership. Second step is to decide what to do with them. But certainly the United States wants to be involved in that.

SCHIEFFER: General, The Washington Post reported this morning, other news agencies including CBS News Pentagon Correspondent David Martin have also confirmed, that there is some sort of videotape that has been captured by the United States. And it shows Osama bin Laden talking about the attacks on the Trade Towers. And at one point, he even says that--he says, oh, it's better than we thought it was going to be, or words to that effect.

Have you seen that tape? Can you tell us anything about that?

MYERS: I have seen segments of that tape, some of which weren't completely translated.

And I think that work, since I've seen the tape, has been ongoing to see what intelligence we can glean from the tape. And then I know that the national command authorities are discussing the tape and its intelligence value and whether or not to release it.

SCHIEFFER: Now, David Martin says one reason that it has not been released is that there was some concern it might contain signals, that it might have been used to signal Osama bin Laden's people of something or other. Do you know anything about that?

MYERS: I would just leave that to the intelligence folks. I would rather not speculate on that. I don't know that for a fact.

BORGER: Can you tell us, though, what was Osama bin Laden's demeanor on this tape? How would you describe it?

MYERS: Well, I'm almost afraid to go into that too much, but I will use a couple of words. He was relaxed, and--let me just--it was obviously, from my view, anyway, the few segments that I saw, it was conducted like it was a private conversation.

SCHIEFFER: Talk about his demeanor in general. This is a man who was very happy to send young people on suicide missions, yet he seems to have gone in hiding when the tough got going--when the going got tough.

What kind of a commander do you think he is?

MYERS: Well, he certainly wouldn't qualify for command of any U.S. unit. You know, we want our leaders to be out front, and thehave been. And he does not appear to be that kind of leader. He's one that prefers the others do the fighting, and he does the rhetoric piece of that. And so I would say it's pretty poor commandership, from our viewpoint.

SCHIEFFER: What's the state of things in the city of Kandahar right now?

MYERS: Still a lot of confusion. You know, there are reports that the Taliban control there has broken down. We think it has to a great extent, but there is still a lot of confusion and there probably will be for several days to come.

It's not over there. There are still a substantial number of Taliban fighters there, to include foreign fighters fighting for the Taliban.

And our main purpose right now, and our main goal, is to ensure that any of the foreign fighters or Taliban that try to escape, that we can interdict them and capture those we want and interrogate them and so forth. And that's one of the main missions that our U.S. Marines have that are in the vicinity of Kandahar right now.

BORGER: Would you say that it's pretty chaotic right there on the ground right now and dangerous?

MYERS: Oh, absolutely. Well, you can almost say that about the entire country.

But certainly in the Kandahar region it's very chaotic. It's very dangerous.

SCHIEFFER: It's my understanding that some fairly senior Taliban people were arrested or have been taken into custody, some ministers, some generals. Have U.S. forces had access to them as yet?

MYERS: In some cases yes, and in some cases not yet. But we're working that as we speak. Obviously, we want access to the people. Some of these people, we want to interrogate for the intelligence benefit that we'll gain from that and some we may want to keep. So we're working that issue as we speak.

BORGER: Can we talk a little bit about John Walker, the American who is now in your custody who fought with the Taliban. Do you believe that he committed treason?

MYERS: Well, I think it's too early to say exactly what he did. We know he was with the Taliban. He was with the last group of fighters in Mazar-i-Sharif. We know he was armed.

Right now he is in control of the United States, he's at this forward operating base we call Rhino. He's under the control of the U.S. Marines. He has been given medical care.

And we are treating him as if he would come under the Geneva Convention, although we have not declared that he is a prisoner of war. He is a detainee officially. And we're trying to give him all the care and rights that he would have if he were. And his final disposition or the next step is still being debated.

BORGER: Are you debriefing him now, and is he cooperating?

MYERS: We are debriefing him. Obviously, he would have some information that would be of great intelligence value that might help protect our troops that are engaged there and our coalition partners that are engaged there. That's exactl what we're looking for.

SCHIEFFER: Well, is he cooperating?

MYERS: He has been, as I understand it. He has been reasonably cooperative and talkative.

SCHIEFFER: General, in the beginning people talked a lot about, with winter coming on, that literally hundreds of thousands of people could starve in Afghanistan. We haven't heard much about that lately. What is the situation there, and what will the United States do about it?

MYERS: Well, I'm not the expert on it. I don't think the military is the expert on that.

But early on in this campaign, it was General Franks who said, you know, as we start the campaign in Afghanistan, we've got to help with the humanitarian piece of that. And so very early on, right after the initial bombings, we started dropping the humanitarian rations. That continues today. That's being evaluated.

It looks like this bridge down from Uzbekistan will open shortly, if it hasn't already, so we can start using ground transportation to bring in the supplies.

I would say the situation in my understanding of it is still dire in some parts of the country. And it's something we have to, and have been from the beginning, continue to work. It's very important part of our strategy.

SCHIEFFER: General, I want to thank you very much. It's a pleasure to have you, and good luck down the road. Hope you'll come back.

MYERS: Bob, thank you very much. Thank you for the opportunity. Absolutely.


When we come back, we'll talk with Senator John McCain who thinks it may be time to move on Iraq, in a minute.


SCHIEFFER: Now, with another perspective on all of this, from Phoenix, Arizona, Senator John McCain.

Senator McCain, welcome.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN, R-Arizona: Thank you.

SCHIEFFER: I want to get right to it here.

You and a number of other senators, mostly Republicans, but along with Democrat Joe Lieberman and I think Congressman Harold Ford, Jr., have sent a letter to the administration urging the next target to be Iraq. You said, and here's a quote from the letter, "We believe we must directly confront Saddam Hussein sooner rather than later."

Two questions. First, what are you talking about? Are you talking about invading Iraq, or are you talking about something else?

McCAIN: I think we're talking about addressing the issue.

As you know, several years ago, we passed a bill that Senator Lieberman and I and others sponsored that called for assisting the internal and external opposition to Saddam Hussein and doing everything we can to overthrow him.

I think that the strategy and the specific tactics would be left to people like your previous guest.

But what I think we're trying to say is that Saddam Hussein presents a clear and present danger to the United States of America. We know he is acquiring weapons of mass destruction. We know he has hacontact with terrorist organizations. We know he has violated the terms of his--the cease-fire agreement of 1991. And recent defectors indicate that he has accelerated his efforts, particularly the acquisition of biological weapons. So he must be addressed.

I would suggest the first thing, as the president has already said, demand the return of the inspectors. And provide real assistance to this internal opposition.

Can they succeed? We don't know, because we've never really given, neither the last administration nor sadly this administration, have given them the assistance that I think they need, to find out whether they are viable or not.

SCHIEFFER: Well, let's say that Saddam Hussein, and there seems every indication that he's going to, if he rejects that idea to let the inspectors come back in, then what do we do?

McCAIN: Then I think, as I said, we continue--or start to give real assistance to the internal opposition.

And then I think we examine our options. Whether that's a direct military invasion, whether that's a bombing campaign, whether that's a number of other options, I think will be explored by the administration.

But I think it's got to be a step-by-step kind of a scenario, because clearly we're going to send young Americans, again, into harm's way.

BORGER: Well, Senator, don't you worry that, if we did get into that kind of an armed conflict against Iraq, that it could explode in the Middle East, that Iraq could attack Israel, say, for example, and then we'd have a larger problem on our hands?

McCAIN: That's always been, frankly, a nightmare scenario I've had, a biological weapon on a Scud missile aimed at Israel and Saddam Hussein making certain demands. I think that that's a real problem.

Also maintaining the support or at least the acquiescence of other countries in the region would be difficult.

But I think the alternative is to sit by and watch Saddam Hussein cause millions of his own people to starve, which is sad in itself. But most importantly and most dramatically, is that it's a matter of time before he acquires this capability. And the longer we delay, the more likely we're faced with one of these nightmare scenarios which could entail casualties of enormous proportions, and, again, a direct threat to the security of the United States of America.

SCHIEFFER: Senator McCain, you heard General Myers just now talk a little bit about this John Walker, this American who was arrested apparently or captured apparently fighting with the Taliban.

What ought to be done with him?

McCAIN: I think this is one of the more difficult issues that we're going to face, because Americans obviously will be very, very concerned about a situation where a person takes up arms against his country. That fits the definition of treason. And so--and yet at the same time he's 20 years old, probably brainwashed, et cetera.

So I think that the administraton is looking at this very carefully. I think we should be guided by a lot of their decisions. But I think it's hard to escape the fact that he was fighting against his country and, at least indirectly, against his countrymen. And that's a very tough thing for us to swallow.

BORGER: Senator, let's turn to another subject now, which is the question of these secret military tribunals, which has grown quite controversial.

And this week the attorney general, Ashcroft, told a congressional hearing, and I quote, "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists."

How do you respond to that?

McCAIN: Well, I was pleased the attorney general, I believe, yesterday said he did not intend those remarks to question or impugn anyone's patriotism, and I think that was an important comment.

Congress does have an oversight role. We're trying to balance our oversight responsibilities with the fact that we are in a war, in a very unique kind of conflict.

And I'm proud of the way that the Congress has supported the president and the prosecution of this conflict.

The Congress does have oversight responsibilities. I believe they should be exercised.

And I think a lot of these concerns about the military tribunals can be resolved once we see in exact detail exactly how these procedures are going to be carried out. I think there is a great deal of uncertainty about exactly what the procedures and who will be eligible or ineligible, that kind of situation. I think they can be resolved in the future.

But I think none of us would, in any way, want the oversight responsibilities of the Congress to be abrogated. And those responsibilities, by the way, were carried out to a great extent during World War II.

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you about something else the attorney general said, because he confirmed that he had told FBI agents that, as they're looking for these terrorists, he told them they couldn't look into background checks that had been conducted on people who purchased guns at gun shows and other places. I assume that he means that what concerns him is that it invades people's privacy. But the administration has taken a lot of other steps to track down the terrorists.

Were you surprised to hear the attorney general say that, and what do you think of that?

McCAIN: Well, I think, as you say, we've taken very unusual steps. I think that every effort should be made to ascertain whether terrorists are obtaining weapons no matter where they are.

There have been people who are already convicted who were terrorists who were using the gun show loophole.

I think we have to use every constitutional tool that we have to track these people down. And that includes, in my view, if there is a necessity to find out whether terrorists or would-be terrorists are obtaining weapons in the United States.

SCHIEFFER: So if yohad to change the law to make that possible--first, do you think would you have to change the law to let them check those records, or do you think they could under the law?

McCAIN: My reading of the legislation is we do not have to change the law.

SCHIEFFER: All right.

Senator McCain, thank you so much for being with us the morning.

McCAIN: Thank you.

SCHIEFFER: We'll be back with a final word in just a minute.


SCHIEFFER: Finally today, I was four years old, so I can't remember Pearl Harbor, but I do remember the day that Franklin Roosevelt died.

I was riding on my mother's grocery cart at the grocery store. When we got to the checkout counter, everybody was crying. And when my mother told me why, she began to cry, so I cried, too.

I can also remember the war years, when sugar and gasoline were rationed, and we ate margarine because there was no butter. And I remember going to three different schools in the first grade and moving back and forth to my grandmother's house as we waited for my dad to be drafted.

It turned our lives upside down, but I can't ever remember my parents talking about doing something heroic. It was just something that had to be done, and we were all in it together, and so they did it.

I guess that's why I've never been very comfortable with President Bush's admonition that the best way to fight the terrorists is to go shopping. I understand his logic, but there wasn't much to buy in World War II. It was the shared sacrifice of making do with very little that got us through that.

So I will do my duty this Christmas season and go shopping, but I will also remember Pearl Harbor and my father and mother and how they endured, first because I love them, but also because it helps me to understand what we are really capable of as a people when we all work together.

If we should ever forget what they did, we will risk forgetting what we can do. And only then will the terrorists win.

Remember Pearl Harbor.

That's it for us. We'll we see you right here next week on Face the Nation.

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