FTN - 8/3/03

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BOB SCHIEFFER, Chief Washington Correspondent: Today on Face the Nation, the administration is warning of another al Qaeda threat. But how serious is it? Last week, U.S. officials warned that al Qaeda may be planning another airplane suicide attack. Is the evidence strong, and what is the state of al Qaeda today?

These are the questions for Attorney General Ashcroft. And then we'll debate gay marriage with Winnie Stachelberg of the Human Rights Campaign on one side and Genevieve Wood of the Family Research Council on the other.

Elaine Shannon of Time Magazine joins in the questioning. And I'll have a final word on the questions we ought to be asking about Iraq.

But first, the attorney general, on Face the Nation.

And we begin this morning with the attorney general, John Ashcroft, who's here in the studio with us. Joining in the questioning this morning, Elaine Shannon of Time Magazine, who covers the Justice Department.

Mr. Attorney General, another threat this morning, a tape from what is purported to be a top al Qaeda official, warning that al Qaeda will strike the United States again if we harm their prisoners in Guantanamo. It's, kind of, and odd kind of threat, but what do you make of that, and do you take it seriously?

JOHN ASHCROFT, Attorney General: We take all threats seriously. We believe that al Qaeda continues to exist, it continues to exist with a passion to injure the United States.

It's an ironic thing that this tape, if it is authentic -- I don't know if authentication has been completed or evaluation -- but to, sort of, say, "If there are anomalies in the adjudication of prisoners' rights, we will somehow strike in protest of the lack of due process of something like that," this is a group that struck to kill 3,000 innocent Americans on one day and has vowed to kill as many Americans as they possibly can.

So to, kind of, say that, "If any of the people who were involved in our effort to kill you are treated in a way that's unsatisfactory to us, we'll try and kill some more of you," is an -- it indicates that they're still interested in killing us. That's something we've known, and we take very seriously.

But this is a group of individuals -- of extremists who have been willing to kill without reason. And these reasons are particularly ironic.

SCHIEFFER: How strong do you think they are now? Are they still operating within the United States, do you believe?

ASHCROFT: We believe that there are individuals who are sympathizers and facilitators who are still operating the United States. This last spring we dealt with an individual named Iman Farris who has since confessed to a variety of activities, including surveillance for follow-on or subsequent attacks. There have been others who have been similarly dealt with in the time frame of the last six months.

SCHIEFFER: Do you know where they are?

ASHCROFT: Well, there are individuals that when we know where they are and when we can develop the right evidence and the right case against them we act against them. And we have.

SCHIEFFER: But you think there are still some more out there? And you think they're still active and their still planning things?

ASHCROFT: Indeed, I do. I wish I were able to say that I don't, but I do.

And I think we want to err on the side of caution.

But we have disrupted the leadership of al Qaeda around the world. There are about 3,000 people who have been disrupted very seriously. And we have disrupted, I think, perhaps more than 100 events in the terrorist stream of activities.

But -- and so they are damaged, and they are disabled at some level, but they are not destroyed. And you have to figure the potential of a desperation factor into the equation too. I think as we do more and more to constrict their activity, I think there is some impetus on their part to reassert. And perhaps part of that statement which was released last night was related to those kinds of emotions.

SCHIEFFER: Let's bring in Elaine.

ELAINE SHANNON, Time Magazine: Earlier this week we've heard about the threat of suicide hijackings and our sources say that even now al Qaeda people may be going around surveilling and casing flights around the world. There are some new restrictions, but there is some chilling language in the joint committee investigation of 9/11, which talks about the United States' inability to intercept certain forms of communications. I think that means e-mail, Internet, long distance, things like that.

Since we don't know all of the people in this country, and we can't intercept their communications, how can we have confidence that the government's doing all it should be doing to protect travelers?

ASHCROFT: Well, you know, the key to security is doing lots of things because you can't do everything completely. So what might get through the process in one area, it might intercept in another.

That's why we have baggage security. That's why we have all these varieties of efforts.

That's why the new rules are going in about transit without visa, which is people who would land in the United States as part of a connecting flight, and take off later. We haven't had the kind of attention to that situation that might detect a plot that we, perhaps, ought to. So we're moving to improve our performance there.

So what you miss in one area, you hope to pick up in another. And, obviously, it's not a perfect science, but we're doing what we can to increase our capacity all the time.

SHANNON: Increase, and you hope, but you can't guarantee, can you, that there won't be another strike here?

ASHCROFT: We cannot guarantee. And, as a matter of fact, as soon as we guaranteed it, we would elevate the chance that it would happen.

SCHIEFFER: Are you close to raising the threat level again?

ASHCROFT: I think what we've done this past week is to say to people, "You ought to be especially alert in a particular area." The kind of information that we were developing reflected that it was not only -- it was redundant. We were getting it on a recurrent basis, and we were getting it in collaborative ways, that indicated that al Qaeda has not forsaken airplanes as a means of inflicting very serious harm as a potential.

And so, while we didn't elevate the risk level or raise the risk level generally, we've said, you know, we think that a special attention ought to be paid in this sector...

SCHIEFFER: So, you're not raising the alert level, but the threat level is increased. That's what your saying?

ASHCROFT: I think we believe that there is a higher level of threat than we needed to address. The interesting thing is that when you raise people's consciousness and you improve your activities -- if you just change your procedures, it disrupts terrorism. So that by raising the awareness of the American people, we literally diminish the risk. That's the reason for raising the level: to diminish the risk.

SHANNON: Do you think people should continue to travel as normal?

ASHCROFT: I'm going to. My wife and I are going to. Our family's going to be in the air, on commercial aviation, this August, as we have while we're in the commercial aviation every month, every year, I guess, have for most of our lives.

SCHIEFFER: Mr. Attorney General, Elaine mentioned the 9/11 report that came out -- that Congress put out. As you know, the most controversial part is the part we don't know about. They excised all this information which was apparently about the Saudis.

Let me just ask you this: Do you have -- as attorney general, do you have information that anyone in the royal family or in the Saudi government knew in advance that 9/11 was coming?

ASHCROFT: Well, let me just say, I'm not going to get into all the information we have...

SCHIEFFER: I understand that, but I'm just asking the specific question.

ASHCROFT: The 9/11 investigation is a continuing investigation. It's not one that's concluded. We believe that we should not reveal parts of the investigation that might be prejudicial to the successful continuity and conclusion of the investigation.

The president wisely, I think, decided that certain parts of the report wouldn't be available because they might impair our ability to do our job well and protect America...

SCHIEFFER: But are you telling you have no comment when I ask you the question, did anyone in the Saudi royal family have information in advance that 9/11 might happen?

ASHCROFT: You know, we are in a continuing investigation. We continue that. I don't mean to suggest in any way that anyone did or did not. We simply...

SCHIEFFER: But you won't answer? You won't comment on that question?

ASHCROFT: You've got that.


ASHCROFT: We don't comment on ongoing investigations. And, in that respect, and won't here.

SCHIEFFER: Well, is that why that this report hasn't been made public?

ASHCROFT: The report hasn't been made public...

SCHIEFFER: Because that might be the case?

ASHCROFT: The report hasn't been made public for the very reasons the president specified: that there is an ongoing investigation, that the sources and methods that are related to the ongoing investigation could tip off individuals that are the subject of the ongoing investigations, in one instance.

And secondly, they could tip off the terrorists about how we conduct our investigations and the kinds of information we are able to generate, so as to make it more difficult for us to apprehend them and more easier for them to evade our detection.


SHANNON: Speaking of sources and methods, one of the reasons that we were given for the going in Iraq was that there was an al Qaeda cell in Baghdad, and that there were jihadist camps in northern Iraq.

We haven't heard very much about those since we've occupied that country, so what can you tell us about what's been found in the relationship between Baghdad and al Qaeda?

ASHCROFT: Well, you know, Iraq has long been understood to be a state sponsor of terrorism. They've been designated that way by administration after administration.

The relationships between the terrorist community and Iraq were well established and developed, including certain camps in northern Iraq.

A lot of interchange across the borders. And as time goes on, I think we've seen additional relationships between individuals involved in Iraq and the al Qaeda organization.

So it's clear to me that Iraq remained, until the very time of its liberation, a source of support and help for the stream of terrorist activity that was not only directed against the Middle East but the United States.

SCHIEFFER: Let me shift quickly to another question. The president talked about gay marriage, the possibility of a constitutional amendment, that he's exploring that.

You're one of his key advisers. Do you think a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage is a good idea?

ASHCROFT: Well, the president has obviously expressed himself in a way that's really consistent with what President Clinton signed in 1996, that said a marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman; 85 members of the Senate voted for that, the president signed it, it was called the Defense of Marriage Act.

SCHIEFFER: Well, do you think that's enough? I mean, I guess that's the question I'm asking.

ASHCROFT: You know, there are a number of factors that are in play right now, and it'll -- including court cases in a variety of jurisdictions.

In the event that those cases would have certain outcomes, there may be additional things that should be done at the federal level, and we are examining those potentials in the Justice Department.

SCHIEFFER: OK, we'll let it go at that. Thank you, Mr. Attorney General.

ASHCROFT: Thank you.

SCHIEFFER: Back in a minute to talk about that very thing, the political battle over gay marriage, in a minute.


SCHIEFFER: And now we come to the subject that, sort of, dominated the conversation in Washington last week, and that is the subject of gay marriage.

Joining us to talk about it is Genevieve Wood, who's the vice president of the Family Research Council -- she's against it; and Winnie Stachelberg, she's the political director of the Human Rights Campaign.
Thanks to both of you.

Ms. Wood, let me just ask you, there are some, some people who take the cynical view that the administration wants to make this coming election a referendum on gay marriage. Do you think that's so?

GENEVIEVE WOOD, Vice President, Family Research Council: Well, I can't speak for the administration, but look, this is a tough issue.

SCHIEFFER: Do you think that would be a good idea, because polls suggest that the American people are against it?

WOOD: Well, polls do suggest that, and polls suggest that increasingly more and more Americans are actually against it.

I think it's going to be one of a number of issues that come up, including what you talked about with Mr. Ashcroft. But it's an issue that's extremely important, Bob, because it speaks about what we as a country, as a society, think about not just the institution of marriage, but the institution of family.

And I think that's why you see so many Americans now looking at this issue in a way they never have, because in the past it's been like, "Well, that's somebody else." Now, people are saying, "Wait a minute, this could change the way society looks, it could change the society my children grow up in."
And we're now very interested in it, and I think that's the reason you're seeing the movement that you're seeing, it's the reason you're seeing the president speak on it, and the Vatican speak on it.

SCHIEFFER: Ms. Stachelberg, what's your reaction?

WINNIE STACHELBERG, Political Director, Human Rights Campaign: Well, you know, the country's evenly divided on the issue of legal protections for gay and lesbian couples. We're a very tolerant, fair country, and the American people are very tolerant and very fair, and what they want to see is people protected. In this post-9/11 world, we want to see security.

This shouldn't be a campaign issue. This is a family issue. It's about the ability of gay and lesbian couples to visit their partners in the hospital. It's about the ability of our partners to provide for each other.

We pay into the Social Security system all our lives, and yet we're denied survivor benefits. That's not fair. I think the American public realizes that's fair.

So it's not so much a campaign issue, it's really an issue about families. It's an issue about the kind of country that we're going to be as we move forward.

Gay and lesbian people are part of the American fabric. We always have been, we always will be.

SCHIEFFER: What is the important thing? Is it the culture part of it, you want recognition that this is a, quote, "marriage"? Or is it a legal thing? Which is more important?

STACHELBERG: You know, the important thing, Bob, is that people are taken care of and protected, and are accorded legal protections in the myriad of ways that heterosexual couples through marriage are.

This isn't about telling churches or religious institutions what to do. This isn't about asking religion to perform or, in fact, recognize civil marriage. This is about a contract. It's about a thousand rights, responsibilities and protections that gay and lesbian couples should be accorded in this country today.

SCHIEFFER: Well, what's wrong with that, Ms. Wood? What's wrong with someone who's taking care of someone being able to get information from a hospital, being able to see that those people get benefits? What's wrong with that?

WOOD: Well, I think two things here. One is, you can't separate the marriage institution as being religious from the aspect that it's also civil. It's both. That's the reason, as I said, you had the pope speaking out, but you also have the president of the United States speaking out on it.

The fact is, many of the benefits that the gay community would say, "This is why we need to get married," you can get a lot of those things contractually; you don't have to get married for it.

The reason that we give special benefits, such as Social Security benefits, to men and women who get married is not because we like men and women who get married better than other groups, it's because those are the environments and the family structures that not only this country, but every civilization throughout history has said is best for raising children.

And, Bob, that's really what this is about. Marriage is not just about what the two adults want to do, or what three or four adults want to do, it's about what's best for children.

Children are served best when they have a mother and a father. And if we were legalize gay marriage, we are intentionally denying for the first time, through the law, the right of a child to have the opportunity of a man and a woman in their life, a mother and a father role.

Because if Winnie and her partner, another woman, get married, there's no way their children are going to actually have a father in their home in a male-female relationship. So that's what this is really about.

SCHIEFFER: So what do you say to that?

STACHELBERG: Well, let me just say a couple of things. One, I think we absolutely can decouple the religious and the civil institution of marriage, and we must.

We're talking about a contract. The state and federal government accords rights, responsibilities and benefits to two people who enter into a loving, committed relationship, and get married. It's not about religion's being asked or forced to recognize those relationships.

And what's best for children is security, in this world, is being able to provide the financial stability, the security for children going forward. Love and commitment makes a wonderful family, and whether those parents are gay or straight, what's in the best interest of the child is love and commitment and financial security. And so the ability to have pensions, and the ability to pass on one's estates to a partner, is what we're talking about here.

SCHIEFFER: So what you're saying here is, you're saying you're not looking for a religious blessing of this. You're saying you want the government to say that this is a legal and valid contract. Is that right?

STACHELBERG: That's exactly right. It's a contract. It's a civil marriage license that the gay community is seeking.

And just as the Catholic Church doesn't recognize divorce but two Catholics can get married the next day after they've been divorced, the Church doesn't have to recognize that union, doesn't have to recognize that marriage.

SCHIEFFER: So, so...

STACHELBERG: And that's what the gay community is seeking as well.

SCHIEFFER: So why is that harming or posing a threat to marriage, traditional marriage?

WOOD: Well, I'll tell you why. Because. Bob, I'll tell you why.

You know, the one thing that links all cultures, all religious groups, all people around this world and throughout history has been the institution of marriage. Whether someone was Jewish or Muslim or Christian or whatever religion they happen to be, whether they were from Africa, Europe, the U.S. or Asia, the fact is we all have one thing in common and that is marriage is between a man and a woman. It links cultures; it links generations.

And yes, have other cultures in history experimented with other things like polygamy? Yes, they have. But we usually come back to saying, "You know what's best in providing the most -- not just stable family society, but the stable society for the culture as a whole, are two-parent homes made up of a man and a woman."

And that is what this is really about. It's not saying that people can't live with who they want to. The question is, should the government endorse it? Should society endorse it? And in that case, should religious organizations be forced to endorse it?

SCHIEFFER: Well, the vice president says that -- he said it in the last campaign -- that this is an issue that should be left to the states. Is he out of step with the rest of the administration here? Would that satisfy you, if you left it at a state level? Because the fact is, there is a law on the books now, signed by President Clinton, that defines marriage as something between a man and a woman.

WOOD: That's right. Well, you know, if you could leave it to the states, and people wouldn't mess with them, maybe.

But the problem is, Bob, is that the state of Massachusetts decides to recognize gay marriage -- and let's be clear, it's not the people of Massachusetts. It's not the state legislature in Massachusetts. It's about seven judges in the Supreme Court of Massachusetts that would be making that decision.

If they go that route...

SCHIEFFER: Well, wait a minute, now. You're not saying that when courts make a ruling, that that's not something we ought to consider...

WOOD: Oh, no. We should consider it.

SCHIEFFER: I mean, that's part of our Constitution.

WOOD: Absolutely. But it's one branch of government. And I think we have to be clear that when you look anywhere in this country where people have had the opportunity to vote on this issue, when a state legislature has opportunity to vote on this issue -- and we're talking about California, Hawaii; not particularly conservative states -- the people and the legislatures have turned it back...

SCHIEFFER: Well, you know as well as I do, there have been issues like civil rights, about whether blacks can vote, that the people would have voted against it in certain states, and the courts overruled it.

WOOD: In some states, and eventually...

SCHIEFFER: You're not saying that's not a fair remedy?

WOOD: Well, no, I'm not saying that the courts don't have a role. They absolutely do.

But the point being, is if Massachusetts were to rule one way, a couple, let's say, from Texas goes to Massachusetts and gets married, comes back to Texas, which has a law on their books saying marriage in the state of Texas is between a man and a woman -- obviously, they can now challenge that in the courts, and goes up to the Supreme Court.

That's the reason you hear talk about a constitutional amendment, because people are fearful...

SCHIEFFER: You think it will come to that?

WOOD: ... that this is going to turn into a court battle.

SCHIEFFER: You think we'll have to have one?

WOOD: Well, it's going -- we'll have to see what Massachusetts and other states do.

STACHELBERG: Well, I think that the Constitution of the United States is a beautiful document, magnificently written. It has never been used to write discrimination into our country's fabric. It's been changed -- amended 17 times since the Bill of Rights. And this would be the first time that it has been used to exclude a group of people, except for Prohibition, which was repealed quite quickly after it was passed.

I don't think the country wants to see a constitutional amendment. The polling shows clearly that key voting blocs -- including Southern Democrats, independents, suburban voters -- are strongly opposed to a constitutional amendment.

And there may, in fact, be what is pushing the administration -- the president, the attorney general, on your program here this morning -- to be somewhat hesitant about supporting a constitutional amendment.

Senator Allen, Senator Hatch, Senator Bennett -- all fairly conservative members of the Senate -- have all come out in opposition to a constitutional amendment.

I don't think the American public wants to see such discrimination written into the United States Constitution. It's discriminatory, and it's wrong.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, thank you both. You're very good advocates for your cause. I learned something today.

Back with a final word in a just a minute.


SCHIEFFER: And finally, today, on another subject, yes, there is no question now that Saddam Hussein was not as close to building a nuclear weapon as the administration led us to believe before the war. But here's the harder question we should be talking about: Do we need more troops in Iraq?

Every day brings more attacks and more Americans died. The official line is that it's not more troops that we need, but information on where the enemy is.

But I wonder. Early on the Army chief of staff told Congress we would need several hundred thousand Americans in Iraq for years to come. That got a lot of no-way, no-how reaction from the Pentagon civilian bosses, and they told the Army chief to get on with his plans to retire.

Are the planners now reluctant to admit that he was right and they were wrong? Let's hope not. But it's now clear the job is bigger and more complicated than officials expected.

The new top commander, General Abizaid, has finally called it what the Pentagon would not call it, but what it is: a guerrilla war. Which begs the question, do we have enough manpower to run the larger and more frequent sweeps required to root out the guerrilla force we did not expect to find?

At the least, the president needs a top-to-bottom reassessment. Who was right, who was wrong before the war is no longer relevant, because the situation is not what planners thought it was.

To save lives, we need to first admit what the soldiers already know: This war is not over. Then, we need to get on with winning.

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