Two years after President Bush vowed to defeat terrorism in an unprecedented global war, the White House has issued a detailed report showing significant progress in the ongoing offensive.
The 22-page report, released yesterday, points out that the United States and its allies have “dismantled the repressive Taliban, denied al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan and defeated Saddam Hussein’s regime.”
Overseas, allied forces have killed or captured two-thirds of al Qaeda’s top leaders and operatives. Domestically, the Justice Department has charged 260 persons in terrorism investigations, including 140 who have pleaded guilty or been convicted.
“The U.S. government has disrupted alleged terrorist cells in Buffalo, Seattle, Portland, Detroit, North Carolina and Tampa,” according to the report, titled “Progress Report on the War on Terrorism.” “Terror networks have lost access to nearly $200 million.”
The report comes at a time when partisan criticism of the president is at its highest level in two years. Democratic presidential candidates are no longer afraid to savage Mr. Bush for his prosecution of the war against terrorism.
At a Democratic debate late Tuesday, White House hopefuls accused the president of willfully misleading the public in the war effort. They also denounced him as a “bully,” an “abomination,” a “gang leader” and a “miserable failure.”
Rep. Ed Schrock, Virginia Republican, yesterday compared the Democrats to activist Jane Fonda for her trip to North Vietnam in 1972 to protest the war. He added gravely that American prisoners of war “were tortured more because she went there because [the Viet Cong] thought they were winning.”
“It’s all turned into a big political football with these nine characters out there running for president trying to make this thing look like the worst thing that’s ever happened. Frankly, this administration is doing a terrific job,” said Mr. Schrock, a Navy Vietnam veteran.
While Mr. Bush declined to directly respond to such attacks yesterday, he insisted he has been successful in the war effort, which has consumed and defined his presidency.
“Since September 11, this nation has been unrelenting,” he said at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. “We’ve taken unprecedented, effective measures to protect this homeland.”
Indeed, in the two years since al Qaeda terrorists piloted fuel-laden jetliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, U.S. law-enforcement authorities have disrupted and dismantled much of the al Qaeda network — as promised by Mr. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft.
There has not been another major terrorist attack in the United States and, according to the FBI, more than 100 suspected terrorist plots have been disrupted since the September 11 strikes that killed more than 3,000 people.
More than 3,000 suspected al Qaeda members, operatives and associates have been jailed in more than 90 countries, and several key leaders of the terrorist network have been killed or detained, including most of those who were directly involved in the September 11 attacks.
According to Justice Department records, hundreds of suspected terrorists have been identified and tracked throughout the United States; the nation’s human sources of intelligence have doubled since September 11; counterterrorism investigations also have doubled; and more than 18,000 subpoenas and search warrants have been issued.
The hundreds of terrorists who have pleaded guilty or been convicted include shoe bomber Richard Reid, “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh and three of the six members of the Buffalo terrorism cell. In addition, more than 500 deportations have been ordered, all of which were linked to the September 11 investigation.
The Justice Department and Treasury Department, along with the FBI, have dismantled 62 designated terrorist organizations believed to have helped fund past strikes, seized more than $125 million in assets, frozen more than 600 bank accounts around the world, and conducted 70 investigations into terrorist financing with 23 convictions or guilty pleas.
The department also has disrupted nine major alien smuggling networks and stopped hundreds of terrorists and criminals at the U.S. border through the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, including 11 suspected terrorists with at least one known member of al Qaeda.
The border checks also resulted in the detention of 649 aliens wanted on criminal warrants and 77 convicted felons, including a murderer, cocaine traffickers, child molesters and persons charged with assault with a deadly weapon.
The FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, in a joint antiterrorism operation, charged four persons in a $25 million drugs-for-weapons scheme and three others were indicted for trading drugs for antiaircraft missiles, which they said they planned to sell to al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan.
Although the administration has been attacked by liberals for enacting the Patriot Act, which gives law-enforcement authorities greater tools to fight terrorism, the president is pushing for enactment of what has been dubbed Patriot Act II.
“You need to have every tool at your disposal to be able to do your job on behalf of the American people,” Mr. Bush told FBI agents yesterday. “The House and the Senate have a responsibility to act quickly on these matters; untie the hands of our law-enforcement officials so they can fight and win the war against terror.”
Last night on CNN’s “Larry King Live” Mr. Ashcroft again defended the Patriot Act, saying every antiterrorism case being developed by the Justice Department is being overseen by a federal judge whose job it is to make sure the law is followed and that civil liberties are respected.
He also noted that the act requires that a comprehensive report be given to Congress on a twice-a-year basis.
“So the Congress looks at these things very carefully, and there hasn’t been any evidence of abuse according to the most recent statements I’ve seen out of the Congress,” he said. “I don’t believe we’ve had any abuse here. All of these cases are individually reviewed by the federal courts, federal judges.”
Despite progress in the war, Mr. Bush cautioned Americans against letting down their guard.
“The enemy is wounded, but still resourceful and actively recruiting, and still dangerous,” he said. “We cannot afford a moment of complacency.
“Yet, as you know, we’ve taken extraordinary measures these past two years to protect America,” he added. “And we’re making progress. There are solid results that we can report to the American people.”
Charles Hurt contributed to this report.