- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2006

ATLANTA (AP) — President Bush said today that enormous strides have been made in improving security lapses revealed by the September 11 attacks, deflecting criticism that significant gaps remain.

“Over the past five years, we have waged an unprecedented campaign against terrorism at home and abroad, and that campaign has succeeded in protecting the homeland,” Mr. Bush said. “We’ve learned the lessons of September the 11th.”

It was the third consecutive day of speeches by the president focusing on the war on terror, part of a series that will continue through events commemorating the September 11 anniversary and culminate in an address Sept. 19 to the United Nations.

With Republican majorities in Congress at stake in congressional elections less than two months away, the aim is to highlight Mr. Bush’s tough-on-terror image by refocusing attention on the broad effort to battle terrorist networks worldwide. Republicans view terrorism and national security as a winning issue for them, while Democrats have sought to make the November elections a referendum on the unpopular war in Iraq.

Yesterday, the president highlighted changes in national security preparedness as a result of the September 11 attacks to show how new strategies now in place would make it more difficult for terrorists to stage a repeat.

“In order to protect this country, we will bring steady pressure, unrelenting pressure, on al Qaeda and its associates,” Mr. Bush said before an audience assembled by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

He cited the elimination of Afghanistan as a safe haven for al Qaeda, international finance crackdowns, the new ability of the CIA and FBI to share data and intelligence, a broad restructuring of the intelligence bureaucracy to make it easier to connect the dots, a consolidated terrorist watch list and immigration changes that make air travel and communities safer, and the passage of the USA Patriot Act.

The administration has been criticized for moving too slowly to address problems at the nation’s ports, where just a small number of cargo containers coming into the country are inspected, and at airports, where bomb-detecting equipment is outdated.

Mr. Bush said a program to eavesdrop on international communications involving Americans with suspected ties to terrorists has been vital. It has been struck down by a federal district judge, so the president urged Congress to give legal backing to the wiretapping program, operated by the National Security Agency.

The president also repeated his plea for Congress to approve a military tribunal process to try some of the most dangerous suspected terrorists. He announced yesterday that key terror leaders had been transferred from a previously secret CIA prison program to the U.S. military’s detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The goal is to hold trials eventually, but Congress has to approve a process for doing so after the Supreme Court said Mr. Bush’s original plan for tribunals was unconstitutional and violated international laws.

The president also defended the continuing American presence in Iraq, saying it is critical to the broader war on terror.

“It’s hard to believe that extremists would make large journeys across dangerous borders to endure heavy fighting and to blow themselves up on the streets of Baghdad for a so-called diversion,” Mr. Bush said.

But, he added: “The terrorists know that the outcome in the war on terror will depend on the outcome in Iraq. And so to protect our citizens, the free world must succeed in Iraq.”

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