WASHINGTON, Sept. 17 -- President George W. Bush said the United States wanted suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden "dead or alive," comparing the administration's efforts to hunt down "evil-doers" working in terrorists networks in Afghanistan and elsewhere to old-time manhunts in Texas.
"I want justice," Bush said when asked by reporters if he wanted bin Laden killed in retaliation for terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. "There's an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.'"
Pressed to elaborate on what he meant by those comments, Bush said: "All I'm doing is remembering. When I was a kid I remember that they used to put out there in the Old West a wanted poster. It said, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.'"
Referring to bin Laden, Bush added, "All I want, and America want, is him brought to justice."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the U.S. ban on government participation in assassinations was still in place. However, he suggested that Bush's mandate as commander in chief to act in self defense on behalf of the nation overrode the assassination ban in bin Laden's case.
Bush made his latest remarks about bin Laden, whom he has labeled the "prime suspect" in last week's attacks, during an appearance at the Pentagon, where he met with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to discuss ongoing efforts to mobilize U.S. reservists.
On Friday, Bush approved the call up of 50,000 reservists under a partial mobility plan. That power allows the president to activate up to 1 million reservists for 24 months without a formal declaration of war.
The Pentagon says it will first call up about 35,000 reservists. Some will participate in the recovery effort in New York and Washington, and others will be used in "homeland defense" -- protecting ports and flying combat air patrols over U.S. cities as needed.
Aircraft at domestic U.S. military bases are on 15-minute "strip alert," meaning they can be launched with 15 minutes warning.
Reserve military forces provide nearly all of the military's airlift and logistics support and can be used as military police and in mortuary, medical and other support roles.
"The troops who will be called up understand better than most that freedom has a cost, and that we're willing to bear that cost," Bush said. "An act of war has been committed on this country, and the dedication of our guardsmen and reservists will serve not only as a strong symbol to all that we're prepared to take the necessary actions, but will be a part of helping define the spirit and courage of America."
In his comments, Bush for the first time spoke to the potential for U.S. casualties in what administration officials are casting as a long-term war against terrorist networks and the nations who aid them.
"We will win the war, and there will be costs," Bush said. "But the military folks understand that, and so do I, and so does the secretary of defense."
Earlier in the day, Bush urged White House staffers returning to offices to "not let terrorism intimidate America" and press on with government work despite the prospects of a deadly conflict in Afghanistan and the threat of further terrorists attacks.
"I'm here to remind people that the best way to fight terrorism is to not let terrorism intimidate America," Bush said as he greeted White House employees getting coffee in a cafeteria on the grounds.
Shortly after the cafeteria visit, Bush joined a meeting with the White House national security team to discuss the unfolding situation in Afghanistan, where Taliban officials have so far refused to hand over bin Laden to a Pakistani team sent at Washington's behest.
Pakistan has considerable influence over the Taliban, and is one of three countries that recognize the Taliban regime.
Fleischer said the White House was waiting to see whether Afghan leaders would agree to produce bin Laden or risk facing U.S. military action.
Bush also visited a Washington area Islamic center in a show of support for Muslim Americans. Bush said he was concerned about reports of a backlash against Muslim communities in the wake of suicide hijackings that downed four airliners, leveled the World Trade Center towers and toppled a wall at the Pentagon.
Bush quoted from the Koran, Islam's holy book, and told an audience at the Islamic center that "the face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war."
Economic concerns clouded Bush's focus on his anti-terrorism campaign as financial markets on Wall Street reopened to losses and airline companies forecast crippling revenue shortfalls.
Bush met with his economic advisers at the White House to discuss the economy, which Vice President Dick Cheney said could slip into recession because of the attacks. The president also said he would talk about the matter with the airline industry officials and members of Congress, but offered no new initiatives on either financial relief for airline companies or an economic stimulus package.