Bush not worried about bin Laden

By ANWAR IQBAL  |  Jan. 22, 2002 at 7:53 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- President Bush said Tuesday in West Virginia that he is not worried about finding Osama bin Laden as he cannot hide from the U.S. forces forever.

At the same time, a federal judge in Los Angeles ordered a hearing next month on a civil rights case involving 110 Taliban and al Qaida prisoners at a U.S. base in Cuba.

"There are only so many caves he (bin Laden) can hide in," said Bush in arrival remarks at Yeager Airport in Charleston, W.Va. The United States, he said, is winning the war on terrorism, even if the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 terror attacks is still at large.

"He's the one who needs to be worried. But I want to assure you the objective is not bin Laden. We'll get bin Laden.

"We want him dead or alive ... but we are not too worried about him. ... He is the one who needs to be worried," Bush said.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf last week suggested bin Laden might have died from kidney disease, but U.S. officials declined to speculate on what might have happened to him.

His government's "primary task," Bush said, is to "prevent another attack ... the best way to secure the homeland of the United States is to find the enemy where he hides and bring him to justice.

"In order to defeat the evil ones, we must use the mighty U.S. military ... to rout them out of their caves and bring them to justice."

Many other countries have signed up to help, the president said. But the United States must remain steadfast, resolved and strong if it is to free the world of terror, he added.

In Los Angeles, U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz ordered a hearing next month on the first legal challenge to the detention of Taliban and al Qaida captives held at a U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The motion, filed by a number of civil rights activists, demands that the U.S. government bring the suspects before a civil court and defines the charges against them.

During a 30-minute hearing, Matz said he had serious doubts about his jurisdiction over the matter, but ordered federal prosecutors to file papers by the end of the month explaining why he should dismiss the petition seeking a writ of habeas corpus or illegal confinement.

Backed by a former U.S. attorney general, the motion alleges that the prisoners are being held in violation both of the Geneva Convention and American law.

Stephen Yagman, the civil rights lawyer bringing the action, said the case would force the Bush administration to clarify the men's status.

The legal action follows mounting international alarm at the detainees' treatment caused by a number of photos published in various newspapers on Sunday. The photos showed the prisoners kneeling, wearing handcuffs and leg-irons with their eyes covered by blacked-out goggles.

But U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has denied allegations that prison officials at the U.S. base were treating the prisoners inhumanely. "They are treated humanely and in accordance with international conventions. No detainee has been harmed. No detainee has been mistreated in any way," he said.

The U.S. administration has refused to grant prisoner-of-war status to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay camp. Such status would guarantee them rights under the 1949 Geneva Convention, which requires the humane treatment of prisoners, including a prohibition on interrogation. The United States signed the document but did not ratify it.

Although supporting the U.S.-led war on terrorism, the European Union has urged the United States to treat all al Qaida and Taliban suspects at its base in Cuba as prisoners of war.

Meanwhile, the American Talib (singular of Taliban), John Walker Lindh, is due to arrive in the United States by Friday, officials said.

Walker was being held on the U.S. warship Bataan in the Indian Ocean, but he has now been moved to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

He will be flown to the United States in a day or two to face trial on charges of conspiring to kill U.S. nationals and providing support to the al Qaida terrorist network, officials in Kandahar said.

Meanwhile, a two-day international conference on aid to Afghanistan concluded in Tokyo Tuesday with pledges to donate more than $4.5 billion to the war-hit country.

In Kabul, Afghan officials said they will soon put on trial about 50 Pakistani and Afghan Taliban arrested two months ago from the northern city of Kunduz.

The prisoners were moved to Kabul last week.

All 61 countries and 21 international organizations attending the conference expressed a strong commitment to helping reconstruct Afghanistan. They promised to deliver more than $1.8 billion dollars this year to meet Afghanistan's immediate needs. The rest of the amount will be donated over several years.

A concluding statement set out several priorities for rebuilding Afghanistan, with improving governance, health and education topping the list. The document also urged Afghanistan's interim government to increase efforts for bringing women back into national life.

The former Taliban regime had pushed women behind walls, banishing them from work places, schools and even forbidding them from seeing male doctors in a country with few female doctors.

Hamid Karzai, chairman of the Afghan interim authority, said Tuesday he was pleased with the results of the Afghan donors' conference and that use of aid funds would be closely monitored.

"When I go back, I will be reporting to our people with a lot of satisfaction in that the conference was a success," Karzai said in an interview with NHK, Japan's government-supported broadcasting company.

"And we were very nicely received here by the government and the people, and that a lot of money was contributed by Japan and by the other donors. Europe and the United States and other major countries made handsome donations to Afghanistan."

Earlier Tuesday, Karzai was involved in a multiple-vehicle collision on Tokyo's expressway system but was unhurt, Japan's Jiji news agency reported.

In another development, U.S. officials confirmed Tuesday that an unmanned reconnaissance aircraft crashed in Afghanistan while returning to its base after a routing mission.

"The RQ-1 Predator crash was not the result of enemy fire and the aircraft will be recovered," said a statement issued by the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla.

In Beijing, Chinese officials reiterated call for the repatriation of Chinese nationals captured during the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan.

Sun Yuxi, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, said some Muslim militants from Xiangjing province are among the terrorists arrested in Afghanistan. He said China wants them extradited, so that they could be dealt with in accordance with Chinese law.

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