LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - On Monday, KCBD interviewed Alberto Gonzales, former U.S. Attorney General and Texas Tech visiting professor, about his reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden. The following is a transcript of that interview:
KCBD: Are you surprised that it took nearly 10 years to find bin Laden after September 11th?
Gonzales: Listen, this was a very complicated operation that we saw yesterday, or over the weekend. It takes time to plan this kind of operation. It requires a great deal of actual intelligence and sometimes it takes time to develop. When you're talking about an enemy that's very smart, very patient, operating in another sovereign nation, it presents some very difficult challenges for the United States. Again, I wish that this had happened under President Bush's watch, but what's significant is that it happened and it's long overdue and I'm happy that it happened.
KCBD: In the long run, are we safer because Osama bin Laden is not on the grid?
Gonzales: I think so. Clearly al-Qaeda is a different organization than it was 10 years ago; it's much more decentralized. We're now confronting sort of franchises of al-Qaeda around the world. But no question that Osama bin Laden was the symbolic head of this organization. I think his death is very, very important. I think it's going to discourage, hopefully, al-Qadea and other terrorist groups who now understand no matter how long it takes, if you attack the U.S. you're going to be brought to justice.
KCBD: Given what you know about al-Qadea, should Americans be concerned about potential retaliation?
Gonzales: I think so; al-Qaeda is still a sworn enemy of United States. I think you're going to see a succession struggle within that organization and I think there will be a desire by some in the organization to show al-Qaeda is still relevant in the world today. The best way to do that is to carry out some kind of terrorist attack. I support the measures of the Obama administration to harden our assets around the world to remind our Americans that they need to be vigilant and be careful because it's still a very dangerous world and al-Qaeda still represents a significant threat. I agree with the intelligence experts that al-Qaeda has been degraded, and I think this is a successful victory for the United States.
KCBD: Given your experience in your time in Washington, what do you think is going on behind closed doors today?
Gonzales: I think most of the senior staff would have been at the White House late into the night and early morning. Whenever the President is working in the White House, if you're a senior staff member you're working at the White House. I'm sure they're looking beyond what happened over the weekend to what may happen in the future in terms of future terrorist attacks. They're gathering the best information they can about what happened, because there is a great deal of interest in the tick-tock of this operation. I think there will be some facts that are going to remain classified because they relate to the tactical measures. We take in these kinds of situations that we want to protect so we can use them in the future.
KCBD: Do you have any advice for the current administration being that you were in that position [A.G.] for quite some time?
Gonzales: I'm gratified Obama's administration has continued many of the administrative policies put in place by the Bush administration. I think they realize these are measures that, while they may be viewed as tough, they're absolutely necessary in protecting America. I'm not here to second guess or give advice to the Obama administration. I'm here to support them in their efforts to protect America from another terrorist attack.
KCBD: How did the legal foundations change to support this war on terror.
Gonzales: If you study carefully, Obama's statement last night emphasized the notion that Osama was a military target enemy combatant. This is a war on terror. We didn't send the FBI in there. We didn't send law enforcement to get bin Laden. This is a war on terror. Bush recognized early on that we needed to have a legal framework of a war on terror. This was not a law enforcement measure. President Obama to his credit has continued that framework. He understands this is more than a law enforcement action on our enemy. This is a war on terror, and the lawyers worked very, very hard to help the President establish and adopt a legal framework.
KCBD: You know President Bush very well. What do you think his reaction was to the news?
Gonzales: I'm sure he was pleased like all of us who worked in the White House on 9/11, pleased that this day finally came, long overdue, and Osama bin Laden was brought to justice. This was something he believed was important, certainly important to families of victims of 9/11, and I think it brings some measure of closure to Americans in this country. But again, al-Qaeda remains a dangerous threat and we shouldn't lose sight of that fact.
KCBD: Where were you on 9/11?
Gonzales: On 9/11, I left that morning out of Dulles airport to give a speech in Norfolk. I left about an hour before American 77 left Dulles. That flight was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon. I often wonder whether or not I saw any of the hijackers in the terminal that morning. Did I see any of the victims that were killed that day or that morning? But I flew to Norfolk to give a speech, and spent the rest of the day trying to get back and ultimately got a ride in the helicopter, back to Andrews Air Force Base.
KCBD: Can you put yesterday's development in perspective? I know we've spent a great deal of resources trying to track him down for quite some time, and we came close a few times?
Gonzales: There were a few times when we thought we had actual intelligence, but it never led to anything. It's significant because of this person's role in planning the attacks of 9/11, which is one of most historic days in the nation's history. This doesn't end the war on terror. While it is significant, there's still much work to be done. What ultimately happens to al-Qaeda, what ultimately happens with the war on terror, I think that remains to be seen.
KCBD: In president Obama's speech last night, he mentioned our relationship with Pakistan and how instrumental that was in having the intelligence that we did. Are you surprised at how Pakistan was involved in this?
Gonzales: No, I wasn't surprised. Clearly there will be questions about bin Laden not living in a cave, but living in a suburb in an urban area. That's going to raise some serious questions about what did the Pakistani intelligence community know, and those are questions that are going to be asked, I'm sure by Congress, and they should be asked quite frankly. It appears to me, and again I don't know what I don't know, that Pakistan was helpful in the events over the weekend. And I'm hopeful that this will encourage Pakistan to be even more helpful in the future. And I'm hopeful that will encourage other nations to cooperate with the United States and our allies in the war on terror.
KCBD: In light of the Gitmo controversy, how would this be a different conversation if bin Laden was taken alive?
Gonzales: I don't know. What's most important from my perspective is that he was brought to justice. If he had been captured alive, undoubtedly there would be questions about what do we do to bring him to justice? Would he be brought before a military commission? Would he be brought before an international tribunal? Would he be brought into the United States to stand trial in our criminal courts? We just went through that recently with respect to KSM and the possibility of trying him in a New York courtroom. But these are all hypotheticals that we don't have to worry about because he was brought to justice in Pakistan.
KCBD: Certainly Lubbock is no stranger to terrorism after the arrest of the suspect here back in February. You've mentioned several times that the war is not over. Could you put that into perspective?
Gonzales: I've said this several time in speeches around the country. Our enemy is going to look very different than what our enemy looked like on 9/11. I think the next terrorist attack is going to be conducted by someone who looks like you or me, speaks perfect English, is probably a citizen of the United States or has the capacity to move freely in the United States. The only similarity between the next attacker in this country and the 9/11 attackers is their disdain for the rule of law, their disdain for our values, their disdain for life itself. The challenge is different now, and in some ways some might say its more difficult for law enforcement and the intelligence community. And its for those reasons that we need to be vigilant against an ongoing threat against our country.
KCBD: Are you surprised to see a terrorism suspect arrested in our own backyard here in Lubbock?
Gonzales: No, absolutely not. Before 9/11, terrorists or would-be terrorists had to travel to Afghanistan or Pakistan to receive training to become indoctrinated to become radicalized, but because of the Internet, because of technology, that is no longer necessary. Americans here in this country can get on their computer, get training, learn about the tenets of al-Qaeda and radical Islam. So no its not surprising to me at all that we have the challenges of homegrown terrorists in this country. That is going to be for law enforcement and intelligence community of the United States.
KCBD: In your time with President Bush, where was Osama bin Laden on his list of priorities?
Gonzales: I would have to say that it was at the top of his list of priorities. When I look at the things that President Bush has regrets about, or when he looks back and says I wish we could have accomplished this, I think two things would be I think he would have wished that we captured or killed Osama bin Laden when he was President and also that he would have stood up to military commissions when he was president of the United States.
KCBD: How often was his [bin Laden's] name mentioned in inner security meetings. Was it a daily topic that you would discuss Osama bin Laden and the war on terror?
Gonzales: No question about it, but you have to remember mentioning al-Qaeda is mentioning Osama bin Laden—he was al-Qaeda. They wouldn't pledge allegiance to al-Qaeda; they would pledge allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Those phrases, as far as I'm concerned, are interchangeable in terms of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden.
KCBD: Where do we go from here?
Gonzales: The administration has already tried to educate the American people on the possibilities of retaliation from the death of bin Laden, so obviously that's something our government working with state and local officials are going to be focused on. Obviously are going to continue to focus on the challenges of homegrown terrorists here in this country. I think one of the areas that I hope our federal government pays attention to is our southern border and the need for comprehensive immigration reform to secure that southern border because we spend hundreds of millions of dollars securing different modes of transportation, but then our southern border remains, in my judgment, a serious problem for us. Hopefully, our government will have time and resources and courage to look at comprehensive immigration reform.
KCBD: It seemed to be one of the best times to be an American, last night, in the last several years. What was it like to see so much support?
Gonzales: In a way it reminded me of 9/11 and the unity that existed shortly after the attacks of 9/11. Obviously people weren't rejoicing at the time, but people were united shortly after 9/11, and that's what I saw last night. People were united, people were grateful. Relieved, I think. People had a sense that justice had been served. I think that's a very important feeling for Americans that justice be served because we believe in the rule of law.
KCBD: How do you think our international neighbors feel about the killing of bin Laden?
Gonzales: I think it's important for your viewers to understand bin Laden was not just an enemy of the U.S., he was a sworn enemy of one our allies. He was an enemy of Pakistan, so I'm quite confident the governments in countries around the world are glad that bin Laden has been brought to justice.
KCBD: What will you remember most about May 1st?