Video: Bush: 'America is safer'

updated 9/7/2006 1:10:32 PM ET 2006-09-07T17:10:32

President Bush asserted Thursday that enormous strides have been made in improving security lapses revealed by the Sept. 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,” Bush said. “We’ve learned the lessons of September the 11th.”

It was the third consecutive day of Bush speeches focusing on his war-on-terror, part of a series of outings that will continue through events commemorating 9/11 anniversary and culminating in a Sept. 19 address to the United Nations.

Refocusing attention
With Republican dominance on Capitol Hill at stake in congressional elections now less than two months off, the aim is to restore 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 balloting a referendum on the unpopular war in Iraq that has dragged down Bush’s approval ratings.

Last week, Bush lumped disparate terrorist and militant groups under one umbrella. Earlier this week he quoted extensively from Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders to remind Americans that the threat from terrorism remains potent. On Wednesday, he defended a previously unacknowledged CIA program to detain some of the worst suspected terrorists and use rough techniques to extract information from them.

In Atlanta, the president highlighted changes in national security preparedness as a result of the 9/11 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-Qaida and its associates,” Bush said before an audience assembled by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

He cited the elimination of Afghanistan as a safe haven for al Qaida, 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 connecting dots easier, consolidated terrorist watch list and immigration changes that make air travel and communities safer, and the passage of the USA Patriot Act.

Criticism lingers
The administration has been criticized for moving too slowly to address problems at the nation’s ports, where only a small number of cargo containers coming into the country are inspected; at airports, where bomb-detecting equipment is outdated; and in securing nuclear material in places such as Russia.

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 warrantless 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 on Wednesday that dangerous alleged 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 eventual trials, but Congress has to approve a process for doing so after the Supreme Court said Bush’s original plan for tribunals is unconstitutional and violates international laws.

Even some prominent Republicans had balked at the rules Bush wants for trials. But by making suspected terrorists such as 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, another suspected 9/11 plotter, the poster men for such trials, the White House hopes it will be more difficult for lawmakers to defy the president.

“The sooner the Congress authorizes the military commissions I have called for, the sooner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will receive the justice he deserves,” Bush said.

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