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US Senate's Top Democrat Questions Success of War on Terror - 2002-11-14


The Senate's top Democrat is questioning the success of the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

In a meeting with reporters, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle said the Bush administration is not doing enough to fight terrorism. He cited the U.S. failure to capture Osama bin Laden, leader of the al-Qaida terrorist network, who is suspected of being behind last year's September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

"I think we have to question whether we are winning the war. We have not found bin Laden, we have not made any real progress in any of the other areas involving the key elements of al-Qaida," he said. "They continue to be as great a threat today as they were a year and a half ago. So by what measure can we say this has been successful so far?"

At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan said the war on terrorism has "always been about more than one man," and he was quick to defend administration efforts.

"We are making tremendous progress," he said. "There is a global coalition of more than 90 countries in this war on terrorism, working to find and hunt down and bring those terrorists to justice wherever they are." In a related matter, Mr. McClellan praised House passage of a bill to create a cabinet-level homeland security agency.

But back on Capitol Hill, Senator Daschle expressed concern that the legislation, now before the Senate, was stripped of language to establish an independent commission to probe the September 11 attacks.

Mr. Daschle accused the administration of blocking creation of the panel, saying administration officials are only interested in the commission if they can choose its members.

White House spokesman McClellan dismissed the criticism. He says the president is committed to working with Congress to establish a commission, but says Mr. Bush's first priority is to get a homeland security bill passed by the Senate.

In a related matter, the Senate unanimously by a vote of 95-0 gave final approval to a bill to improve security at the nation's ports and boost efforts to investigate suspicious cargo.

"The challenge before us is to find ways to find out what is on those ships, what is in that cargo," said Republican Senate leader Trent Lott. "We need to look at the port of debarkation, how do we deal with them on the high seas? How do we make sure a threat is looked into or assessed? What do we do once they are on the ports? So this is important legislation."

The bill, expected to be approved by the House, will have to be signed by President Bush before becoming law.

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