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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with NBC Today

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
June 11, 2002 7:15 AM EDT

(Interview with Matt Lauer, NBC "TODAY")

MATT LAUER: Abdullah al Muhajir is being held in a military jail in South Carolina. Paul Wolfowitz is the deputary (sic) -- deputy secretary of Defense.

I'm having trouble this morning, Mr. Secretary. Nice to see you.

WOLFOWITZ: Nice to see you, Matt.

LAUER: Tell me why he's being held in a military facility. Why not in the criminal-justice system?

WOLFOWITZ: This man is a very dangerous man. He started out in this country as a petty criminal. Somewhere along the way he got converted to being something else. And out in Pakistan and Afghanistan, he was working on plots to do the most horrendous kinds of things in this country, including one of his plans was to try to explode a so-called dirty bomb that would spread radioactive nuclear materials over a large area.

It's an example, frankly, of great cooperation between the Defense Department -- we're the ones who initially drove him and his confederates out of Afghanistan; then we worked with the Pakistanis to capture him, and now he's sitting in the brig in Charleston, South Carolina.

LAUER: Let me go back, though. Why in a military situation? As an American citizen, it's my belief that he can't be tried in a military tribunal. Why not turn him over to the criminal-justice system?

WOLFOWITZ: What we're about here is preventing -- preventing him from doing further acts, preventing those about whom he may have knowledge from doing further acts. We're holding him now as an enemy combatant. And as an enemy combatant, he's the same as any other enemy combatant. If it came to a point of prosecution, then he would have to go back into the civil court.

LAUER: He's been in custody since May 8th. Has he been cooperating at all?

WOLFOWITZ: To the best of my knowledge, he hasn't cooperated at all so far.

LAUER: Dirty bombs. This is something we're hearing more about these days. You know, is this the most realistic type of threat we face in terms of nuclear threat from terrorist countries or terrorist organizations?

WOLFOWITZ: Matt, we face a whole range of threats. And as the president said, the worst threat we face is from that potentially lethal combination of countries that are hostile to us that have chemical, biological, nuclear weapons, that are acquiring more, and that work with terrorists. And the longer time goes on, the more those threats will grow. That's why the president has said we have to deal with them now.

LAUER: Well, let me ask you --

WOLFOWITZ: And September 11th was a real wakeup call.

LAUER: Where would materials for a dirty bomb come from? Are there countries that would be likely suppliers of the materials?

WOLFOWITZ: This man actually thought he could get them from places like university labs. I have no idea how difficult that would be, but there is nuclear material around a lot of places.

If I could interrupt for just a second and remind or call your viewers' attention to where we are this morning, which is right outside the Pentagon crash site. We're about -- this morning we're going to lay the last piece of limestone in the outer wall, and we're going to place this dedication capsule that will contain various memorabilia from that day and from the people who died on that day.

And it's a way of not only honoring their sacrifice, the sacrifice they made working in this building for their country, but also the incredible resolve of these workers who've been finishing this building in record time.

LAUER: Yeah, nine months after the attack. It is, from what I understand, astonishing what's been accomplished in restoring the Pentagon to working order.

WOLFOWITZ: It is astonishing. And when you go in there and talk to the men who are doing it, you understand that for them, this is their way of sending a message to the terrorists. And believe me, they're doing it beautifully.

LAUER: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Mr. Wolfowitz, thank you for your time. We appreciate it.

WOLFOWITZ: Thank you.

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