Related topics

U.S. Attorney White Leaves Office

January 8, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) _ Before stepping down Monday as one of the nation’s top terrorism prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White predicted a man charged in the Sept. 11 hijackings may be the only one tried in U.S. courts for a direct role in the attacks.

She also threw her support behind military tribunals, despite the success of her own office in putting away dozens of defendants in terrorism plots in the United States and abroad.

White announced a month ago she was leaving her Manhattan post. James B. Comey, an assistant federal prosecutor in Richmond, Va., was sworn in Monday as U.S. attorney-designate.

Comey, whose appointment is subject to Senate confirmation, will take over White’s investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks. The probe has resulted in the detention of dozens of men, but terrorism charges against only Zacarias Moussaoui.

``There well might not be any others,″ White said in an interview with The Associated Press.

White, 54, supports prosecuting others arrested around the world in military tribunals _ a view at odds with some who worked for her.

``We’re at war. We’ve been at war. The primary response is a military one. It should be a military one,″ she said. ``In that context, military tribunals _ there are advantages to them.″

While the interview focused on terrorism, White was also asked about the subpoena issued at her request last spring for the personal phone records of AP Washington reporter John Solomon in the investigation of leaks during an investigation of Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J.

``Yes, the government gets beat up, rightly so, for leaks of investigations,″ she responded. ``Therefore we ought to be death on leaks. The office needs to be appropriately aggressive about leak investigations.″

White said the war on terrorism really began in February 1998 when Osama bin Laden urged his followers to kill Americans anywhere they are found.

Her office obtained a sealed indictment of bin Laden from a grand jury in the summer of 1998, just before the Aug. 7, 1998, bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.

White said the secrecy was necessary because bin Laden was a fugitive and prosecutors did not want to disrupt efforts to capture him or others.

Despite their concerns about bin Laden, White said prosecutors were stunned Sept. 11 when two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon and a fourth into a field in Pennsylvania.

Looking back, White said she believes her office had done all it could to prevent terrorism. ``Nobody anticipated the horror and extent of ’9-11,‴ she said.

Since the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which killed six people and injured more than 1,000 others, White’s office successfully prosecuted five major terrorism trials.

Two stemmed from the 1993 trade center bombing; one from a 1993 plot to blow up five New York City landmarks; and one from a plot to blow up a dozen U.S. airliners over the Far East in 1995.

The fifth and most recent trial resulted in life sentences for four men charged in the embassy bombing plots _ including Wadih El-Hage, a U.S. citizen who was once bin Laden’s personal secretary.

In exiting, White said she wanted to dispel ``a lot of misinformation.″

For instance, she said some people have a mistaken impression that evidence made public during the terrorism trials might have aided terrorists and compromised national security. She cited the so-called ``terrorist manual″ unveiled in the embassy bombing trial as an example.

``Obviously terrorists knew what was in it because they wrote it,″ she said.

White’s success in terrorism cases has opened opportunities to write a book, provide television analysis, and take on paid speaking engagements _ options she will consider during a vacation this week.

But being U.S. attorney, she said, ``is the best job there is. Everybody came to work to do the right thing.″

Update hourly