WASHINGTON - On the eve of the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush is urging that law enforcement authorities get the same powers to investigate and prosecute suspected terrorists as they already have to combat drug-traffickers, embezzlers, mobsters and other criminals.
Bush was outlining his request Wednesday at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., where he was giving local emergency workers as well as officials from the federal law enforcement agency and the Homeland Security department an update on efforts to improve homeland security.
Bush wants Congress to give law enforcement authorities the same powers to go after terrorists that they now have with many other suspected criminals, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
For example, suspected drug traffickers are presumptively denied bail in some cases but those provisions don't apply to suspected terrorists, the administration argues. Similarly, the death penalty applies to crimes such as sexual abuse and drug-related offenses, but not to some terrorist crimes. Also, provisions for administrative subpoenas that are available in medical fraud cases and more than 300 other instances do not apply to terrorism, McClellan said.
"He will urge Congress to remove disparities in he law that make no sense," McClellan said. "Congress needs to amend the law that allows us to go after doctors involved in wrongdoing so that we can also catch terrorists before it's too late."
Many of the provisions that Bush is seeking are contained in proposals already introduced in Congress.
Bush's remarks come three days after he delivered a progress report on his administration's efforts against terrorism abroad, in which he focused on the war in Iraq and described it as the central battleground of the global war on terror.
Before departing the White House for Quantico, the president was to meet with the prime minister of Kuwait, a key Persian Gulf ally where thousands of American troops are deployed as part of the ongoing Iraq campaign. Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah was appointed prime minister of Kuwait in July by his brother, Kuwait's emir, Sheik Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah.
Bush's homeland security speech also comes amid questions about whether the nation is better prepared now than on the day two years ago when terrorists killed 3,016 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania with four hijacked airplanes.
Among the changes Bush was to tout is the creation of the new Homeland Security Department, which combined elements of scores of other federal agencies to improve law enforcement, intelligence, emergency management agencies, and air and other transportation safety.
And the president was expected to talk about changes at the FBI, which shifted its focus from prosecuting crimes to trying to prevent terrorist attacks. To help highlight that shift - and improved performance at the FBI - Bush was to tour a new FBI crime lab housed at the Quantico training facility.
The nearly five-month-old lab employs state-of-the-art technology for forensic work ranging from analyzing fingerprints to the latest DNA matching.
Wednesday evening, Bush was playing host to a private dinner and screening of the Academy Award-winning documentary "Twin Towers." Among his guests were to be the family of the New York police officer highlighted in the film, other police officers and some elected officials from the city.
The next day, the president takes part in a series of deliberately sober, low-key appearances: a prayer service at a nearby church, a moment of silence on the White House's South Lawn at the hour of the first plane's crash into the World Trade Center towers in New York, and a visit with U.S. soldiers recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital from wounds suffered in Iraq.
"This is a day to remember and reflect upon those who lost their lives," McClellan said in explaining why the president's Sept. 11 schedule this year would be much more subdued than last.
Also Wednesday morning, Bush met briefly in the White House residence with the Dalai Lama. The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, who has campaigned for the cause of a free Tibet since fleeing his land for India in 1959 after a failed revolt against Chinese rule, is on his first tour of the United States in more than two years.
Afterward, the Dalai Lama told reporters that Bush showed a "a genuine interest and a genuine sympathy, so I am quite sure that, whatever way, they will help us."
The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for nonviolent resistance to the Chinese occupation there. But the Chinese government has criticized U.S. support for the Dalai Lama as unwelcome meddling in the internal affairs of its country.
At the last minute, a White House meeting Wednesday between Bush and lawmakers attempting to negotiate a final, compromise energy bill was postponed.