London -- September 10, 2006
On eve of anniversary, Bush claims secret CIA jails stopped second 9/11
US ambassador denies Britain is suffering tide of anti-Americanism and praises Blair
Ned Temko and Paul Harris in New York
America was preparing itself this weekend for tomorrow's fifth anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks and a national address by President George Bush. He is set to make a primetime TV speech from the Oval Office after America holds a range of commemorative events from big public gatherings to small private ceremonies.
Bush will visit each of the three sites - in Washington, Pennsylvania and New York - attacked on 9/11 before speaking to the nation. He is likely to maintain his recent hard line on the fight against terrorism. That line was much in evidence yesterday when Bush heaped praise upon a controversial secret CIA prison network and said that interrogations within it had produced valuable information in the fight against terrorism.
Bush only admitted last week that the network existed though media revelations about CIA sites hidden across the world provoked a global outcry last year from human rights groups. But in his weekly radio address yesterday Bush said the shadowy programme was vital to America's interests.
The President then went further and said intelligence it had produced had prevented attacks similar to those of September 11.'Were it not for this programme, our intelligence community believes that Al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland,' he said.
Meanwhile, the US ambassador to London has rejected suggestions that the outpouring of sympathy in Britain when the World Trade Centre fell has given way to a tide of anti-Americanism.
Robert Tuttle said that in more than two dozen trips around the country, including speeches to students, he had encountered 'tough questions, and disagreements on policy but I've never experienced any anti-Americanism. You can tell the difference between someone who disagrees, and someone who is hostile.'
Tuttle was speaking on the eve of the commemoration ceremony for British victims of 9/11 to be held outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square, London. He was convinced that most Britons felt affection for America and Americans. Polling by the embassy showed 'an increased favourable rating towards America since 2004'.
Asked about one very unfavourable show of opinion - London Mayor Ken Livingstone's description of the ambassador as a 'chiselling little crook', a reference to the embassy's refusal to pay congestion charges - Tuttle said it was US policy that the charge was a 'tax' and diplomats exempt. 'To get into name-calling is really beneath my job here.'
Tuttle, a Californian who made millions through a car-dealership business and worked as a White House aide during the Reagan Administration, said he had got a sense that 'the special relationship is not just a cliché' from Reagan's partnership with the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He revealed that Lady Thatcher was due to fly to Washington to attend a commemorative service on Monday and would later visit the Pentagon - the target of one of the jets hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists in 2001.
Tuttle suggested it was impossible to compare attitudes towards America today with the period immediately after 9/11. He had to dab away tears in describing a visit he and his wife made to Europe days after the attacks. 'We were sitting in a restaurant in Italy. And we were talking in English and a couple leaned over and said: "You're American? God bless America..." It was a special time.'
He recognised that aspects of the Bush Administration's response to 'a whole new threat' had caused criticism and controversy, but said the camp in Guantanamo Bay and the network of CIA detention facilities abroad confirmed last week by Bush were necessary, and he hoped temporary, tools to bring those involved in the threat 'to justice'.
Some of his strongest words were directed towards criticism of the Bush-Blair relationship. 'I'm very lucky to have worked for two conviction politicians, Ronald Reagan and George Bush, and that's why I have such admiration for Prime Minister Blair,' Tuttle said.
'He takes a stand and he sticks to it. They all talk of Blair as Bush's poodle, which I think is completely ridiculous. If you go back to the speech he made on new world challenges in 1999 in Chicago, he was out in front of everyone. And he hasn't changed.'