The United States will deal with European objections to the death penalty on a case-by-case basis as it seeks extradition of suspects linked to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Wednesday.
Ashcroft was asked by reporters whether he was willing to give a guarantee that terrorist suspects who were extradited to the United States would not face capital punishment.
London was Ashcroft's first stop on a European tour which will also take him to Spain, Germany and Italy to meet law enforcement officials.
European countries have abolished the death penalty and will not extradite suspects who face the death penalty in another country. Spain has also raised objections to U.S. plans to try some suspects in military tribunals.
The issue has also arisen over Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen arrested in the United States who became the first person indicted for direct involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks. France on Wednesday urged the United States not to seek the death penalty in his case.
Ashcroft said during a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in London that the death penalty question for extraditions from Europe must be dealt with on a "case-by-case" basis.
"It is clear that the United States, most of the states in the United States and the federal government of the United States, have laws, the violation of which provides death eligibility in terms of the sentencing," he said.
"Individuals and nations with which we have dealt regarding extraditions have dealt on a case-by-case basis and I think that is the best way to go forward," Ashcroft added.
He was asked specifically about the case of Lotfi Raissi, the Algerian pilot arrested in London who allegedly trained the suicide hijackers who struck the Pentagon. U.S. authorities are seeking to extradite Raissi, but so far he has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Arizona only on charges of making false statement.
"I do not believe the kinds of things for which the extradition is being requested are death-eligible offenses," Ashcroft said.
Ashcroft on Tuesday declined to say whether authorities would seek the death penalty for Moussaoui. The French citizen of Moroccan descent is charged with six counts of conspiracy, four of them carrying the death penalty. He was arrested in Minnesota, so the extradition issue did not arise.
The French justice minister, Marylise Lebranchu, said her country's consulate would help provide the defense for Moussaoui, "like all French nationals in a territory other than ours."
She insisted the United States must be open on the death penalty issue. "There has to be a discussion with the United States," Lebranchu told RMC-Info radio. "We do not accept the death penalty."