Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft

Organization of American States
4th Meeting of Ministers of Justice or of Attorneys General of the Americas
First Plenary Session
Monday, March 11, 2002


    I am very pleased to have this opportunity to join you today in the fourth meeting of the senior criminal justice officials of the nations of the Americas. I want to thank the government of Trinidad and Tobago, and especially my colleague Attorney General Morean, for hosting this meeting. We are grateful for the opportunity to gather here so that we can talk together about the ongoing and new challenges we face as individual nations and as neighbors in the Americas.

    I am participating in this event for the first time in my tenure as the Attorney General of the United States and it is my privilege to engage in a dialogue with you on a subject of enormous consequence in today. s world: judicial and legal cooperation in fighting terrorism and transnational organized crime.

    Today marks six months since the horrendous terrorist attacks of September 11th. At the White House, President George W. Bush and ambassadors from more than 120 nations have joined together today in an event commemorating the international response to September 11th. Here today we also are part of that coalition that stands united against terrorism. As the President said this morning, Every civilized nation has a stake in this outcome.

    On September 11, the foreign ministers of the Organization of American States were convened in Peru to express our common commitment to democracy and respect for human rights. Without hesitation, the OAS expressed its shock and outrage, becoming the first multilateral organization officially to condemn the attacks. Soon after, the Rio Treaty was invoked, designating the attack against the United States as an attack on the entire hemisphere.

    We in the United States have not forgotten, and will never forget, these timely expressions of solidarity and support. On behalf of your friends and neighbors in the United States, I am honored to be here to express our thanks. As the events of September 11th made clear, the menace of terrorism knows no political or geographic borders. The events of that date were not simply attacks on the United States. Indeed, many of you present here today also lost your own citizens on September 11th. It was civilization itself that was targeted.

The Threat of Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime

    We in the Americas have been working together for many years to deal more effectively with the continuing and pernicious threat of transnational organized crime. Narcotics and illegal arms trafficking, money laundering, migrant smuggling, the exploitation of women and children, and international fraud schemes all have been the subjects of discussions in this group and the targets of concerted and cooperative law enforcement responses in the hemisphere

    Together we have developed ways to communicate more effectively, in order to address the international criminal activity that threatens the safety of our citizens and the integrity of our institutions. Many of you have also had far too much experience with the dangers and fears that arise from terrorism. We in the United States look to you to learn from your experience in facing terrorism. After September 11th, we, too, are no strangers to terrorism.

    Terrorists are motivated not by nationalism or ideology, but by hatred hatred of everything for which we here today stand. Terrorists scorn respect for individual rights, reject basic human dignity, loathe freedom of expression and freedom of religion, and deny women equal access to education and economic opportunity.

    However, those who launched the attacks on September 11th badly misjudged not only the United States, but also all of us here today. Far from being weakened, our resolve to fight terrorism together has only been strengthened. This Ministerial gives us an opportunity to discuss how we can work together to
carry this fight forward.

Concrete Steps We Can Take

    As an initial matter, we need to find ways to make the likelihood of future terrorist surprise attacks less likely. We need to find ways to detect and investigate terrorist organizations collectively and effectively. And we need to address the ongoing threat of other forms of transnational criminal activity so that we can minimize its destructive impact on our citizens and our institutions.

    The discussions at this meeting and those I hope to have while I am participating in these meetings, give us an opportunity to address all these matters, and come up with concrete plans of action for the immediate future and for the long term.

    I think there are a number of things we should be doing some involving initiatives that are already underway and some involving new areas of cooperative activity.

Direct Communication

    In my view, direct communication between those in our governments who have expertise in particular areas of law enforcement is the best way to get things done right and get them done without delay. Recommendations made at earlier Ministerials have already called for the designation of points of contact for such issues as extradition, mutual legal assistance, and cybercrime. I would urge all the member states in the OAS to identify these expert points-of-contact immediately - - and I would suggest that we expand our mandate to include the designation of experts on other matters as well - - such as terrorism, money laundering, asset seizure and forfeiture, and weapons tracing.

Information exchange network

    The ability and willingness of nations to cooperate fully with one another is premised on mutual trust and respect. And that kind of trust and respect can only exist when we have a full understanding of each others laws and practices and procedures. What better way to promote such understanding and knowledge than through the use of modern technology, which allows us to share information about and among ourselves quickly and effectively?

    The Canadian Ministry of Justice, working with Argentina, El Salvador, and The Bahamas, and with the OAS, has developed a website to accomplish just these purposes, particularly in the areas of mutual legal assistance and extradition. I wholeheartedly applaud and endorse the creation and maintenance of this website - - and again, I would call for its expansion as an accessible and valuable conduit for the exchange of information on an even broader scale - - here also to include such areas as cybercrime, money laundering, asset forfeiture, terrorism, and any other aspects of transnational crime that demand the attention of the nations of this Hemisphere.


    I spoke just now of the importance of mutual respect and trust to effective international cooperation and assistance - - and there is no area in which that respect, trust, and understanding is more necessary and evident than in the area of extradition. I know that some of you do not authorize the extradition of your nationals, preferring to prosecute them at home -- but domestic prosecution has never proved to be an effective alternative to extradition - - and many serious criminals have never been brought to justice as a consequence.

The nations in this Hemisphere have made enormous strides in modernizing our extradition relationships to face the realities of modern transnational criminality -- including removing bans on the extradition of nationals -- strides not matched in Europe or any other area of the world. I applaud this manifestation of the trust and understanding we share in the Americas - - and I hope that every country represented here will work to sustain our progress by removing obstacles to bringing criminals to justice in the jurisdiction where they will be most effectively and appropriately prosecuted. I hope we can enhance our extradition relationships - - because only the criminals will benefit from restrictions on our ability to cooperate in ensuring that justice is done.

Multilateral Initiatives

    Finally, and briefly, I want to commend the efforts of all the countries represented here in trying to address the newest manifestations of significant criminal activity by coming together to set standards for dealing with the challenges we face, both individually and collectively. I encourage everyone here to sign, ratify, and implement the U.N. Convention on Transnational Organized Crime. I encourage everyone here to sign, ratify, and implement the OAS Conventions on Corruption, Mutual Legal Assistance, and Prisoner Transfer.

    I also encourage everyone here, to the extent that your resources allow, to engage in the negotiation of the proposed OAS Anti-Terrorism Convention or to follow the progress of the negotiations with a view to expeditious signature and ratification. In addition, I encourage everyone here, including my own government, to ensure that not only that we become parties to these conventions, but also that web undertake the enactment of whatever laws are necessary to make our commitments a practical reality.


    I want to thank you again for providing me with the opportunity to share my views with you and to engage in the discussions of this group on issues of extraordinary significance to our countries and our citizens. I hope that in my all-too-brief period here, I also will be able to talk separately with you
on these issues of mutual concern.