Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft

Council on Foreign Relations
February 10, 2003

(Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)

     Thank you. It is truly a pleasure to be here today.

     In the early summer of 1941, as London endured the worst bombing of the Blitz, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt offered this message of solidarity and defiance to the people of Great Britain: "We, too, born to freedom, and believing in freedom, are willing to fight to maintain freedom. We, and all others who believe as deeply as we do, would rather die on our feet than live on our knees."

     Over sixty years later, it is difficult to think of a phrase that better describes the path America has taken against the tyranny of terrorism -- to risk dying on our feet rather than living on our knees. When enemies of liberty struck this nation seventeen months ago, we had two choices: either succumb to fanatics or fight in defense of freedom.

     America has made the choice to fight terrorism, not just for ourselves but for all freedom-loving people. And all across the world, freedom-loving people have joined the side of liberty, justice, and respect for the rule of law.

     The terrorists sought to divide nations - and indeed they have, though not in the way they intended. Where once we saw a world divided East versus West, today we see a new model of division, not based on ethnicity or geography. The gulf between nations now separates those devoted to the rule of law from those devoted to the tyranny of terrorism. It is the divide of civilization versus chaos.

     The acts of terror the world has witnessed have welded a bond, not driven a wedge, among freedom-loving nations. Those who were murdered on September 11 were not only Americans, but citizens from a multitude of nations. In response, a multitude of nations has risen up in defense of freedom and commitment to the rule of law. Our fight, as President Bush noted, is not just America's fight, but the world's fight. In the words of the President, quote, "This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom."

     I would add that "progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom" only flourish in rule of law, rather than rule of terror, environments.

     In order to fight and to defeat terrorism, the Department of Justice has added a new paradigm to that of prosecution - a paradigm of prevention. We are working to bridge the gaps in our domestic law enforcement and security activities with greater cooperation and information sharing. We have broken down some of the artificial barriers separating needlessly our law enforcement and intelligence communities. Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies have united in unprecedented cooperation, committed to a common goal.

     We have thought anew and acted anew in pursuit of this goal, and freedom loving nations have responded in kind. Since September 11, a coalition of 90 countries has come together in a fight against terrorism that is changing the world. We have come together because our nations share a commitment to the rule of law, supporting freedom of speech, religious tolerance, political democracy and equality between men and women. We have come together because the targets of terrorism are not buildings, people, or even nations. The targets of terrorism are the shared values of free peoples.

     It is these shared values - and the institutions that protect and nurture them - that are under attack by terrorists today. And as long as nations share a commitment to freedom, equality and justice, we will be - we must be - partners in the struggle to defeat those who fear freedom, hate equality, and mock justice.

     Over the past year and a half, I have had the opportunity to meet with dozens of foreign leaders to discuss ways to enhance our joint law enforcement capabilities, and have seen firsthand the strong partnerships we have forged with freedom-loving nations throughout the world. Today alone I will meet with officials from two of the world's great powers, China and Great Britain.

     Some critics, however, misinterpret or mischaracterize our relationships with our allies, believing them to be strained, damaged, or even nonexistent.

     To paraphrase Mark Twain, another native Missourian, the reports of the demise of international cooperation in the war on terror have been exaggerated greatly. Today, nearly 17 months after the attacks of September 11, our relationships with our foreign allies are stronger, not weaker. The bonds of sympathy and support hold firm. Indeed, what began as expressions of compassion have been transformed into commitments to action.

     Law enforcement agencies across Europe have joined with the United States to form partnerships that have enhanced the security of all our nations. Let me cite a few examples:

The United States has forged deep ties of cooperation with Switzerland, including a special "working arrangement" with the Federal Department of Police and the Swiss Antiterrorism Task Force.

Since September 11, we have worked side by side with officials in Germany to track down terrorists. Just last month, German authorities arrested two suspects in Frankfurt as part of an ongoing investigation coordinated by the FBI and German law enforcement.

Scores of formal U.S. requests for evidence needed in a wide variety of terrorism investigations - from bank records to witness interviews - have been granted promptly by rule-of-law respecting countries across Europe.

We have reached landmark information sharing agreements with EUROPOL.

We have established points of contact among American law enforcement agencies and EUROPOL and EUROJUST.

The United States has welcomed EUROPOL officers who have been assigned to Washington, and we in turn have assigned U.S. prosecutors to serve as liaisons with EUROJUST.

We have collaborated on terrorism threat assessments and identified several European-based terrorists and terrorist organizations.

We have cooperated closely to freeze the assets of suspected terrorists and financiers in an effort to cut off terrorists' ability to fund terrorism.

We are also in the process of negotiating an unprecedented judicial cooperation agreement between the United States and the European Union.

    Our partners in the war on terrorism extend far beyond Europe. We are working hand in hand with law enforcement officials from Pakistan to Colombia, and from Canada to China.

Under the leadership of the former Solicitor General of Canada, Lawrence MacAulay, and current Solicitor General Wayne Easter, Canadian law enforcement has been an indispensable and strong partner with the United States. Long before the attacks of September 11, Canada provided consistent and invaluable assistance to law enforcement officials in the United States. And since the attacks, our nations have collaborated more closely than ever to secure our borders and protect our citizens from the threat of terrorism.

In December 2001, the United States and the People's Republic of China established a Counter-Terrorism Working Group. As a direct result of the Working Group's efforts, the FBI now has its first office ever in China. And the Department of Justice now has an Assistant United States Attorney assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing as a Resident Legal Advisor.

We have cooperated closely with law enforcement officials in Colombia and other South American nations to bring charges against key members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), two guerilla groups designated by the State Department as foreign terrorist organizations. These indictments strike at the heart of the nexus between drug trafficking and terrorism.

    Our worldwide coalition has achieved unparalleled police-to-police cooperation among different national law enforcement agencies. Here in America, we have made great strides toward improving the integrity in our governmental systems that secure freedoms, while remaining true to the rule of law.

We are reforming immigration systems by using biometrics, including fingerprinting, to ensure the integrity of the free movement of people in our free countries;

We are updating and adapting continuously our counter-terrorism and intelligence systems, as well as participating in law enforcement exchanges, to allow for information to be exchanged in real-time;

And we are improving and securing trade systems to ensure the integrity of the free flow of goods through cargo inspections and container security.

    The brief history of the war on terror to this point has taught us we will either stand together to defend freedom, or we will fall together to freedom's enemies. I have said often that in this global war on terror, the best friend of prevention is information, and the best friends of information are cooperation, coordination and collaboration. Nations that stand on the side of the rule of law have embraced these principles, understanding also that we are bound to encounter occasional difficulties and temporary glitches as we embark on a new quest for international security.

    In the past, our focus has been on traditional law enforcement - prosecution. Prosecution is retrospective; it re-creates a past event. It is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with the benefit of the picture on the box top. Our new, international goal of terrorism prevention, on the other hand, involves anticipation and imagination about emerging scenarios, the puzzle pieces of which have yet to come into alignment. Together, our nations are finding new ways to anticipate these dangerous scenarios and to identify, intercept and disrupt them before they become tragic terrorist realities. We are working together as never before to overcome obstacles we confront along the way.

    As President Bush said in the days following the September 11 attacks, "The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain." That outcome can already be seen in the liberation of the long-oppressed people of Afghanistan; on the faces of women unveiled in newfound liberty and enrolled once again in schools; in the smiles of children awakened to the potential of life and the promise of freedom under the rule of law.

    Forty-two years ago last month, President John F. Kennedy inspired a world confronting the menace of communism - and relished the opportunity history placed before his generation to see communism defeated. Kennedy said, quote, "In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger . . . I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation."

     These words resonate deeply in 2003. As freedom-loving nations, we now find ourselves in the midst of an historic struggle for the values of democracy. We cannot escape the challenge history has placed before us. It is more than a duty, and more than a privilege; it is the calling of our time. We will rise to this challenge and will answer this call. Let history record that we, together - this people and this generation - defended freedom in its hour of great danger.

     Thank you very much.