Prepared Remarks for Attorney General John Ashcroft
Stand For Israel
April 2, 2003
(Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)
Thank you, Jay. Good afternoon.
I would like to open by telling you a story about a young American woman named Alisa Flatow.
In April 1995, Alisa was a 20-year-old college student from New Jersey with a blossoming Jewish faith. Her desire to learn more about her faith took her to Israel, where she looked forward to a semester abroad and then the opportunity to return to America to share her experiences with family and friends.
Alisa never made it home. In Gaza, a terrorist from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad drove a car bomb into Alisa's bus, killing her and seven Israeli citizens.
Alisa was an innocent girl, who loved both the country of her birth and the land of her faith. In both the United States and Israel, she enjoyed the freedom to obtain an education, freedom of association, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. Alisa became one of the, now, thousands of victims of terror, whose only offenses were to live and work in liberty.
When we experienced the horror of September 11th, and over 3,000 families faced the anguish that Alisa Flatow's family experienced, Israel was among those countries most capable of understanding our national pain and our national thirst for justice.
Since its founding in 1948, Israel has been a nation under siege from those seeking to exterminate its people and its vision of freedom. But in the face of almost daily terrorist threats, Israel has remained steadfastly true to its defense of the values our two nations share.
These are values forged from the commandments of the Old Testament, flowed through the Magna Carta, and respected by governments that are committed to the rule of law and the preservation of human dignity and personal freedom.
Our nations may be separated by thousands of miles, but we are united by common virtues. We are people of faith, as well as people who defend those of other faiths, or no faith at all. Our institutions support and uphold these principles. It is because we cherish these values that we are engaged in a global war on terrorism.
The terrorists, and those who support them, loathe liberty. They know people who live in freedom will reject their intolerance, their persecution of women, and their repression of other religions. Through terror, they attempt to extort an agreement they cannot win in the marketplace of ideas.
The reason we will prevail against this scourge is that we understand what the terrorists do not - freedom is not conveyed by our leaders, our courts, or our Constitution. As President Bush has said, quote, "The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world; it is God's gift to humanity." We know that with freedom comes choices and consequences.
The terrorists have made their choices. We have made ours.
We choose to defend the cause of freedom in the face of terror and tyranny that uses force and fear to deny people God-given liberty. It is a cause to which history has called our nation time and again.
In the 20th century we were called to defend freedom and human dignity in Europe. We stood with our allies to defeat the Nazi regime that murdered 6 million Jews. Then we were called to face down the dehumanizing totalitarian Soviet block. If history has shown us anything, it is that accommodation of tyranny will never bring peace. That is why we act.
In the 21st century, our call to duty was seen in the death and destruction in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. It was seen in the brutality of Afghanistan's Taliban regime, and its open support of our terrorist enemies.
These days, in Iraq we see a young girl hung for waving to coalition troops. We witness the agony of a woman bleeding to death after her tongue was cut out for speaking against the regime. We hear of men threatened with execution for refusing to join what they know is a fruitless fight.
This is a regime that uses chemical weapons on its own people, leaving thousands dead, blind, or disfigured. This is a regime that tortures children while their parents are forced to watch. This is a regime whose methods of repression are limited only by the twisted imaginations of depraved minds. This is a regime that embraces electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, and brutal rapes.
Today we see American prisoners of war in Iraq brutalized and executed. We see the Iraqi military - their uniforms covered by civilian garb - pretend to surrender, only to open fire on coalition forces.
We see Iraqi soldiers posthumously honored for suicide bombings, their families rewarded financially for these acts of murder. In all this and more, we see the faces of terror and of a dying regime.
In dealing with the terrorist threat, our values are revealed as well. With our arrival in Afghanistan, we brought food and medicine. Women in Afghanistan now walk the streets, go to work, even serve in government. Children - both boys and girls - can obtain an education.
In Iraq, our values are revealed in the rescue of a wounded Iraqi woman by American soldiers. They are revealed in the cradling of an injured Iraqi infant in the lap of a U.S. Army medic. They are revealed in the joyous Iraqi people tearing down pictures of Saddam Hussein.
In these moments and in many more unseen, the justice of our cause is confirmed. But as we exhibited in times of crisis before, we have the will to fight. We have the tools, and we will win.
But as President Bush said, quote, "There is no such thing as perfect security against a hidden network of cold-blooded killers. Yet abroad and at home, we're not going to wait until the worst dangers are upon us."
At the Department of Justice our priority is singular and over-riding: to prevent terrorists from striking again and to bring terrorists to justice. Over the past eighteen months we have sought to use every means possible within the law to detect, disrupt, and dismantle terrorist networks here and abroad.
We are gathering and detailing intelligence on terrorism in the United States. We are arresting and detaining potential terrorist threats. We are dismantling the terrorist financial network. We are disrupting potential terrorist travel, and we are building our long-term counter-terrorism capacity.
Thanks, in part, to the passage of the Patriot Act in October 2001, we are bridging the gaps in our federal state and local law enforcement and security activities with greater cooperation and information sharing.
We have broken down some of the barriers that needlessly separated our law enforcement and intelligence communities. We are cooperating as never before, focused on a common goal: destroying the netherworld that harbors terrorists and their tools.
In February, using many of the anti-terrorism tools now at our disposal, the U.S. government indicted eight members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist network, the group responsible for murdering more than 100 innocent victims in Israel and the Occupied Territories, including Alisa Flatow.
Four of those charged, among them Professor Sami Amin Al-Arian, resided in the United States.
This investigation was aided in part by the tools provided in the Patriot Act, and by the ability to share the foreign intelligence surveillance information gathered with law enforcement. With everyone's dots now collected on the same table, we were able to connect these dots and develop an indictment of a complex terrorism support and financing operation.
Our information sharing allows us to use the information and resources the government obtains on any particular terrorist threat in a way that better protects innocent Americans and our national security.
As Alisa's father, Steven Flatow, said, quote, "When you know the resources of your government are committed to right the wrongs committed against your daughter, that instills you with a sense of awe. As a father you can't ask for anything more."
We are targeting these resources aggressively:
- To date, we have captured more than 3000 terrorists worldwide;
- We have identified and tracked hundreds of suspected terrorists throughout the United States;
- We have broken up four alleged terrorist cells in Buffalo, Portland, Detroit and Seattle;
- We have brought 228 criminal charges in our courts; and
- We have obtained convictions or guilty pleas from 113 individuals, including shoe-bomber Richard Reid, "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, and three of the six members of a Buffalo, New York terror cell - 2 of whom pled guilty just last week, joining another defendant who is already cooperating.
In this war on terror, we do not fight alone. We have a broad coalition of more than 100 other nations working with unprecedented cooperation, including:
- Great Britain - just this week we signed a new extradition treaty and asset forfeiture agreement;
- Singapore - where an Al Qaeda cell was captured while plotting to bomb U.S. facilities there;
- Germany - where we shared information to bring an indictment against Mohammed Ali Hasan Al-Moayad for material support of Al Qaeda; and
- France - where we obtained intelligence on Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid.
We have cut off terrorist funding, including:
- Designating 36 groups and individuals as terrorist organizations;
- Freezing $124 million in assets and more than 600 accounts around the world; as well as
- Conducting 70 investigations into terrorist financing, with 23 convictions or guilty pleas to date.
All of these actions send a clear message to the terrorists, their moneymen, suppliers and sympathizers: the rules have changed. We will work with our allies to create a hostile climate for your barbarism. We will hunt you down, and you will meet swift, certain justice.
What we are seeing unfold in Iraq is another step in stopping the threat of Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and any other terrorist group that seeks to destroy the fabric of freedom woven by democracies around the world.
We are holding accountable a brutal regime that cynically provided these criminals with aid and comfort and retains power only through intimidation and fear.
Removing these threats will give people around the world, and all parties in the Middle East - Arab and Israeli alike - their best chance at security and a lasting peace.
For today, though, the threats around the world still exist. We saw these threats just this past Sunday, when another Palestinian Islamic Jihad suicide bomber injured 30 innocent Israeli citizens trying to enjoy an afternoon out in the resort town of Netanya.
That is why Stand for Israel is playing such a critical role today. Your ability to generate grassroots solidarity for the war against terrorism here, in Israel, and elsewhere, helps the cause of freedom. Your efforts toward passage of the resolution last May in the House of Representatives urging, quote, "all parties in the region to pursue vigorously efforts to establish a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East," reminds us why the war we fight is so important.
We will never forget that terrorists launched this assault, and brought it to countries where freedom flourished on streets and in buildings filled with people of every nationality, creed and color.
We will never forget our brave fighting men and women who are on the front lines overseas. They deserve our appreciation, but especially now they require our prayers.
We will never forget our fallen men and women who gave their lives so that others might experience the freedom they lived to defend.
In one of her letters home, Alisa Flatow closed by writing, "Miss me, think of me." She never knew how haunting her request would be.
We will never forget. We will honor the memory of all our fallen and carry on the defense of our just cause until we prevail.
Thank you very much. God bless you and God bless America.