Department of Justice Seal
Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
End of Year Address to Department of Justice
December 10, 2004

Jim, thank you for that introduction. And to all of you, thank you for your applause. It is appreciated, but it is misdirected. You deserve the applause. Today I am here for one purpose and one purpose only: to thank you for your service to the nation.

We are coming to a crossroad on an extraordinary journey of justice for this department and for our nation. It has been a journey of unanticipated challenge and of uncommon sacrifice, but our passage has been made easier by the vision that guides us … a vision of freedom and human dignity for America and the generations of Americans yet to come.

Almost one hundred years ago, another group of individuals embarked on another extraordinary journey. It began with an ad in a London newspaper:

"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold,
long hours of complete darkness. Safe return
doubtful. Honor and recognition in event of success."

Five thousand men and women responded to this call from Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton to embrace a challenge greater than themselves. A year later, Shackleton and a crew of 27 set off from England on the ship Endurance to attempt the first crossing of the Antarctic continent on foot. But Shackleton would have to abandon his cherished goal and shoulder another forced upon him by circumstance.

In the Antarctic, the Endurance was trapped and slowly crushed by the pack ice. Shackleton and his men were forced to abandon ship. For more than a year they were stranded on the drifting ice, in near total darkness and subzero temperatures.

To reach civilization, Shackleton and five of his crew crossed 800 miles of open ocean in a 22-foot boat. Four months later, Shackleton led a rescue to save the men left behind. After enduring 22 months in this most hostile environment on earth, every member of the crew returned home safely.

The ordeal of the Endurance crew survives in history as an example of perseverance and triumph against all odds. Sitting here, warm, in this Great Hall of Justice, we are a long way from the Antarctic wilderness. But our journey, too, has been one of courage, sacrifice and, ultimately, triumph against long odds.

Imagine the ad that might have begun our adventure:

"Men and women wanted for extraordinary public
service. Must reduce violent crime to its lowest rate
in thirty years. Must reduce rape and robbery by
thirty percent. Must achieve record level of gun
prosecutions and drive down gun crime. Must reduce
drug use among youth. Must correct epidemic of
corporate scandal."

But wait … there's more!

"In addition to performing these duties, you will be hit
with the most savage attack on our homeland in the
nation's history. Must conduct largest terrorism
investigation in history. Must transform law
enforcement to meet a global threat. Must honor the
Constitution, respect the rights of the people, and
keep the nation safe from additional terrorist attack."

The audacity that would be required to write such an ad is exceeded only by the courage that would be required to answer such an ad. And yet, to your eternal credit and to the nation's great fortune, the men and women of the Department of Justice have heeded this call.

You have done what so many said could not be done: You have enhanced the freedom of Americans at precisely the time when our freedom has been under its greatest attack.

Critics said the Department of Justice could not successfully fight crime and terrorism. But here we are, three years later, safer, not having experienced an additional terrorist attack, and benefiting from a record low in violent crime.

Some said that freedom was the price we would pay for our security. But here we are, three years later, a freer nation than before because our families can live peacefully in their communities, our wives, daughters and mothers can travel the streets safely, and our children are turning away from illegal drugs.

Every period of trial and sacrifice brings out hidden strengths and undiscovered virtues in those who endure it. For Shackleton and his men, it was their determination that every shipmate survive the ordeal.

For America, the ordeal of September 11, 2001, has given way to an increased devotion to freedom and human dignity. We learned that terrible day that our values are neither self-enforcing nor self-sustaining. They must be defended, and the weight of this defense has fallen on your shoulders. Yet instead of stooping under freedom's burden, you have stood taller; instead of bending under the weight of protecting human dignity, you have found new strength in its defense.

You have not carried this burden alone. Not only within these walls but throughout the greater law enforcement community, a bond of respect and interdependence has developed. Barriers that once separated group from group … career from noncareer, federal from tribal, and state from local … have given way to a new understanding of our mutual dependence. We have learned from hard experience that the burden of protecting the nation cannot be borne alone. And we have been reminded by noble example that leadership in defense of freedom does not come exclusively from Washington, D.C.

For 22 days in October 2002, nameless, faceless snipers held the citizens of Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. hostage to fear. In a series of fourteen random, senseless shootings, ten innocent victims lost their lives. One minute they were mowing grass, crossing a parking lot, pumping gas; the next they were gone, without a word of warning or a reason why.

Ultimately, the two responsible for these murders would be tracked down and brought to justice by an investigation that is a model of post-September 11th law enforcement cooperation.

In all, more than 1600 men and women from the FBI, ATF, U.S. Marshals and Secret Service, the DEA, and two U.S. Attorneys offices joined the police in Prince George's and Montgomery counties in Maryland and Fairfax, Spotsylvania and Prince William counties in Virginia, as well as state police in both Washington state and Alabama. Together, they brought the shooters to justice.

The partnerships we forged to see our nation through the September 11th attacks have endured to produce an historic era of safety and security. The credit is yours. History will record that in the first decade of the 21st Century, the men and women of the Justice Department embraced the challenge of defending freedom and human dignity.

Some doubted that the FBI and the Justice Department could join with state and local law enforcement to maintain the fight against violent crime while defending the nation from terror. Yet, as we gather this morning, violent crime has been driven down to its lowest rate in thirty years.

· In the past three years alone, from 2001 to 2003, we have driven down the overall rate of violent crime by 27 percent beyond the previous three-year period.

· Rape and sexual assault are down 31 percent. Robbery … down over 30 percent. Assault has fallen 26 percent.

Some wondered if the men and women of the ATF could reduce gun crime by enforcing aggressively the nation's gun laws. Yet …

· In just three years, gun crime prosecutions are up 68 percent and the number of gun crimes has decreased more than 250,000. That is an 18 percent reduction.

Some said there are cities and neighborhoods in America where crime would always be a fact of life. Yet law enforcement cooperation on innovative Violent Crime Impact Teams is turning the tide against crime in 15 of our nation's most dangerous, gang-ridden communities.

· In just the past four months, the Violent Crime Impact Teams have recovered 2,556 firearms from some of our most violence-plagued neighborhoods.

· These units have also identified 932 individuals in these communities as the worst repeat offenders in high-crime areas. Since the June launch of VCIT, we have arrested nearly half of these individuals: 423 and counting.

For years, pessimists counseled legalization of drugs, saying that the Drug Enforcement Administration could not keep drugs out of our neighborhoods, our schools, and the hands of our children. Yet this morning we gather in a nation in which teenage drug use is declining for the first time in a decade.

We did this by identifying the 58 largest, most destructive drug cartels, and placing them on what is called the Consolidated Priority Organization Target list.

· Over the past two years, 33 of the 58 CPOT targets identified … more than 50 percent … have been hit hard by law enforcement. We have dismantled 14 major drug cartels and seriously disrupted the operations of eight more. Another 11 were diminished to a point where they no longer pose a serious threat to our citizens.

· Teenage drug use has fallen across the board for eighth, tenth, and twelfth-graders for the first time in a decade. · And over the past two years, illegal drug use by 12 and 13-year-olds has dropped a stunning 29 percent for the gateway drug marijuana.

Not long ago, many believed a series of corporate fraud scandals meant that America could no longer be a marketplace of integrity. Yet …

· Our Corporate Fraud Task Force has charged more than 900 violators in more than 400 cases since its inception.

· To date, more than 500 individuals have been convicted, including the prosecution of top executives whom we have shown are not beyond the reach of the law.
Some said a Justice Department committed to fighting the war on terrorism could not or would not protect the civil and human rights of Americans. And yet we gather in a nation in which civil rights prosecutions are on the rise, and criminals who traffic in human beings are on the run.
· In the past three fiscal years, 440 individuals have been charged for criminal civil rights violations - that is almost 100 more than were charged in the preceding three years.

· In the fiscal years of 2001 to 2003, we opened 210 new human-trafficking investigations … double the number of the previous three years.

· Our civil fraud recoveries have doubled over the past three years to $5.7 billion.

· Health care fraud recoveries have nearly tripled in the past three years to $4.1 billion.

· Tough enforcement of the Clean Air Act has reduced air pollution by over 465,000 tons per year. And in the past two years, the courts imposed almost $500 million in civil penalties for environmental violations. That is more than in any two-year period in history.

Most importantly, for three years and 100 days, Americans have heard that another terrorist attack on our country was inevitable … that the FBI and the Justice Department, and state and local law enforcement's finest and bravest, could not and would not prevent it.

And yet we gather this morning in a nation that has not been attacked. The reason why is not a mystery.

Al Qaeda has not lost its thirst for American blood. It has not declared an amnesty on infidels. Terrorists will strike when and if they can. For three years, terrorists have not struck at America because you, and people like you, have not let them.

· We have taken al Qaeda operatives such as the Lackawanna Six, Iyman Faris and Mohammed Babar, off America's streets and into our custody.

· We have dismantled terrorist operations from New York to Oregon, from Florida to Ohio, from Virginia to California.

· We have brought criminal charges against 375 individuals and secured convictions or guilty pleas from 195 individuals.

Our nation is safer this morning because you answered the call to defend freedom and human dignity. I join with all Americans in humbled thanks for your service.

When Ernest Shackleton and his crew finally returned to England in 1917, most of his crew of 27 immediately enlisted to serve in World War I. They had endured the unimaginable, but another challenge beckoned them, another cause … the cause of defending freedom and human dignity … commanded their sacrifice. Two would die in battle, but seven others would return to re-enlist with Shackleton for another adventure to Antarctica.

There are those who say that they do not make men and women like that anymore; that honor, courage, and selfless dedication have gone the way of the great explorers.

I don't buy it. For nearly four years, we have served this nation together. Every day I am impressed by your talent, awed by your courage, and humbled by your dedication.

The duty of defending freedom falls to each generation, but not all generations equally embrace this task. When the history of this generation is written, it will record that the men and women of law enforcement, like the heroes who responded on September 11, rushed toward duty and sacrifice, not away from it. Like earlier generations of Americans, you set out to defend your nation, and you are succeeding.

I began this speech by saying that I had a single purpose … to thank you for your service. It has taken me 25 minutes to express my gratitude, and I have barely scratched the surface. We have accomplished much on this journey of justice, but our accomplishments are not ours alone. A vision has guided us … a vision of freedom and human dignity. Hold fast to this vision. Keep it centered on the horizon as you continue this journey. Honor it with service, and it will honor you with justice.

Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your service. May God bless you and may God bless the United States of America.