Thank you for that introduction; it’s a pleasure to be here.
I understand that they lit the tree at Rockefeller Center last night - I guess that means the Christmas season has officially begun. We Texans like to believe that everything is bigger in the Lone Star State. But, I think that even this proud Houstonian can concede that you’ve got us on the Christmas tree.
It has been my experience that just one of the many great things about New York is that New Yorkers share their gifts with the entire Nation…Americans believe that’s their tree in Rockefeller Center, just as they believe that the wonders of New York City are theirs, even if they’ve never visited.
That’s one of the many reasons that September 11th galvanized the country in the manner it did. As so many have noted: We were all New Yorkers on that terrible day.
Thankfully, there has not been another attack on our homeland in the four years since. America quickly united in the fight against terrorism, and we’ve prevented this evil from returning to our shores. However, the horrors of terrorism have been felt around the globe. And as you’ve heard the President repeat: “We are safer, but not yet safe.”
So the message four years removed from September 11th is the same as it was when we watched the twin towers fall, and saw the Pentagon burn, and witnessed the heroism over Pennsylvania aboard Flight 93. We must continue to be resolute in the face of a determined and deadly enemy that has killed innocent citizens from New York to London, from Madrid to Baghdad, from Amman to Bali.
And so, we must continue to work with our friends around the world who are also targets. We must remain active in identifying our nation’s vulnerabilities. And we must stand firm in responding to those who would destroy all that has made America great.
I think we all know what is at stake. I am a product of the American dream. And as the father of two young sons, I wish for them - as all parents wish for their children - a world in which the hope and opportunity of that dream is available and abundant.
In this new century - as Americans face a new kind of enemy and a new brand of conflict - we must fight an intelligent war against terrorism using every tool available…while remaining true to the ideals that make America worth defending - especially civil rights and civil liberties.
This is the government’s obligation. And it is the American people’s expectation… it is your expectation.
The President has embraced this charge. He is leading a comprehensive war against terrorism. Speaking on the Iraq war at the Naval Academy yesterday, President Bush promised that: “We will never back down. We will never give in. And we will never accept anything less than complete victory.”
When it comes to securing our nation and our neighborhoods, there is no alternative but constant pressure within a comprehensive strategy. I am proud to say that our friends and allies around the world also embrace this strategy. Like us, they are not sitting still, they are taking tough action to better protect their citizens.
We are continuing, everyday, to evaluate and employ existing laws and tools that can help us in this fight…and looking for new ways to stay ahead of a constantly evolving enemy.
I am committed to that goal, and so are the investigators, prosecutors, and policy makers at the Department of Justice. Prevention of future terrorist attacks is our highest priority. That’s why we are using every available lawful means to protect America - recognizing that when it comes to terrorism and terrorists, no single tool can do the job. It will take every weapon in our arsenal to combat this evil enemy.
Recent headlines reflect some of the ways the Department of Justice does its part to fight the War on Terror - including the use of the PATRIOT Act; prosecuting terrorism cases in federal court; and helping to train our Iraqi counterparts as they establish a functioning judicial system. Let me touch on each of these briefly, before taking your questions.
The PATRIOT Act has given investigators additional authorities they need to help stop terrorists before they can hurt Americans and harm our way of life. As we know, the Act was designed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress to deal directly with the shortcomings in our system prior to September 11th - providing new and better methods of sharing information, increasing cooperation and coordination in the law enforcement community, and improving our ability to track and investigate terrorist activity in the United States. Sixteen key provisions of the Act are scheduled to expire at the end of this year. For several months, Congress has debated these provisions. It is good in a democracy like ours that we discuss and analyze the wisdom of every law - particularly those that, if abused, would infringe your civil liberties. We have done that. Now, Congress must act to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act by sending the President a bill of which all Americans can be proud.
Another important tool we have in the fight against terrorists is our criminal justice system. Many of the Department’s prosecutorial efforts are familiar to you. There was Zacarias Moussaoui, who admitted his role in a plot to crash airplanes into prominent buildings in the United States - and that he was selected for this operation by Usama bin Laden. A penalty phase trial to determine his punishment will begin with jury selection in February. You will also recall Richard Reid, frequently referred to as the “shoe bomber,” who planned to detonate explosives on an airplane, and was sentenced to life imprisonment in Boston. And there was John Walker Lindh, the so-called “American Taliban,” who has been sentenced to twenty years in federal prison for joining the Taliban’s fight against the U.S.-led liberation of Afghanistan.
But those are just a few of our early, high-profile prosecutions. You may not have heard as much about some other, recent successes we have had in fighting the War on Terror. It is hardly the case - as some have sought to suggest - that we’ve disrupted only a handful of terrorist plots since 9/11. Far from it. I want to share a few with you this evening a few examples as a reminder that the threat is real - and the need for Americans to stay vigilant remains vital.
Just last week, on November 23rd, the Department of Justice obtained a conviction here in New York of Uzair Paracha, who was charged with providing material support to al Qaeda. Paracha was part of an operation to help an al Qaeda operative obtain documents to re-enter the United States to commit what Paracha believed was a planned chemical attack on the United States. Authorities who arrested Paracha found an al Qaeda associate’s driver’s license, social security card, and bankcard in the place where Paracha was staying. Paracha also had agreed to hold al Qaeda funds in a business where he worked until al Qaeda needed them for its operations.
Another verdict in recent days involved Ahmed Omar Abu Ali. Abu Ali was a resident of Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of our nation’s capital, who received training in weapons, explosives, and document forgery from al Qaeda while in Saudi Arabia. When police searched Abu Ali’s home, they found tapes in Arabic promoting jihad and the killing of Jews, materials praising the 9/11 attacks and condemning U.S. military action in Afghanistan, and a book written by al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri advocating the violent destruction of democracy. The operations planned by Abu Ali and his co-conspirators included a plot to assassinate President Bush using either multiple snipers or a suicide bomb, as well as a plot to conduct 9/11-style attacks with planes flying from other countries to the United States. Abu Ali faces up to life in prison for his crimes.
Earlier this year, a jury in the Eastern District of New York convicted two Yemeni citizens, Mohammed Ali Hasan Al-Moayad and Mohsen Zayed. Al-Moayad was the imam of a large mosque and Zayed was his assistant. Together they collected money through the al Farook mosque in Brooklyn and distributed it to al Qaeda and Hamas in order to help train, equip, and arm jihad terrorists. The government made its case against the pair with the assistance of our German colleagues, who worked alongside the FBI in an undercover operation and traveled to Brooklyn to testify about al-Moayad’s and Zayed’s actions. The evidence at trial demonstrated that, during conversations with undercover officials, al-Moayad boasted that he had helped funnel some $20 million to Usama bin Laden and millions more to Hamas. On July 28 of this year, al Moayad was sentenced to 75 years in prison; Zayed was sentenced to 45 years.
In April of this year, the Department obtained the conviction of Ali Al-Timimi, part of what has been referred to as the Northern Virginia Jihad Network, a group of nearly a dozen individuals who attended the Dar al-Arqam Islamic Center just outside Washington D.C. The group participated in paramilitary training with the encouragement of Al-Timimi, a popular spiritual leader at the Islamic Center. During a meeting held after the 9/11 attacks, Al-Timimi encouraged his followers to go to Pakistan to receive additional military training and then join the fight against American troops in Afghanistan. Several made it to Pakistan where they received military-style training at violent jihad camps.
One of Al-Timini’s followers was later found in Gaithersburg, Maryland in possession of an AK-47 rifle and a copy of “The Terrorist’s Handbook,” containing instructions on how to manufacture and use explosives and chemicals as weapons.
I could go on with many more examples of our successful efforts to prevent terrorist attacks here at home.
These stories speak for themselves: The threat to our nation and our way of life remains very real. The terrorists are constant and unrelenting. Their plans are cunning, and their methods cold-blooded. As difficult as the task is, we must continue to bring the battle to our enemies every day - and do so on each and every front available to us.
On the most basic level, these cases - and others - highlight both the extent of our success and the reality of the continuing threat. They show that we’re doing the right thing…and doing it to great effect.
Notwithstanding our many prosecution successes, there are some challenges associated with prosecuting - and I use that word both broadly and narrowly - the War on Terror.
Terrorism cases are difficult to investigate and prosecute. These matters are both local and global in scope, impact intelligence community sources and methods, and implicate sensitive diplomatic relationships. From evidentiary issues relating to the chain of custody, to the availability of witnesses, to video linked depositions of foreign witnesses, significant hurdles unique to terrorism cases present real difficulties. That is one of the reasons why the government has utilized all the authorities at its disposal to address the new situations presented by the war on terrorism.
One such authority is the ability of the military to detain enemy combatants.
Justice O’Connor, writing for the Supreme Court in the Hamdi case, reaffirmed both the importance and the legality of the military’s long-established authority to detain enemy combatants captured on the battlefield during the course of hostilities, even if they are American citizens, to prevent them from returning to the battlefield and taking up arms against America once again. Justice O’Connor recognized, too, that it is consistent with our Constitution and the traditional laws of war that, quote, “a citizen, no less than an alien, can be part of or supporting forces hostile to the United States” and therefore be subject to detention during the course of hostilities.
Enemy combatants are held lawfully and for preventive reasons to protect America’s soldiers and America’s citizens. It would defy every past practice of war, not to mention common sense and sound policy, to release back into battle those whom we capture fighting against us.
Even so, the Department of Defense provides enemy combatant detainees privileges the likes of which no nation in history has ever afforded its enemies. The Supreme Court indicated that the government must provide some process, and the Department of Defense has. With Combatant Status Review Tribunals at Guantanamo, for instance, each detainee is entitled to a hearing, to present evidence that he believes might support his release, and to receive the assistance of a military officer in presenting his case. And a parole-type process called an Administrative Review Board provides persons established to be enemy combatants a chance, once a year, to be heard and released, even while a conflict is going on.
We can be proud of the procedural protections the Department of Defense has afforded our Nation’s enemies, but we cannot discount the danger these detainees continue to pose to us and to our servicemen fighting abroad. Of the hundreds of detainees released from Guantanamo based on a determination that they posed only a low risk to this country, the Defense Department has reported that at least ten have returned to take up arms against the United States.
It’s a further reminder that if we do not constantly engage the terrorists, I am convinced the terrorists will once again successfully bring the battle to our shores.
In addition to prosecuting terrorist in court and incapacitating enemy combatants, the Administration works to uphold the Rule of Law, protect the personal liberties and rights promised by our Constitution, and promote justice around the world. This obligation itself forms yet another front in the War on Terrorism - winning the hearts and minds of freedom loving people everywhere.
If we are to rally even more countries to our cause, we must continue to show the world that we are worthy of its trust. We must show that, while our enemies would kill innocent fellow Muslims celebrating a wedding in a hotel in Jordan, we are committed to respecting and honoring the innate value of all human life.
At the Department of Justice, we have taken a comprehensive and concerted approach to this task. The Department has investigated hundreds of bias-motivated incidents involving violence or threats against individuals perceived to be Muslim, or of Arab, Middle Eastern, or South Asian origin - and we’ve obtained a number of important federal convictions. We’ve also assisted local law enforcement in its efforts to do the same, resulting in more than 150 additional bias-related criminal prosecutions.
In addition, we are working closely with leaders of these communities to ensure that we are doing everything we can to promote fairness and respect for all people as we confront our common enemy. Senior officials in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department have held meetings with leaders of Muslim, Sikh, Arab, and South-Asian American organizations in Washington and throughout the country to ensure that community concerns are being heard and addressed. And our Community Relations Service has held town and community meetings around the country aimed at ensuring better understanding among diverse communities.
Combating racism and bias against our Muslim citizens is both a moral imperative and essential to success in the War on Terror. As the President explained in his second inaugural address, “our country must abandon all the habits of racism, because we cannot carry the message of freedom and the baggage of bigotry at the same time.”
Half a world away, we are sowing the seeds of justice in Iraq. One year ago, the Central Criminal Court of Iraq had the capacity to prosecute fewer than 10 trials and investigative hearings per month. In the first two weeks of September 2005 alone, the Court prosecuted more than 50 multi-defendant trials, and conducted 133 investigative hearings. This is progress for the Iraqi people who are desperate for a measure of normalcy and order, who want the lawlessness and brutality to end.
The Court is now expanding its reach throughout Iraq with separate branches in local provinces. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Department of Justice has helped to train hundreds of Iraqi judges. These judges are now busy resolving cases under Iraqi law - more than 20,000 felony cases since 2003. This element of the President’s National Strategy for Victory in Iraq will help diminish the rule of terrorists in Iraq - and I am proud that the Department continues to play a role in helping to bring relief to a population thirsting for justice.
History shows that our forefathers have remained vigilant and resolute in past conflicts similar to the one we now face.
During the long winters and many losses between the first shot at Lexington and the final victory six years later at Yorktown, even Washington and those most loyal to the revolutionary cause considered giving up their fight. Other good people quit the cause altogether.
Those who fought for union and equality in the Civil War had many dark days after bloody battles like Gettysburg where - as hard as it is for us to imagine now - they doubted the worthiness of their cause.
And there were those during World War II who said that the costs and dangers associated with liberating Europe from the Nazis was too much for this country to bear when it could remain safely ensconced an ocean away from the bloodshed.
Now it is our generation’s turn to write history. We must reaffirm and rededicate ourselves to protecting this country for our children and grandchildren.
If we are to prevail in this struggle, we must show the same resolve and determination our forefathers did in the midst of the most trying conflicts of their day - from Valley Forge to Gettysburg to the Battle of the Bulge. At the same time, we must wage this war in ways that are true to our principles and values. We cannot allow ourselves to fall prey to the same sort of vicious cultural biases that our enemies display.
In November 1942, after a series of Allied victories, Winston Churchill gave an impassioned plea for the British people to be as “equally resolute and active in the face of victory” as they had been in weathering defeat after defeat through the dark days of 1939 and 1940. Churchill knew that the future of the war effort, even in late 1942, remained gravely uncertain, telling his audience: “I promise nothing. I predict nothing.”
Yet Churchill concluded with words asking for endurance and resolve that are critically appropriate for our time. Churchill said, “Do not let us be led away by any fair-seeming appearances of fortune; let us rather put our trust in those deep, slow-moving tides that have borne us thus far already, and will surely bear us forward, if we know how to use them, until we reach the harbour where we would be.”
We have not yet reached that harbour. So I would ask that each of you assume the mantle of Churchill’s firm resolve and stout-heartedness. The terrorists killed nearly 3,000 Americans in our homeland on a single day, and we cannot doubt that they would gladly do so again tomorrow - and again every day thereafter.
To succeed, we must continue to pressure the terrorists on each and every front in this unconventional war and do so with all the tools at our disposal - from the weapons of war to those of the criminal justice system and of the war of ideas and values. It is only by these slow-moving but effective means that we will continue to ensure the safety of our Nation and preserve America as a symbol of political and personal freedom for our children, as our forefathers did for us.
Thank you. May God bless each of you and may He continue to bless America.
I look forward to your questions.