Thank you, and good morning.
I thought I would begin my remarks today by telling you a little bit about me and where I come from. I grew up as the second of eight children, the descendant of Mexican immigrants. My late father, with his second-grade education, worked in agriculture and later in construction. No one in my family went to college. Dad and two of his brothers built the Houston house in which my mother still lives. During the time I was a boy, we had no running hot water or even a telephone.
I used to sell sodas in the football stadium at Rice University. I dreamed of what college life would be like. I was 12 then. Twelve years later, after a path that led me through the Air Force, a freezing Alaska military base, and the Air Force Academy, I would graduate from Rice. Then it was on to law school….
Sometimes, dreams become reality. And so we must always be ready to seize the day.
But when I reflect on my first year as Attorney General—and the ability of the Justice Department to impact lives across the country—I am reminded that we are the stewards of the American Dream. The American Dream is about living and prospering in a free, lawful, and hopeful society—one where aspirations to excellence are encouraged. The Department has performed an historic role in helping preserve our dream by fighting crime, protecting civil rights, and, today, protecting us from terrorists.
So every day I ask myself:
Are we doing all we can to prevent another terrorist attack? Are our neighborhoods safer? Are fewer people participating in the destructive life of drugs and gangs? Is the Internet safe for our children? Is our society free from discrimination? Do our government and corporate institutions operate with integrity? These questions reflect my major priorities as Attorney General.
We have not suffered another terrorist attack here at home, and our Nation’s violent crime rate is at its lowest level in more than three decades. But we cannot rest on our record: Our work continues.
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First, on terrorism, our top priority. The terrorists seek to destroy the American promise of liberty and prosperity—they stand in the way of peace and progress. Al Qaeda has made it clear in recent statements that they intend to attack us again. Of course Iraq is the central front in our war on terror. The terrorists recognize this. We should too.
Here at home, we will work to prevent another attack by staying on the offensive, working hard to detect their plans, bringing known operatives to justice, and increasing our efforts to disrupt their ability to use our open society as an invitation to attack.
Soon, we will stand up our new National Security Division, authorized by the renewed PATRIOT Act. It will enable us to better coordinate our anti-terrorism efforts. Let me underscore that our successful prosecutions of the “Portland Seven” case, with which many of you are familiar, were possible because of the PATRIOT Act. Thanks to it, America's law enforcement and intelligence communities were able to work together to break up that terrorist cell.
Members of the “Portland Seven” had attempted to travel to Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 to fight with the Taliban and Al Qaeda against the United States. Because law enforcement was able to conduct surveillance on one member of the cell, who had threatened to attack Jewish institutions in the Portland metro area, law enforcement found out that they could prevent an attack here at home. They could also continue to gather evidence against other operatives in the terror cell.
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In addition to our ongoing fight against terrorism, the Justice Department will focus on five priority areas in the coming year: violent crime; drug trafficking; cyber crime; civil rights; and public and corporate corruption.
These priorities are fundamental to the American dream. We will work in these areas—with a targeted agenda focused on producing results.
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Every American deserves to live free from the fear of violent crime. We remain focused on reducing gun crime and liberating communities from the stranglehold of gang violence. Locking up violent offenders means we’re freeing communities to pursue the American dream.
I have a family insight into how horrible this violence can be. My brother Tony is a SWAT officer in the Houston police department. He loves his job, he is devoted to his duty, but I’d rather he never have to face lethal threats or use his deadly professional skills.
We're reducing gun crime across the country through the President's Project Safe Neighborhoods program. It focuses on crime committed with guns. We have seen decreasing percentages of gun use in crimes committed. When gun crime equals hard time, it's a good sign for the community. Here in Oregon, the number of prosecutions for firearms offenses has nearly doubled since 2001.
We intend to capitalize on this success and reduce gang violence.
The Department-wide gang strategy I announced last summer is in full swing—I've received comprehensive plans from every U.S. Attorney’s office. We are building on the cooperative approach of Project Safe Neighborhoods to shut down violent gangs in America.
Our anti-gang strategy starts with prevention—working to address the personal, family, and community factors that cause young people to choose the gang way of life.
The second part of our strategy will provide grants to help law enforcement target the most significant violent gang offenders—and lock them up so that they can no longer threaten their communities.
Lastly, we want to see fewer offenders reverting to their violent ways. Accordingly, we will provide re-entry assistance aimed at honing the life skills and the character needed to function as citizens and legitimate pursuers of the American Dream.
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The American Dream is not available to those who only care about getting high. But, there is good news. Drug use among young people continues to decline. The bad news is that illegal drugs are still finding their way across our borders and into the hands of our nation’s citizens.
That’s why we will continue to dedicate ourselves to dismantling drug trafficking organizations and stopping the spread of illegal drugs. Just last week I announced the largest narcotics-trafficking indictment in our history, involving 50 members of a notorious narco-terrorist group in Colombia. The FARC is responsible for overseeing the production of more than 60 percent of the cocaine imported into the U.S. Methamphetamine is a drug that is destroying lives and causing collateral damage in our communities. Within the last year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office here in Portland announced the largest combined meth seizure and the shutting down of the largest meth lab in Oregon history.
Oregon’s record reflects law enforcement’s continuing success in shutting down Super Labs and small toxic labs here in the United States—dangerous operations in basements, suburban homes, and even in cars. I applaud all the hard work done here in Oregon at the federal, state, and local levels to attack the spread of meth.
Now, by the far the greatest source of meth and its ingredients comes from Mexican laboratories. So we are expanding our efforts to target Super Labs outside of our borders, particularly in Mexico. The Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act, part of the just renewed PATRIOT Act, will be of immense help. The new law also establishes a national standard regulating meth ingredients, confronts the human and environmental consequences of the toxic labs, and increases the penalties for drug kingpins.
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Criminals can assault with images as well as guns. Back when I was working at Rice University’s football stadium, many of today’s threats to kids did not exist. I’m thinking, in particular, of pornography and the predators they might run into on the Internet.
That is why we just introduced a major new initiative: Project Safe Childhood.
The goal of Project Safe Childhood is to enhance our efforts to prevent the exploitation of our kids over the Internet. We’ll do it using the same successful approach as Project Safe Neighborhoods—with unprecedented coordination by law enforcement at every level. We also have to get parents involved, so that they and their children can explore the limitless frontier of the Internet for the opportunities of the American dream.
United States Attorneys in every district, in partnership with local Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces, will bring together community stakeholders and work closely with them to develop a strategic plan based on the particular needs of their communities.
These Project Safe Childhood Task Forces will then share resources and information to investigate and prosecute more sexual predators and child pornographers than ever before. And they will coordinate in seeking the stiffest penalties possible.
Two weeks ago, I announced the indictments of 27 persons in an international child pornography ring conveying graphic images over the Internet. I’ll spare you the horrific allegations. But it is a sign of progress.
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But our dream can also be tarnished and diminished by government and corporate scandal.
I’ve told Department prosecutors to operate with one principle in mind: No one is above the law—not a city councilman, a CEO, or a Member of Congress.
The role of the Department is not to discourage business risks that are rewarded or punished in the marketplace. Rather, we seek to prosecute those who engage in lawless practices. In this same spirit, we will protect intellectual property rights as well against domestic and international piracy.
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The protection of the civil rights of all Americans is an historic mission of the Department of Justice and an essential element of realizing the American Dream. We will continue to aggressively combat discrimination wherever it is found. For example, we recently announced Operation Home Sweet Home, an expansion of our Fair Housing Act testing program.
This mission includes protecting the rights of those with disabilities and institutionalized persons. We’re also vigorously working to end the modern-day slavery of human trafficking.
Let me reflect for a moment on one major right, the key political right, the right to vote. Three years ago, when I was White House Counsel to President Bush, my then 72-year old mother visited Washington, DC and the Oval Office for the first time. My mom never voted until she was 50. She explained that it had become a different time for people of color in America.
Today the right to vote is being exercised in parts of the world that never considered such an opportunity just a few years ago. We are pushing for reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act to keep that right vital here.
Just last Monday, in introducing President Bush, I congratulated new citizens at a naturalization ceremony in Washington, D.C. “Hope is what all immigrants live by,” I declared, and hope “is what this President has given to many people here and around the world.”
The President told his audience, new citizens of all ages, from 20 different countries, that “with the oath you’ve sworn, you’re every bit as American as those who came before you.” And by the oath I’ve sworn as Attorney General I will see to it that their rights are protected to their full extent. The American Dream is now theirs as well as any of ours.
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These six priorities are not exclusive. The Department of Justice has other responsibilities that are no less important to the American Dream. In fulfilling all of them I have asked the U.S. Attorneys around the country to redouble their fine efforts.
And I ask you, who are leaders here in Portland, for your help in realizing the American Dream. Partnership among state, local, and federal law enforcement made possible the growing number of indictments of members of the domestic terrorists associated with the Earth Liberation Front. Your partnership with your community, your contribution of your talents are invaluable to the flourishing of your community. You will be building a partnership with future generations filled with hope and dreams.
I thank you all for coming out at this early hour. I look forward to your questions.