Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales
at the Vienna E.U. Interior Ministers Conference

Vienna, Austria
May 5, 2006

Thank you. I appreciate this opportunity to open today’s dialogue about our shared struggle to keep our citizens safe in the face of the continuing threat of global terrorism.

Let me begin by paying tribute to the critical role that the European Union and other nations gathered here today have played in fighting terrorism. Many of you, and your citizens, have suffered at the hands of terrorists for far longer than the United States. And that suffering has continued on the streets of London, Madrid, and more locations and countries too numerous to mention here. Whether under the banner of Al Qaeda, or that of the Red Brigades, the “Continuity IRA”, ETA, or other groups, the end is the same: perpetual violence designed to undermine democracy and the rule of law.

And in part because of Europe’s long experience in combating terrorism, I understand many of you and your citizens view terrorism generally as a criminal matter, to be dealt with exclusively in your criminal justice systems… and many of you have well developed legal tools to deal with terrorists.

But the September 11th attacks introduced America to a new type of conflict, and to an enemy that has proven capable of creating mass casualties on a scale not previously contemplated. Faced with a highly dangerous adversary, the United States responded by bringing to bear all of our tools to defeat the threat, including, when appropriate, military action.

To be sure, there are cases in which our criminal justice system is the appropriate way to deliver justice to terrorists and protect America. Although, as we know, terrorism cases are difficult to prosecute, we have enjoyed good success in our courts. But there also instances in which the national security of the United States requires a military response, and corresponding incidents of war, such as detaining enemy combatants and making use of military commissions. Thus, we have taken the fight to the terrorist enemy on all fronts and we have made progress. In the criminal justice context, we have focused the Department of Justice, including the FBI, on fighting terrorism and we have enacted new laws such as the PATRIOT Act that help us investigate and prosecute terrorism related crimes.

But we also know that our enemy is very patient – they want to harm not only America, but also our friends and allies. We are safer today but not yet safe. We turn to the European Union, and to the nations gathered here today, for help and support. We look to your experiences and lessons learned and we study what you do. And what we see is that, our legal systems are very different in some respects, and some of you have legal tools to deal with terrorism that simply are not available in the U.S. criminal justice system.

European countries have, for instance, adopted an array of different preventive detention regimes not available in the United States. Some nations have implemented “control orders” restricting suspects’ freedom of movement and communication. By contrast, prosecutors in the United States are far more constrained under our laws and Constitution.

Similarly, in many European states the practice of obtaining electronic surveillance without a judicial warrant has long been accepted, and is not seen as offensive to a proper respect for liberty and privacy interests. In contrast, as you know, in the United States there has been extensive debate over whether the Terrorist Surveillance Program violated the U.S. Constitution or civil rights because judicial warrants were not required. The answer to that question is “No” – the program is fully constitutional and protective of civil liberties. But the very fact that the debate took place reflects different U.S. and European perspectives on electronic surveillance.

So too with the intersection of freedom of speech and terrorism: observers have long noted the difference between broader American and stricter European conceptions of free speech. In the context of fighting terrorism, this has meant that European countries may go farther to punish speech than would be possible in the United States. This has relevance in our discussions about shutting down websites that recruit jihadists.

Now, to be clear, I am not advocating that America adopt a European model, or vice versa, in fighting terrorism. Instead, I seek merely to point out that our democracies have developed different governmental structures to fight terrorism in a manner that protects rights in different ways.

But these differences have not impeded our working together. To the contrary, in the last few years, we have secured unprecedented new levels of cooperation between our respective criminal justice systems. The U.S.’s very first treaties with the European Union involved extradition and mutual legal assistance.

One important area of cooperation worth singling out is the sharing of information regarding terror suspects. Because the U.S. and EU share core principles and protections regarding privacy, we have been able to make information-sharing arrangements with Europol. We have been able to work with the EU to fashion information protection provisions for the Council of Europe Cybercrime Convention.

We also can further this cooperation through building on our joint efforts against organized crime. When a bribe from a drug dealer or a human trafficker is accepted, the consequences are bad enough. But a bribe from someone smuggling weapons of mass destruction is potentially catastrophic. States that cannot enforce their criminal laws against organized crime and governmental corruption are also too weak to combat terrorists.

Moving forward we must build upon this cooperation, respectful of our differing legal systems, and find ways to extend this cooperation to the other countries that the Austrian Presidency has brought together here today. We must be able to share important intelligence information critical to a prosecution in another country. We must develop systems that allow our respective countries to share sensitive information without fear of compromising national security. And we must preserve data and have it available to be shared with another country without compromising legitimate privacy interests.

In sum, the fact that the diverse nations meeting here have different means of supporting our shared democratic ideals need not make us — and indeed has not made us — less united in the fight against global terrorism. As EU High Representative Javier Solana has said, “[j]oint action to fight international terrorism [is] one of the unsung transatlantic success stories.”

And for this success to develop yet further, it is vital that we maintain our dialogue, work through our difficulties, and reaffirm our common bonds. Prevailing in this global struggle is essential for us all. Only through a strong, continued partnership between and among the United States, the European Union, and neighboring nations will we be able destroy the terrorist threat.

I thank you again for this opportunity to open our dialogue.