Testimony of Attorney General John Ashcroft
U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on the Judiciary
June 5, 2003
(Note: The Attorney General often deviates from prepared remarks.)
During Operation Enduring Freedom, on the wind-swept plateaus of Afghanistan, some American military commanders read a list every morning to their troops - names of the men and women who died on September 11. It was a stark reminder of why they were there.
Diana M. Hale-McKinzy
Susan Ann Ruggiero
Manny Del Valle
Charles E. Sabin
To read every name of every victim who died at the hands of terrorists on September 11 would take three hours. To read all the names of sons and daughters, wives and husbands, friends and family affected by the loss of loved ones on that tragic day would be impossible.
I come before this Committee having not forgotten the promise made to those stolen from us by terrorism's ideology of hate. The roots of this murderous ideology can be found in this 1998 fatwa issued by al Qaeda's founders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, declaring war on American civilians.
In it, they write, quote, "The judgment to kill Americans and their allies, both civilian and military, is the individual duty of every Muslim able to do so, and in any country where it is possible." And, "We in the name of God, call on every Muslim who believes in God and desires to be rewarded, to follow God's order to kill Americans and plunder their wealth wherever and whenever they find it." On September 11, bloodthirsty terrorists answered Bin Laden's call for killing.
Twenty months ago President Bush pledged that al Qaeda and the terrorist network would not escape the patient justice of the United States - for we would remember the victims of terrorism.
Today, brave men and women in uniform abroad and at home answer our President's call for justice. Sworn to defend the Constitution and our liberties, and motivated by the memories of September 11, they live each day by a code of honor, duty, and country. And they know that they may die preserving the promise that terrorism will not reach this land of liberty again - for we are a nation locked in a deadly war with the evil of terrorism.
We will not forget that in Afghanistan, on the dusty road to Kandahar, Army Sgt. Orlando Morales was killed on reconnaissance patrol 70 in a town called Geresk. He leaves behind a wife and 17-month-old daughter. Sergeant Morales was in Afghanistan fighting to destroy the Taliban regime, terrorist operatives, and their training camps.
His sacrifice was not in vain. In this war, over half of al Qaeda's senior operatives have been captured or killed. Some of those captured were operatives, like Khalid Shaik Mohammed. Others, like military commander Mohammed Atef, are silenced forever. Overall, more than 3,000 foot soldiers of terror have been incapacitated.
We will not forget that in the battles in Iraq, Marine Lance Corporal David Fribley of Warsaw, Indiana, was killed near Nasiriyah by Iraqi soldiers who pretended to surrender - but then opened fire. Lance Corporal Fribley made the ultimate sacrifice to free the Iraqi people and to eliminate a key sponsor of terror.
We must not forget that this great fight for freedom did not end in Kabul. It will not end along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates. The fight continues here - on America's streets, off our shores, and in the skies above.
Americans do not shy from danger or turn away from threats to liberty. On September 11, we saw our nation's finest ideals in action. Firefighters and police officers rushed to - not from - the World Trade Center. We saw Americans embrace duty, face danger, and sacrifice their lives for their fellow citizens and for freedom.
On that tragic day, 343 firefighters and 71 police officers died in the line of duty. Today, the Justice Department, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as state and local law enforcement officers, uphold the legacy of our fallen heroes.
From state troopers on the roads to cops on the beat, from intelligence analysts to FBI field agents, these are the sentinels serving with silent determination to protect America's citizens. They wage this defense with the tools you help provide them.
Twenty months ago, you understood what was needed to preserve freedom. You understood that our nation's success in this long war on terrorism demanded that the Justice Department continuously adapt and improve its capabilities to protect Americans from a fanatical, ruthless enemy.
That is why you worked with us to shape an anti-terrorism law housed in the framework of American freedom - the Constitution of the United States.
Congress overwhelmingly approved the USA PATRIOT Act. In the House, Representatives voted 357 to 66 for the measure, while the Senate supported the legislation by a near unanimous 98-to-1 vote.
The PATRIOT Act gave us the tools we needed to integrate our law enforcement and intelligence capabilities to win the war on terror.
It allowed the Department of Justice to use the same tools from the criminal process on terrorists that we use to combat mobsters or drug dealers. We use these tools to gather intelligence and to prevent terrorists from unleashing more death and destruction within our country. We use these tools to connect the "dots." We use these tools to save innocent lives.
The "Buffalo Cell" case shows how the PATRIOT Act and the criminal process can drive intelligence gathering. There, we learned of information about individuals who allegedly trained in an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and lived in the United States.
The Department used confidential informants to gather facts; we used subpoenas to collect travel information to track their movements; we deployed surveillance to record conversations; we used search warrants to locate weapons and jihad materials; and we used some of the best interrogators from the FBI to obtain critical admissions from some of the defendants.
The Department also used one of the most effective tools at the government's disposal - the leverage of criminal charges and long prison sentences. As is often the case with criminal defendants, when individuals realize that they face a long prison term like those under the PATRIOT Act, they will try to cut their prison time by pleading guilty and cooperating with the government.
In fact, since September 11, we have obtained criminal plea agreements, many under seal, from more than 15 individuals, who must - and will continue to - cooperate with the government in its terrorist investigations.
These individuals have provided critical intelligence about al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, safehouses, training camps, recruitment, and tactics in the U.S., and the operations of those terrorists who mean to do American citizens harm.
One individual has given us intelligence on weapons stored here in the United States. Another cooperator has identified locations in the U.S. being scouted or cased for potential attacks by al Qaeda.
With the PATRIOT Act and our prevention strategy, we can point to steady progress in America's war against terrorism.
We are targeting terrorists here at home, while developing detailed intelligence on terrorist threats:
- Hundreds of suspected terrorists have been identified and tracked throughout the U.S., with more than 18,000 subpoenas and search warrants issued;
- Our human sources of intelligence have doubled, as has the number of anti-terrorism investigations.
- In 2002, using Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act tools, we targeted more than 1,000 international terrorists, spies and foreign powers, who threaten our country's security. We requested 170 emergency FISAs. This is more than three-times the total number of emergency FISAs obtained in the 23 years prior to September 11.
We are arresting and detaining potential terrorist threats:
- More than a dozen members of alleged terrorist cells in Buffalo, Seattle, Portland and Detroit, were arrested, along with more than 100 other individuals who were convicted or pled guilty to federal crimes as a result of our post-September 11 terrorism investigations;
- On Tuesday, we gained three convictions in the Detroit Cell case: two on terrorist conspiracy charges and the third on visa and document fraud charges; and
We are shutting down the terrorist financial infrastructure:
- As a result of 70 investigations into terror's money trail, more than $125 million in assets and over 600 accounts were frozen around the world.
We are building a long-term counter-terrorism capacity with:
- Over 1,000 new and redirected FBI agents dedicated to counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence;
- 250 new Assistant U.S. Attorneys; and
- 66 Joint Terrorism Task Forces, with a 337 percent increase in staffing.
Most important, no major terror attack has occurred on American soil since September 11.
Let me be clear. Al Qaeda is diminished, but not destroyed. Defeat after defeat has made the terrorists desperate to strike back.
Bombings in Tel Aviv, Israel, Bali, Indonesia, Casablanca, Morocco and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia are bitter reminders that the cold-blooded network of terror will continue to use the horror of their heinous acts to achieve their fanatical ends.
Innocent American and Saudi citizens died in the Riyadh compounds last month at the hands of al Qaeda.
We will not forget American Obadiah Abdullah, who converted to Islam and, after retiring from an 11-year career in the U.S. Army, took a job that would allow him to make a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Clifford Lawson retired as an Army staff sergeant in 1997. He had a talent for computers and electronics, and he loved his family. He was supposed to return home for his son's 13th birthday in July.
Todd Bair also served in the military. Just two weeks before he was murdered, he returned from a visit with his family. He was a man of faith, who leaves behind a wife and two sons, ages 11 and eight.
We must be vigilant and unrelenting. We must not forget that al Qaeda's primary terrorist target is the United States. Even though recent attacks were overseas, the terrorist network is committed to killing innocent Americans, including women and children, by the thousands or even the millions if they can.
Nasir Bin Hamd Al-Fahd is a prominent, extremist Saudi cleric known to have significant connections to al Qaeda operatives who seek his religious justification and support for terrorist operations. Just last month, he issued a new fatwah entitled, "The Legal Status of Using Weapons of Mass Destruction Against Infidels" that lays out his religious argument for the use of weapons of mass destruction against Americans.
I quote, "Anyone who considers America's aggressions against Muslims and their lands during the past decades will conclude that striking her is permissible ."
Al-Fahd asserts, quote, "The weapons of mass destruction will kill any of the infidels on whom they fall, regardless of whether they are fighters, women or children. They will destroy and burn the land. The arguments for the permissibility are many."
Further, Al Fahd, says, "If a bomb that killed ten million of them and burned as much of their land as they have burned Muslims' land were dropped on them, it would be permissible."
Despite the terrorist threat to America, there are some in Congress and across the country who suggest that we should not have a USA PATRIOT Act. Others, who supported the Act 20 months ago, now express doubts about the necessity of some of the Act's components.
Let me state this as clearly as possible.
Our ability to prevent another catastrophic attack on American soil would be more difficult, if not impossible, without the PATRIOT Act. It has been the key weapon used across America in successful counter-terrorist operations to protect innocent Americans from the deadly plans of terrorists.
Unfortunately, the law has several weaknesses which terrorists could exploit, undermining our defenses.
First, in pursuit of terrorist cells, current law makes it a crime to provide a terrorist organization with personnel or training. We must make it crystal clear that those who train for and fight with a designated terrorist organization can be charged under material support statutes.
Second, existing law does not consistently encourage cooperation by providing adequate maximum penalties to punish acts of terrorism. Some terrorist acts resulting in the death of citizens do not provide for the death penalty or even life imprisonment.
Third, terrorism offenses are not expressly included in the list of crimes that allow for pre-trial detention, even though it could prevent an attack. In criminal cases where public safety is of concern - such as drug dealing, organized crime, and gun crimes - defendants in federal cases are presumptively denied pretrial release.
As we weigh the Constitutional methods we will use to defend innocent Americans from terrorism, we must not forget the names that unite us in our cause:
Ronald Scott Owens
Lakiba Nicole Palmer
These are some of the brave men and women of the USS Cole who were murdered by al Qaeda in 2000. Weeks ago, when I met with the families of those who died on the Cole, they pleaded that we not forget them. I am committed to their families not being forgotten.
Cherone Gunn had been in the Navy less than a year and loved serving his country. He wanted to become a law enforcement officer. Ronchester Santiago planned to study electrical engineering at the University of Texas.
Ronald Scott Owens left behind his wife, Jamie, and a little girl named Isabella Marie. Lakiba Palmer died, leaving an 18-month-old daughter who will never know her mother. The two daughters of Timothy Saunders were ten and seven years old when they lost their father.
The names I have recalled today all bear silent, painful witness to the fact that the United States is a nation at war.
We must never forget that we are in a war to preserve life and liberty.
We must not forget that our enemies are ruthless fanatics, who seek to murder innocent men, women and children to achieve their twisted goals.
We must not forget that in the struggle between the forces of freedom and the ideology of hate, our challenge in this war against terrorism is to adapt and anticipate, to out-think and outmaneuver our enemies, while honoring our Constitution.
The United States Department of Justice has been called to defend America. We accept that charge.
We fight in the tradition of all great American struggles: with resolve, defiance, and honor.
We fight to secure victory over the evil in our midst.
We fight to uphold the liberties and ideals that define a free and brave people.
Every day the Justice Department is working tirelessly, taking this war to the hideouts and havens of our enemies, so that it never again touches the hearths and homes of America.
I thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I thank you for the Constitutional weapons that make the war for freedom a conflict whose end is not in doubt. And I thank the American people for their support and faith in the justice of our cause.
I would now be happy to answer your questions.