Speech* of Deputy Attorney General
LARRY D. THOMPSON
at the Economic Club of Florida
Thursday - May 2, 2002
- INTRODUCTION/NEW PARADIGM
- It is a pleasure to be back in Florida again and an honor to address this prestigious organization.
- One of my sons attended Florida A&M University-so I have been in Tallahassee as a parent and spending money as an out-of-state parent from Georgia rather freely.
- I also recently had the great privilege of arguing a case before the United States Supreme Court-U.S. v. Drayton-that involved the fine work of the Tallahassee Police Department and the United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Florida.
- I want to turn directly to the topic that consumes most of my energies at the Justice Department and about which I know that you are all deeply concerned: America's global battle against terrorism and the Department's role in the war.
- After the terrorist attacks of September 11, we all pulled together to support each other; to preserve our way of life; and to rise to the challenges that this new struggle has thrust upon us.
- Lawyers and people from all over the country called and/or e-mailed - volunteering to do whatever they can. What a tribute to our country!
There is a common sense of purpose - that we as a nation will prevail against terrorism, but we do face a challenge.
- We have not suffered another attack; BUT we have to be vigilant against the continuing threat of terrorism. Every morning I meet with the CIA and the FBI. Every day I learn of some credible terrorist threat that we have to analyze and respond to. The government officials who charged with the responsibility with dealing with this threat will never get back to normal-nor should they.
- You can rest assured that we are taking aggressive action to protect the country.
The events of 9/11 have had a transforming effect on DOJ.
- Personal transforming effect - this is as righteous of a cause or case as I have ever worked on.
The overriding imperative of DOJ is to disrupt and prevent terrorism / a little like a cop on the beat / save lives.
- Most essential function of any government is to secure the safety of its citizens.
Attorney General Ashcroft has given strict instructions to investigators and prosecutors:
- Share pertinent information with appropriate officials where doing so can disrupt or prevent a terrorist attack.
- Even if it means compromising potential criminal prosecution.
- IN essence, there is a new challenge at DOJ and a new paradigm to meet the challenge.
The Justice Department has undertaken several new efforts in our fight against terrorism.
- We are coordinating swift preemptive actions and ongoing cooperation among federal, state, and local law enforcement.
- We are checking the names of foreign nationals in the US or seeking entry for potential terrorist ties against sophisticated intelligence and law enforcement data bases, and detaining them or seeking their deportation were appropriate.
- We are also conducting voluntary interviews with several thousand additional foreign nationals to gain information about potential terrorist operations in the United States.
- Finally, we are reexamining and revising administrative regulations where appropriate to be more aggressive in investigating the threat of terrorism.
CONCERNS / BALANCED MEASURES
- Americans before us have gone to war many times - and spent untold blood and treasure to secure the liberties that we hold dear - but we are the first generation of Americans to confront the mass murder of civilians by a foreign enemy on our own soil.
- As a public official - and as an attorney who, for many years, represented criminal defendants - I share the concern that the struggle against terrorism not change the essential character of our nation. But I want to assure you that none of these steps threatens our Constitution, our essential liberties.
- Despite the gravity of the terrorist attacks and the threat of future attacks, all of the measures that we are bringing to bear have been arrived at openly, in the sunlight of public attention, and are subject to judicial review.
- It is our very open, democratic and just society - whose hallmark is our concern for civil rights - that has made us the terrorists' target. Indeed, terrorists seek to use this very respect for civil rights against us, as demonstrated in the allegations of last month's indictment of a convicted Egyptian terrorist [Sheik Rahman] and his American attorney for using their counsel visits to direct the operations of his terrorist group.
- Our freedoms are the envy of the world and the perennial winner in the global marketplace of values and ideas.
- It is precisely because the terrorists' ideology cannot compete in the open marketplace that they have turned to violence and horror. They attempt to achieve through mass murder what they will never be able to accomplish in a free exchange of ideas: to subvert our freedoms, freedoms for which millions of Americans have strained and sacrificed.
- They target us simply because we are American. They make no distinction between rich and poor. We are certainly not the first nation to be assailed by terrorists bent on its destruction. Others who have responded to this challenge can help guide us to strike the right balance among competing liberty and security concerns.1 Although Israel has been the victim of repeated terrorist assaults, the Israeli Supreme Court has prohibited the use of "moderate physical pressure" by its investigators. In doing so, the Israeli court recognized a principal that applies equally to our own struggle: "This is the destiny of democracy, as not all means are acceptable to it, and not all practices employed by its enemies are open before it. Although a democracy must often fight with one hand tied behind its back, it nonetheless has the upper hand. Preserving the Rule of Law and recognition of an individual's liberty constitutes an important component in its understanding of security. At the end of the day, they strengthen its spirit and [add to] its strength and allow it to overcome its difficulties."
- This same reverence for civil rights inspired the Attorney General immediately after the terrorist attacks to challenge all of us in the Justice Department to "think outside the box" in fighting terrorism, but caution us: "Don't think outside the Constitution."
NOT CHANGING THE ESSENTIAL CHARACTER OF OUR NATION
- At the same time that the Department has shifted its focus to prevention and disruption of terrorist attacks, we have continued to take aggressive measures to ensure that the American public's sensitivities to the terrorist threat do not boil over in a way that results in discrimination or violence against our fellow Americans of Middle Eastern descent or who worship in the Muslim faith.
- Since September 11, the Department's Civil Rights Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and United States Attorneys' Offices have investigated approximately 300 incidents involving violence or threats against Arab-Americans and other individuals perceived to be of Middle Eastern origin. Federal indictments have been brought in several cases, and federal assistance to state and local prosecutors has facilitated the prosecution of more than 60 additional cases.
- Just one example of our aggressive response to a hate crime precipitated by the events of September 11 occurred in Utah. Two days after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, an individual attempted to burn down a restaurant owned by a Pakistani-American family. The owners and patrons were inside the restaurant at the time. The perpetrator was federally charged and later pleaded guilty, admitting that his crime was "in retaliation" for the terrorist attacks. He was sentenced to four and a half years in prison.
- While we have aggressively pursued all such cases wherever they have occurred, as an American, I am pleased that such incidents of hate-motivated crime based on individuals' perceived Arab-American heritage have been extremely rare.
[My perspective on war on terrorism and my role is shaped by a lawyer from this area. He called me after 9/11 and volunteered to do anything to help. And what he told his wife when she asked him why he wanted to make a sacrifice is exactly what I believe about my situation. I don't try to understand the enormous evil of the terrorists. But whatever goes through their twisted, demonic minds-they were willing to die for their cause. I'm certainly not making a sacrifice by giving up a couple of bucks to serve my country.]
- We have much to be proud of as a nation, and in the Justice Department, in the effectiveness of our response to the terrorist attacks. We cherish the blessings that flow from a system of government based on respect for individual rights rather than fanaticism, spiritual corruption, or rule by fiat. In this we are the bulwark of our society against terror.
- I believe we are on the right track, but we will not be complacent. As Will Rogers once said, "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." And we will not just sit there. We will move aggressively to defeat terrorism wherever it exists and defend citizens' rights whenever they are threatened. I can assure you of that.
*NOTE: Mr. Thompson frequently speaks from notes and may depart from the speech as prepared. However, he stands behind the speech as presented in written format.
1 Israeli Supreme Court decision of September 6, 1999 concerning the interrogation practices of the General Security Service (also known as "Shin Bet").