Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Organization of American States Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism (NOTE: THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OFTEN DEVIATES FROM PREPARED REMARKS) January 28, 2002
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Secretary General Cesar Gaviria, former president of Colombia, and Vice Chairman Raul Ricardes of Argentina, for the opportunity to address this distinguished body on behalf of the United States.
On September 11, 2001, the day terrorists struck the United States, the foreign ministers of the Organization of American States were convened in Peru to express our common commitment to democracy and respect for human rights. Without hesitation, the Organization of American States expressed its shock and outrage, becoming the first multilateral organization to condemn officially the attacks. Soon after, the Rio Treaty was invoked, designating the attack against the United States an attack on the entire hemisphere.
Mr. Chairman, we in the United States have not forgotten these timely expressions of solidarity and support. On behalf of your friends and your neighbors in the United States, I am honored to be here to express our thanks.
We are here today because the menace of terrorism knows no borders: political or geographic. Terrorists are motivated not by nationalism or ideology, but by hate hatred of everything our nations stand for. Terrorists scorn respect for individual rights, reject basic human rights and dignity, loathe freedom of expression and freedom of religion, and deny women equal access to education and economic opportunity. On September 11, terrorists' hatred motivated them to kill innocent people from 78 different nations. XXX nations of the Organization of American States lost citizens that day. This was not the first time your nations have experienced terrorism. Many countries in the Western Hemisphere have long suffered this scourge. As the General Assembly noted, the carnage that day sent not just the United States but the hemispheric community and all the civilized world into mourning. And our mourning has given way to a still-unsated hunger for justice.
Mr. Chairman, the determination the civilized world expressed in shock and outrage on September 11 is now self-evident to all: the terrorists badly misjudged us. They believed our virtues were our weakness, when we know them to be our strength. They believed our people to be feckless, when we know them to be slow to anger, but determined when provoked.
Our common principles and common interest in preventing terrorism inextricably led the foreign ministers of the Organization of American States to call for an urgent meeting of this body the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism. CICTE's [pronounced SICK-Tay] response to terrorism was to identify specific plans of action aimed at strengthening inter-American cooperation to, quote, "prevent, combat, and eliminate terrorism in the Hemisphere." These plans for promoting tighter border and financial controls, to be considered at this meeting, are a promising start to the enhancement of all OAS member states' practical ability to prevent terrorist acts, and to respond effectively when attacks occur. Through this Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism, the OAS plays an integral part in the worldwide effort involving the United Nations, regional organizations and individual states collaborating in what will be a long war against a difficult, highly mobile and transnational enemy.
The United States' response to the September 11 attacks began the instant terrorists guided passenger airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. At that moment, our nation began the largest, most comprehensive investigation and international manhunt in history. Our priority is singular, and over-riding: to prevent terrorists from striking again.
United States law enforcement, intelligence and military officials are working cooperatively with counterpart officials around the world to identify, locate, disrupt and dismantle terrorist cells. In December, the United States indicted Zacarias Moussaoui for directly conspiring with Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda to murder thousands of people on September 11. Earlier this month, Richard Colvin Reid was charged with a suicide attempt to take down an airplane with a concealed bomb. Just last week, John Walker Lindh, an American citizen, was charged with providing support to terrorists by fighting with them against Americans abroad.
These charges follow the successful prosecutions of four other al Qaeda members for the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya in 1998. In May of last year, guilty verdicts were handed down on all 302 counts in the trial of the bombing suspects, and in October, a Manhattan federal court sentenced them to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Overseas, Operation Enduring Freedom has successfully ended the Taliban in Afghanistan and exposed its widespread unpopularity among the Afghan people. The Al-Qaeda organization in Afghanistan has been routed. Those remnants that are still at large are running from cave to cave in remote corners of that country. The Taliban's power as a military fighting force, and as a force to terrorize the Afghan population, is no more and the Afghan people have welcomed their newfound freedom.
The United States has also led an international effort to choke off the funding that sustains terrorism. On September 23, President Bush signed executive Order 13224 which authorizes blocking the assets of organizations and individuals linked to global terrorism. It prohibits transactions with terrorist groups, leaders, and corporate and charitable fronts listed pursuant to the Order. It also establishes America's ability to block the U.S. assets of foreign banks that fail to freeze terrorist assets and to deny these banks access to U.S. markets.
In addition, our Federal Bureau of Investigation has created an interagency Financial Investigation Group to examine the financial arrangements used to support terrorist attacks. The Departments of Justice, Treasury and State have worked together to identify the financial infrastructure of terrorist organizations worldwide in order to curtail their ability to move money through the international banking system.
On October 26, the U.S. Congress enacted the USA PATRIOT Act, which significantly expands the ability of U.S. law enforcement to investigate and prosecute persons who engage in terrorist acts. On December 5, in accordance with the USA PATRIOT Act, Secretary Powell designated 39 groups as "terrorist exclusion list" organizations. This designation strengthened the ability of the United States to prevent supporters of terrorism from entering the country and to deport them if they are found within our borders. The Department of Justice and the Immigration and Naturalization Service are now hard at work taking advantage of this new authority.
In addition, on October 29 the United States created the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force. The goals of this task force are to deny entry into the U.S. of persons suspected of being terrorists and to locate, detain, prosecute, and deport terrorists already in the United States. We also have designed a new tamper-resistant visa and upgraded U.S. passports to prevent photo substitution. And we have intensified discussions with our friends in Canada and Mexico to improve border security.
It goes without saying that throughout these efforts the United States has worked in concert with many multilateral and regional organizations. I am heartened and encouraged by the cooperation we have received from the Organization of American States, which has been supportive not only in word, but in deed.
Although the Western Hemisphere has been victimized by terrorism for decades, the events of September 11 have focused attention on the growing threat from terrorists who operate on a global basis. Groups with links to international terrorists operate here in our hemisphere, laundering their finances, trafficking in narcotics and smuggling illegal arms and munitions. The possibility that these groups could violate our borders for the purpose of terrorism is very real.
In response to this threat, the Organization of American States is taking important steps to help prevent terrorism of the kind that took root in Afghanistan from establishing itself in the Western Hemisphere.
In the four and a half months since the September attacks, CICTE [SICK-Tay] has correctly focused on practical results. I commend the committee for promoting concrete action among member states in three critical areas:
tightening border controls against those who would enter a country to commit terrorism, establishing more effective networks and mechanisms to track and intercept the financing of terrorists, and sharing each others' experiences through training, and joint exercises.
In this regard, I wish to underscore the important role played by Argentina, as Vice-Chair of CICTE (SICK-TAY), and commend the leadership shown by El Salvador, Peru, and Colombia in chairing the key working groups within the organization.
CICTE also is committed to producing a working database of experts who can share their expertise in areas relevant to countering terrorist threats, and to conduct training to widen our knowledge in counter-terrorism throughout the hemisphere. I urge the committee to continue these efforts, and at the same time to address other important issues that are fundamental to enhancing the ability of states in the hemisphere to fight terrorism.
This hemisphere should, in particular, be a model for the world with respect to adherence to the twelve United Nations counter-terrorism conventions. The U.S. is already a party to the first ten of these conventions and has signed the Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and the Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings. On December 5, 2001, the U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to their ratification. I urge member states that have not already done so to sign and become a party to these conventions, and I urge CICTE to make this a priority in its future work. The United States is pleased to be playing its part in the effort to draft an Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism that will enhance practical law enforcement cooperation in this area. We commend the Mexican delegation for its able leadership in this important task.
I also urge CICTE to promote the additional cooperation that is critical to combating terrorism effectively. Mutual legal assistance between countries is key to the fight against terrorism, and CICTE should seek to broaden the number of parties to the OAS Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters. It is equally important for member states to pursue the framework to combat computer crime. I encourage the acceleration of efforts in the OAS to address cyberterrorism and other threats.
Finally, I would ask CICTE to consider how national infrastructures can best be developed to facilitate the fight against terrorism. I hope that in the years ahead, CICTE, working with other inter-American organizations and sharing their resources and experience, can help us all to work cooperatively to improve the quality of life in this hemisphere. In this way, we can make the Western Hemisphere a place where our common values of freedom, prosperity, and equality can flourish and the totalitarianism of terrorism can never take hold.
Mr. Chairman, thank you, once again, for the honor it has been for me to participate in this meeting. I wish all the delegations success in further empowering CICTE and the Inter-American system to fight terrorism and other forms of international crime, to the benefit of all law-abiding citizens of this hemisphere.