Department of Justice Seal

Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Meeting in Belgium
September 16, 2002

(Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)

Eighteen years ago, Ronald Reagan came to this continent, to a setting far different from ours today. On a windy point in Southern France, President Reagan marked the 40th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, and paid tribute to the soldiers of all nations who fought there for our collective freedom.

Eighteen years ago, Ronald Reagan came to this continent and reaffirmed the bonds of the new and the old worlds: "We are bound today by what bound us 40 years ago, the same loyalties, traditions, and beliefs," Reagan said. "We were with you then, we are with you now. Your hopes are our hopes, and your destiny is our destiny."

This week, as the world marks the anniversary of history’s greatest assault on the American homeland, the United States and Europe remain linked by what bound us 18 years ago, and forty years before that. September 11 was a bitter reminder that our shared values – values of equality, justice, and freedom – are still under assault from some corners of the world. And like the freedom-loving soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy 58 years ago, we too have a duty to preserve and defend these values – at all costs.

In the past year, as we have come to comprehend the threat to our collective security, we have also come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the justice and liberty which grant us that security. I have turned often to the words of George Washington, who led a revolution in order to secure "ordered liberty," that great experiment in which all men and women have equal standing and equal responsibility before the law.

The concept of ordered liberty is fundamental to the rule of law, and it has taken on even greater significance in this war against terrorism. In times when the most essential security of a nation is threatened, it is natural for the government to exercise some of its broadest powers under the Constitution to protect our security. It is equally natural to recall Benjamin Franklin’s now-famous caution that, quote, "they that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Franklin’s words are often rebutted by United States Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson’s admonition that the Constitution’s Bill of Rights is not a "suicide pact" – that blind and unreasonable insistence on liberty will ultimately threaten the very existence of liberty.

But by treating liberty and security as competing, mutually exclusive ends, these arguments present a false choice. Liberty and security are, in fact, symbiotic and mutually reinforcing principles. British statesman Edmund Burke explained liberty as being "connected with order; [liberty] that not only exists along with order and virtue, but which cannot exist at all without them." In fact, under constitutional democracy, security is not an end in itself but a means toward the greater end we understand as "ordered liberty."

Ordered liberty is not license. It is not, as the American Judge Learned Hand said, "the ruthless, the unbridled will." Absent order, liberty ultimately leads to the denial of liberty. As Edmund Burke observed, "Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither, in my opinion, is safe."

Writing in 1998, Boston University Law Professor Randy Barnett evoked the metaphor of a tall building – a skyscraper – to illustrate this mutually dependent relationship between liberty and order. Liberty permits thousands of people to congregate in the same space, but only with the order imposed by the structure of the building – its hallways and floors, elevators and partitions – are these thousands able to pursue their own interests without trampling on each other. Ordered liberty is the structure that, by directing and constraining the actions of individuals, allows us each the freedom to achieve the potential that is within us. To illustrate the necessity of the structure of ordered liberty to the functioning of society, Professor Barnett suggested this hypothetical: "Imagine being able to push a button and make the structure of the building instantly vanish. Thousands of persons would plunge to their deaths."

As we know all too well, Osama Bin Laden pushed this button on September 11, and thousands were killed. Al Qaeda aimed not merely at the citizens of the many nations and backgrounds who were in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and aboard Flight 93 that day – the attack pierced the heart of our system of ordered liberty. And when I say "our," I mean not just America, but the entire free world. We have all responded with a defense, not merely of our lives, but of the institutions that nurture and protect our liberty.

Eighteen years ago, upon beholding the beaches at Normandy, Ronald Reagan said "Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history." Decades later, we stand again as allies, shoulder to shoulder in another "giant undertaking," again "unparalleled in human history."

The enemy that threatens civilization today is unlike any we have ever encountered. The terrorist desires not simply to kill, but to terrorize – to bring fear to those who survive. The terrorist is indiscriminate in his choice of victims and indifferent about the value of his targets. As part of an international conspiracy of evil, the terrorist respects neither borders nor boundaries. The world is the terrorist’s battleground – no country is immune from attack, and all innocent civilians are exposed to the threat of wanton violence and incapacitated by the fear of terror. The terrorist uses violence to disrupt order, kills to foment fear and prevent our citizens from exercising their liberties. Simply put, the terrorist is at war with the ordered liberty we champion and the values that undergird our free societies.

We cannot – and will not – tolerate this terror. The United States, together with our European allies and many other nations around the world, has recognized the need for a fundamentally different approach to justice and law enforcement. Our collective, over-arching objective is to save innocent lives from further acts of terrorism by identifying, disrupting, and dismantling terrorist networks. We have undertaken this challenge constantly mindful that we seek to secure liberty, not trade liberty for security.

The European Union and the United States have successfully completed the first phase of adjusting to the post-September 11 world of international terrorism.

We have taken the first crucial steps towards strengthening a culture of cooperation between the United States and the European Union, but our work is not yet finished. The key to success in this global war on terrorism is information and resource sharing.

We must, for example, work together to harmonize our approach to data preservation and protection. The United States does not require private companies to retain data for definite periods of time. Neither does the United States require data destruction within certain time periods. Mandated data destruction means that critical records – such as phone or email – could be unavailable to law enforcement agencies, thereby seriously undercutting their ability to detect and prevent terrorist activity and other international crime.

It is vital that we come to an agreement on data protection issues in the law enforcement field. EUROPOL, for instance, is unable to share personal data with American law enforcement. Our liaison officers cannot work effectively unless information flows freely between and among our law enforcement agencies.

The free exchange of information gives us the capacity to gather disparate pieces of intelligence together to form a comprehensive picture of the terrorist threat. By sharing our intelligence, we can turn the terrorists’ tactics against them, assembling from fragmented pieces of evidence a prevention strategy that targets al Qaeda root and branch. Our collective defense requires a renewed ethic of justice, nurtured by cooperation and coordination. We cannot afford to wait for terrorists to execute their plans: the potential death toll is too high; the consequences too great.

September 11 alerted all of us to our vulnerabilities, but it also reinforced our shared values. Our nations – standing together – send a message that resonates the world over. We are nations that value justice and freedom. We will not abide an assault on these values. As partners, we must continue to take every step at our discretion, use every tool at our disposal, and employ every authority under the law to prevent terrorism and preserve the freedom – the ordered liberty – that we so cherish.

May God bless all our nations.

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