Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
EOUSA Awards Ceremony
November 14, 2003

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

As I look out on the faces of men and women who have sacrificed for justice ... and the faces of the family members who have sacrificed alongside them ... I am reminded of what Casey Stengel said about managing a baseball team. Stengel said, quote, "Managing is getting paid for the home runs someone else hits."

Your excellence reflects excellence on the Department of Justice. I am grateful for your service.

I am honored to participate in the Executive Office's 20th annual Director's Award Ceremony and to honor you for the fine work that you do.

To be sure, we have taken some heat now and again. But the only heat you are going to feel today is from the bright spotlight I want to shine on the work you have been doing, and the successes we have been achieving.

Over the past two years, the Justice Department has been focused on the safety and security of our nation from the threat of terrorism. We have been successful. In the past two years, no major terrorist attack has occurred on our soil.

Since September 11, we have dismantled terrorist cells in Detroit, Seattle, Portland, Tampa, Northern Virginia, and Buffalo.

We have disrupted weapons procurement plots in Miami, San Diego, Newark, and Houston.

We have shut down terrorist-affiliated charities in Chicago, Dallas and Syracuse.

We have brought criminal charges against 286 individuals. We have secured convictions or guilty pleas from 155 people.

While working to prevent terrorist acts, you have helped to make the Department the most productive in its history. You have done this by remaining focused on achieving justice for the American people across a broad spectrum of legal categories.

... Just to mention a few.

In the area of crime-fighting and crime-prevention, your efforts have paid off. Overall, violent crime is down to a 30-year low.

Your hard work and dedication helped mean that ... compared to the year 2000 ... almost one million fewer Americans were spared the pain and anguish of being victimized.

It means that last year, 200,000 fewer people were robbed. 740,000 fewer men and women were assaulted.

And 13,000 fewer women ... sisters, mothers, and family members ... were raped or sexually assaulted.

Today, prosecutions of gun crime have increased by 36 percent. Gun crime has been reduced so dramatically that last year, just seven percent of violent crimes were committed with a firearm. This is the lowest number of violent crimes committed with a firearm ever recorded. The lowest ever.

For nearly three years, I have seen firsthand your excellence, your professionalism, and your dedication to our nation's highest ideals of justice and the rule of law.

You should be proud of the fact that for the first time in the department's history, we have received two consecutive clean audits. This means we are working efficiently for our clients, our fellow citizens.

Those of you who have attended these events in the past might have noticed that I have a fondness for quoting Abraham Lincoln when the men and women of justice gather.

The reason this is so is that Lincoln's words have a special resonance today. Lincoln led the nation with vision and courage through a time of great testing. We, too, live in a time of challenge for America. If we take the time, we can find in Lincoln's words not just the inspiration we need to endure, but the roadmap we need to succeed and the ideals we need to defend.

On the battlefield at Gettysburg, Lincoln sought to inspire Americans by citing the deeds of those who had gone before. He said, "The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."

In an 1862 message to Congress, Lincoln reminded Americans of their responsibility to the present by citing their responsibility to history. "Fellow citizens," Lincoln said, "we will be remembered in spite of ourselves. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation."

In a lesser-known speech, in Baltimore in 1864, Lincoln defined liberty for Americans by citing a parable of a wolf and a sheep. More than a year before he spoke, Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Just ten days earlier, the Senate has passed the Thirteenth Amendment, forever ending slavery in the United States.

Lincoln's parable illustrated for a deeply divided nation that true liberty is not license to do as one pleases. True liberty, according to Lincoln, is grounded in morality, and guided by the law.

Lincoln said, quote, "The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator." But the wolf "denounces the shepherd for the same act as the destroyer of liberty."

Each of you in this room today is a shepherd of justice, dedicated to the enhancement of liberty through the law.

Today, as in Lincoln's time, Americans are engaged in a great debate about the preservation and protection of our liberty. We are asking good and necessary questions about how best to defend our freedom in the face of a very great and very real threat.

You have answered these questions not merely with words but with actions and results. You have kept America safe from terrorism. You have forged new relationships of trust and cooperation. You have brought violent crime to an historic, thirty-year low. You have protected and defended the Constitutional rights and liberties of all Americans. And while the wolves may howl in protest, today the Department of Justice honors you for your service, and a grateful nation thanks you as its liberators.

Congratulations to you all. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your service. God bless you and God bless the United States of America.