Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you, Jim [Cole]. It is a privilege to be here with you – and with so many colleagues, friends, and distinguished guests. And it is a special honor to welcome today’s speakers – our nation’s former Solicitor General, and my good friend – Ted Olson, whose strength has been an example to all of us; as well as Carie Lemack, whose advocacy efforts have helped victims of terrorism all around the world – and whose advice has been a great asset to me and to so many leaders and policymakers; and, finally, Major Abraham Scott, whose dedication – and life of service – inspires each of us. Thank you all for being here – and for sharing your stories with us.
I’d also like to recognize and welcome back the other former Department employees and leaders who have joined us, including former Deputy Attorneys General, Paul McNulty and Larry Thompson; former Acting Associate Solicitor General, Phil Perry; and, of course, former Attorney General [John] Ashcroft, who led this Department with distinction for four years – and, in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, took important steps to protect the safety of the American people. We remain grateful for his service to this Department during some of the most challenging moments in America’s history.
In just two days, our nation – and all the world – will mark the tenth anniversary of the most devastating terrorist attacks ever carried out against the United States. We will grieve for the nearly three thousand innocent people who were killed. We will pay tribute to the survivors – who have helped each other to find healing and peace, and to rebuild their lives. We will honor the many heroes who – with remarkable bravery and without hesitation – put the safety of others above their own. And we will recommit ourselves to the critical work of ensuring our nation’s security – and advancing the cause of justice.
Although nearly a decade has passed, none of us will ever forget where we were on that beautiful, autumn morning. I remember, so clearly, the profound sense of loss that I felt as I watched the terrible news unfold – and as I saw images of the World Trade Center Twin Towers crumbling to the ground. As a high school student in lower Manhattan, I’d watched these buildings go up, story by story, to become the iconic symbol New York City’s skyline – and a source of pride – not only for my hometown, but for our entire country.
On September 11th, 2001, when those towers were reduced to rubble – along with the western side of the Pentagon, and a patch of land in rural Pennsylvania – and as so many lives were cut short – we learned, in the most painful of ways, about the human capacity for evil. But in the moments, months, and years since, we have seen – in the compassion and generosity of people across the world – the human capacity for good. We also have witnessed our nation’s ability to transform sorrow into strength, into unity, into resiliency – and into a nationwide call to service.
This weekend, I know that many of you – like thousands of Americans around the country – will spend some time working to improve your communities, to assist and support those in need, and to reflect on the events that – 10 years ago – touched all of our lives, and continue to influence the critical work of this Department.
On Sunday, I will have the honor of joining President Obama – and a number of local and national leaders, public servants, and fellow citizens – at Ground Zero, to participate in a remembrance ceremony.
We’re not going to New York to give speeches, or even to talk about the ways in which our nation’s security has been strengthened in recent years – or why the safety of the American people is, and must continue to be, our top priority. We’ve had such discussions regularly over the last ten years. And we will continue to have them long into the future.
On September 11th, 2011, we’re going to New York to remember. To pay our respects. To signal our resolve. And to walk those few city blocks that were hallowed, one decade ago, by incomprehensible loss – and that will soon be the site of a new memorial and museum, a new complex of office buildings, and a new beginning.
We’re going to honor the innocent people – from across the country and around the world – who were taken from us so suddenly. We’re going to renew our commitment to supporting the family members, friends, and loved ones they left behind – many of whom I have been privileged to get to know in recent years, and look forward to working with in the days ahead. And we’re going to lift up the heroes of that day – the firefighters, law enforcement officers, and ordinary citizens who, despite deadly conditions, ran toward the Twin Towers, as so many were racing away; the military officials and public servants who were working – just across the river from here, in Arlington – to defend our nation from the very threat that stole their lives; and the courageous group of passengers who – while stranded in the air – chose to spend the final, precious moments of their lives fighting to save others from the fate they realized had become their own.
In the face of hatred and violence, on a scale our nation had never before known, these brave men and women demonstrated true patriotism – and the quiet power of compassion and selflessness.
Despite all that was lost and destroyed on September 11th – when I think back on that terrible day, these are the qualities that shine through – at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, and in the skies above Shanksville, Pennsylvania. These are the defining attributes that brought our nation together – and will continue to make this country an example of strength.
Since America’s earliest days – even in the darkest of moments – the citizens of this country have proven that – no matter the challenge, no matter the obstacle, no matter the differences that, at times, can divide us from one another – we are, and always will be, one nation. One people. Conceived in liberty; dedicated to the highest ideals of justice; and striving – always – to carry forward the difficult but essential work of building a more perfect union.
This is the challenge that lies before the Department of Justice each day. This is the responsibility that each of us is called to fulfill.
So, today, let us pledge ourselves to this work. Let us build a nation that is not only safer, but stronger, than ever before. And let us do – not just what is necessary, but what is right, in our efforts to protect the safety – and to safeguard the civil liberties – of those we are privileged to serve.
Our next speaker is deeply familiar with these efforts. During his tenure as Solicitor General, from 2001 to 2004, Ted Olson helped to lead this Department during the critical period immediately following 9/11 – in what was also one of the most painful and challenging times of his own life. He is not only a dedicated public servant; he is also one of the most accomplished and effective attorneys practicing in this country today. And as the husband of our late colleague, Barbara Olson, he understands – more acutely than most of us can imagine – the profound human cost of the 9/11 attacks. It is a privilege to welcome him back to the Department, and to introduce him today.
Please join me in welcoming an extraordinary public servant – and a dear friend – former Solicitor General Ted Olson.