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Attorney General Jeff Sessions Delivers Remarks on the 17th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and Acting Associate Attorney General Panuccio.

Thank you to Rhea Walker for once again lending your beautiful voice to this ceremony.

And thank you all for being here.

At this very hour 17 years ago, our country was changed forever.

We had been struck with the deadliest attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. 

Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives.  More than 1,300 children became orphans and more than a dozen unborn children lost fathers they would never meet.

The magnitude of this evil was overwhelming.  And it is still overwhelming to think about.

But in response to this great evil, the American people responded as they always do—with greater goodness, with heroism, and with determination.

Nineteen terrorists infiltrated our borders and targeted innocent people for death.  But hundreds of Americans worked together to save lives.

First responders performed one of the most heroic rescue missions in our history.

Hundreds of them gave their lives, saving others, including 72 law enforcement officers from 10 different agencies. 

The brave men and women on Flight 93 prevented another target from being hit that day and saved lives.

I was across the street at the Supreme Court that morning, attending the annual judicial conference as I will again this Thursday morning. Those Flight 93 heroes may well have saved our lives.

Over the following months, people gave billions of dollars, thousands joined the armed forces and went off to war.  Thousands of them gave their lives.  We must remember them today, too.

We should also remember that the Department of Justice was at the center of much of the country’s response.  The country faced unpresented security and legal challenges.

At the time, we had no National Security Division.  Much of the work was done by the Criminal Division.  Some of you here this morning were here on 9/11, too.  You participated firsthand.  We are grateful for the work that you did in the difficult days that followed.

Today we are better equipped, better prepared and better organized.  We have better laws. But there is more to be done as our adversaries have not abandoned their goals.

The terrorist threat did not begin on 9/11.  Neither did it end on September 12th.  Over the last 17 years, terrorists have been able to inflict other, smaller attacks upon us and our allies, from San Bernardino to Orlando to Brussels.

But, I am exceedingly proud of the relentless and effective work of our National Security Division and the entire Department of Justice. Since 9/11, this Department has secured the convictions of over 580 defendants for terrorism or terrorism-related charges.

Over the last five years, we have charged more than 160 foreign fighters, homegrown violent extremists, and ISIS supporters in more than 45 districts.  This past Christmas, the FBI arrested a man who wanted to conduct a terrorist attack in San Francisco.

And we are not letting up: the FBI currently has ongoing investigations in all 50 states.

I am amazed at how effective our team has been in preventing attacks and prosecuting terrorists before they can carry out their murderous aims.  Seventeen years ago, few would have predicted that we would go so long without another attack on the scale of what happened on 9/11.

I meet with the FBI Director, his Counterterrorism team, and our National Security Division three mornings a week to discuss the terrorist threat and how it has changed.  Today it is often online.  A terrorist in Alexandria, Egypt can contact a sympathizer in Alexandria, Virginia in a matter of seconds. 

They can plot attacks that can be carried out in a matter of hours.

And so—now more than ever—we have to stay one step ahead of the terrorists at all times.

After all, they only have to succeed once.  We have to succeed every time. 

It is not enough to prosecute terrorism or punish terrorist acts after the fact.  The national, post-9/11 goal is to prevent terrorism.

We must be vigilant.  The terrorists are still targeting us.  Some seek to infiltrate this country.  Others plot from afar.  They all want to intimidate us and control us.  They reject our culture—our free speech, our freedom of religion, and our democratic republic. 

They seek acquiescence and inaction.  But we will meet them with resolve.

They seek to impose on us their speech codes, their religion, and their ideology.  But they will fail. 

We will not yield.  We will never yield our freedom, our individual moral autonomy, or our country.  We will steadfastly defend our institutions and our way of life. 

And so, as we return to our work at the Department today, this anniversary should remind us how important our work is.  There is no higher secular calling than to protect the safety, lives and the rights of its citizens.  All rights depend upon that.

As we continue our efforts, let us also remember the example of service and dedication that so many law officers and first responders set 17 years ago—as they lay down their lives for their neighbors.

And it is appropriate on this day of remembrance to pause to consider the role and importance of this historic and great Department of Justice in the life of the nation we serve. And we serve more than a nation—we have a duty to millions of Americans.

We have been given a legacy, a trust, from the American people. Those here and serving 17 years ago understood and rose to the occasion.

With dedication and long hours, facing great uncertainty, with judgment and courage, they met the challenge of their time. They held our banner high. Let us do likewise today and every day that we are honored to serve this great nation. Thank you.

Updated September 11, 2018