Good afternoon and thank you all for such a warm welcome. I’d like to thank Dr. [Eugénia] da Conceição-Heldt for hosting this forum. And I’m particularly grateful to all the students who have taken time away from their studies to join us today. I bring with me greetings from President Obama and from the United States. It is an honor to be here in this beautiful city and a particular pleasure to have the opportunity to speak with all of you at the Dresden University of Technology.
This is my first international trip as Attorney General of the United States and it is fitting that it brings me to this university – an institution of higher learning that takes as its motto the words “Wissen schafft Brücken”– knowledge builds bridges. Throughout my time in government service I have seen this principle in action – from the bridges we build between divided communities to those we create between two nations. The work that you do, particularly here at the School of International Studies, is central to that tradition; it is focused on engaging the world outside your borders; disentangling the complexities of our global society; and drawing nations of common values and shared principles closer together to effect real and positive change.
Germany’s partnership with the United States is rooted in this mutual understanding and common cause – a dedication to equal opportunity, a commitment to equal justice and a devotion to the rule of law. In the United States, these principles have inspired untold millions to stand up, to speak out and even to lay down their lives to improve the country they love. We have sometimes fallen short of our goals – but we have never abandoned our march toward that ideal.
In recent years, the United States has made important strides and exciting progress, driven by those fundamental values and fueled by our ongoing pursuit of an ever-more perfect Union. We have advanced the cause of equality for our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters. We have fought for individuals whose civil rights and voting rights are being unfairly denied. And we have reoriented our approach to criminal justice to make our system more efficient, more fair and more effective. In every instance, we have chosen understanding over fear, diversity over intolerance and unity over division, guided always by the democratic ideals that have defined our people for centuries and that will continue to light our way forward.
I could not be more proud to represent and to lead the department that is charged with upholding those values and expanding their protections to all. But I also recognize that with that responsibility come real and difficult challenges as we seek to defend our open societies – and our commitment to inclusion – against agents of intolerance, extremism and violence; as we work to prevent attacks on our country and to prosecute those who seek to harm our citizens; and as we endeavor to promote the rule of law that separates us from our adversaries.
This is a commitment that I take extremely seriously and that has been a hallmark of my career. As a federal prosecutor in New York prior to my appointment as Attorney General, I led the successful prosecution in civilian court of al Qaeda operatives like Najibullah Zazi, Zarein Ahmedzay and Adis Medunjanin, who plotted to bomb the New York Subway System and Abid Naseer, who targeted a shopping center in England. Through mutual legal assistance treaties, my office worked alongside countries like the United Kingdom and Norway to obtain evidence and other information we used to win convictions. And we collaborated with Germany in an investigation that led to the successful U.S. prosecution of Abdeladim El Kebir – an al Qaeda terrorist who was plotting to detonate a bomb in Europe. In these instances and in many others, I was determined to demonstrate that our legal system is equipped to adjudicate any case fairly and effectively, including those that implicate threats to our national security. And as Attorney General, I will extend that approach, using legal institutions to achieve our goals within the United States and in our counterterrorism efforts around the world.
An international focus – buttressed by international collaboration – has been and will continue to be, essential to our success. We have seen all too recently how violent extremism continues to impact – and to devastate – the lives of innocent individuals around the world. We saw this in Paris, with the murders of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and the subsequent shooting at a kosher supermarket. We saw it in Copenhagen, where an attack plunged Denmark into what Prime Minister [Helle] Thorning-Schmidt called “a fight for freedom against a dark ideology.” And we are seeing it around the globe, as foreign terrorist fighters, drawn to organizations like ISIL, travel to regions of conflict like Syria and Iraq.
Just a month and a half ago, the Justice Department brought its first case against an individual who traveled overseas to fight and train with terrorists in Syria and came back intending to use those deadly skills on U.S. soil. More recently, we charged another individual who traveled to Syria and pledged allegiance to ISIL. As foreign fighters return home in greater numbers, we must continue to be vigilant to ensure that we can apprehend individuals and prevent attacks. And as these violent extremists move between nations and across borders, the ability of our global community to combat terrorism increasingly depends on a collective approach.
That’s why we are working with global governing bodies like the United Nations to direct our combined energies toward countering terrorism through international law and transnational cooperation. In a session chaired by President Obama last September, UN Security Council member states came together to adopt Resolution 2178, which requires countries to take concrete steps to address the foreign terrorist fighter threat through measures like effective border controls, information-sharing, prevention of recruiting and financing activities, and enactment of appropriate criminal laws. Through a series of UN conventions addressing terrorist financing, terrorist bombings, hostage-taking, and aircraft seizure, we came together to develop a uniform approach to justice sector cooperation in some of the most complex areas of counterterrorism. And under the Global Counter Terrorism Forum – a group of 30 countries from around the world, operating in partnership with the UN – we worked to mobilize expertise and resources to support civilian-focused responses to terrorism threats, from designing laws that criminalize terrorist assistance to establishing legal frameworks for undercover investigations. In the United States, law enforcement agencies like the FBI are working with Interpol to disseminate information on foreign terrorist fighters, as well as providing Interpol with analytical and logistical assistance. We have encouraged other countries to use Interpol – and Interpol notices – to stem the foreign-fighter phenomenon. And we are actively supporting Interpol’s Fusion Cell, which enables information-sharing relating to foreign fighters.
International cooperation also means improving the capabilities of our partner nations to detect, investigate, and prosecute those who intend to harm their citizens. Currently, we have 20 prosecutors working in an advisory capacity at the invitation of host nations to help implement UN and other international conventions and provide a range of technical assistance. We deploy teams of counterterrorism prosecutors, investigators, analysts, and forensic specialists to partner nations that have experienced a terrorist attack or are seeing a large flow of foreign terrorist fighters in order to assist in investigations and prosecutions. And we work alongside our partner nations to help return fugitives, share evidence and advance extradition.
Of course, effective international cooperation requires effective legal frameworks and institutions. Where those are lacking, cooperation falters – and countries are left vulnerable to the destabilizing forces of transnational crime and international terrorism. That is why the Department of Justice is also dedicated to assisting our allies in developing the institutions and best practices for mutual legal assistance and extradition cooperation. Through our Central Authorities Initiative, in coordination with our State Department, experts from the Justice Department are working with our foreign counterparts to help partner countries build fair and transparent justice systems with central authorities capable of bringing terrorists to justice under the rule of law. Current Central Authority Initiative programs are underway now in Asia and Africa and I look forward to continuing this valuable program in the months and years ahead.
These are vital, and in some cases, groundbreaking programs and initiatives, born of successful collaboration with governments and citizens worldwide. We can all be proud of the progress that we have achieved, and the work that we are doing together, to combat terrorism and prevent violence. And this work must go on. In the coming days, I will be attending a series of conferences with my counterparts from the G6 and the EU – meetings that will bring together justice ministers, interior ministers and other officials from around the world to strengthen the framework for international collaboration. We will discuss ways in which we can learn from one another, support one another, and recommit ourselves to the common cause and shared values that bind us together. For all of us – the nations that come together to foster these goals – this task is ongoing and evolving. We are charged with protecting not just our citizens’ peace and security, but all our essential freedoms as well. Ultimately, we will seek to build and to bolster the bridges of understanding that allow us to make progress at times of great challenge while holding true to the ideals that animate our community of nations.
Finding this essential balance requires the hard work and thoughtful participation of everyone – government, citizens and students. Our dialogue needs to be open, engaging and allow for the expression of different views from which we can learn. There is no doubt that we will experience uncertain times in the years ahead, just as we have in years past. But I am determined and the United States is determined, to meet these challenges with the engagement of our friends and partners, with the power of the rule of law and with the support of current and future leaders who will carry on this vital work. As I look out at this group of passionate students and thoughtful leaders, I am optimistic that your time – our time – can be defined by cooperation, friendship and progress. And I am hopeful that you will take up this charge and continue this work.
Through your attendance at this School of International Studies, you are already demonstrating your commitment to shaping the world we share, enhancing the mutual support and collaboration we rely on, and rising to the challenges we will face together. As you move forward with your studies, I urge you to continue looking outside yourself; to continue challenging your leaders, your colleagues, and yourselves – to be active citizens, thoughtful problem solvers and conscientious members of our global society.
Thank you once again for the opportunity to speak with you today. I look forward to all that our nations – and our people – will achieve together in the months and years ahead.
And now, I would be happy to answer any questions.