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Why We're Winning the War on Terror By: John Ashcroft
American Enterprise Institute | Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Attorney General John Ashcroft delivered the following speech at the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday, August 19.

This morning, terrorists struck the United Nations mission in Baghdad, killing at least 13 people and seriously injuring at least 120 others. The victims were innocent people who traveled to Iraq on a mission of peace and human dignity. Let me express sympathy to the victims and their loved ones.

This morning’s attack again confirms that the worldwide terrorist threat is real and imminent. Our enemies continue to pursue ways to murder the innocent and the peaceful. They seek to kill us abroad and at home. But we will not be deterred from our responsibility to preserve American life and liberty, nor our duty to build a safer, more secure world.

Nearly two years have now passed since American ground was hallowed by the blood of innocents.

Two years separate us from the day when our nation’s stock of consecrated ground grew tragically larger. That day, a familiar list of monuments to American freedom  . . .  places like Bunker Hill, Antietam, the Argonne, Iwo Jima, and Normandy Beach . . .  grew longer by three:

16 acres in lower Manhattan.
The Pentagon.
A field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

For the dead, the hallowed spaces of freedom are memorials, testaments to their sacrifice. For the living, they are a warning. They are a reminder that the first responsibility of government is to provide the security that preserves the lives and liberty of the people.

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln stood on the hallowed ground of freedom at Gettysburg and expressed the sense of resolution familiar to anyone who has looked into the void at Ground Zero, surveyed the wreckage of the Pentagon, or seen the gash in the earth left by Flight 93.

“We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground,” Lincoln said. “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.”

The responsibility of those who remain, said Lincoln, is to honor the dead not with their words but with their actions … to be, quote, “dedicated to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”

It is now as it was then. We should build monuments. We should erect memorials. But our final tribute to the dead of September 11th must be to fulfill our responsibility to defend the living. Our greatest memorial to those who have passed must be to protect the lives and liberties of those yet to come.

The unfinished work of September 11 began before the towers fell, when Americans began to fight back against terror.

It was the work of the passengers on Flight 93, who fought to end the flight in a Pennsylvania field rather than a building on Pennsylvania Avenue.

It was the work of the fire fighters and police officers running up the stairs as others were running down.

It was the work of unknown heroes, whose stories will never be known, but whose spirit is the measure of hope we take from that terrible day.

The cause for which these men and women gave the last full measure of devotion…the protection of the lives and liberty of their fellow American ...has become the cause of our time. It has transformed the mission of the Justice Department. In its service, the men and women of justice have given new meaning to sacrifice, and new depth to duty.

Where a culture of law enforcement inhibition prevented communication and coordination, we have built a new ethos of justice, one rooted in cooperation, nurtured by coordination, and focused on a single, overarching goal: the prevention of terrorist attacks. All of this has been done within the safeguards of our Constitution and its guarantees of protection for American freedom.

When terrorists had bested us with technology, communications, and information, we fought for the tools necessary to preserve the lives and liberty of the American people.

In the long winter of 1941, Winston Churchill appealed to the United States for help in defending freedom from Nazism with the phrase, “Give us the tools and we will finish the job.” In the days after September 11, we appealed to Congress for help in defending freedom from terrorism with the same refrain: “Give us the tools and we will finish the job.”

Congress responded by passing the USA Patriot Act by an overwhelming margin. And while our job is not finished, we have used the tools provided in the Patriot Act to fulfill our first responsibility to protect the American people. We have used these tools to prevent terrorists from unleashing more death and destruction on our soil. We have used these tools to save innocent American lives. We have used these tools to provide the security that ensures liberty.

Today, almost two years from the day of the attack, we know more than ever before about our capacity to defend ourselves from terrorists. We know now that there were fatal flaws in our national defenses prior to September 11. We know now that al-Qaeda understood these flaws. And we know now that al-Qaeda exploited the flaws in our defenses to murderous effect.

Two years later, the evidence is clear: If we knew then what we know now, we would have passed the Patriot Act six months before September 11th rather than six weeks after the attacks.

For Congress to have done less would have been a failure of government’s most basic responsibility to the American people...to preserve life and liberty.

For Congress to have done less would have ignored the lethal lessons taught that tragic day in September.

Congress recently completed an 18-month study of the causes of September 11th. Congress’s conclusion...that there was a need for better communication, a need for better cooperation, a need for prevention...read like a preamble to the Patriot Act written two years after the hard lessons of history.

First, the report found that prior to September 11th intelligence agencies and law enforcement failed to communicate with each other about terrorist hijackers...even those identified as suspects. This lack of communications had its roots deep in the culture of government. The walls between those who gather intelligence and those who enforce the laws prevented action that could save lives.

Fortunately, in the Patriot Act, Congress began to tear down the walls that cut off communication between intelligence and law enforcement officials. The Patriot Act gave agencies like the FBI and the CIA the ability to integrate their capabilities. It gave government the ability to “connect the dots,” revealing the shadowy terrorist network in our midst.

In Portland, Oregon, we have indicted several persons for allegedly conspiring to travel to Afghanistan after the September 11th attacks in an effort to fight against American forces. In an example of excellent information-sharing between local, state, and federal authorities, the investigation began when a local sheriff in another state shared with the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force information one of his deputies had developed from a traffic stop.

Because the investigation involved both intelligence techniques and law enforcement tools, the Patriot Act’s elimination of the “wall” was critical in allowing all of the dots to be connected and the criminal charges to be fully developed. Recently one of the defendants, Maher Hawash, pled guilty to illegally providing support to the Taliban and agreed to cooperate with the government. He faces a sentence of seven to ten years in prison.

Second, the congressional report on September 11th found that U.S. law enforcement had long been forced to rely on outdated and insufficient technology in its efforts to prevent terrorist attacks.

Fortunately, in the Patriot Act, Congress gave law enforcement improved tools to prevent terrorism in the age of high technology. For example, where before investigators were forced to get a different wiretap order every time a suspect changed cell phones, now investigators can get a single wiretap that applies to the suspect and various phones he uses.

Thanks to the Patriot Act, we may deploy technology to track and develop cases against alleged terrorist operatives.

Uzir Paracha was a Pakistani national living in New York, who allegedly met an al-Qaeda operative overseas. Paracha allegedly agreed to help procure United States immigration documents, deposit money in a U.S. bank account, and use a post office box, all to allegedly facilitate the al-Qaeda operative’s clandestine arrival in this country.

Paracha was charged on August 8 with conspiracy to provide material support to al-Qaeda.

Third, the congressional report on September 11th determined that there was not enough cooperation among federal, state, and local law enforcement to combat a terrorist threat that found safe haven in the most nondescript of communities.

Fortunately, the Patriot Act expanded the capabilities of our Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which combine federal, state and local law enforcement officers into a seamless anti-terror team with international law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Hemant Lakhani is an alleged arms dealer in Great Britain, who is charged with attempting to sell shoulder-fired missiles to terrorists for use against American targets. After a long undercover investigation in several countries, Lakhani traveled to Newark, New Jersey, last week, and was arrested, along with two alleged financial facilitators, as he allegedly prepared to finalize the sale of the first missile.

The Lakhani investigation would not have been possible had American, Russian and other foreign intelligence and law enforcement agencies not been able to coordinate and communicate the intelligence they had gained from various investigative tools.

To address all of the issues surrounding the Patriot Act would require more time than we have here. It is critical, however, for everyone to understand what the Patriot Act means for our success in the war against terrorism. I would encourage Americans to take a few minutes and log on to a new web site, www.lifeandliberty.gov. There, you can read about the Patriot Act, read what members of Congress and others have said about the Patriot Act, and find out how it is keeping our nation safe and secure.

Armed with the tools provided by the Patriot Act, the men and women of justice and law enforcement have dedicated themselves to the unfinished work of those who resisted, those who assisted, and those who sacrificed on September 11th.

We have neutralized alleged terrorist cells in Buffalo, Detroit, Seattle and Portland.

To date, we have brought 255 criminal charges. One hundred thirty two individuals have been convicted or pled guilty.

All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries. Many more have met a different fate.

We have worked hard, but we have not labored alone:

Our efforts have been supported by Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

Our efforts have been ratified by the courts in legal challenge after legal challenge.

Our efforts have been rewarded by the trust of the American people. A two to one majority of Americans believe the Patriot Act is a necessary and effective tool that protects liberty, because it targets terrorists. Ninety one percent of Americans understand that the Patriot Act has not affected their civil rights or the civil rights of their families.

The painful lessons of September 11th remain touchstones, reminding us of government’s responsibility to its people. Those lessons have directed us down a path that preserves life and liberty.

Almost two years after Americans fought in the skies over Shanksville, we know that communication works. The Patriot Act opened opportunities for information sharing. To abandon this tool would disconnect the dots, risk American lives and liberty, and reject September 11th’s lessons.

Almost two years after Americans died at the Pentagon, we know that cooperation works. The Patriot Act creates teamwork at every level of law enforcement and intelligence. To block cooperation against terrorists would make our nation more vulnerable to attack and reject the teachings of September 11th.

Almost two years after Americans and the citizens of more than 80 other nations died at the World Trade Center we know that prevention works. The Patriot Act gives us the technological tools to anticipate, adapt and out-think our terrorist enemy. To abandon these tools would senselessly imperil American lives and American liberty, and ignore the lessons of September 11th.

The cause we have chosen is just. The course we have chosen is constitutional. The course we have chosen is preserving lives. For two years Americans have been safe. Because we are safer, our liberties are more secure.

During the long days of Operation Enduring Freedom, the struggle against the Taliban in Afghanistan, it was reported that every morning military commanders read a list to their troops . . .  the names of men and women who died on September 11.

By reciting the names of the dead, the commanders paid tribute to the words of Lincoln, spoken on another battlefield 140 years and half a world away. They are words of hope, and words of resolution. “That from these honored dead,” said Lincoln, “we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”

That cause is liberty; given a new birth at Gettysburg, and reborn once again in the struggle which history places before us today. We did not seek this struggle, but we embrace this cause.

Providence, which has bestowed on America the responsibility to lead the world in liberty, has also handed America a great trust: to provide the security that ensures liberty.

We accept this trust not with anger or arrogance but with belief. Belief that liberty is the greatest gift of our Creator. Belief that such liberty is the universal endowment of all humanity. Belief that as long as there is an America, liberty must not, will not, shall not perish from the earth.

Thank you. God bless you and God bless America.

John Ashcroft is the Attorney General of the United States.

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