- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 11, 2004

Attorney General John Ashcroft, in a farewell speech yesterday to Justice Department employees, praised their efforts in deterring terrorism since the September 11 attacks on America, but warned that al Qaeda “has not lost its thirst for American blood.”

“For three years and 100 days, Americans have heard that another terrorist attack on our country was inevitable; that the justice community … could not prevent or would not prevent another attack,” Mr. Ashcroft said. “And yet, as we gather this morning, we gather in a nation that has not been attacked, and the reason why is not a mystery.

“Al Qaeda has not lost its thirst for American blood. … We know that terrorists will strike when and if they can. For three years, terrorists have not struck at America because you and people who work with you in this law-enforcement community have not let them,” he said.

Mr. Ashcroft’s tenure as the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer has been under constant attack from civil rights groups, other liberal organizations and political opponents since his 2001 appointment — a fact alluded to by Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who introduced the attorney general during ceremonies in the department’s Great Hall.

Quoting a 1910 speech by former President Theodore Roosevelt, Mr. Comey said: “It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause.”

Adding his own words, Mr. Comey said, “I am not here to introduce some timid soul. I am here to introduce a man who accepted a great charge, a man who stepped into the arena and who, by striving valiantly, made a lasting difference for this department and for this country.”

In a speech broadcast to department employees across the country, Mr. Ashcroft said they had dismantled terrorist operations from New York to Florida to California, and brought criminal charges against 375 persons — 195 of whom have been convicted or pleaded guilty.

“This morning our nation is safer because you answered the call to defend freedom and human dignity and fight terror, and I join with all Americans in humble thanks for your service,” he said. “For nearly four years together, we’ve had an opportunity to serve this nation. Every day I’m impressed by your talent. I’m awed by your courage. I’m humbled by your dedication.”

Mr. Ashcroft described their “sacrifice and courage” in preventing a new terrorist attack as a “triumph against long odds.”

“You have done what so many said could not be done. You have enhanced the freedom of Americans at precisely the time when our freedom has been under its greatest attack,” he said.

Mr. Ashcroft said one result of September 11 has been “an increased devotion to freedom, a focus on human dignity.”

He said the country learned that day its values were “neither self-enforcing nor self-sustaining; that it’s our job to defend them.”

“And the weight of this defense has fallen on your shoulders. Yet instead of stooping under freedom’s burden, you have stood tall. Instead of bending under the weight of protecting human dignity, you have found new strength in its defense,” he said.

Mr. Ashcroft resigned on Election Day but will remain in office until his nominated successor, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, is confirmed. He said some Justice Department critics had suggested it could not protect the civil and human rights of America while fighting the war on terrorism.

“And yet as we gather in a nation in which civil rights prosecutions are on the rise and criminals who traffic in human beings are on the run, we know that our capacity to enforce the civil rights laws is robust, energetic and effective,” he said.

Mr. Ashcroft, 62, said that in the past three years, 440 persons were charged on criminal civil rights violations — 100 more than in the preceding three years.

Equally important, he said, was the establishment of newfound cooperation among the department, the FBI and other federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies.

“Not only within these walls, but throughout the greater law-enforcement community across America, a bond of respect, interdependence has developed,” he said. “Barriers that once separated group from group, career from non-career, federal from tribal, state from local — barriers have given way to a new understanding of our mutual interdependence.”

He said such cooperation drove violent crime to its lowest rate in 30 years, and resulted in a 31 percent reduction in rape and sexual assault, a 30 percent drop in robberies and a 26 percent decline in aggravated assaults. He also credited it with the dismantling of 14 major drug cartels and the crippling of 11 others.

The Ashcroft years:

• There have been no major terrorist attacks on American soil since September 11. The Justice Department dismantled terrorist operations and cells from New York to California, brought criminal charges against 375 persons and secured convictions or guilty pleas from 195, and seized more than $141 million from organizations suspected of supporting terrorism.

• Violent crime dropped to a 30-year low. Over the past three years, rapes and sexual assaults are down 31 percent, robberies have dropped 31 percent and assaults are down 26 percent. Since 2001, more than 1.7 million fewer Americans were the victims of violent crimes as the overall rate of violent crime declined by 27 percent.

• Federal gun crime prosecutions are up 76 percent over the past four years, and 250,000 fewer gun crimes have been committed, an 18 percent reduction in the incidence of gun crime compared to the three prior years.

• Major drug trafficking organizations are being targeted and dismantled, and drug use among youth is declining. The heads of 17 high-priority drug cartels have been arrested, nearly 30 percent of the total high-priority targets. Cocaine production is down 30 percent and drug use among America’s youth is declining at record levels, including an 11 percent drop in drug use among 8th, 10th and 12th graders — the first drop across all three grades in a decade.

• A corporate fraud task force, formed 28 months ago, charged more than 900 violators in nearly 400 cases, winning convictions or guilty pleas in more than 500 cases, including top executives at Enron, Worldcom, ImClone, Adelphia and Health South.

• Over the past three years, more than 439 persons have been charged with criminal civil rights violations — exceeding the 413 charged during the preceding three years. Last year, 150 defendants were charged and 111 were convicted. Also last year, the department charged 47 human trafficking defendants in 26 cases.

• Civil fraud recoveries have more than doubled over the past three years to $5.7 billion, and health care fraud recoveries nearly tripled to $4.1 billion in the same period — both records high. The department obtained the largest civil penalty in history against a single company for violations of an environmental statute.

• Enforcement of the Clean Air Act achieved a reduction in air pollution of over 465,000 tons per year, while polluters across the nation last year agreed to spend in excess of $4 billion to take corrective measures to protect the nation’s health, welfare and environment. More than $179 million in civil penalties for violations in environmental cases were imposed by the courts, second only to fiscal year 2003’s record-setting recovery of $203 million.

Source: The Department of Justice

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