- 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.

Story Continues →