U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft urged law enforcement officials from across the United States Tuesday to come in line with the Bush administration's policies on pursuing terrorists.
Speaking at an annual meeting attended by representatives from nearly every local district, Mr. Ashcroft called on U.S. attorneys to use every tool available within the boundaries of the U.S. Constitution. "In prosecuting terrorism we occupy a difficult intersection between national security and traditional law enforcement," he said. "We must do our jobs with the utmost attention to the quality of the investigations we conduct and to the cases we prepare. We must use all lawful means to prevent terrorism and we must act with excellence. There are no second chances in the campaign to prevent further September eleventh tragedies."
Mr. Ashcroft defended the Bush administration, which has come under fire during the past year by critics, who argue that some post-September 11 policies threaten constitutional rights.
Civil libertarian groups have fought the government's practice of investigating and detaining people, sometimes without charges, the refusal to reveal the names of more than one-thousand detainees taken into custody after the attacks, new monitoring of attorney-client conversations in federal prisons and increased screening of people arriving in the United States from countries with a high presence of al-Qaeda terrorists.
During his remarks, the attorney general said the government will continue to conceal the names of certain detainees as a matter of national security and proceeded to lash out at critics. "You know the familiar drumbeat," said John Ashcroft. "I can go on and on. Our critics seem to think that business as usual, doing what was done before and nothing more would keep America safe from terrorists. History tells us it did not keep us safe."
Since the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration and the U.S. Congress have begun a process of restructuring law enforcement agencies and fostering cooperation among them to increase the flow of information in an effort to prevent future disasters.
In this new climate, Mr. Ashcroft says local U.S. attorneys should remain vigilant in acquiring information about potential terrorists, detaining people who pose an alleged national security risk on violations of criminal and immigration laws and coordinating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.