Justice and home affairs ministers from the Group of Eight nations have pledged to redouble international cooperation in the fight against terrorism. The ministers held a news conference in Washington Tuesday at the conclusion of a two-day meeting hosted by the United States.
Addressing reporters, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said terrorist attacks from New York to Madrid have shown that no nation is safe from the perpetrators of violence, and that only by working together can countries defeat grave threats to their security.
"The evil plots of those who would disrupt civilization know no boundaries," he said. "The fight against terrorism must not be limited by our borders. We understand that we cannot fight these threats separately. If we expect to emerge safer and more secure, we must fight together. As a result, global law enforcement communication and cooperation, which was already strong prior to September 11th, has expanded, while the relationships between our respective agencies have grown even stronger."
The officials, representing the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia, laid out an ambitious cooperation plan. The goals include preventing terrorist and criminal acts through intelligence sharing and empowering law enforcement agencies to aggressively and proactively investigate potential threats. In addition, the plan calls for strengthening border and transportation security, including enhanced measures to verify the identities of travelers, boosting vigilance of the Internet to target those who use computer tools to further terrorist aims, and clamping down on corruption.
Civil rights advocates in the United States and elsewhere have been highly critical of what they see as heavy-handed law enforcement procedures and other practices adopted by some countries after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler sought to allay fears that renewed international cooperation in the war on terrorism could erode fundamental civil liberties:
"There is no contradiction between a commitment to security and a commitment to human rights," he said. "This is not an "either/or" proposition. If we understand terrorism to be an assault on the security of a democracy and an assault on the fundamental rights of its inhabitants, then we must see counter-terrorism law and policy as being the protection of a democracy and the protection of the most fundamental rights of each of its inhabitants. Clearly, whatever is undertaken with respect to anti-terrorism law and policy, in the course of the enforcement and application, must conform with international and domestic human rights safeguards."
The ministers were asked whether developments in Iraq, particularly the release of photographs showing U-S servicemen humiliating Iraqi prisoners, could incite further terrorist acts. Attorney General Ashcroft said American soldiers who committed abuses will be punished, and the war on terrorism will continue.
The ministerial meeting preceded next month's Group of Eight summit, to be hosted by President Bush on Sea Island, in the U-S state Georgia.