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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism > Releases > Remarks > 2003

Combating Global Terrorism

Ambassador J. Cofer Black, Coordinator for Counterterrorism
Remarks to the Eighth Annual Conference and General Meeting of the International Association of Prosecutors
Renaissance Washington Hotel, Washington, DC
August 11, 2003

It is an honor to speak to you tonight about a subject of vital importance -- at a pivotal moment in this country’s history. The agenda of your annual conference this year is clear proof of your commitment to finding the most effective ways to combat global terrorism. Your presence here tonight is proof of something more: many of you have traveled across the globe so that you could be here and participate in the conference this week. You have come from places as far as Sweden and Cameroon, China and Argentina, Uganda and Thailand. And your meeting here is evidence of the fact that terrorism affects all reaches of the world, and that we must be united, as a world, in fighting it.

I speak for the entire State Department when I say, we are pleased to join the Department of Justice, the National Association of Attorneys General, and the National District Attorneys Association, in supporting this conference -- not least because I hope that you can make my job easier, by finding ways to make all our lives safer.

Over the past several years, I have watched this country awaken -- and helped it respond -- to the growing threat of international terrorism. In August 2001, just weeks before September 11th, I gave a speech to the Secretary of Defense’s Annual Convention on Counterterrorism and concluded with the words, “[We are] going to be struck soon. Many Americans are going to die, and it could very well be in the United States.” And even though the wounds from September 11th have yet to heal, we remain vigilant, knowing that terrorists residing in this country and your own countries, are plotting as we speak to do us great harm.

We Americans must never forget what much of the world already knows: that terrorism did not begin on 9/11, and that nearly every continent of the globe has suffered from this scourge. And we must also never forget that ultimately, we will prevail.

Although it has been nearly 2 years since that tragic Tuesday morning, we in the United States are still grappling with how best to adapt our skills -- and the machinery of our government -- to the new challenges that lie ahead. After September 11th, President Bush set this country in a clear direction and set forth clear goals for us to achieve:

First, to defeat terrorists and their organizations;

Second, to deny them sponsorship, support, and sanctuary;

Third, to diminish the underlying conditions which terrorists exploit and in which they thrive; and

Fourth, to defend American citizens and interests at home and abroad. Our strategy is designed to take direct and constant action, so that we initially disrupt, degrade, and ultimately destroy terrorist networks and terrorist organizations. The more frequent and relentless our strikes, the more effective and successful we will be.

And we have made progress -- both here at home and around the world. Under President Bush’s leadership, we have undertaken sweeping changes to our federal government -- an effort larger than anything seen in 50 years. We have reformed, improved, and expanded our ability to collect intelligence, identify threats, and prevent attacks. We have increased security in key areas, from transportation to ports, borders, and other elements of critical infrastructure. And with laws like the Patriot Act, we have grown more flexible in our ability to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks.

There has also been significant progress on the international front. Secretary of State Colin Powell has worked hard to forge new friendships and strengthen existing ones. Since 9/11, we have built new relationships on counterterrorism with countries like China, Russia, and Pakistan – and many others hold promise for deepened engagement in the future. Through partnerships with nations from Singapore to Jordan and Kenya, we are seeing results by saving lives.

Indeed, our progress is measurable:

  • Since 9/11, the United States and its partners and allies have detained more than 3,000 terrorists in over 100 countries. Entire cells have been disbanded across the globe -- just as they were planning more attacks. And I am able to report to you that more than one-half of al-Qa'ida’s top leadership has been killed or captured, including some of those who conspired to attack New York and Washington, and others who helped attack the USS Cole and our Embassies in East Africa. In short, we have degraded and sown confusion into the uppermost ranks of al-Qa'ida.

  • Since 9/11, over 170 countries and jurisdictions have issued orders to freeze terrorists’ assets -- and so far, we have frozen more than $144 million and designated more than 250 terrorist groups and entities. Although any misguided fanatic with a fifty-cent knife can try to hijack an aircraft -- training and maintaining terrorist networks is expensive -- and we have made it much harder for them to move funds and orchestrate attacks.

  • Since 9/11, more than 30 nations have signed onto all 12 of the international antiterrorism conventions and protocols, and many more have become parties to them. I understand that a key goal of this conference is to learn and share ideas about how countries can best meet international standards for combating terrorism -- and I applaud you on that important task.

  • Since 9/11, we have established both bilateral and multilateral Task Forces, Working Groups, and dialogues, all directed toward the same goal: to create barriers and obstacles that make it more difficult for terrorists to operate.

In the fight against terrorism, triumph will not come solely, or even primarily, through military might. Rather, it will come through using every instrument of national power. We must fight on five fronts, using effective diplomacy, military power, better homeland defenses, intelligence, and vigorous efforts to cut off terrorist financing. And within this group of five fronts, diplomacy is first among equals. Indeed, diplomacy is the backbone of our campaign -- for one simple reason: international partnerships help us to act more effectively. In fact, the very success of our efforts often rests with those nations in the Near East, Africa, and Asia, who are working tirelessly with us to find and defeat terrorism.

Although we will not shrink from acting alone, if necessary, to assert our right of self-defense, we prefer strongly the support of the international community in fighting an enemy that is common to us all. We work together on the challenges that lie ahead. We continue to work closely with regional and global organizations -- from NATO, the G-7, and the United Nations, to ASEAN, the OAS, and the OSCE.  And we are working with them to develop common approaches and common goals in the global campaign against terrorism. Because, in the final analysis, the chief aim of any coalition is a shared vision of the future and agreement about how to get there.

This cooperation and sharing of ideas is especially important on matters of law. Whether extraditing terrorists or controlling their money flow, identifying them before they act or punishing them afterwards -- on each of these critical issues, the law is front and center. Over the past few years, there has been an upsurge in the number of laws -- both domestic and international -- that deal with terrorism-related issues. There are now more laws limiting terrorists’ actions in more countries than ever before, and more governments are willing to enforce those laws. My own country remains committed to helping other nations draft terrorism legislation and then, enforce it. Global efforts to make terrorist acts illegal should send a powerful warning to terrorists everywhere, that we will never rest until we capture them, try them, and pronounce their just punishment.

And yet, there is still too wide a gulf between the anti-terrorism laws of different countries. Often, the laws in our countries are based on varying -- and sometimes, conflicting -- views of how far a government should go to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks. On the one hand, this can be helpful and represents the diversity of legal, social, and political traditions that exist in the world today. But on the other hand, these contrasts too often create obstacles that hinder our efforts to combat terrorism. If we are to be successful in our global campaign, it is essential that we rise above these differences and reach common understanding about what is required to meet the new security challenges of the 21st century.

What constitutes a terrorist act? That is a question that, for all its importance, the United Nations has not been able to answer. To be sure, we have come a long way in codifying certain terrorist acts as illegal. We can now agree, for example, that sabotaging international aircraft and kidnapping diplomats are criminal offenses. And thanks to UN Security Council Resolution 1373, we now have specific criteria by which to measure national progress in blocking terrorist fundraising. And we are working hard to develop international standards and best practices, whether through the Security Council’s Counterterrorism Committee or through the Financial Action Task Force.

But much more remains to be done. We have only just begun to answer the broader, fundamental questions about the growing tension between strategic necessity and civil liberties. We have only just begun to see that we must re-envision the role of law to address our new security realities. And the larger challenge by far, will be doing all this in a way that is consistent with both national and international norms and needs.

The cloud of rubble and debris that obscured our vision on 9/11 has long since lifted, but only now do we see fully the extent of the threat that looms before us. We see in all its deadly detail a global network of affiliated terrorists -- terrorists with sweeping political agendas and twisted interpretations of Islamic law. We see in all its deadly detail the emerging danger of nonconventional attacks using biological, chemical, and radiological weapons. But we also see more clearly than ever what is required to combat terrorism and make all our lives safer.

As President Kennedy said during the Cuban Missile Crisis, “The path we have chosen is full of hazards, as all paths are. The cost of freedom is always high, but [we] have always paid for it.” Ultimately, the opposition to radical Islam must come from those in the Islamic world, who are willing to pay the price for their freedom. We can help -- and we will; we must win their trust. But in the end, it is those who live among the extremists who must confront them, and provide the peaceful alternative.

The terrorist agenda is incapable of meeting the needs of the majority of the world’s Muslims -- the need for economic growth and stability, the need for honest government, and greater personal freedom. With each thwarted terrorist attack -- and perhaps even more, with each plan that reaches its lethal completion -- we understand more fully what we are fighting for. And we understand that ultimately, we will succeed not by the superiority of our weapons, nor even by the effectiveness of our laws, but by the strength of our values, and of our democratic way of life.

I would also like to add another observation. While on a long delayed vacation recently in Italy, I began reflecting on the fact that there is a basic difference in perspective between those countries that have suffered from terrorist attacks and those that have not. I do not wish terrorist attacks on anyone, but I fear that for us to fully understand the impact of an attack -- and a country’s response to it -- we must suffer a loss. We hope your countries do not have to go through this -- and in our efforts to fight terrorism and strengthen cooperation around the world, we spend as much time defending the citizens of your countries as we do defending our own.

Thank you, and I hope you take back to your own countries and share with your governments and colleagues the lessons you learn here this week.


Released on August 14, 2003

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