Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy,
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
Hearing on Homeland Defense
September 25, 2001

We meet today to do the people's business, at a time of great national loss and singleness of purpose. This morning, this Committee and the American people will have the opportunity to hear directly from the Attorney General of the United States regarding the status of the investigations underway regarding the terrorist attacks of September 11. Those hijackings resulting in senseless loss of life and destruction were crimes against humanity.

With the cooperation of the Attorney General over the past two weeks we have been able to arrange briefings from time to time. We have also begun a constructive effort to work together on legislative proposals to improve law enforcement tools in the fight against terrorism. Less than a week ago, on Wednesday, along with Senator Hatch and Senator Specter, I met with the Attorney General and other leaders in the House and Senate to put legislative proposals on the table for us all to consider.

We arranged meetings about these proposals in order to construct a consensus package of legislative proposals last Thursday, which meetings continued on Friday and into the weekend. We have made some progress, and I have confidence that working together we can make many improvements in the law and maintain a proper balance between the desires of law enforcement and the need to maintain fidelity to our constitutional rights and way of life. We cannot allow terrorism to prevail by curtailing our constitutional democracy or constricting our freedoms.

We are making progress with respect to a number of areas of law:

There are scores of items in agreement that we hope to consider very soon that can help. I have sought to avoid setting unrealistic or artificial deadlines for our efforts. After the meeting last Wednesday, the Attorney General emerged and endorsed the time frame of "as soon as possible" and we have all been working together and coming together to do that. We have shown the ability to act quickly and together in the last several days, most recently with the transportation and victims assistance package enacted on Friday. Working together Democrats and Republicans from the Senate and the House have acted responsibly, expeditiously and together.

After the killing of 168 in the destruction of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, this Committee held a series of hearings beginning with that chaired by Senator Specter two weeks after the incident and proceeding with additional full Committee and subcommittee hearings over the ensuing weeks. The Senate considered a bill quickly, within two months of the incident, but the House-Senate conference on that measure extended over the next year. In the wake of the violence at Columbine High School and the rash of school violence a few years ago, the House-Senate conference never reconciled the conflicting measures and Congress never completed its work on that legislation. To avoid extended proceedings or the risk that reconciliation never occurs, I intend to reach out to Chairman Sensenbrenner and Representative Conyers to see whether we might not combine our efforts in a coordinated and consolidated way from the outset to resolve to enact the best consensus measure we can design before Congress adjourns this year.

The Attorney General and every Member of this Committee and of the Senate have taken the same oath: to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States." In these difficult days, I caution that we should not lose touch with those constitutional values that make this the strongest, most vibrant democracy the world has even known. That will be a fundamental part of our mandate as we continue to shape the nation's legislative reaction. This challenge to our freedom is going to be answered by the strength of our democracy.

Trial by fire can refine us or it can coarsen us. If we hold to our ideals and values, then it will strengthen us. Americans are united and all the free world, all civilized nations, all caring people join together with us. I trust that we will seek and serve justice and demonstrate to the world not only by our resolve but by our commitment to our constitutional principles that the United States remains strong even in the face of these terrorist atrocities.

Like Pearl Harbor, these horrible events have galvanized our country and united our people with other nations throughout the world. I am confident we will work together to devise new and more effective means to defeat terrorists. This time we need to be smarter. We have to be vigilant to constitutional principles, not vigilantes. We need to focus our response on those responsible for the wrongdoing and to shun stereotyping and guilt by association.

The scope and sophistication of the recent terrorist attacks on American soil call for all the ingenuity, energy, and determination we possess. The actions that we will have to consider may include a combination of military, law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic and security measures. Developing a comprehensive response may take a little time, but needs to be done right. The President sounded the chord in his address to the Joint Session of Congress and the American people last week. I trust that as we go forward all United States Senators will work together in this effort.

Building on the suggestions of many Members of this Committee and working with Senator Hatch and representatives of the Administration, we have been able over the course of the last week to assemble an impressive list of items on which we have agreement. I thank all Members from both sides of the aisle who have worked with us through the days and evenings and weekends to make significant progress. We are working to be in position without the passage of much time to pass significant legislation containing those consensus items. To the extent other complex proposals are in disagreement, we can continue working on them in the weeks and months ahead. Even if Congress were to adjourn next month, we can hold hearings and continue our work together during the recess.

I have tried to be mindful of the demands on the time of the Attorney General and FBI Director. I have tried not to distract them from their important responsibilities in the investigation and in the immediate aftermath of September 11. We all appreciate the Attorney General making time to be with the Committee this morning.

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