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07 March 2005

Gonzales Says Patriot Act is Vital to Battle Terrorists

Attorney General warns of post-9/11 complacency

Washington -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says the United States must continue to strengthen its laws to thwart terrorism because the terrorists who attacked this country on September 11, 2001, believed it is legitimate to kill innocent people.

"Our enemy has no respect for life, for civil or religious liberty.  They do not believe in the right to conscience, or personal choice," Gonzales said in a March 7 speech.

Al-Qaida believes “it is legitimate to kill all” Americans, Gonzales said, citing a statement from a senior official in the international terrorist group.  He said the real danger now is that Americans will become complacent about the motives of the enemy.

"We face the temptation to think that the terrorist threat is receding and that September 11 was just one tragic day -- a once-in-a-lifetime event not likely to be repeated," he said.  “Based on the intelligence that we have collected, we know that our enemies do not view September 11 that way.  They remember, and they want to do worse.”

To keep the United States secure, Gonzales said, it is essential that the U.S. Congress reauthorize sections of the 2001 USA Patriot Act that are set to expire at the end of 2005.  The Patriot Act is an anti-terrorism law created to strengthen the legal system's response to the challenges posed by al-Qaida and similar transnational terrorist groups threatening the United States, its allies and friends.

Congressional leaders signaled in late 2004 that the sections that are to expire would be considered before the end of this session of Congress.

The law, Gonzales said, lowered an artificial wall that prevented law enforcement and intelligence agencies from sharing vital information about terrorist movements and plots.  It also modernized the legal tools investigators needed to conduct more effective investigations, he said.

"Under the Patriot Act, officials may now obtain [federal] court approval to use a 'multipoint wiretap' to track a terror suspect's phone communications, even when the suspected terrorist switches, changes, or abandons phones to avoid detection," he said.

Gonzales said the law has helped law enforcement and intelligence personnel considerably in fighting terrorists.

The attorney general will represent the United States at an international conference on the causes of terrorism in Madrid, Spain, March 8-11.  U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and various heads of government as well as more than a hundred experts from 50 countries plan to attend the conference.