Gonzales Addresses Cadets


10-Year Member
Jun 9, 2006
New London — After listening to U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales defend the administration's handling of suspected terrorists, the cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Thursday wanted to know “when will the war on terror end.”
Text Of Attorney General's Speech

In response to the audience question, Gonzales said, “I know it's not over today. I know there are people still killing Americans today. There are people still plotting against America today, so it's not over today.”

He could not say when the war would end, but did say that until then “this administration will do what it has to, under the Constitution, to ensure the safety of your families and ensure the safety of your neighborhoods.”

Gonzales, who was White House counsel on Sept. 11, 2001, and was sworn in as attorney general in 2005, addressed about 1,000 cadets, the entire corps, at the academy Thursday night.

Cmdr. Glenn Sulmasy, an associate law professor at the academy who coordinated the event, said Gonzales asked in July if he could visit the academy since he had already toured the other military academies, and he decided to keep the speaking engagement even after announcing his resignation Aug. 27.

Gonzales taught Sulmasy's international law class Thursday and toured the Coast Guard barque Eagle before addressing the cadets.

Several cadets asked for Gonzales' advice on how to make difficult decisions. It was the only time during the address that Gonzales briefly spoke about the fact that he is stepping down on Sept. 17. He did not specifically mention the controversial firing of nine federal prosecutors.

“Leaving this position was a very difficult decision, my love of the department versus my love of my family,” Gonzales said. “I always thought that public service is something that you do for a period of time and then you go back and be a private citizen. I promised my wife 13 years ago that it would only be for a few years, and I had the ride of lifetime, quite frankly.”

Second-class cadet Stephen Fainer wanted to know how much oversight is necessary for the NSA's surveillance activities, which have faced criticism in Congress.

“We need as much oversight as necessary to ensure the rights of Americans are being protected and are being respected,” Gonzales said.

Afterward, Fainer said he thought the response was “tactful.”

Sulmasy said it was fitting that, close to Sept. 11, the attorney general visit the academy and talk to “the future leaders in America's fight against terrorism.” He added that academy officials did not screen the questions because they were confident that the cadets' inquiries would be “relevant, intellectually challenging and polite.”

During the 30-minute speech, Gonzales explained the “law-of-war framework” that has helped to guide the administration's decisions since Sept. 11. He said the legal issues were novel— the courts had not addressed some of these issues in decades, others had never been considered.

“Why treat this as a war? To be sure, a massive crime had been committed, but to define those acts merely as a crime would be to ignore a larger and very important issue,” Gonzales said. “After all, al-Qaida is much more than a criminal organization. It is an enemy. Its purpose is to destroy our freedoms, our democracy, our very way of life.”

Gonzales said the country has a “long-standing tradition of applying the laws of war to those who would wage war upon us.” And he said that detaining suspected terrorists without filing charges “is vital in securing our nation and its citizens.”

“It keeps combatants off the battlefield and helps us to disrupt the plans of other combatants who are still on that battlefield,” he said.

The “vigorous prosecution” of the war on terror and past successes, like capturing key al-Qaida operatives and foiling the plot to hijack passenger planes and fly them into London's Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf, have made us safer, but we are not yet safe, Gonzales said.

This week, German authorities arrested three suspects accused of plotting bomb attacks on American and German targets.

“There can be no doubt that the war on terror is the defining conflict of our time. It will be for generations,” Gonzales said. “I believe it is critically important that we continue to treat this conflict as the war that it is because I assure you that our enemies surely will.”