Remarks of Attorney General Sessions on the 16th Anniversary of the September 11 Terrorist Attacks

9/11/17 – Thank you for that introduction, and thank you all for being here. On behalf of President Trump I want to thank you all for your hard work and for your dedication to making this country safer.

Today we mark the sixteenth anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack ever committed on American soil.

We remember the nearly 3,000 lives that were lost. As a New Yorker, President Trump has never forgotten that day and the friends he lost. And we recommit ourselves to preventing terrorists from striking us again.

Like all of you, I remember where I was on that Tuesday morning.

And like all of you, we remember the sight of fellow Americans dying before our eyes, and the sound of our loved ones’ frightened voices through the telephone.

And on this anniversary, here at the Department of Justice, we also remember what is at stake in the work that we do every day.

Many of you faced incredible demands in responding to the new threat, to change completely from one kind of work to another without failing in your basic duties. People worked incredible hours. No one knew the extent of the terrorist network, what kind of attack might come next or where the next attack may come.

There was no National Security Division then. The Patriot Act was yet to be.

Chris Wray, now our new FBI Director, was Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General and later criminal chief. Soon he was meeting regularly with President Bush in the oval office. Many of you were here during that time. The work was nonstop.

The Department of Justice was at the center of much of country’s response. Many Americans had difficulty adjusting to the new uncertainty.

But this Department fulfilled its responsibility with brilliance, determination, effectiveness, and courage. Few if any would have predicted that we would have gone 16 years without another such attack.

Much has happened since. We are better equipped, better prepared and organized, and have better laws. But more can be done.

The first and most important job of any government—is to protect the safety and the rights of its citizens. The first civil right is to be alive.

If we fail at this task, then every other government initiative loses importance. Everything depends upon this: that we protect the American people from enemies and those who violate the law.

That mission is especially difficult because we are fighting those who target unarmed, unsuspecting, innocent people going about their lives — watching a soccer game, dancing at a nightclub, or commuting to work.

These enemies seek nothing less than the end of our culture—of free speech, freedom of religion, and our democratic republic.

They seek to impose their speech codes, their religion, their theocracy. For these extremists, its more than religion; its ideology. We have no choice but to defend against it. We cannot yield. We will not yield.

There is a quote chiseled in the stone of the Jefferson Memorial—right across the Potomac from the smoke that billowed from the Pentagon that day. It is one I am reminded of often in this job.

“For I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Such tyranny is what they seek. And that is what we will defeat.

The terrorist threat did not begin on 9/11. But in the 16 years since those murders took place, terrorists have been able to inflict other attacks upon us and our allies, from San Bernadino to Orlando to Brussels.

Importantly, let us also remember that 72 law enforcement officers made the ultimate sacrifice on September 11th. When they left for work that morning, they knew what every officer and every law enforcement family knows: that today might be their last. They went to work anyway, because their community was depending upon them—because their country was depending upon them. And they had a critical quality—a sense of duty and patriotism.

And as they looked at the burning buildings, they knew that they might not survive. They ran toward them anyway. Not because it was easy, but because it was right. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for another.

On 9/11, we saw so much evil, but in our law enforcement and other first responders, we also saw so much heroism.

Nineteen evil men targeted innocent people for death, but hundreds of people of every faith, every race, and every background worked together to save lives.

Today we remember their service, and the importance of honoring our law enforcement officers. They symbolize order, peace, and prosperity.

As we return to our work at the Department, we keep before us the example of service and dedication they set that day.

Since 9/11, the Department of Justice has achieved a number of victories against the terrorist threat, including convictions against more than 500 criminals for terrorism offenses.

The Department has filed public charges for terrorism-related offenses against more than 145 foreign fighters, homegrown extremists, and ISIS supporters in more than 40 districts. And we are not letting up: the FBI currently has ongoing investigations in all 50 states.

In my time back at the Department, nothing has impressed me more.

While the threats we face are diverse and evolving, terrorist ideologies have one thing in common: their disregard for the dignity of human life and they share an obsession with forcing everyone into their twisted ideology. And the terrorists know they can’t persuade people using reason, so they use coercion and intimidation. They seek acquiescence and inaction.

But they will fail. We will not be yield. We will never yield our freedom, our moral autonomy, or our country.

I want to thank you for being here and thank you for your service to this Department and to this country. And a special thanks on this day to those of you who work on these issues. I do my best every day to be worthy of your dedication.

The threats we face will continue to evolve, but we will evolve too and our mission to keep our communities safe will never change. Thank you for taking on this challenging work.

God bless you all.