Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft spoke about security, liberty and the war on terror to more than 300 people on Monday in the Marvin Center Grand Ballroom.
Ashcroft, who served as the head of the Justice Department from 2001 to 2005, has been criticized by many Democrats for his conservative views and spoke for about an hour in the speech hosted by the College Republicans.
He recounted the time and place where he heard of the attacks and said that he knew immediately “the world had changed forever.”
“I went to a meeting with the president at the White House, and he turned in my direction – I don’t know if he was actually addressing me or not – but he just said ‘never let this happen again,'” Ashcroft said. “And that really changed the course of the Justice Department, and certainly became an organizing core in my existence for the next three-and-a half years.”
He detailed the difference between “prevention” versus “prosecution,” and “whether or not we should fight (terrorists) there on our terms or let them fight us here on their terms. And as far as I’m concerned, fighting them here on their terms is a very bad bargain. In one day, in that battle, they lost 19 and we lost 2,973.”
Ashcroft defended President Bush and his actions since Sept. 11.
“Contrary to what you read in the mainstream media, President Bush and his administration have been more restrained and more respectful of civil liberties and the rights of individuals under the Constitution than virtually any wartime administration in the history of the United States.”
Moving past his policies, Ashcroft also focused on the themes of liberty and freedom, recognizing the commemoration of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which protect the freedom enjoyed by all Americans.
“That freedom we enjoy is something special and others will attack it – but it’s worth defending because it is the stuff of which human achievement and human dignity is made. When you get to the end of the equation, human dignity and human achievement are what it’s all about.”
A small reception of nearly 60 people followed Ashcroft’s speech with College Republican members and people from the Student Activities Center, the Student Association and members of White House staff.
Ashcroft was available to autograph copies of his book and stood for pictures for more than half an hour after his speech.
“I think people were surprised. They didn’t expect (Ashcroft) to be so down to Earth,” said junior Sergio Gor, director of political affairs for the CRs.
Kyle Boyer, a freshman member of the CRs, said he wanted to see Ashcroft speak because “he is such a significant figure in America right now – and his policies are still in effect.”
CRs Chairman Gary Livacari, a senior, called the event, “by far our best event yet.”
Last year, the College Republicans hosted conservative analyst Ann Coulter.
“Ann Coulter is widely respected, but she is just a commentator. Ashcroft is a ‘do-er,'” Livacari said.
In response to Ashcroft’s arrival, the GW Democrats had planned to stage a protest, proclaiming “Hello Ashcroft, goodbye rights.” However, the demonstration never materialized.
Last week, current Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made a surprise visit to a GW Law School class to give a lecture and answer questions from students.