As a result of these reforms, I am confident that the Department is thriving today, and that the institutional problems we identified will not recur. As a result of these reforms, distracting outside criticism has waned, and attention has returned to where it should be: to the valuable and skillful work that all of you are doing, and have always done.
As we take the steps necessary to correct past errors, we should heed two important lessons. First, we can take justifiable pride in the fact that the Justice Department's own mechanisms and institutions have dealt, and can deal, with these problems. Second, as we do that, we should take care to deal both firmly and fairly - with due regard not only for how decisions may appear in the relative calm of peace, perfect hindsight and unlimited time for rumination, but also how they might have appeared amid the turmoil and risk that prevailed at the time some of them were made.
Here, I speak principally, although not exclusively, of decisions made by national security lawyers both inside and outside the Department. The pressure on these lawyers in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 , was immense: The time was short, the stakes were high, and they were asked - by people across the political spectrum - to provide maximum legal flexibility to policymakers and operators.
It is hardly surprising that some of the decisions these lawyers made under those circumstances were wrong and, when viewed later in comparative calm, called for correction - which the Department itself did. But it is one thing to review and, when appropriate, to correct a lawyer's work; it is another thing altogether to subject that work to second guessing without appreciation for the circumstances or good faith in which it was done. Long term, that kind of scrutiny will only make it more difficult for lawyers to provide the candid legal advice that policy makers need, and more difficult for the Department to attract lawyers who will give such advice.
Those are just a few of the matters we have dealt with in the last 14 months. It would take all of my remaining days in office to list the accomplishments and successes you have achieved during that time. It would take even more time for me to thank individually each person in the Department who deserves it. And even if I tried, I would inevitably neglect to thank someone who was truly deserving. So let me say to everyone listening: If, as I said and as I believe, the Department is thriving today, with both spirits and standards high, it is because of the talent and dedication of each of you, many of whom served long before I got here and many of whom - thankfully - will continue to serve long after I have left.
In a few days, new leadership will take charge of the Department. Some of their policies and priorities may differ from my own and from those of the administration in which I've served. That is entirely natural and in the normal course. We have administrations in this country, not regimes. Regardless of what differences of policy one administration may have from another, you help assure that they administer a system of making policy choices within the law.
My fondest wish for my successor, and my full expectation, is that whatever policies and priorities are implemented in the next 14 months and beyond, you who administer and enforce the law at the Department will be seen to have done so with the same scrupulous devotion to principled decision that I saw you maintain in the last 14 months.
For that, for the help you have provided me, and for the service you have given and will continue to give to all Americans, I thank you and wish the best of luck to you and to the friends and families whose sacrifices have enabled you to serve.
May god bless each of you, this great Department, and this wonderful country.
SOURCE U.S. Department of Justice