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FBI Director Defends Federal Law Enforcement Role

13 May 1995


l.gif (982 bytes)ouis J. Freeh, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,align="LEFT" defended the bureau and other law enforcement agencies of the United States against recent criticism that federal agencies trample individual rights in the name of justice.

In a commencement address at The Catholic University of America Saturday, Freeh said criticism of federal law enforcement has attracted media attention since the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City. Freeh condemned extreme positions on either side of the debate: that individual rights must be sacrificed to protect people from crime, or that law enforcement always means "the destruction of civil liberties."

"Sensible people know that as a nation that is both free and strong we can deal with the worst threats," Freeh said. "To my amazement, however, there are voices that, by contrast, claim repression by government and fear of government . . . Federal law enforcement officers, in particular, have been described as 'thugs' by some advocacy groups.

"Sadly, I'm astounded to hear these developments. I think most decent Americans are."

Freeh raised the example of Nazi Germany as an example of a repressive society where Hitler was able to suspend individual liberties and freedom of speech, execute warrantless searches and seize property."The Nazi terror began not by breaking German law, but by abusing it," Freeh said.

He noted that civil police, not the Gestapo, were responsible for early arrests. Dictatorship follows when a democratic police force fails to protect individual rights, he said.

"We are blessed in the United States with a framework of law which absolutely requires law enforcement officers to maintain the strictest adherence to the rule of law," Freeh said. American law enforcement, he said,"is scrutinized more carefully than any other entity in the world just because of the enormous powers which it has."

The American system of justice works, Freeh said, because Congress provides oversight of law enforcement, the media plays its watchdog role, and federal agencies including the FBI investigate violations of law by state and local police. "(Law enforcement) is made up of tough, self-sacrificing, and enormously dedicated men and women. In the face of senseless violence, they risk their own safety in the name of peace and freedom," Freeh said.

Freeh was appointed 20 months ago to a 10-year term as FBI director, and the role has been "exhilarating," he said. "But these 20 months have also at times been filled with pain and tragedy. For example, we have deployed hundreds of agents to Oklahoma City and elsewhere to investigate the bombing that took so many lives at the Alfred Murrah Federal Building." Freeh also noted that 76 men and women in law enforcement lost their lives in the line of duty in the past year.

He said his faith and sound education in Catholic schools helped him achieve his goals, and he told the graduates: "Don't ever yield the bedrock moral values which you now hold. In times of trouble and adversity, don't be afraid to fall back on doing the right thing."

Freeh served as an FBI special agent from 1975 to 1981. In 1981 he joined the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York as an assistant U.S. attorney. He served as chief of the organized crime unit, deputy U.S. attorney and associate U.S. attorney. In 1990 Freeh was appointed a special prosecutor by the attorney general to oversee investigation into the mail-bomb murders of federal Judge Robert Vance of Birmingham and civil rights leader Robert Robinson of Savannah. Freeh became a U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of New York in 1991. He has been recognized for his exemplary accomplishments, which include investigations and prosecutions relating to racketeering, drugs, organized crime, fraud and terrorism. Some 1,630 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees were conferred at the Catholic University commencement. CUA is the nation's only university established by the U.S. Catholic bishops and is the national university of the Catholic Church. Founded in 1887 as a graduate and research institution, the university began offering undergraduate programs in 1904. About 6,200 graduate and undergraduate students are enrolled in 10 schools.

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Revised: 27 October 1997

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The Catholic University of America,
Office of Public Affairs.