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Attorney General Talks at Northwestern

Eric Holder delivers major speech about national security to nation

CHICAGO --- Hours before U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder appeared at Northwestern University School of Law’s Thorne Auditorium Monday, March 5, for his much anticipated national security speech, the first television camera crew showed up to prepare for possibly going live.

By then The Washington Post and other news outlets had run advance stories about the attorney general’s speech, a comprehensive explanation of the Obama administration’s national security efforts.

By 2:30 p.m. the back row of the auditorium was brimming with television cameras, and two rows of seats in the middle of the auditorium bustled with photographers, fiddling with their cameras, and reporters, gazing at computers in contact with national security reporters back in Washington, D.C. 

When the attorney general finally walked onto the stage around 3:40 p.m., the audience -- of Northwestern law students, faculty, staff, alumni and dignitaries -- rose in applause. The attorney general joked about getting a standing ovation before he even delivered his address.

Then the audience of about 700 listened intently as Holder went into considerable detail explaining the collaboration across the government that defines and distinguishes the Obama administration’s national security efforts. He described the legal principles that guide this work as well as the special role of the Department of Justice in protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution.

He talked at length about the use of federal courts and military commissions in combating terrorism and the steps that need to taken before lethal force can be used against U.S. citizens linked to terrorism. In particular, he talked about using lethal force in a foreign country, targeted against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or associated forces and who is actively engaged in planning to kill Americans.

"The Constitution empowers the president to protect the nation from any imminent threat of violent attack,” he said. “And international law recognizes the inherent right of national self-defense. None of this is changed by the fact that we are not in a conventional war.”

(At last count, more than 700 news stories covered his speech.)

Read the complete speech at the Department of Justice website.

As the Northwestern speech is examined, dissected and debated by the pundits, including Northwestern scholars, the law school remains grateful that the attorney general chose Northwestern as the venue for the long-anticipated explanation of one of the gravest decisions the government has to make. 

Before his introduction of the attorney general, Northwetern Law Dean Daniel Rodriguez cited distinguished guests in the audience, including Gary Grindler, a Northwestern Law alumnus who is chief of staff and counselor to the attorney general. He also thanked the attorney general for taking time out of his busy schedule to meet with Nortwestern Law students before delivering his speech. 

In his informal meeting with the law students, Holder fielded questions about his career, offered professional advice and discussed his approach to decision making. He shared insights with the law students that ranged from his personal life to his work experience to his day-to-day relationship with the president, said Jason Turkish, a third-year Northwestern Law student. The discussion, he said, included Holder’s thoughts about how the relationship between the attorney general’s office and the White House continues to evolve since 9/11.  

 “I felt very inspired,” Turkish said. “The attorney general talked about how students from a school like ours have a unique opportunity to use their talents and idealism to become the next generation of lawyers who can make a difference. He stressed that the country will suffer if we don’t step up to the plate.”

Prior to beginning his formal policy remarks, Attorney General Holder shared high praise for Northwestern’s law school. “It is a privilege to be with you today -- and to be among the distinguished faculty members, staff, alumni and students who make Northwestern such an extraordinary place,” he said. “For more than 150 years, this law school has served as a training ground for future leaders; as a forum for critical, thoughtful debate; and as a meeting place to consider issues of national concern and global consequence. This afternoon, I am honored to be part of this tradition."

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