Remarks of John O. Brennan, December 21, 2009

Thank you, Frank, for your introduction and for your stewardship of this incredible organization -- this family of families -- dedicated to the memory of those who were loved so much.

To Mary Kay Stratis and all the spouses and families and friends, I am deeply humbled to join you on a day that I know is still difficult for so many of you. For others, 21 years might seem like a lifetime. To you, I know it seems like just yesterday.

And so for you and your families, this is an intensely personal moment. At the same time, it is a day for our nation -- to remember, to reflect and to reaffirm our commitment to spare others the pain and loss you have known.

It was an attack against the world -- a vicious crime against humanity that took the lives of innocents from more than 20 nations; men and women and children; American and European, African and Asian; Christian, Jew, Hindu, and Muslim.

It was an attack against our country -- until that time, it was the worst terrorist attack against American civilians. People simply going about their daily lives: pilots and crew doing their jobs; business travelers between meetings; students headed home; soldiers returning from deployment; families preparing for the holidays.

But most of all -- most of all -- it was an unspeakable loss for your families. Your husband or wife. Your son or daughter. Your brother or sister. Your parents. Your colleagues. Your friends. The love you gave them. The joy they gave you.

It takes less than 20 minutes to read their names. But it has taken more than 20 years of grieving and grace to bring us to this day. As one pastor in Lockerbie said last year: "This is a list of those who died. But it is not a list of the victims, because we can never list all those names."

And yet, long ago, you decided not to simply be victims. Instead of going gently into that good night, you raised your voices and demanded justice.

As I do most days, I met with President Obama in the Oval Office this morning. I told him I'd be joining you here at Arlington. And he asked me to carry his best wishes to you and your families. And he asked that I express to you America's gratitude for all that you have done.

For you came together to honor your loved ones, but you -- the families and friends of Pan Am Flight 103 -- have left a legacy all your own. Indeed, long before there was 9-11, there was 12-21. And your example over the past 21 years has been an inspiration to all of us.

You have taught us how important it is to keep alive the memory of those taken much too soon. In the stone of this memorial cairn which stands, rightly, among our nation's heroes. In scholarships of remembrance, which will inspire future generations. And in this ceremony today, along with those in Syracuse and Lockerbie. Because what happened that terrible December day is not "history."[1] It is still very much a part of each and every one of us, and it always will be.

You taught us that families can turn their grief into action and become powerful voices for change. For stronger security that protects our citizens. For legislation that ensures families are compensated. For sanctions that hold state sponsors of terrorism accountable for their crimes. And in so doing, you have inspired others touched by tragedy, including our 9-11 families.

You taught us to never stop seeking the truth, which is why one of the most complex international law enforcement efforts the world has ever seen was undertaken. I know that members of that effort are here today, men and women who have devoted their careers to uncovering the truth. And I believe I speak for all of us when I say that your passion and your persistence made us all want to work as hard as we could to see justice served.

You taught us to find the strength to carry on even when the world seems to make no sense at all, as it did again this past year. I will not recount those events here. But on behalf of President Obama, and on behalf of his administration, let me say this. The evidence was clear. The trial was fair. The guilt of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi was proven beyond a reasonable doubt. His conviction stands. The sentence was just. And nothing--not his unjustified release and certainly not a deplorable scene on a tarmac in Tripoli--will ever change those facts or wash the guilt from his hands or from the hands of those who assisted him in carrying out this heinous crime.

Indeed, for any who truly seek it, it is here, in Arlington, among this gathering of families and friends, where you will find "compassionate grounds." And that is where your government will always be -- here, with you and your families.

Finally, by the lives you have led, by your very presence here today, you have taught us that we can and must carry on; that from our pain we can grow stronger -- as individuals, as a people, as a nation. Among you are widows and widowers who raised children on your own; children who have grown into adults; grandchildren who will be inspired by stories of men and women they never knew. And to all Americans, your strength and your example is an inspiration.

More than two decades later, our adversaries may have changed, but their murderous tactics have not. There are those who still seek to slaughter the innocent. There are those who seek to sow terror. But as the President has pledged, we will thwart their plans. We will defeat their agenda of hatred and murder. And we will do everything in our power to keep this country safe. We owe nothing less to those who perished 21 years ago today.

Thank you so much for letting me share this day with you. May God bless you and your families, and may the wonderful memories of your loved ones always give you comfort, and travel with you the rest of your days. And may those we remember today continue to rest peacefully in God's warm embrace.

John O. Brennan
Assistant to the President
for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism
Pan Am Flight 103 Memorial Service
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia

[1] "Lockerbie is history" Saif al-Islam, Aug. 28.