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Bush names Justice Department building for Robert F. Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy
The Department of Justice headquarters building was dedicated today in Robert F. Kennedy's honor.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- On what would have been Robert F. Kennedy's 76th birthday, President Bush on Tuesday dedicated the Department of Justice headquarters building in his honor.

Calling him "valiant and idealistic," Bush said the former attorney general remains "an example of kindness and courage" to millions who did not know him.

RFK, who served in the administration of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, and in the first months of President Lyndon B. Johnson's administration, was the nation's 64th attorney general. He was assassinated in 1968 as he sought the Democratic nomination for president.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft have said Kennedy's approach to fighting organized crime is one the administration would follow is its war against terrorism.

Bush was warm in his praise of Kennedy and his family. He called RFK "a man who knew privilege and also suffering," adding, "He fought to gain power and chose to use it on behalf of the powerless. ...

"America today is passing through a time of incredible testing, and as we do so we admire even more the spirit of Robert Kennedy, a spirit that tolerates no injustice and fears no evil."

In return, Bush was lauded by Joseph Kennedy, a son of RFK and a former congressman, who called Bush "a profile in leadership" since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Joseph Kennedy said his father "was a different kind of leader, and people knew it. His work tore apart the comfortable fabric of an unjust social contract."

"In every fiber of his being he lived out his belief that each and every one of us bears a responsibility to do whatever we can to right the wrongs of this world and to use our talents and our time to serve a larger purpose."

At the White House before the ceremony, Bush laughed at a question from a reporter who asked whether the dedication ceremony was meant to curry favor with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, and win his support for an education bill.

"Well, I'm not quite that devious," the president said. "I made the decision to name the Justice Department building after Robert Kennedy because he is deserving. ... I'll get an education bill based on its merits, not based upon me naming a building for a great American."

Numerous members of the Kennedy family, including RFK's widow Ethel, attended the ceremony, along with several past attorneys general.

RFK daughter sounds off

A few hours before the Justice building was named for her slain father, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo strongly criticized the Bush Justice Department's approach to fighting terrorism.

In a speech on Capitol Hill, she attacked the recent Bush administration decision to allow the use of military tribunals in some terrorism cases, noting that the State Department's annual human rights report criticizes countries such as Egypt and Peru for using such tribunals.

"My daughter Kara is here today," she said. "Kara, if anyone tries to tell you this is the type of justice system your grandpa embraced, you just don't believe it."

Asked about her remarks, Ashcroft defended the Bush administration's decision, saying the president would "use every tool available" to bring terrorists to justice.

"She may have said that," Ashcroft said, "but we don't allow terrorists to come into this country and kill thousands of innocent people."

Cuomo's remarks came at a ceremony honoring the winner of the 2001 RFK Memorial Human Rights Award, Brazilian human rights activist Darci Frigo.

-- CNN correspondent Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.


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