Toomey: U.S. anti-terrorism policy criticized
By Pat Toomey
Contributing writer - Erie Times News
February 27, 2010
On Christmas Day, Nigerian al-Qaida terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab breached airport security and nearly succeeded in blowing up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight and killing the 282 passengers on board.
Thankfully, disaster was averted because of the terrorist's own mistakes, but this episode should be a wake-up call to all of us.
Incredibly, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's initial reaction to this terrorist attempt was that the "system worked as it should." To his credit, President Obama quickly distanced himself from that sentiment, as it was completely obvious that there were numerous breakdowns in the system.
Unfortunately, much of the current approach to dealing with terrorists is deeply misguided. Reasonable people can disagree about aspects of the George W. Bush administration's anti-terrorist policies, but it is now clear that the current administration and the Democrats' one-party dominance in Washington have swung the pendulum too far in the other direction. Extreme permissiveness when dealing with terrorists can have deadly consequences.
When the Northwest plane landed, the al-Qaida-trained Christmas bomber was seized by FBI agents and quickly turned over to a Michigan grand jury, complete with the legal rights that accompany U.S. citizens in our civilian courts, including Miranda rights and a court-appointed lawyer.
The cost of that decision was high. Upon his seizure, Abdulmutallab was reportedly sharing vital intelligence about his training and terrorist network. But he quickly clammed up at the instruction of his lawyer. After a week of silence and under pressure from his parents, Abdulmutallab has resumed cooperating with the U.S. government, but we can hardly rely on this kind of good luck to keep us safe.
We might have endangered American lives because we chose not to turn him over to military custody and treat him like the enemy combatant that he is.
This dangerous policy might be less concerning if it were an aberration. Unfortunately, the administration's actions over the past year demonstrate a disturbing pattern of overeagerness to provide foreign terrorists with legal rights to which they are not entitled under American law.
In November, the administration decided to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court in New York City, despite repeated warnings from the intelligence community about serious security dangers from this move. When this step was taken in the trial of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, our prosecutors were forced to publicly release a list of 200 previously secret co-conspirators, including Osama bin Laden. There is no legal or moral reason why the U.S. should willingly hand over such intelligence secrets to our enemies.
Now, the administration is considering moving the trial from New York City, but it continues to insist on a civilian trial over the more secure and efficient military commission. Even Pennsylvania Democrats, like Gov. Ed Rendell, agree that trying Mohammed in Guantanamo Bay would be best.
There's more. In December, the Obama administration released six Guantanamo detainees to Yemen. It has since been reported that these six men were closely aligned with al-Qaida and the Taliban. Future transfers have been put on hold in the wake of the failed Christmas Day attack, but it should not take the potential death of hundreds of Americans to recognize the danger of releasing enemy combatants back into the radicalized environment from which they arose.
Further, last April the administration declassified and released the Justice Department's 2005 analysis of the CIA's interrogation techniques, giving terrorists carte blanche to study the CIA's methods and limitations.
Pennsylvania's two Democratic U.S. Senate candidates (incumbent Arlen Specter and U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak) are going along with this new approach. After supporting most of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies, Specter, in an attempt to placate his new allies in the one-party Democratic Congress, has introduced a bill that would make it easier for terrorists to sue American military and federal law-enforcement officials. Sestak supports trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Pennsylvania and subjecting us to all the security threats that come along with that decision.
These numerous missteps provide ample evidence of a policy pattern that has gone too far in the direction of coddling terrorists with legal niceties to which they are not entitled, and too far away from protecting innocent Americans from terrorist attacks.
PAT TOOMEY, a former congressman from Lehigh Valley, is running for the U.S. Senate post held by Arlen Specter.