The acquittal this week of Ahmed Ghailani, the first former Guantanamo (Gitmo) detainee to be tried in a civilian court, on all but one of more than 280 charges of conspiracy and murder in the 1998 terrorist bombings of the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania was a stunning reminder of the consequences of two years of naïve and dangerous national-security policies by the Obama administration.
What’s even more disturbing is that we almost certainly are facing a year of significantly increased security threats that our nation is not prepared for. The current environment requires clear, decisive leadership, and President Obama is not providing it.
The ruling in the Ghailani case makes clear that President Obama’s decision to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other Gitmo detainees in civilian courts was a mistake and will not work. The Ghailani case was supposed to be the easy one, yet the Obama administration failed. The Gitmo cases from here on out will only get more difficult. Meanwhile, press reports are circulating that Attorney General Eric Holder may soon rule out additional trials of Gitmo detainees in the U.S., but only temporarily — no final decision will be made until after the 2012 elections. Since when does the United States tailor its national-security policies around presidential elections? What message would we send to the world with such a cynical and politically motivated decision?
We are facing a complex three-front war: the shooting front in the Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) region, the front against non-state actors like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and the front against so-called homegrown terrorists.
Right now we face an especially significant terrorist-threat environment, because in less than ten months we will mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Indications are that on all three fronts of this war, radical jihadists will intensify activities. Al-Qaeda central will be focused on defeating us in Af-Pak. AQAP will continue escalating attempts to attack our homeland and Western Europe. Homegrown terrorists will also continue to be active. And their activities may be loosely coordinated.
We’ve seen troubling signals over the last six months, and we should only expect more of the same. Our recent success on all three fronts only fuels the jihadists’ desire for successful attacks. They’re not retreating.
Consider that the recent AQAP air-cargo-bomb attempt to blow up airliners over the United States was perhaps the most sophisticated terrorist attack al-Qaeda has ever tried, and it built on experience from prior al-Qaeda bombing attempts. Without intelligence tip-offs, the cargo bombs would have downed aircraft.
It is crucial that the Obama administration recognize these growing threats and adopt aggressive policies to defeat them. In this context, we should all have grave concerns about President Obama’s overall approach to national security. His artificial 2011 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan has led to confusion and a guessing game on the ground about Washington’s long-term intentions. The president refuses to state clearly that the Guantanamo Bay prison facility will stay open, or to commit himself not to move Gitmo’s dangerous terrorist inmates to U.S. prisons. Despite the recent decision not to prosecute some CIA officials, intelligence officers are still facing possible prosecutions for doing the job bipartisan leadership asked them to do.
To defend our nation against increased threats over the next year, President Obama must demonstrate clarity and leadership on national security. He should start by immediately defining our efforts to protect America as a war, not a law-enforcement exercise — no civilian trials, no mirandizing of combatants on the battlefield. He should endorse what the vast majority of Americans want regarding Gitmo: Instead of trying detainees in the U.S., keep Gitmo open and try its inmates there in military tribunals, or detain them indefinitely.
The president also must state clearly that any withdrawal from Afghanistan will be based on the security situation, not the calendar. And he must end the war that his administration and Speaker Pelosi have conducted against intelligence officers, especially in the CIA. Stop the investigation that may lead to the prosecution of CIA officials who conducted enhanced interrogations. They did what their elected political leadership (including Speaker Nancy Pelosi) asked them to do, within the limits imposed by the Justice Department. The CIA is the tip of the spear in keeping America safe.
Mr. President, weakness and vacillation will embolden our enemies and lead to more attacks on our homeland. It is important now, more than at any time in our history, for the United States government to enact national-security policies that demonstrate leadership and clarity. Let the world know that America is the leader of the free world, and we will take all steps necessary to aggressively defend our values, our allies, and our way of life.
Mr. President, it is a time for strength.
— Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R., Mich.) is the ranking Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence