We need to be smart and consistent about the threat posed by terrorists

Elected officials often have an irresistible urge to quickly “do something” in response to a crisis so they can tell the American people they took action.

Unfortunately, “do something” approaches usually lead to simplistic, Band-Aid-like fixes that avoid comprehensive and politically difficult change. The Christmas Day terror attack is the latest indication that we are at war with radical jihadists. This is a major threat that cannot be addressed by partial solutions, quick fixes or throwing money at the problem. We must exercise smart responses.

For example, last week, President Barack Obama promised to get to the bottom of intelligence-sharing and analysis failures that prevented Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from being placed on a no-fly list. I agree this issue needs to be investigated urgently, but there are four other steps that should be taken immediately to protect our nation from the full extent of this threat and send the clear and consistent message that we are at war.

• First, stop terrorists from coming here. Revise rules and criteria that excessively limit who can be placed on the no-fly list and selector lists and make certain that the government acts aggressively to ensure that all travelers that are the subject of intelligence reports receive full scrutiny. Overly restrictive and legalistic rules and bureaucracy appear to have kept the Christmas bomber off the no-fly and selectee lists. We cannot risk allowing this to happen again. Tentative steps by the administration to add more suspects to the list help, but they have not fundamentally changed problematic rules. The president needs to state clearly that air travel to the United States by foreign nationals is a privilege, not a right, and inclusion on no-fly lists and selector lists is not a presumption of guilt, but rather, a necessary and appropriate protective step. If foreign travelers do not want to undergo intensive vetting and security screening, they don’t have to come here.

• Second, if terrorists do come here, they must be arrested for terrorism and tried in military tribunals. We must charge all jihadist attackers as enemy combatants to be taken into military custody, interrogated for vital intelligence and tried in military courts under the laws of armed conflict.

• Third, aggressively pursue traitorous Americans who help al Qaeda. We must remove legal and bureaucratic barriers that have created significant obstacles for the U.S. military and intelligence community in aggressively pursuing Americans abroad such as Anwar al-Awlaki and Adam Gadahn who have treasonously joined or assisted terrorist groups.

• Fourth, stop returning Guantanamo detainees to countries where they may rejoin al Qaeda. The Obama administration needs to acknowledge the problem of recidivism among former Guantanamo detainees, especially in Yemen. A recent Pentagon report stated that one in five of all released Guantanamo detainees have resumed terrorist activity, according to press reports. Several senior leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are former Guantanamo detainees, including its deputy leader, Said Ali al Shihri. Abdulmutallab traveled to Yemen last year to meet with al Qaeda and to plan his Christmas Day air bombing attempt. There are about 90 Yemeni detainees still held in Guantanamo Bay. The Obama administration released six Yemeni inmates to the government of Yemen last month and was planning to release more.

This is a risk our nation cannot afford. It is crucial that any further transfers of Guantanamo detainees to Saudi Arabia or Yemen be halted permanently.

In addition, in light of the Obama administration’s plan to transfer Guantanamo detainees to an Illinois prison, I call on the Obama administration to declassify its report on the Guantanamo detainees and their behavior so that the American people — especially the people of Illinois — can understand the extent of the threat.

To implement these steps, Congress must reestablish aggressive and independent oversight of national security. It will require a change of heart by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has been AWOL on national security matters by refusing to let the House take up crucial security matters such as the Fort Hood shooting, the unwarranted prosecution of CIA officers for implementing authorized counterterrorism programs and the risks associated with closing the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention facility.

Congress has an important role to play in keeping America safe, and we cannot forgo this responsibility any longer. We saw two terrorist attacks in the United States — at Fort Hood and in an airplane over Detroit — in the span of two months. This is no time for gestures or shallow, short-term solutions.

President Obama and Congress must immediately take all the above steps to ensure that we do everything necessary to protect our nation from future attacks by radical jihadists.

Hoekstra is the top Republican on the House intelligence committee.