Christmas bomber issues wake-up call for administration

Nearly one year ago, President Barack Obama signed his poorly thought-out executive order to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba — releasing or transferring all detainees — “no later than one year” after taking office. At the time, I knew that the president’s order was a bad idea, based on a campaign promise and made without considering the many judicial, homeland security and intelligence-gathering implications.

This failure to consider so many important factors has been highlighted in the wake of the Christmas Day attack on Northwest Flight 253 and the revelation that the bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has extensive connections to al Qaeda terrorists and received training and support in the al Qaeda hotbed of Yemen. To date, more than 110 terrorists from Yemen have been detained at Guantanamo, making it the country with the third-highest number of detained citizens. The administration was forced last week to reverse its policy and halt releasing Yemeni detainees from Guantanamo to their home country, a decision I certainly support.

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Over the past year, I have been troubled by what seems to be a lack of intensity in President Obama’s rhetoric in dealing with this and other terror threats facing us. At times, he and his administration’s response to the steady rise of terrorist acts and threats appears reluctant and schizophrenic.

For instance, when Army Maj. Nidal Hasan shouted “Allahu Akbar” while gunning down 12 Americans at Fort Hood in November, President Obama cautioned against “jumping to conclusions.” When the president finally came forward to speak on the Christmas Day attack, he initially referred to Abdulmutallab as an “isolated extremist” before eventually acknowledging the bomb plot was hatched by the al Qaeda network in Yemen. Two days after Christmas Day, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano definitively announced that “the system worked,” only to retract those words 24 hours later.

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon for an administration that seems intent on avoiding the reality that we live in a dangerous world where Islamic terrorists want to kill Americans. (Secretary Napolitano at one point refused to use the word “terrorism”; Attorney General Eric Holder is investigating the CIA interrogators who kept us safe for eight years.) It is precisely at a time like this, with the jihadist threat increasing both domestically and internationally, that the American people need and deserve to hear loud and clear from their commander in chief that their government is vigilant in fulfilling its most important mission — protecting the lives of Americans.

The disagreements that I have with the Obama administration on this issue are not personal. I have given the president credit where it is deserved. For example, I believe he has taken the right approach in dealing with the government of Yemen and the war in Afghanistan. I have also publicly praised his administration’s support for extending the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act. I believe that the president’s goal is to keep Americans safe.

However, even as President Obama ratchets up his rhetorical gravitas, it is imperative that he re-examine his faulty strategy of closing Guantanamo and treating the terrorist threat as a law enforcement issue.

The president’s decision to move Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and four of his fellow conspirators from Guantanamo to New York City for trial in civilian federal court is one of the worst decisions made by any president. Far from being a moment of justice for the innocent men, women and children killed that fateful morning, this decision — which was made without consulting any law enforcement officials in New York and will launch judicial proceedings that will surely drag on for years and cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars — threatens to expose sources and methods used to gather intelligence, creates a platform for spewing anti-American propaganda to attract more jihadists, and could almost stretch the NYPD to its breaking point.

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Our criminal justice system is no place for terrorists when we are engaged in an international war against them. The president’s decision to try KSM and others (including Abdulmutallab) in civilian court grants these terrorists the protections of the U.S. Constitution and undermines the president’s stated promise to do “whatever it takes to defeat al Qaeda.”

In fact, trial in civilian court is completely unnecessary. We already have in place the procedures and infrastructure to try these terrorists as enemy combatants in military commissions at Guantanamo.

I agree with President Obama that now is not the time for partisanship. For that reason, I remain firmly committed to working with his administration in a bipartisan manner to continue to confront the ongoing terrorist threat. Hopefully, the administration’s own words and policies going forward respond to Abdulmutallab’s wake-up call and more accurately reflect the dangerous realities of the war against al Qaeda in which our nation is engaged. 
 
King is the ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security.