Over the weekend terrorists declared the formation of an Islamic state in Iraq and Syria. In Afghanistan, the New York Times recently reported that the Taliban was responsible for “one of the most significant coordinated assaults on the government in years…” ISIS radicals are on the march in the Middle East and Al-Qaeda is clearly not on the run. Despite this resurgence, President Obama insists on closing one of America’s best weapons in the War on Terror – The Guantanamo Bay Detention Center.
President Obama issued Executive Order 13492 on January 22, 2009 ordering the closure of GITMO. On December 15, 2009, a letter signed by Hillary Clinton and others was sent to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn stating the Administration’s intent to bring GITMO detainees to Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois. Fierce opposition forced the President to abandon this plan prior to the 2012 election. Nevertheless, President Obama doubled down on his pledge to close GITMO in this year’s State of the Union Address, and Administration official Cliff Sloan said that detainees should be brought here “for detention and trial and prosecution..”
I recently introduced the PROTECT Act with Congressman Frank Wolf to prevent GITMO detainees, or any unlawful enemy belligerents captured overseas, from being transferred to the United States. Current transfer prohibitions are tied to annual funding bills that have no teeth and must be strengthened. The PROTECT Act makes unlawful transfers a crime and sunsets in 2017 so the policy can be revisited during a new Administration. Terrorists should not be brought to the United States to be read their Miranda rights and given access to our courts. According to a recent Gallup Poll, sixty-six percent of Americans remain opposed to closing GITMO.
Some have questioned whether it is moral to hold a detainee indefinitely, but I would question the morality of releasing a detainee who is likely to return to the battlefield to kill Americans. President Obama’s exchange of five high value Taliban detainees to a beach resort in Qatar for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was unwise. Furthermore, the President circumvented a congressional notification law to conduct the exchange. The Taliban five were among the most dangerous detainees at GITMO. A Taliban commander told NBC after the release that Noorullah Noori, one of the former detainees, has vowed to return to killing Americans.
It was also reported over the weekend that Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a suspect in the terrorist attack on our consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, was questioned aboard a ship and read his Miranda rights before being brought to a Washington D.C. courtroom. Not surprisingly, he has refused to cooperate, denied involvement in the attack, and plead not guilty. Abu Khatallah should be at GITMO where intelligence officers can interrogate him. The PROTECT Act would have prevented Khatallah from being transferred to the U.S.
National security matters are no place for the games of overzealous defense attorneys. The case of Lynne Stewart is a perfect example. In 2005, Stewart was convicted of conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists when it was discovered that she had been passing messages from her client to a foreign terrorist group. Stewart represented Egyptian cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
President Obama’s lawless actions are creating a constitutional crisis, and Congress must respond. When the President substitutes his singular judgment for the collective wisdom of 535 Members of Congress, it is dangerous and arrogant. Each time Congress is unlawfully bypassed, he succeeds in cracking the foundation of the world’s greatest democracy. When those decisions endanger American lives and threaten our national security, it is unacceptable. Congress should pass the PROTECT Act to prevent an exodus of GITMO detainees from being given amnesty in our criminal justice system.
Marsha Blackburn is a Member of the House of Representatives serving the Seventh Congressional District of Tennessee. She serves as Vice-Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a Member of the Budget Committee.