“You’re asking us to find a needle in a haystack,” complained one Homeland Security type on TV. It is hard to know which one of 500,000 names on a “watch list” will be the one who makes a move to kill thousands of Americans.
The problem is not just what Dutch airport security failed to do in Amsterdam—that was bad enough. Obviously, we have not put the Netherlands on our list of suspect al-Qaida-threatened countries. Nor have we put Britain on that list. Isn’t that where Richard Reid, the failed shoe bomber, hailed from?
What I’m most concerned about is what the Obama administration did after Abdulmutallab was collared in Detroit. Immediately, this non-U.S. citizen, this jihadist was given Miranda rights and treated as a common criminal. Back to the future, back to Sept. 10, 2001.
The administration’s counter-terrorism point man, John Brennan, was sent out to do the rounds of Sunday morning talk shows. This was the week after Homeland Security’s Janet Napolitano tripped all over herself in saying “the system worked.” She had to spend last week trying to “walk back” those comments. Don’t try this through an airport security gate in Newark.
John Brennan is the administration’s designated hitter. He is the one who is supposed to reassure us all. Except Brennan doesn’t reassure anyone. Claiming to be non-political, not a Democrat or a Republican, he dumped all over the Bush administration’s record of rendition of Gitmo detainees to Saudi Arabia. From there, we now know, a number of them were released to go to Yemen. There, they have become leaders of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Okay, this one Bush policy was wrong. We know that now. So is Brennan reassuring us that the Obama administration has learned its lesson and will not release any more Gitmo detainees? Not at all. “Bush did it, too” is all they can say. They are repeating the worst mistake of the Bush administration—without retaining the basic thrust of an administration that kept Americans safe for seven years.
Then there’s this: Brennan says that Abdulmutallab can be induced to talk by plea bargaining. So, if he’s charged with 288 counts of attempted murder, air piracy, arson, etc., we can offer him a reduced sentence?
Why should he only be charged with 288 counts of attempted murder? Isn’t it clear that he waited until his jet was descending over Detroit’s airport crowded with Christmas travelers? If he wanted to kill only those 288 passengers on Flight 253, he might have ignited his underpants over the Atlantic.
We still don’t know if terrorists brought down TWA Flight 800 off Long Island in 1996, killing all 230 people aboard. That’s because it’s so difficult to investigate crashes over open ocean. So, even if it was caused by terrorists, they did not achieve their goal—which is to maximize the number of deaths and to do it in a way that leaves no doubt that they are responsible.
The key here is that the Obama administration is dangerously naive about terrorism. Can John Brennan really be talking about extracting information from the underpants bomber by offering him a reduced sentence? From what to what? Should we charge him with the attempted murder of 3,000 Americans—including all those on the ground that Christmas Day—and let him plea bargain down to only the 288 on board his own jet?
What, exactly, does Brennan’s kid glove mean in terms of terms? Will Abdulmutallab be allowed to plea bargain down to, say, the 150 years that Bernie Madoff has been sentenced to serve in federal prison? What possible difference would this make in his willingness to talk? What deterrence does this policy provide to men who are perfectly willing to commit suicide? No security for us, no deterrence for them. Obama, Holder, Napolitano and Brennan have this much in common: They’re not serious.
You can tell they’re not serious when even liberals like California Congresswoman Jane Harman (D) is arguing for no more releases from Gitmo. “I think it is a bad time to send the 90 or so Yemenis back to Yemen,” said Chairman Harman in a story reported in The Hill. When would be a good time? Still, Harman continues to support closing Gitmo, which raises the question: Where do you put the prisoners? If you put them in U.S. prisons, they get “lawyered up” and the full range of rights of U.S. defendants. And they can potentially infect our own prison population.
Can any Member of Congress face the voters this November pledging to have a kinder and gentler policy toward those who have vowed to murder Americans? By extending the rights of Americans to those who are trying to destroy America, the Obama administration is turning the Constitution into a suicide pact. They can’t find the needle. They can’t even find the haystack.
Ken Blackwell is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council and member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.