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Op-Ed: Homeland Security Must Be The Focus


Location: Unknown

Given the seriousness of our nation's security, let me be blunt: I believe the President and his national defense team have taken their eye off the ball in protecting the homeland and have been misguided in their decisions to treat terrorists as common criminals. I do not make this determination lightly nor do I believe it is too late for three recent actions by the Administration to be rectified in order to protect all Americans.

First and foremost, we must treat terrorists as terrorists. Make no mistake: the terrorists' mission is to kill Americans and to destroy the freedoms and liberties that make our nation so great. They are unapologetic and unwavering in their efforts; we must be equally determined and forceful in our response. Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his fellow terrorists in U.S. civilian courts not only gives them a very public platform for their hatred against America but would place U.S. citizens at risk while costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars to provide necessary security. Furthermore, New Yorkers -- from local citizens to Mayor Bloomberg and members of the state's Congressional delegation -- have already rejected this ill-conceived approach.

I agree with the bipartisan opinion that military commissions are the appropriate venue for these cases. In fact, there is established precedent which has been previously used by Attorney General Holder, specifically against terrorists who attacked the USS Cole in Yemen. In both instances, as these are terrorists being brought to justice, why would the legal means to achieve that goal be changed? It shouldn't, which is why I am cosponsoring bipartisan legislation introduced by Representative Peter King (NY-03) which would force terrorists to be tried by military commissions by prohibiting the Department of Justice from prosecuting terrorist cases in U.S. criminal courts.

Similarly, we should not be affording legal rights designed to protect American citizens, such as Miranda rights, to terrorists. The ill-advised decision by the Obama Administration to grant Miranda rights to alleged Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, potentially cost U.S. intelligence officials valuable time and information in disrupting future terrorist plots. Likewise, the Bush Administration's decision to extend legal rights to shoe bomber Richard Reid equates his attempted terrorist act to that of a common criminal. These individuals are not shoplifters or con-artists; they are terrorists and need to be treated as such, regardless of who is President.

Finally, the recent budget cuts proposed by the Obama Administration to critical homeland security programs are absolutely unacceptable. I am particularly outraged by attempts to severely undercut the Coast Guard's capabilities to patrol and protect the nation's ports and maritime transportation system, thus giving terrorists an opportunity to exploit our weakness. The President's fiscal year 2011 budget proposal seeks to eliminate five of the Coast Guard's Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSST), including one stationed at the Port of New York/New Jersey. With only 13 MSSTs nationwide, this reduction of force would significantly impact the number of suspect vessels boarded, anti-terrorism activities conducted, critical infrastructure patrolled and so forth.

Port security has long been in the shadows of our priorities, failing to receive a fraction of the investment made to aviation security. As Ranking Member of the House Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, I intend to fully fight these proposed cuts so that the progress we've made since September 11th in port security is not jeopardized. In all our policies and procedures of national security, our shared goal must be to make our country more secure and more safe, not the opposite.

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