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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. THORNBERRY. I thank the chairman for yielding.

Mr. Chairman, we're going to have ample opportunity to debate a number of the issues that the distinguished ranking member raised, but I don't think that we can be here on the floor and allow some of the arguments that have been made to go without some challenge.

For example, to say that a letter signed by two former Attorneys General, a former Secretary of Homeland Security, and a variety of other officials who have had positions of responsibility in previous administrations who believe that the Smith-Amash amendment would be detrimental to our effort against terrorists, to say that those arguments are somehow silly or foolish I think really demeans past administrations.

It is not actually fitting for this sort of debate. I understand that emotions can run high when we talk about these issues, and there are serious issues to be discussed, some difficult problems and some clear differences. But I hope that in the future the nature of the debate is elevated somewhat beyond calling former distinguished officials names.

And let me make one other point. One of the key problems that many of us have with the Smith-Amash amendment is that it would bestow upon illegal aliens who come to this country to carry out terrorist attacks, it would bestow upon them full constitutional rights. That means basically, as soon as a member of al Qaeda sets foot on American soil, the first thing he hears after ``you are under arrest'' is you have the right to remain silent. You have the right to be provided an attorney. And if you can't afford one, an attorney will be provided to you.

Now, there may be differences about how we should treat illegal aliens who come here as members of al Qaeda to conduct terrorist attacks. But I think the vast majority of people in this body and around the country do not think telling them they have the right to remain silent, as the first thing they hear, is a wise thing.

So as you go through the arguments, and I would encourage Members of the House to read the letter themselves. I would encourage Members of the House to look at today's Wall Street Journal editorial. I would encourage Members of the House to look at the Heritage Foundation entry today on their Web site, to look how significant these issues are, how the Smith-Amash amendment would undermine our ability to defend our people, and how it is unfair to characterize concerns expressed by a dozen or eight to 10 former national security officials as somehow foolish or silly.

I think, Mr. Chairman, that we can do better with that.


Mr. THORNBERRY. Mr. Chairman, I appreciate, again, the strong views of the distinguished ranking member. I would just say there is a real difference of opinion about to what extent U.S. constitutional rights, which each of us, as citizens, are privileged to have, are bestowed upon any illegal alien, as soon as they set foot in this country.

Now, there are places in the Constitution it says ``persons.'' There are other places it talks about ``accused.'' But I would point back to some of the very case law from the Supreme Court such as the Hamdan decision, which references the differences in procedure that due process requires for a citizen versus a noncitizen. It is not a clear-cut thing to say that as soon as you set foot on this soil, then you have the right to remain silent.

And the part that the gentleman--the other concern that many of us have is when you say you've got the right to remain silent, that prevents us from getting the intelligence, the information that prevents the attack of your buddy, the guy next to you. That's got to be factored in here too.


Mr. THORNBERRY. Mr. Chairman, this amendment raises a number of concerns. It is a very strange thing, for example, to say in a war that you have to know the name, rank, and serial number of the person that you are about to shoot before you can even shoot him. And to put it a little more in this context, the gentleman from Ohio's amendment would say that if we see people making bombs down there that are going to be used against our servicepeople, that we can't do anything about it, that we've just got to watch them. And then even after the bomb explodes, unless we know the identity--which is the language in the amendment--unless we know the name of the person down there, we can't do anything about it, with all of the technology that's available to the United States.

And actually, it gets even worse. If we see al Qaeda members shooting at our troops down there, if we don't know the identity or the name of the people doing the shooting, then we can't do anything about it. Surely that carries things far too far.

We can't debate in the open House all of the allegations that are made in newspaper articles. What we can do is say what the National Security Adviser or the President has said, that these sorts of capabilities are only used pursuant to law, and they are only used where there is a significant threat to the U.S., where action could mitigate or prevent the threat, and that collateral damage or harm to civilians is absolutely minimal. That helps protect our soldiers and our country.


Mr. THORNBERRY. I think all of us share many of the frustrations voiced by the gentleman from California, but his amendment goes too far.

I agree we should look for additional allies in the region. The problem is there's not another ally in the region through which our military can be supplied. So for the sake of our troops in Afghanistan, as well as a lot of the broader interests in the region, it is important for us to try to improve our relationship with Pakistan.

And as my colleague from Texas says, in the bill now we cut the funds from DOD in half and we require a certification that Pakistan is supporting our counterterrorism efforts, that they are supporting efforts to dismantle the IED networks, that they are preventing the proliferation of nuclear-related material, that they are issuing visas in a timely manner for U.S. Government personnel involved in counterterrorism efforts. We put severe restrictions on any assistance that they get. But that is a carrot to encourage them to work with us, rather than saying, No, you get nothing.


Mr. THORNBERRY. Mr. Chairman, essentially this amendment says get out now; leave Afghanistan regardless of the consequences.

I appreciate the honesty and the forthright nature of this amendment offered by the gentlelady from California. It is better to say up front what you're trying to do rather than put various conditions on it, or to tie our troops' hands in some way, or to not put enough troops in the field in order to accomplish the mission we're asking them to do. This is very clear. It says leave now. And it is tempting for all of us because we have been there for awhile.

I want our troops to leave as soon as possible consistent with national security. As a matter of fact, the underlying bill says that the United States military should not maintain an indefinite combat presence in Afghanistan and should transition to a counterterrorism and advise-and-assist mission at the earliest possible date consistent with the conditions on the ground. And that's really the difference--consistent with the conditions on the ground.

We believe, I believe, you have to take account of what the situation is there, and you cannot just abandon Afghanistan and ignore, stick your head in the sand and pretend it's not going to have consequences. I think it's important to remember why we're there to begin with. We're not there because of them. We're there because of us. We're there to make sure that Afghanistan is no longer used as a safe haven, as a base which will be used to launch attacks against us. That's the crux of the matter.

As soon as they are able to provide for their own security and prevent a return of the Taliban, a return of al Qaeda, then we can go and we'll have accomplished our mission, and they'll have to sort through their domestic issues on their own.

But if we leave too early and al Qaeda and the Taliban return and use it as a base to launch attacks against us, then I'm afraid more Americans will suffer and we could see repeats of past terrorist attacks.

So as tempting as it is, Mr. Chairman, we cannot ignore the consequences of our actions. Leaving too fast would be bad for our security.


Mr. THORNBERRY. Mr. Chairman, I have before me an article from from just a few months ago which was written by Richard Whittle, who wrote a whole book on the V 22. And as the editor says, this is as close to ground truth on the V 22 as one can get.

What he says is the marines and the Air Force Special Operations Command have been flying it in combat zones for 4 years, and they love it. He goes on to talk about problems in the early years, but the critics went to sleep in the middle of the story. In other words, they have not recognized the significant improvements that several people have talked about.

Since October 1, 2001, the military has lost 405 helicopters, 99 percent of them have not been V 22s; and yet this amendment comes only against the V 22 when it turns out the redesigned, re-tested Osprey safety record is the safest rotorcraft the Marine Corps flies based on mishaps per 100,000 flight hours.

When it comes to cost, since 2008 they are under budget and are actually going to save the taxpayers over $200 million versus what was budgeted. This plane is working well. This amendment is behind the times.


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