Two recent events right here in Texas provide a stark reminder that the War on Terror has not ended. On November 5, Nidal Malik Hasan, an apparent jihadist terrorist, coldly gunned down 13 soldiers and one unborn child in a murderous rampage at Fort Hood. On September 24, another accused terrorist, Hosam Smadi, was arrested for plotting to blow up a Dallas skyscraper. Despite these horrific incidents, too many people remain complacent and fail to recognize the true nature of the threats we face as a country.
The Obama administration’s recent decision to transfer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and four other 9/11 conspirators to federal criminal court is a glaring example of today’s complacency. Just a few months ago, the U.S. Senate voted 87-7 in favor of a Sense of Congress resolution that terrorists should be tried by military commissions. Indeed, in a 2006 speech, then-Senator Obama insisted that Mohammed would get a "full military trial" and that was how it should be. Now President Obama is reversing his position. And as a result, Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators will be tried near Ground Zero and afforded greater Constitutional protections in our civilian courts than those provided to U.S. military personnel charged in a U.S. court-martial.
Most dangerous of all, Mohammed will now be able to demand that the government reveal the evidence against him in open court. The problem, of course, is that evidence against Al Qaeda members includes highly classified intelligence information. It is critical that this information remains secret if we are to protect ourselves and our allies. That’s exactly why Congress created military commissions: to provide a fair trial when the evidence against a defendant also includes vital national security data.
Reportedly, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing trial – which was conducted in a civilian court - proved to be an intelligence bonanza for Al Qaeda. Prosecutors were forced to hand over critical information that the U.S. government had collected on jihadist operations.
While the President’s decisions concerning Mohammed is alarming, it is not the end of our worries. Next month, three parts of the PATRIOT Act that facilitate critical intelligence gathering capabilities will expire unless Congress acts to renew them. These capabilities, which were created to help fix gaps in our intelligence gathering after 9/11, include the "roving wiretaps" that were critical to the investigation and the capture of Hosam Smadi. If this authority expires, the government will lose its ability to listen in on known terror suspects who change phones, among other things.
So what are the Democrats in Congress doing? While they have agreed to reauthorize these critical surveillance capabilities, it is only on the condition that we make a host of changes. Their bill (S. 1692) will create major problems for the FBI, DEA, and other intelligence-gathering and law enforcement agencies and harm their ability to protect us.
The events of the last few weeks leave no doubt to the imagination: we are facing a continued threat of terrorism both at home and abroad. That’s why the Senate must reauthorize the expiring intelligence-gathering capabilities without the changes that tie the hands of those who protect us.
Even now, there are terrorists like Hosam Smadi and Nidal Hasan who are plotting to do us harm. We need to be able to find them, investigate them, capture them, and prosecute them. The attack at Fort Hood was the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. We can never go back to our 9/10 complacency. We must get serious about national security again.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior U.S. Senator from Texas and is the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.