Illegal and Reckless

More people were killed by terrorists in 2015 than in any other year ever, after an 80% increase from 2014.

No wonder then that public opinion polls continue to show widespread anxiety among the American people. And while there are many issues that cause worry, concerns about terrorism and security are some of the most urgent.

Threats against our country are not receding. In fact, the situation is as dire today as it has ever been. According to federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, ISIS has a presence in at least 30 countries, and all 50 states. The FBI has over 900 open ISIS-related investigations in the United States and made some 50 arrests just in 2015.

The United States has leased 45 square miles of land at Guantanamo Bay from the Cuban government for about a century. Today, the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is where we keep the most dangerous terrorists in our custody — enemy combatants taken prisoner during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. For the kind of people who get sent to Guantanamo Bay, rehabilitation is not expected. These are not petty thieves, but hardened, bloodthirsty terrorists. According to information published by the Director of National Intelligence, some 30% of Guantanamo prisoners who have been released are confirmed or suspected of re-engaging in terrorist activity.

Of the nearly 800 detainees at one time held at Guantanamo Bay, more than 500 detainees were transferred to other countries by the Bush Administration and 147 detainees have been transferred by the Obama Administration. Today, 91 detainees remain at Guantanamo Bay.

Many of us were outraged when President Obama exchanged — in violation of statute passed by Congress — five Guantanamo Bay terrorists for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who is now being court-martialed for desertion, a deal so lopsided that it makes his Iran agreement look good.

Last week Ibrahim al Qosi, a former Guantanamo prisoner, appeared in a propaganda video as a senior member of Al-Qaeda. On Tuesday, Spanish and Moroccan police arrested four terrorism suspects, one of whom turned out to be a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner who was plotting with ISIS to attack innocent civilians in Spain.

That same day, President Obama sent a formal proposal to Congress that would close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. This plan even includes transferring detainees to the United States, though it does not specify where.

This proposal is not only unwise at a time like this, but also happens to be illegal.

Under current law — which Obama signed into enactment and which bipartisan majorities supported — the President does not have the authority to transfer detainees to the United States without Congressional approval.

In November, I joined with 15 of my fellow Members of Congress who are also veterans in a letter to the Joint Chiefs of Staff cautioning them on the legality of closing the Guantanamo Bay facility. Our concerns have not gone away.

The President seems to take the threat of terrorism less seriously than do the American people. While popular opinion wants more stringent measures against terrorists, the President is making us more vulnerable. He lectures the American people about the need to take a few thousand more refugees (out of the 11 million currently displaced Syrians), about making people feel unwelcome, and about the crimes of Christians during the Crusades, all while taking actions that make us less safe. These priorities are out of order. Security and safety must always come first. The President shouldn’t judge the American people for being afraid. Rather, he should reassure us with strong leadership.

I have voted repeatedly on a bipartisan basis to keep terrorist prisoners out of the United States and in Guantanamo. When the House last voted on this, 13 Democrats agreed.

This week, the House passed two bills to stop terrorist travel. These bills will direct the Department of Homeland Security to review the known instances, since the outbreak of civil war in Syria, in which a person has attempted to travel from the United States to Iraq or Syria to assist terrorists. Further, they will require the President to transmit to Congress a detailed national strategy to stop terrorist travel.

Why President Obama insists on taking an illegal action that makes us less safe is mystifying. Nevertheless, the House will continue to work to keep our country safe, and to keep terrorists where they cannot hurt us.