February 13, 2008
By James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
The day after the Pentagon announced it would be charging six of
the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay with crimes (including
plotting the 9/11 strikes on Washington and New York), the
congressional House leadership signaled again that it wants to push
off legislation authorizing the terrorist surveillance program used
to prevent future attacks. Even more frustrating, the House
continues to dither even after the Senate finally and handily
passed its version, The Protect America Act, on a bi-partisan
The Defense Department's declaration that it plans to put six
suspected members of al Qaeda on trial serves to remind Americans
that we're in a Long War -- that we have enemies trying to kill us
and that our government must stop them. The framers of the
Constitution put the phrase "provide for the common defense" in the
preamble for a reason. Defending America is our government's first
obligation. And because we also expect government to safeguard our
liberties, that means Washington must fight and win our wars by the
rule of law.
Indeed, respecting and upholding the laws of the nation is an
integral part of winning the Long War. Protecting individual
freedoms is what makes wars worth fighting for. It's also an
important part of winning the war of ideas. When America shows it
can fight and win by protecting liberty and respecting law, it
demonstrates the fundamental and enduring strengths of a free
The government's intention to try the alleged-terrorists at
Guantanamo demonstrates that Washington wants to win the Long War
the right way. The accused will be tried under the Military
Commissions Act of 2006. Passed by large majorities in both
chambers and signed it into law by the president on Oct. 17, 2006,
the law set up courts modeled after the Uniform Code of Military
Justice -- the code the U.S. military uses to try soldiers,
sailors, airmen and Marines. The court provides unprecedented
rights to alien unlawful enemy combatants at trial. The commissions
provide the accused virtually the same due process and rights the
United Nations provides in its war crimes tribunals, such as the
International Criminal Tribunal of Yugoslavia and the International
Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda.
While the Pentagon deals with enemies already under detention,
the House is ignoring its responsibility to help deter future
attacks. Rather than simply pass the Protect America Act, House
leaders want to just grant another temporary extension of
surveillance authorities -- even though they've been debating for
More temporary extensions just aren't good enough. It puts
intelligence-gatherers in an impossible situation: They must try to
guess what sort of legislation Congress will pass, and act
accordingly. If they guess incorrectly, they'll have wasted
hundreds of hours of work per warrant application and potentially
delay investigations by weeks or months.
The men and women trying to make us safe should not have to
fight al Qaeda and congressional uncertainty. Congress
must make the authorities in the Protect America Act permanent.
James Jay Carafano
is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland
Security in the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The
The day after the Pentagon announced it would be charging six of the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay with crimes (including plotting the 9/11 strikes on Washington and New York), the congressional House leadership signaled again that it wants to push off legislation authorizing the terrorist surveillance program used to prevent future attacks. Even more frustrating, the House continues to dither even after the Senate finally and handily passed its version, The Protect America Act, on a bi-partisan vote.
Protect America Initiative of the Leadership for America Campaign
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, E. W. Richardson Fellow, and Director
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